Joe Welch’s Classroom Approach Attracts National Attention


When I was born my grandmother, who’s now
98, she’s a WAC (Women’s Army Corps) veteran from World War II. She moved in with my family to help take care
of me and it was really her personal stories that really highlighted, okay there’s a major
historical event going on, but there’s also a personal impact. And these are the types of things that have
really shaped my teaching and some things that I look for now with my students. My approach to teaching, really, I’m a big
Hamilton fan boy. I’m gonna pull a lyric from the song is “when
you’ve got skin in the game, you stay in the game.” So if I can get students involved
into my history class and show them that you know, you’re just like some of these people. You know it’s great to understand the past
but how can you insert yourself into that narrative? How can you put yourself into that story? So as students walk in at the start of the
year, I ask them a simple question. You know, why did Jamestown struggle to survive? And I ask students to, okay, let’s bring in
whatever resources you have to now use stop motion to tell that story and let’s create
a movie based on these sources, whatever resources that you want to use to creatively tell that
story. Our second project actually starts with George
Washington’s journal when he was a 21 year old. And I have students use an app called Pages
to create their own graphic novel, really a cartoon of George Washington as he’s describing
each of these things in his journal. What does it look like to me? Here’s how I visualize it. A key project in my classroom has always been
a breakup song with the King of England. Now with GarageBand, and because we’re one-to-one
school here at North Hills, students can create their own background beats. When we get to the American Civil War, I think
it’s an opportunity for students to focus on some of the innovation that occurred during
that. What were the scientific things that were
going on that really affected not only the war, but affected people’s personal lives? History can be full of transformation and
technology as well. We start to read some of the letters that
were describing some of these changes and some of these events, and so I have students
using a 3D printer, then they start to create their own products that, okay, this is described
in this letter as in the 1860s. Here is what it looks like. Sometimes people will say well, you know,
STEM is the big thing right now, not history. STEM is important. That same idea that we’re going to have students
create, collaborate and produce something—why does it have to be done outside of a history
classroom?

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