Education/News/September 2019/Learning history by expanding articles about novels

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Learning history by expanding articles about novels

Author: Dr. Ruti Alster


Summary: One of the challenges of the Education program in schools is the continuous effort to find new topics for articles that are appropriate for the students’ level and fit their study curriculum. In the project presented here, I suggested to add a chapter about the historical background of various novels and it demonstrates an innovative way to learn history using the Wikipedia Education Project, as well as developing critical thinking and literacy skills.


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One of the challenges of the Education program in schools is the continuous effort to find new topics for articles that are appropriate for the students’ level and fit their study curriculum. Many schools we work with integrate a Wikipedia assignment as part of teaching history, and in the past couple of years the articles written were mostly about subjects connected to the Holocaust – a mandatory topic in the curriculum issued by the Ministry of Education. After several years of this program running in various schools, it became apparent that we were running low on topics for articles. As a solution to this problem, WMIL’s Education coordinator suggested the students expand existing articles in Wikipedia, namely, add a chapter about the historical background of various novels.

The project presented here demonstrates an innovative way to learn history using the Wikipedia Education Project, as well as developing critical thinking and literacy skills. This project worked with a tenth grade gifted students class in Ashdod. First, the students were requested to find keywords in the novel that help them understand and specify the historic background of the book (a great way to make sure they read the book!). Then, they chose which events to focus on, looked for references and found at least four relevant bibliographic resources to use in their assignment.

The first drafts students wrote indicated they did not quite understand their task: some of them wrote in general about historic events or processes (which are already covered by Wikipedia articles), while others described the novel’s plot instead of writing the historic background of the book. These first draft showed that the instructions to the students need to be very precise and guide them in the process of deciding the scope and the details that are relevant to the assignment. They were taught to focus on the connection between historic events and the plot of the novel, and write concisely, rather than simply copy parts of existing articles. Through this process, students became experts on both the book’s plot and its historic background. So much so that some of them even expanded other related Wikipedia articles, in addition to the one about the book.

Then, as an integral part of the school project, the students were requested to write a reflection. “Reflective learning is a form of education in which the student reflects upon their learning experiences.” ([Relective Learning| https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflective_learning]) “Reflection involves an active exploration of experiences to gain new or greater understanding.” ([ http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Reflection]) Reflection helped the students to understand what they learned during the project and to assimilate the skills they improved.

Students wrote about the difficulties they met, the historic research they did, and the skills they acquired. Most of them found it was very interesting to learn about the Holocaust from the point of view of the main character of the book or the author of the diary. They wrote how much they learned about reliable sources and critical reading, when they tried to check if the book is reliable from an historical point of view. Some of them even mentioned they liked the way they received comments and were requested (many times!) to improve the text they wrote. They feel they learned very important skills and that this active learning way made them understand much better the period they learned about.

To summarize, the task turned out to be a great way for students to learn curriculum-related content, as well as develop skills needed to write a literature review on any subject. We conclude from this project that that gifted students can produce high-quality content for Wikipedia provided they receive precise instructions and guidance.



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