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Š 2013 Hilary Braun The book was typeset in Chronicle Text G1 and printed on French Paper Company 80 lb. text weight paper. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the Copyright owner. Printed in The United States of America

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Secrets Degree Project

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7 the issue 8 secrets 12 beginnings 20 learning 24 educators 26 trying 29 conclusion 30 references

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the issue

History is boring. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard from my peers my whole life. What about the way history is taught causes students to lose interest? People have a difficult time understanding and relating to history when it is taught by giving lectures on a series of dry facts; they want something they can connect to. When we develop a deeper understanding of history, we give our own lives context. It allows us to understand ourselves, our place in society and it gives our present meaning. The current educational systems place too much importance on the broader view of history. Although there is value in seeing the big picture, students lose curiosity because it is more difficult to connect the

broad view to their own lives. Secrets is a game that helps students attain a deeper understanding by focusing on individual historical figures. Learning about the secrets of these peoples lives will reveal a side of history students can relate to. Human nature and our vulnerabilities are timeless. Before you can truly understand the broader viewpoints of history, you must connect to the people who lived it. In Secrets students take the role of investigator and philosopher; they become active participants in their education. The end goal of this activity is not for students to be able to name 25 battle dates, but to relate their own life experiences to a person who fought in that battle.

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Secrets Secrets was made to be a versatile game that can be built into lessons for multiple age groups about any time period or focus in history. For this example, let’s say a seventh grade classroom is studying American history with a focus on the Civil Rights movement. It is recommended that teachers do not keep score. Failure is encouraged in this game; the value does not lie in getting the right answers, but in thinking critically about the people and subject matter.

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how to play 1

The class should be divided into small groups of about 3–5 members.


Each group picks a historical figure they find interesting, relating to the unit they are studying at the moment.


The group researches their figure and writes down the five most surprising or interesting details about the life of that person. They should cite their resources. The group also will provide a photo of their figure.


When all of the groups have created their secrets, they give them to the teacher. The teacher types up all of the secrets for all of the groups, prints them out, cuts them into strips and shuffles them.


Each group will get a copy of all of the secrets and pictures for the historical fig- ures (except the secrets and picture for the person they researched).


The groups must guess, based on the general knowledge they have learned during the unit, whose secrets belong to who.









When everyone is ready, each group must present their guesses and their reasoning behind why they guessed each one.

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the people

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the secrets

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Secrets started out when we were asked to write a list of 50 interests in preparation for our degree project last year. A lot of items on my list related to history. It has always been my favorite subject, but my curiosity has grown in college. My love of history was something that set me apart from my peers. My roommates gave bored expressions whenever I tried sharing what I had learned in my Civil War and Reconstruction class that day. Overall, the reaction I have always heard from the majority of people in my life is that they found history classes to be pretty dull. So for my first degree project class I tried explaining why I thought history was so interesting and important. I told everyone that my goal was to make some sort of educational tool to encourage student curiosity. There may have been other reactions, but the question that stuck out to me was “Who cares?”. It wasn’t said in a

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malicious way but it took me aback. I had always taken for granted that many people didn’t really care about history, but I was surprised that when I was asked why it was so important, I couldn’t answer. It just is. Everyone knows it is. Or is it? Why do we study history? Why should we care? These were the questions I first set out to answer at the beginning of the semester. But with portfolio classes, internships and my job, degree project was sent to the bottom of my to-do list. I thought I had too many things going on, so there should be some quick and easy way to answer these questions. Like any other 21st century student, I turned to google. Because where else do you go to find the answers to life’s biggest questions? Unfortunately, what I got were phrases that sounded like bad movie tag lines. “It is our destiny” “Imagine if we did not learn from our and others mistakes and repeated the Holocaust or

When I was eight, my boss

burned my hands

if I put too much soap in the laundry.

josephine baker

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er was pregnant teen times and died erculosis cervical cer.

