I just wanted to provide a quick update with how things have been going and fill you in with all the awesomeness that has been occurring each week! It has a wildly successful start to the year, and I am happy to report that we truly have a remarkable group of students who are engaged and committed to becoming Youth Historians. Although we started with a solid eight students, we have grown to above capacity with eleven students now. (You see, it seems that Youth Historians has become the "it" program for students to join once word has gotten around school!) Furthermore, we are officially about a month into the project, and, have hit a nice rhythm – the full group meets each Monday at the students’ school and then on Saturday (although a few students cannot attend come on Thursday) at Columbia University.
The first few weeks have served as a way for my colleagues and I to get to know the students in-depth – to understand their nuances, their interests, their passions, and what makes them ‘tick’, so to speak. Although I have a vision for how I want the project to unfold and what I think I will find in terms of student learning, I still have to make sure to tailor the curriculum to students' interests -- this program, unlike so many others, is at least in part, heavily student-driven. Outside these logistical items, I’ve eased the students into the program with readings on how history ‘works’, seeking to shift their current paradigm of history from being just facts in a boring textbook (to use their words!) to an exciting frontier that requires exploration and investigation. This new understanding has already promoted an excitement among students that was absent prior to the program; the belief that they can become knowledge producers and “create” history has generated ample engagement. For example, students’ willingness to read college-level texts and discuss the viability of a text’s accuracy and bias has been impressive. It also has been interesting to hear how students feel like they are do not get to think like this when reading their textbooks, and not given the opportunity themselves in way conducive to more complex ways of thinking.
Specifically, at this beginning phase students are primarily doing two things: one, beginning to choose their own historical topic based on their personal interests and two, learning how to use technology to assist in their research. Going hand in hand, students have been brainstorming topics of potential interest and gathering preliminary research using Google Docs and Zotero – both totally new digital tools for students. (Zotero is a tool for researchers that provides an effective way to collect and organize research articles, websites, books, photographs, newspapers, etc.)
In the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a slight step back from some of the reading and digital work to a more community-focus where students will be visiting some community places and hearing from guest lecturers. In a survey I gave out in a beginning session, students interestingly (but predictably, too) marked how they knew little about their community and would be interested in learning more about this history. It’s the crux of this project, and I’m excited to see their interest in history grow! As this fire inside these inquisitive students continues to burn, the more motivated they become to read and write in ways necessary to academic success -- the early goings have supported this so far.