Why Learn History Book Club // Get your copy and join the conversation!

Drumroll please! We are thrilled to announce our summer OER Conference for Social Studies Book Club pick! This month you are invited to join us in reading Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) by Sam Wineburg (IndieBound / Amazon), who happens to be one of our keynote speakers for the OER Conference for Social Studies. 

Since the 1990s, Sam Wineburg has been one of the leaders in research on historical thinking and the teaching and learning of history. He is also one of the founders and directors of the Stanford History Education Group (sheg.stanford.edu), one of the largest providers of free educational resources in the world. Wineburg believes it is essential to provide students with the critical thinking tools necessary to sort through the incredible amount of information being thrown at them every day, and to do so may require updates to traditional teaching practices. 

Our community discussion about Why Learn History will kick off with our first book club questions on July 14 right here in this thread, located in the OER Conference for Social Studies Discussion Forum. We’ll post a new question each Thursday for three weeks leading up to the conference which takes place August 3-4. So, grab a copy of the book, bookmark this thread so you can return on the 14th, and prepare for some rich discussions with other members of the community.

Our first week of conversations will cover Part One of the book. Let the reading begin!

Why Learn History // Week One Questions 

We are excited to start our book club conversation on Why Learn History (When it’s Already on Your Phone) as we make our way to Sime Wineburg’s August 4th keynote address in the OER Conference for Social Studies. Post your thoughts and answers to the questions below or add your own question. Erik Christensen will be leading the discussion and will be checking in throughout the day to respond to the conversation.  

In Chapter 1 "Crazy for History" Wineburg gives a critical analysis of American testing systems (and their effectiveness) and reaches the conclusion that "...no national test can allow students to show themselves to be historically literate."  Further, Wineburg makes the claim that multiple choice tests "convey the dismal message that history is about collecting disconnected bits of knowledge..., where one test item has nothing to do with the next, and where if you can't answer a question in a few seconds, it's wise to move on to the next. [These] tests mock the very essence of problem solving."   

  • How should teachers of history in 2022 test our students?  
  • How do you determine if your students are learning history?  
  • How do you, to paraphrase Wilfred McClay, make those hard choices about what gets thrown out of the story so that the essentials can survive?

Why Learn History // Week Two Questions 

Bloom's Taxonomy is referenced in many professional development sessions, teacher-admin conversations, and there may even be a poster of this pyramid in your classroom. Wineburg suggests that in a history classroom, Bloom's Taxonomy should be inverted so that knowledge is at the top.    

  • Do you agree with Wineburg's thesis - that Bloom's Taxonomy doesn't work in a history classroom?   
  • What would an inverted version of the pyramid look like in your practice?   
  • Is knowledge the result of critical thinking? Or is knowledge needed to think critically?  

Why Learn History // Week Three Questions 

In Chapter 7 "Why Google Can't Save Us" Wineburg dives deep into the internet's ability to deeply confuse expert and novice historians (and everyone else!). He describes several case studies that highlight how difficult it can be to assess information that we come across online.    

  • As more students are conducting research online, how are you managing the information they are exposed to?   
  • Do you teach digital literacy?   
  • How do you practice online reasoning or claim testing? How do you practice it with your students?   
  • What routines or activities have made the biggest impact to negotiating the power of the internet in your classroom?  

Post your response to the questions in the comments below as we complete our final week of the Book Club. Be sure to join us for Sam Wineburg’s Keynote Address on August 4 at 1:00 PM PDT!  

Top Replies

  • Hi everybody. Figured I wade into this thread because reading everyone's posts and being familiar with Wineburg's book got me thinking. Anyway, I often find myself TL-DR-ing my posts.  I'm sure this…

  • So far, I am enjoying the book...definitely not finished, but I'm on track(ish) to be ready to respond to Part 2 later this week! :) I find Wineburg's tone and style to be straightforward and comprehensible…

  • I want to start by pushing back slightly against the idea the Wineburg's thesis is that Bloom's Taxonomy doesn't work in our classrooms; instead, I would argue that he's saying the standard (and, frankly…

Parents
  • Why Learn History // Week Two Questions 

    Bloom's Taxonomy is referenced in many professional development sessions, teacher-admin conversations, and there may even be a poster of this pyramid in your classroom. Wineburg suggests that in a history classroom, Bloom's Taxonomy should be inverted so that knowledge is at the top. 

    • Do you agree with Wineburg's thesis - that Bloom's Taxonomy doesn't work in a history classroom?   
    • What would an inverted version of the pyramid look like in your practice?   
    • Is knowledge the result of critical thinking? Or is knowledge needed to think critically?  

    Post your responses in the comments below. We’re excited to continue this conversation!

Reply
  • Why Learn History // Week Two Questions 

    Bloom's Taxonomy is referenced in many professional development sessions, teacher-admin conversations, and there may even be a poster of this pyramid in your classroom. Wineburg suggests that in a history classroom, Bloom's Taxonomy should be inverted so that knowledge is at the top. 

