Casting Light on The Dark Ages

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Teacher Focus: Consider the question, what common threads exist between the experiences of people in the early Middle Ages and the experiences of people today

 Prerequisites: This exercise should be undertaken after some preliminary exploration of the medieval era has already been done. It is a critical exercise and dependent to some degree on sufficient background knowledge. The specific background knowledge required is familiarity with social structures and patterns of historical events, in order that focus can be brought to consideration of detail, and consideration of implications.

 Resources: This lesson is designed to make use the WWW. It requires either: a laboratory with one computer per student and Internet access, or a classroom with sufficient computer resources (including Internet access) as to allow students to work effectively in small groups.

 Student Focus: Students are given a comparative study in the form of web research, to investigate their choice of area of study related to the Middle Ages period.

 By being given choice of study area, it is envisaged that students would best develop understanding of the area of interest to them. Students will be encouraged to draw approach this exercise in a focused way, by being asked to select their chosen area in, in advance.

 Student Task: Working in pairs so as to develop collective answers and to allow for a broader spread of research, students undertake web site readings and are to write a short summary (250 words) on their findings.  

Further readings are available below.

 

 History.as.a.Discipline    Curriculum.Theory.and.Principles    Practical.Approaches

Annotation regarding the nature of History as a discipline

 I am interested in the application of History within a framework that encourages students to be aware of the context they / we bring to study.

 Jenkins in advocating this position framed the goal this way:

 To practice a, “…history that is aware of what it is doing…(rather than) a history that is not”

 Jenkins, K., Re-thinking History, p 6, Routledge, Wiltshire, 1996

 To facilitate this development of this contextual awareness students undertake an exploratory and free ranging task involving web exploration from their choice of area (within an identified but extensive range of choices) and then compare what they have learned about life in the Middle Ages, to life today.  

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Annotation regarding curriculum theory and principles

 Advocates of situated learning argue that knowledge must be situated in a specific context, relevant to the topic being learnt. This process in theory will then help the learner acquire relevant concepts and in turn these concepts then become knowledge tools. Students however must learn “how” to use these tools, as well as “when” to use them, “why” they should be used, “what” sorts of situations would call for them... etc....basically, the use of knowledge tools needs be accompanied by concurrent judgments on how to best use them.

 How do you develop these skills? This lesson is designed to help young (year 8) students begin to develop those knowledge tools and to develop some skills in using those tools in context. However it does this in a very oblique way. Students are allowed to explore in an unstructured fashion...but, are asked to structure their results. Sneaky...?

 There is some context provided, which hopefully will support students to structure their results and provide them with implicit information about the success of their search methodologies, in the form of a guiding task and question.

 Compare what you have learned about the Middle Ages to something similar you know about today. What are the differences and similarities?

 Case studies were conducted by the Australian Commonwealth Government while investigating ‘quality’ Teaching and Learning. These case studies served to form the core of development for the National Competency Framework. This framework included some interesting indicators, which form a central aspect of this curriculum theory behind this lesson. This lesson provides an opportunity to facilitate the approach to inquiry of, “...utilise(s)...approaches to learning, which explore the breadth of modes of inquiry”.  

For me, this is an experimental lesson which uses the WWW instead of just my own site and is less structured than most I write. It is created so deliberately. I wish to use it as an instrument to begin developing skills...I feel there are advantages from the lack of structure, including that students will be encouraged to experiment, assisting students who operate on intuitive thinking to develop experience in the value of analytic thinking (Brunner, 1966 cited in McInerney p 92, 1998) and that it will give the students a focus for seeing reasons for extending their categorising ability to a conceptualisation ability (Brunner, 1974, cited in McInerney p 94).

 National Project on the Quality of Teaching and Learning, National Competency Framework for Beginning Teaching, Australian Teaching Council, element 1-2, p30, Commonwealth of Australia.

 McInerney, D and McInerney V, Educational Psychology, Prentice Hall, 1998

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Annotation regarding practical approaches to teaching history

 The focus of this lesson is on developing an understanding of the links between the past and the present. Many people have commented on the strength of the phenomenon of repetition in history, and indeed even without specific repetition there is much to be gained from review and reflection on the implications of past experience on our own.

 Advocates of the position that we can see today by remembering of the past include Hegel who in 1830 stated that “...great events and personalities in world history re-appear in one fashion or another” (1) and later, Marx who in 1852 added to this by stating that Hegel had forgotten to add, ”...the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”(2)...but most of all, I like how Parenthesis described it, saying   “History just burps, and we taste again the raw onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago” (3).

 (1)               Cited in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, p 330:7, Oxford University Press, 1996, attributed to Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction, translated by H.B.Nisbett, 1975.

 (2)               Cited in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, p 452:7, Oxford University Press, 1996, attributed to Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852.

 (3)               Cited in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, p 53:10, Oxford University Press, 1996, attributed to Parenthesis, A History of the world in 10 ½ Chapters, 1989.

 It is a useful insight to gain in life to see the connections between the present and the past, nebulous and fleeting as they may be, for they help to provide a foundation for understanding the world today in some sort of context. This can be done by gaining broad overviews, or from engagement with detailed information, especially if some context can be applied to that detail. The devil is in the detail...or if not, at least some very interesting historical information is.

 This lesson offers students the opportunity to explore in some detail, an area of interest to them, and then report their findings. In having this focus it attempts to facilitate the development of students personal involvement, so that the information students gain is not lost in teacher prescribed social definitions, nor subsumed in physical and historical data. Cremo and Thompson appraise the benefits of personal involvement in research and advocate avoidance of prescriptions for information search, and offer this comment:

 "…'credible' knowledge is situated at an intersection between physical locales... and social distinctions…" 

Cremo, M., and Thompson, R., Forbidden Archaeology: The Hidden history of the Human Race, p9, Bhaktivedanta Book Publishing, Los Angeles 1996

 This lesson takes this principle and attempts to apply it by providing students with a task that liberates them from instructions other than to explore and then write about their choice of area.  

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