The famous multiple-choice questions former history teacher Bruce Baird was known for – and that would throw students into a sort of manic state – are gone.
“I don’t see the value in multiple-choice exams,” new history teacher Damany Fisher said. “I don’t think they encourage historical thinking, and that’s my goal. I want my kids to be thinking like historians.”
Instead students in Fisher’s sophomore and junior history will either write an essay, complete a project or take an exam after each unit.
In addition to traditional exams, Fisher is considering alternative methods of assessment. For example, he is currently looking into digital story maps after finding examples of them being used at the college level.
StoryMap JS, the free program that Fisher is investigating, allows students to attach anything, including documents, images, YouTube or Vimeo videos, articles, audio recordings or even tweets. According to its website, StoryMap JS creates “stories on the web that highlight the locations of a series of events.”
“(Digital story maps) give students the opportunity to be creative,” Fisher said. “(They) allow them to integrate technology into the classroom, and I know that resonates with a lot of students.”
Fisher said that the story maps also help students learn geography.
Fisher is also researching a new class activity. On Sept. 18 Fisher flew to Harvard Business School to attend a seminar on a case-study approach to teaching history led by professor David Moss.
In this technique, students read “cases,” mostly centered around pivotal points in American democracy, and are then assigned a stance on the event and asked to defend their position.
“(The method) is really engaging and interesting,” Fisher said. “It allows students to participate in classroom discussions in (new) ways.”
Fisher will definitely be testing out this activity because he, along with a small group of educators across the country, was selected to take the seminar and give feedback on how well the system worked and what students thought.
Along with the experimentation, the variety of texts and resources used in both of his classes will be notable, Fisher said.
“I insist on being able to use a wide range of sources,” he said. “I want kids not only to read but to react to what they’re reading.”
Fisher said that, in his opinion, the World History textbook by Prentice Hall that has historically been used in freshman and sophomore history classes is outdated and archaic, so he plans on using other handouts from reliable sources, such as The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Stanford History Education Group and Sam Weinberg, to supplement it.
“There are so many better alternatives for students that help to deepen their understanding of world history,” Fisher said.
Fisher plans to incorporate features from classes that he previously taught at Phillips Academy Andover, a boarding school outside of Boston.
Fisher said that his transition was also eased because his colleagues have helped to mentor him, especially history teacher Sue Nellis, whom he calls his “rock.”
“(Nellis) has enlightened me to the culture of (SCDS),” Fisher said. “I credit a lot of what I know now about the school to Sue and, of course, (to head of high school) Brooke Wells. (He’s) gone out of his way to make me comfortable here.”
Fisher said that he is optimistic about the class environment that he has experienced.
“Hopefully as we progress, students’ll get accustomed to my teaching style and expectations, and at the same time I’ll become more accustomed to (the students’) style and ability and make adjustments when necessary,” Fisher said.
Fisher said that he already wants to adjust the amount of homework that he assigns, as he has found that he gives too much at times.
He said that he believes Phillips Academy’s students had more time to immerse themselves in their homework since it was a boarding school, while Country Day students have more demanding activities outside of school that make it difficult to do the same.
—By Sonja Hansen