I was wa



margaret sanger

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ought in the Civil War. I opened the first family plann birth control center in B was divorced fr band in 191 and date


Civil War again.” “It harbors beauty”, and the personal favorite of every boring grade school teacher “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. These all sounded very dramatic, and they didn’t resonate with me at all. I needed to move on to plan B to get my easy answer: ask someone really, really smart. I e-mailed a few of my favorite history teachers at Mass Art and asked them why they thought history was important. The first response I got was from Jasminka Udovicki. She asked me to let her know what my thoughts were first, and then we would correspond. Great. I was trying to avoid all of that hard thinking by getting my answers off the internet, and now I had to reply with my own genuine answer. I decided that I needed to sit down at the kitchen table, away from all distractions, shut my brain off of all the other projects I was worrying

about, and focus on my question. Once I allowed myself to slow down, I was able to think clearly and my own answer came naturally. I replied to Jasminka’s e-mail: “I feel that my interest in history really took a turn in college where I started to learn about events through the eyes of a person, rather than ‘The battle of so and so happened on July 15, 1865. One thousand soldiers died’. This past semester I took a social science course about the Civil War and I skipped ahead in our text to read a chapter on Andrew Johnson, and really disliked him. And then I went back to read the previous chapter about his upbringing and I understood the reasons for his actions better. I understood the mind set of people who grew up poor in the South better. And then it became clearer to me how the United States came to a point of Civil War. I find history to be at its best when it helps you understand human interac-

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“We remain of the surface if we know nothing but the present. Understanding history gives texture and lifeblood to our grasp of things. It enlivens our comprehension and adds a dimension to it that otherwise would not be there. This is in a way like adding a third dimension to length and width. In that third (historical) dimension  things begin to breathe, to become real, to make sense. And we begin to make sense to ourselves.” Jasminka Udovicki

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I visited my wife's tomb a year after her death

I had beentions that seem inexplicable. History helps me understand people, and informs how denounced I approach my own interactions moving forward in time.” as an I athewas initially worried to respond to Jasminka’s ist when Iquestion. But giving the question the time and focus needed to answer itthat made me realize that I had known it all said along, I just hadn’t put enough energy in processing Jesus wasit. Jasminka replied: “Right! This is a really nice explanation. I think history gives us a context to understand not awhat God. we are looking at (this can be design, or Andrew Jackson, or rock and roll). I wasHow not can hip-hop be understood with out knowing asked to something about rock, and rock without knowing something about the blues? speak atHow can the blues be understood without knowing about slavery? Things are linked! There’s no in-depth grasp of any Harvard thing, event, or period, including our own, with out a broader historical view; we for another thirty 20 | Secrets

remain of the surface if we know nothing but the present. Understanding history gives texture and lifeblood to our grasp of things. It enlivens our comprehension and adds a dimension to it that otherwise would not be there. This is in a way like adding a third dimension to length and width. In that third (historical) dimension things begin to breathe, to become real, to make sense. And we begin to make sense to ourselves.” In both her response, and her ability to help me pull my own thoughts out of my head, I found the passionate answer to my question “Why study history?”. It also set the tone for how I would have to work for the rest of the project. I needed to be patient with myself and understand that good results would not come by trying to rush and find the easy answer. I had to put effort into the process and the search in order to create something meaningful.

and opene

Ralph Waldo Emerson

ed the coffin. Secrets | 21


My next dilemma was figuring out how share this with students. I wanted to create an activity that would help students connect the perspectives and lives of historical figures to their own experiences. Gunta suggested that I look into Constructivist learning theories. Through all the research, five main points stuck out as things that would be imperative to the success of the activity I developed. The first was that failure is good. We learn from our failures. Success comes from failure, not fear of failure. The second was that learning should be hands on. While I was doing the research for this, I also happened to be on a trip to the Netherlands. We were visiting a studio, Trapped in Suburbia, and they were talking about some exhibits they had curated as graphic designers. They said a motto they worked by was “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” I knew that

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the activity I created needed to be something that engaged students and actively involved them in the learning process. The third point I took from my research was that students learn best when you ask them about their own lives and interests, as well as how they can connect it to the subject matter they are studying. I interviewed my cousin Nicole Glennon, a middle school history teacher, and asked her if the points I deemed were important in my research were also important in her real life experiences. Of all the points I listed in my initial research, she said that students are really seeking to connect things to their own lives. They want to share their stories with others, and they want to know how the fit in the scheme of history. The fourth point was the most surprising to me, it was that students learn more effectively when working in small groups. Children who are less likely to speak up

“Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” Trapped In Suburbia

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My wife and mother both died on the same day, and my first child had been born only two days earlier. rarely spoke of my first wife fter that day. I did ot mention ther of my arriages my aubigraes d

during class sessions might feel more comfortable saying something in a smaller setting. They build strong communication skills and are more likely to challenge assumptions when working in small groups. Students can also pool knowledge and work off each others strengths. Studies I read found that students achieve more in cooperative learning, they are more positive about school, subject areas, peers and teachers and more effective interpersonally. The fifth and final point was that teachers should ask students to debate and question the material that they learn. With these five points in mind, I set aside my train rides in the Netherlands as my thinking time for the activity I wanted to create. I went through a series of ideas that were interesting, but did not meet all of the goals I wanted to achieve for this project. I reminded myself of my original point, that studying history was about

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knowing people. And seeing the world and its events through the eyes of another person. How do we know another person? What sets my relationship from my best friend apart from my relationship with a stranger? I know her secrets. I know the details of her life. I wanted to share this feeling of being bonded to another person in my activity, and that’s when I realized that my game should be what became Secrets. I did not understand why historical events occurred when I first studied Andrew Johnson’s presidency. It made me feel uncertain and frightful about how things could be so unpredictable in the world. But when I read about Andrew Johnson’s youth, I learned about his vulnerabilities. I didn’t agree with his decisions, but I saw the world through his eyes and my own world made more sense. The Civil War isn’t a distant and unreachable place when you learn about the timelessness of human nature.

I gave a public speech

right after I was shot in the chest by an assasin.

theodore ROOSEVELT

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diana laufenberg “We deal right now in the educational landscape with an infatuation with the culture of one right answer that can be properly bubbled on the average multiple choice test, and I am here to share with you: it is not learning. That is the absolute wrong thing to ask, to tell kids to never be wrong. To ask them to always have the right answer doesn’t allow them to learn.”

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sir ken robinson

maria montessori

“The fact is that given the “We cannot know the conchallenges we face, educasequences of suppressing a tion doesn't need to be child's spontaneity when he reformed — it needs to be is just beginning to be active. transformed. The key to We may even suffocate life itthis transformation is not to self. That humanity which is standardize education, but revealed in all its intellectual to personalize it, to build splendor during the sweet achievement on discoverand tender age of childhood ing the individual talents of should be respected with a each child, to put students kind of religious veneration. in an environment where Education cannot be effecthey want to learn and tive unless it helps a child to where they can naturally open up himself to life.” discover their true passions.”

david johnson “Our research and the research of many others has established that having students work together cooperatively is a powerful way for them to learn and has positive effects on the classroom climate. This has been verified by teachers in classrooms from preschool through graduate school. The ability of all students to learn to work cooperatively with others is the keystone to building and maintaining stable marriages, families, careers, and friendships.”

john dewey “The only freedom that is of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence, that is to say, freedom of observation and of judgment, exercised in behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worth while. The commonest mistake made about freedom is, I think, to identify it with freedom of movement, or, with the external or physical side of activity.”

dennis littky “If we didn’t know there was such a thing as school, what would it be? It wouldn’t be 45-minute classes. It wouldn’t be memorization. We’d be trying to engage students. One word high school students use to describe school: boring. It’s sad because adolescence is the greatest time of your life. We were going to work on what motivates the students. You start from their interest and passion.”

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I did two case studies for this project. The first was a test run with my Degree class upon my return from the Netherlands. I did this first case study on figures relating to the Civil Rights movement. The students were eager to try it out and give their reasons on why each secret belonged to each person. This was a good indicator for me, but Gunta suggested that I give it a full test run with her freshman class. They were studying graphic design history, and they had been broken into five groups to study an influential designers. Because I had limited time, I took the designers they chose to study and researched the secrets myself. I arrived at their class with a picture and 5 secrets for each person. They had 25 minutes to talk and debate about the secrets and who they belonged to. All they had to base their guesses on was the lessons they had received on general graphic design history during the semester and the research they had done on their historical figure. This case study helped me understand the strengths of my activity. Some of my

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goals were built in to the game as almost prerequisites; the results of them being part of the game were fairly predictable. I was unsure if others would work until I actually tried the game. Two examples of goals that were built in to the games structure was that it would be hands on. The student must participate and be active in the learning process. They must reason and contemplate. The other was that students would be able to choose the historical figure that interested them as long as it related to the course material. Of all the goals I had from my research, the most notable success was the learning that came out of failure. A lot of the students matched an incorrect secret for the person, but gave very intriguing answers as to why that secret should belong in the spot they put it. It was obvious that a lot of critical thinking went into the answer that they gave. An example of this can be seen on the next page. They got the answer wrong, but they learned an unexpected detail about a persons life.

