At the beginning of each school year, the 8th grade social studies teachers do a lesson on historical thinking.
It’s an activity that trains the 8th graders to think like an historian.
In order to create the lesson, we bring in “artifacts” from our lives and place them at a variety of stations throughout the room.
The students rotate through the stations and have to make observations about what they find and then draw some conclusions.
The students aren’t given the information that the artifacts are pieces of my life. They have to put it all together and decipher the identity of the subject based on the clues that they find, much like an archaeologist.
At the end, they write a biography of my life based on the info, which is always highly entertaining.
Some of the artifacts that I use at my stations are a wedding picture of my Great Grandparents from Denmark, my high school yearbook, an Archie comic, an album, an antique book, a glucose monitor and many other items.
Some of the kids struggle to make meaning of the items, others are able to see connections, and even others are able to weave a fairly accurate biography based on what they observed.
However, my favorite part of the entire process, every year, is listening to the students try to guess what a few of the objects are.
For example, even though I’ve heard that vinyl is making a comeback, the students hold the album in their hands and don’t even realize that there is something inside.
“What is this? Who is this a picture of? Do you think it’s her brother? Wait, is this a list of poems on the back? What IS this?”
Then, when someone in the group discovers that the side of the cardboard opens and there is a vinyl treasure inside, I hear…
“Oh! It’s a case for this frisbee!”
Students who have a dim recollection of seeing one of these artifacts at their grandparents homes ask questions like “This plays music, right? Is there only one song on this thing? How does it work? I don’t understand how the music comes off of here if it isn’t digital?”
Some of the items are fairly straightforward, and still, they struggle.
My Great Grandparent’s wedding picture is from the 1890’s. It is obviously from the 1890’s.
“Do you think this is her wedding picture?”
Gee. Thanks, guys.
Then, the students pick up the glucose monitor.
“Oh, I know this! I saw it in a vintage shop. I think it’s a Yarakuchi. No, a Kapalanchy. Wait…it’s a Tamagachi! It’s like a virtual pet that you have to take care of or it dies.”
Yep. That’s it, kid.
And then comes the Archie comic.
Not a vintage Archie comic, mind you. One that I bought at ShopRite last summer.
“OMG…this is, like, one of the original comic books.”
“Yeah, totally. Look at what they are wearing. That’s like, clothes from the 1800’s.”
“I don’t think so. I’ve heard of this comic. This isn’t the original comic. The original comic was Scooby Doo.”
“Wait, the dog that solves mysteries?”
“Yeah. Scooby Doo came first. This is a total rip off of Scooby Doo. I think they go around and solve mysteries but without the dog.”
I share this, not because I think my students are anything less than brilliant, but because it amazes me, sometimes, how little today’s kids know about the items from their parents generation, much less their grandparent’s.
I feel like, when I was a kid, I knew all about my parent’s childhoods.
I knew the toys they played with, the music they listened to, the celebrities they worshiped, and understood their cultural references.
But my students, my own children, don’t seem to have those cultural connections.
They live in their world and have blinders on to anything outside their own experience.
Is it technology? Does it fill their every waking moment so much that they don’t have space to learn about the items and experiences from the past?
I don’t know.
But I truly hope that it this doesn’t become the new normal; that each new generation exists in a vacuum.
Although, it wouldn’t be a huge loss if the next generation were ignorant of all things Justin Bieber.
I just think that the sharing of culture is an important rite of passage between generations, and as the ancients shared their traditions with their children to preserve their civilization, so should modern adults continue the process, and modern children be willing to receive it.
Because, if they don’t, Corey Hart and his nocturnal sunglasses could disappear forever.
And that, my friends, would be a real tragedy.