Last week we discussed the ebola outbreak in the country of Guinea. The students were not sure where this country was so we did some research. We found that the country's motto and anthem are in French even though most of the people of the country are from African tribes (Fula, Maninka,..). This led to more questions and research about the history of Africa - the colonization by the British in the 1800s, independence in the 1900s for many countries, and the current issues facing much of Africa today (diseases, wars, famine, poverty, hunger).
I showed them a few maps and charts showing the countries that colonized Africa and the dates of independence for many of the countries. Another map showed the distribution of many African tribes. Many questions were raised by these maps, including "What is the purpose of having colonies?"It really turned into a good lesson. We connected US History, current events, African history, civics, economics, and European history - quite a bit for one class period.
I really felt there was good learning going on that day. I've taught African colonization before, but the students this year seemed to be more interested and involved in the lesson this year. I really believe by starting with current events (real world relevance) the students are more receptive to the historical connections - things are happening now because of things that happened before.
The toughest part of doing this is preparation and flexibility. I teach the colonization of Africa each year, but instead of an ordered checklist given to the students on the same day each year ("Why do we have to learn this?"), teachers need to have the freedom to connect these lessons to world events. This is not easy. It takes knowledge, planning and work. It can be stressful at times not knowing what direction you may be heading each day. But when the students really start making connections and are engaged in the classroom, it is worth the effort and time. Students see that historical events do have relevance for us today.
I don't think I could have taught this way early in my career. I did not know the content well enough, I was not as aware of current events as I am now, and did not have the confidence as a teacher that comes with experience. Hard work is necessary, experience is invaluable and knowledge is priceless in the teaching profession.