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Thinking About Historical Thinking

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  • 3 minutes read
  • May 05, 2022

History is about telling stories of the past and their relevance to today. History is not just knowing about a series of events that make up the past. Historical thinking is a critical thinking skill that all history teachers hope their students will learn when studying history. Historical thinking is not just memorizing dates, places, and people or a understanding a timeline of events, it is being able to analyze a particular event or person and place it into further context in history. Historical thinking requires complex thinking, which often includes analyzing source material from varying perspectives and having the student come to their own realizations. The students would make connections on their own rather than the teacher out right telling them what those connections are. This is not a skill that can be learned overnight, it takes practice and the educator needs to be assisting students along the way, rather than standing up and lecturing at the students.

Some questions about teaching history that I hope to explore this semester are as follows:

How can we teach these historical thinking skills in a limited amount of time, for example during a museum education program? These critical thinking skills can sometimes take a longer period of time with lots of practice to start to solidify for students. The challenge for museums is that they do not have the same time as in a classroom. Is this a place of opportunity where museums and schools can intersect and collaborate?

How can we evaluate these historical thinking skills in a museum setting? This is a question I am very curious about, as someone who was previously trained to be a secondary social studies teacher I understand how evaluation works within the classroom. These classroom evaluation methods do not always transfer over into a museum setting. From the preliminary readings and videos, it seems as though informal evaluations may be an option. Traditional classroom evaluation methods such as tests and quizzes, would not be suitable for a museum setting.

How can we make connections with schools and history teachers to better suit the needs of students inside and outside of the classroom? Students often learn quite differently from one another, and this is an important note for museum educators. There needs to be an open line of communication between classroom educators and museum educators to meet in the middle to create content that will best suit the students. There needs to be a level of collaboration between both entities. From the readings and videos, it was made clear to me that source material is very important for developing these historical thinking skills. Museums have the unique opportunity to provide educators with these source materials that could be used in not only museum programs, but provided for use in the classroom as well.

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