History Teaching and Urie Bronfenbrenner

“Up until his death in 2005, Urie Bronfenbrenner remained an advocate of the family, firmly believing that the child did not develop in isolation, but within the foundations of family, school, community and society, and argued that stronger ties between these structures aided human development.” (114)

Urie Bronfenbrenner

Lev Vygotsky

In my post about Lev Vygotsky, I described how the family should be able to shape curriculum and aid in the academic growth of children. I share my judgement with Bronfenbrenner, who pointed out that children never develop in isolation, whether that was individually or in one location like school.

When learning, students pull from many sources. For example, students constantly test their theories and beliefs in different spaces like the family home, religious sites, with their friends in the hallways of school or outside in their neighborhood, and in the classroom. Students also learn from more people than just their teachers, such as their parents, guardians, siblings, and extended families.

If we take Bronfenbrenner seriously, we must ask how the family can interact with the history curriculum. Since I focus my research on Project Based Learning and the National History Day program, I thought about how family interactions could benefit some of the earliest activities that students complete when starting their National History Day projects.

In the earliest stages of National History Day I believe students should discover and build upon their identity. I believe this identity building must come before social constructivism or what Lev Vgotsky would describe as students thinking for themselves. I found that without activities that help students discover what they are passionate about, then they typically gravitated towards general, tired topics.

The article How To Introduce A Social Studies Class has some activities that I describe in this article.

Below I have written three activities that demonstrate how students could develop their identities, but without the aid of their family or community. I will then explain how adding an element of family could improve these activities. 

Before students select topics and ways to communicate their ideas, they need to discover more about themselves. This identity learning should occur often in the beginning of a school year or term and should continue to occur throughout the course. The following activities are examples of identity learning:

Students learning about who they are and what they believe in can be powerful in the classroom.

If you want to know more about these activities, I have explained and shared resources about them in greater detail in the articles How To Introduce A Social Studies Class and Benefits To A Social Studies Curriculum

Three Activities

  1. Students examine what community, state, national, and/or world issues that they want to solve or explore. 
  2. Students complete personality type examinations that reveal character traits. There has been some debate as to whether these personality tests and types are accurate, but I believe it’s beneficial for students to think about who they are and what they value. Answering questions about themselves and receiving some kind of feedback helps them focus on what’s important to them.
  3. Students create surveys from questions that they want to know the answer to. For example, “Does your race (color of skin) affect how people treat you in society?” These questions are then sent out to peers, the school, or district to be answered anonymously.

“In an increasingly global society it is important that teachers have an awareness of the culture and values which may be dictating the child’s lifestyle, as well as understanding how wider issues affecting family life may have an adverse effect on a child’s development. It is only through an appreciation and understanding of these that the setting can meet the best interests of the child” (123)

Urie Bronfenbrenner

How does your community and families of students help shape and teach curriculum?

I believe asking students, the family, and the wider community to collaborate with one another will shape students’ appreciation for their environment and culture. In regard to history, they will develop a better sense of how history is used to justify and form the present and how issues of today possess a contextual past.

What I am missing from the above activities is how to better involve the family or community. Therefore, I have written some ideas on how to integrate family or community

  1. After students have identified community issues that they want to know more about, they can then be tasked with asking their family about the issue; family members would provide advice and insight to their children. Also, families could be contacted and asked if they have any resources about the community issues that students identified.
  2. In order to determine their personality type, students must complete a survey of questions. Parents and/or guardians could be asked to do the survey about their child. Students can review the results from the two surveys and reflect on any differences and similarities.
  3. The community could be asked to complete the survey that the students created. Students can compare the results of the two surveys and reflect on any differences and similarities.

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