Who does this secret belong to? known to be temperamental; he / she would throw out dinner if it didn't meet their standards

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In a dispute over tribal leadership,

my brother shot me in the wrist.

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little crow


It is my hope that these surprises pique student interest in history. As I had mentioned in the first section of my book, this game is a competition of sorts, but I purposefully eliminated the idea of having winners and losers after going through iterations of my game. I realized after going through this case study that it was much more important to think through your reasoning than to have a correct answer. The final goal was to have the students work in groups. I could not say for sure that the activity achieved the benefits brought up in my research because many of them are noticed over a long period of time. I did, however, see that all of the students were participating and talking through the activity. In large class settings I have noticed that students are less likely to speak up than if they are in small groups. When I first introduced the project to the class I was nervous because everyone was pretty quiet. I was happily surprised to see that once students were in their small groups

they were much more comfortable talking. I think there is a lot of pressure to be right when you are giving an answer in front of a whole class. You can be comfortable in taking a chance on being wrong in front of a smaller group. Another important goal of this activity was that it should encourage students to debate. Many students in the case study groups had strong feelings about why one secret belonged in a certain category, and the group would go back and forth about what the answer was. Talking through these small arguments helped students formulate better answers when they presented at the end of the game. I am glad that I set out the five guidelines from Constructivist learning theories because it allowed me to see where the strengths of this project were. In the end, I feel that my game was successful in helping students realize how closely connected they are to other people in history, and how much they can learn by seeing an event through someone else’s eyes.

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references Brown, Tim. “ Tales of Creative and Play.” Serious Play 2010. Ted Talks. May 2008. Lecture.

Littky, Dennis. " Enabling Innovation in Education." Ted X. March 2011. Lecture.

Coleman, Liz. “Call to Reinvent Liberal Arts Education.” Ted Talks. Feb 2009. Speech.

Luttmer, Frank.“Why Study History?.” Hanover His- torical Review. Hanover College, n.d. Web. 2 Feb 2013. <http://>.

Doolittle, Peter, and David Hicks. “Constructivism as a Theoretical Foundation for the Use of Technology in Social Studies.”Technology, Constructivism, & Social Studies”. n. page. Print. Drori, Jonathan.“What We Think We Know.” Ted Talks. November 2007 . Speech. “Eberly Center: Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation.” What are the benefits of group work?. Carnegie Mellon. Web. 24 Mar 2013. <http://www. alstrategies/groupprojects/benefits.html>. "Focus on Effectiveness.” Northwest Regional Educa- tional Laboratory. n. page. Web. 24 Mar. 2013. <http://>. Hein, George. “Constructivist Learning Theory.” CECA (International Committee of Museum Educators) Confer ence. (1991): n. page. Print. Hein, George “ The Constructivist Museum” (195): n. page. Print. “Historical Understanding.” National Center for History in the Schools UCLA. < Standards/standards-for-grades-k-4/developing- standards-in-grades-k-4/historical-understanding>. “John Dewey.” <> Laufenburg, Diana.“How to Learn? From Mistakes.” Ted X. November 2010. Lecture.

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Robert, and David Johnson. “Cooperative Learning: Two Heads Learn Better Than One.” Transforming Educa tion. n. page. Print. <http:// iclib/ic18/johnson/>. Robinson, Ken. “Bring on the learning revolution.” Ted Talks. May 2010. Lecture. Sagmeister, Stefan. “Designing with Slogans.” Ted Talks. Sep 2008. Lecture. Sarkisian, Ellen.“Working In Groups.” Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. (2010): n. page. Web. Slavin, Robert, Anne Chamberlain, and Eric Hurley. “Cooperative Learning in the Social Studies: Balanc- ing the Social and the Studies.” John Hopkins University. n. page. Web. 24 Mar. 2013. <www. wp-content/uploads/CL-and-the- social-studies.pdf>. Stearns , Peter.“Why Study History?.” American Histori- cal Association. N.p., 11 Jul 2008. Web. 2 Feb 2013. <http:// History.html Venkatraman, Vijaysree . “The Storyteller.” MIT Tech- nology Review. n. page. Print. <http://www.technolo- gyreview. com/article/425099/the-storyteller/>.

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Secrets Degree


Secrets Degree