August 17, 2012

Making History Interesting to Teens

Maria made the mistake of telling me last year that she does not like history, she finds it boring.  You would think by now my kids would know better, or at least be able to predict what will follow a statement like that :)

I have spent the last few weeks creating a high school 20th Century Humanities course for this fall.  Each month we will focus on a single decade 1900-1909, 1910-1919, etc all the way through 1999.  We will study historic events, famous people, inventions, science discoveries, art, music, literature, film, television, and philosophy.  The goal will be to prove to Maria that history is fascinating and linked to everything else going on in the world at any given time.  The course will be interdisciplinary and have both breadth and depth.  I have been having a lot of fun putting the class together. 

I have learned through my years of teaching that most learning occurs when students are engaged, interested and having fun.  They rarely realize they are learning because it is just so interesting.  This is the goal and so far I think I will be able to accomplish it with her.  Yesterday I spent the day looking at 100 years of art selecting our works for the year.  You really learn a lot about a culture when you spend a day doing that.  Today the focus was music, the day before literature and inventions.  I can already see trends and patterns across just these few subjects.  Connections will be formed all semester long and hopefully carry with her throughout her life. 

The key is finding the hook.  I thought my way in would be through film and literature.  As I prepare though I realize in her case it will be through science and inventions.  So many amazing things happened and were developed last century.  Science played a critical role and she will enjoy that part being the scientist that she is.  The literature will be interesting and fun, the music telling of the cultural changes but as I prepared I realized there are so many more connections between science, inventions and history this past decade that I am getting excited to discover them all and help her along the way. 

I remember my first interdisciplinary class, my high school senior art class.  We only combined history, art and music but it had a profound affect on my understanding of the world to be able to see all the connections.  I have always approached my kids education with an interdisciplinary/unit study flare but this will be our first year studying exclusively this way.  Only her math curriculum and chemistry class will be outside of this class.  I was tempted to bring my younger kids into the study, it certainly would be easier for me, yet I know this needs to remain just a high school level class.  The 20th century saw a lot of events, art, music, and historical figures that one needs to have a certain level of maturity to grasp and handle emotionally.  I know Maria is ready for this and the others are not, so they will have to wait their turn. 

I was disappointed to discover there was no curriculum already made that could do what I wanted.  Still it has forced me to make it truly what I want as I develop everything from scratch.  There are many wonderful resources available so mostly I am compiling a big spreadsheet of lists and material to study.  We will focus on primary and original sources whenever possible.  Most of the original material is readily available thanks to the internet and the library.  I will report back at the end of the year letting you know if I found a way to make history interesting to teens, or at least to my teenage daughter. 


  1. Great idea! Hope you'll share your spread sheet!

  2. Anonymous1:32 PM

    Do you have suggestions for High School Literature? Lists or resources you plan on using?

  3. I recently posted the books read from Sept-December

  4. Thank you so much! I can't wait to dig in to some of those books on your list!