    • Do you agree with Wineburg's thesis - that Bloom's Taxonomy doesn't work in a history classroom?   
    • What would an inverted version of the pyramid look like in your practice?   
    • Is knowledge the result of critical thinking? Or is knowledge needed to think critically?  

    Post your responses in the comments below. We’re excited to continue this conversation!

Children
  •  Erik, your questions invite confrontation! Be careful!  Bloom's taxonomy is a "sacred cow" for many educators!  When considering the taxonomy for the first time, I was intrigued to think that top student demonstration of knowledge may look like an actual play that a student wrote (indeed, an impressive accomplishment).  If a student could write an original play, what better demonstration of skills and knowledge could there be?  None.  However, in History class, knowledge of the past is connected to substantive critical thinking and meaningful application.  Clearly, our "knowledge of the past" may be ever changing, as we know from BH investigations.  At one time humans had no fear of consuming lead or mercury (Shihuangdi of Qin China or leaded fuel of the 20th century), but now we think differently of these chemical elements and their impact on biology.  Our quest of knowledge from the past shapes our current and future understanding of our world.  Invitations to work with critical race theory place "new" knowledge of the past at the forefront.  Yes, turn the taxonomy on its head!  How cool would it be to have a BH-sanctioned poster for the classroom, one that inverts Bloom's taxonomy!  Can you make such a resource happen?

  • While I can't promise any new sanctioned resources, I can give you an inverted Bloom's taxonomy for your use!

    Image credit here..

  • This is an annual discussion we have in our department and in our PLCs. Do the kids have to read/hear/watch about history or can they do something active, then sprinkle in the more academic content for an extension? I have contended that activities, investigations, and hands-on exercises build an internal schema that serves as a structure for kids to hang their learning. 

    We learn by doing. I've yet to hear about anyone learning how to throw a baseball or ride a bike then going out and trying, yet those experiences build lifelong learning and memories. 

  •  "Erik-sanctioned" is plenty powerful!

  • I want to start by pushing back slightly against the idea the Wineburg's thesis is that Bloom's Taxonomy doesn't work in our classrooms; instead, I would argue that he's saying the standard (and, frankly, lazy!) view of the taxonomy as a ladder doesn't work. That said, I think he's slightly misdiagnosing the problem.

    The issue is in seeing the concept as a ladder. First we have to do level 1, then level 2, then level 3, and so on. In reality, however, deeper learning for students is most often found in classrooms where the teacher views Bloom as a web! These are connected and students have to freely flow between them to effectively do history. Viewing Bloom as web instead of ladder lets us more easily understand that knowledge is both a prerequisite for and a result of critical thinking.

    Under the revised taxonomy we see "create" at the top rather than "evaluation" (originally this was termed "synthesis" but the revision, in addition to reordering the two higher levels, also shifted from nouns to verbs). To me, whether we label it "create" or "synthesize", our highest level skill remains directly connected to the knowledge domain! In a usable history, we begin with the question. By the end, we've created a new interpretation (or, perhaps, recreated one!) based on the evidence of the past available to us. In that way, we are contributing to new knowledge through creation/synthesis.

  • I really like this line of thinking Chris! If I'm reading you right, your idea is that knowledge is a critical part of the learning process - not just the end or the beginning?

    I think your "Bloom's-as-a-web" idea is just brilliant - and fits neatly with the other "shapes" analogies that Meaghan and Vince discussed below. The cherry on top is the beautiful way this web aligns with the "history is not a straight line" idea that many of us consider when we're teaching and that you may have noticed on many of the course resources.

  • Wow! What amazing responses. There's so much to learn from everyone participating in this conversation. Since I was not able to participate in the first week conversation, my respnose will cover both weeks Slight smile As someone who experienced much of what Wineburg discussed there were so many memories brought up as I read the first part. Growing up in a very small town my high school history classes consisted of a series of dates put on the board and we had to identify what happened that year. There was no connection or relevance, just know the year and event. Once I snuck in and changed dates before class and nobody noticed! 

    I started teaching about the time History Alive came out and was still around for TAH. Both were great resources, but still did not make history relevant to students. It's a challenge to test students on historical knowledge. Unless history is made relevant to today's world, history is viewed by students as a bunch of facts and they tune it out. 

    It's fine to have a few MCQs on a test, but students need to be provided with multiple ways to show their knowledge, and more importantly, students need to show how it's relevant. We have to determine what it is we want students to know, and provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate their understanding. A Multiple Choice test will always have some bias and in today's world, there would be littlle agreement as to what should be included on a test (and in some cases, the correct answer may be debated). 

    I always thought critical thinking and content more like railroad tracks. You need both sides to keep the train going. You need to provide students with basic content (and the skills to find that information), then balance it with qurestions to help them put the puzzle together. We should always be asking "where does this event fit into the big picture?"  Rather than a pyramid, learning should be a path that continuously expands as we learn. I totally agree with Erik that to truly assess student understanding, multiple opportunities should be provided for students to demonstrate their knowledge, and it can be fun. Getting students involved and asking questions is a different approach to teaching, but so valuable to helping them to develop their critical thinking. It's also much more fun.

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