The ability to think critically and analytically then confidently reach their own conclusion is one of my main homeschooling goals for the children. We are learning lots of history and that’s great but my desire is to use history to teach the children more transferable skills, rather than simple knowledge. We are about to start the knights and castle era of British history, but how did this begin? And how do historians know?
History is not an exact science; only a level of certainty can be gained with any assertion. I wanted to introduce the idea to my children that historians can only be somewhat certain of their postulation, never completely certain. This will change the face of our future studies in history. The children, so far, have accepted pretty much anything a book has told them although they are a little more critical of films and historical fiction. I have taught them about primary and secondary evidence and their related strengths in ascertaining truths from the past, but I have not drummed in the importance of hypothesising and re-hypothesising as new evidence comes to light.
I did a search on the web and came up with just what I was looking for. This idea came from a school based website in the UK. The activities needed to be changed somewhat for us as home schoolers, but I think the concepts behind their ideas are fabulous and could be reused for many eras.
This was my time to introduce them to a couple of clues:
The children were asked to make another decision about who they thought the remains belonged to and how the person died. This time they were introduced to many words which could be used to show varying degrees of certainty:
I showed them our certainty continuum line – from UNCERTAIN to CERTAIN. The children had to make a new theory based on the evidence they had been given and then stand on the certainty line to show how sure they were of their theory. The children picked up that it was possibly a Viking or Anglo-Saxon and that maybe they died of wounds from the Battle of Stamford Bridge or in another, undocumented, battle:
Next they were given all but one of the other clues and asked to re-evaluate and re-hypothesise who had died and how they had died:
The children re-hypothesised. They were now fairly certain that the person was either Anglo-Saxon or Viking and had died after the Battle of Stamford bridge. C10 had some elaborate fate for this poor warrior who had an infected leg bone and died of septicaemia!! They were asked to show their degree of certainty:
And finally they had their last clue:
The children, having covered Viking history fairly thoroughly, knew that these were areas of Viking settlements. They fine tuned their theory, asserting that it was a Viking warrior, who had died on his way back to his ship, either from battle wounds or from fighting that occurred on the way as the Anglo Saxons pursued them. C10 stuck resolutely to her theory and was 100% certain she was spot on!
We discussed why C10 may not have been completely right and looked at other possible scenarios for his demise. I think she got it, but simply felt her ideas were the most interesting! The younger one’s had returned by this stage, so although there is a follow-up activity I could have done, we didn’t have time.
The children LOVED this activity and I saw how much it encouraged them to think. It was also good because there wasn’t a right or wrong, simply a great learning experience.