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Stop Teaching History and Start Living it

Yesterday afternoon I was listening to The Live Drive on Newstalk 1010. It is a popular Toronto talk show hosted by Ryan Doyle and produced by Melissa Schultz. He was discussing, on the anniversary of D-Day, how many students didn't know what this historic day was, let alone its significance to our country and the world.

Many callers participated in the discussion on the reasons why. Some thought this had to do with timing and tenure, the fact that this happened over 70 years ago. Others, including his co-host, blamed it on the kid's obsession with pop culture, and social media. One parent took responsibility for his daughter's lack of awareness while many put the blame squarely on the shoulders of teachers.

My feeling is that the times have changed, the world has changed, but teaching methods have not kept up. Today's children are digital natives. Their world is within arms reach of desire. They covet experiences over stuff, access over ownership, and continuous interaction and feedback. They don't own content they stream it.

So why are we subjecting them to a textbook that weighs their knapsack down like a bag of cement?

This 16 chapter 'curriculum approved' beauty for Grade 10 students covers 1914 to the present. Three chapters are devoted to World War II.

"Stick a Fork in My Eye"

Having a student be handed a textbook like this in September, that they won't part with until the end of the year, would be the equivalent of forcing their parents back to dial-up internet, or having to watch a television set with five channels, rabbit ears and no remote control.

Why Aren't We Using Gaming Technology to Teach History?

Canada has some of the top Game Developers in the world. The advantage of applying gaming for teaching is that it is based on cognitive learning - learning through failure. You keep hitting the wall with your race car until you master the corner and move to the next level where you need to apply skills in new combinations to succeed. In gaming, you don't get a star for simply showing up.

The algorithms in games are designed to fire the same 'hunter and nesting' genes in our brains as our ancestors released. They feel the same 'stakes' and 'emotions' as our ancestors did when trying to find protein for the village or to protect their farms.

In addition, many games today are played in teams and to make mission-critical choices, they need collaboration, teamwork, consensus and exceptional decision-making. In the future gaming will apply virtual reality to make our senses and focus even sharper.

"Let's Live versus Learn History"

So if you want students to value history then have them live it, and immerse themselves in it. Let them breathe, feel and bleed our history. I don't want it glorified I want reality. Let them understand all of the consequences that come when one race sets its sites and armies on another territory.

Have them plan and take part in D-Day and see if they can survive landing on Juno Beach. Let them join Samuel Champlain's efforts to create a fort in Quebec in 1608. Let's see who can clear an acre of trees with hand tools, or paddle up the St Lawrence River without a Map. Isn't it time we see the settlement of Europeans through the eyes of First Nation People?

In doing so, we will create new and purposeful content jobs for our economy and have a generation of students that stand so very tall when our National Anthem plays because they have lived our history.


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