Archive for Wednesday, May 17, 2000

History reflects more than the past

Teacher recognized for strong teaching

May 17, 2000

History isn't just about the past it's also about the future, says an eighth-grade history teacher.

"Sometimes the kids think history is just about boring old dead people and it has nothing to do with them," said Kathy Harrell.

"I try to stress that people back then were no different than we are today and that we can truly learn from studying their mistakes, as well as the things they did well," Harrell said.

"Studying history also does truly help us understand today. That's something a lot of kids don't realize."

Harrell said her parents sparked her lifelong fascination with history.

"When we were kids, our parents took us to cemeteries, which sounds rather morbid, and we went to historic sites," Harrell said. "Heritage was stressed to me on both sides, my mother and my father, and I think I attribute that to much of my love for history today."

To excite her students about history, Harrell lets them participate in "hands-on" exercises as much as possible. For instance, students are given the choice of acting out historical events if they want to, and of drawing events, as well as writing about them.

During studies of the Civil War, students spilt into North and South teams. Individual worksheet, quiz and test scores were tallied into team scores to see if the North or South would win.

To top off the Civil War exercises, the students re-created a battle scene, of sorts, in the school gymnasium.

"The South will have the high ground and will be barricaded," she said. "And the North will have to march in the open before them, and there will be a little Nerf ball fight."

Students respond to Harrell's personality, as well as to her tactics.

For instance, her student Heather Melchior recently wrote about why Harrell is one of her favorite teachers.

She began by saying, "I think any person who is brave enough to stand up in front of a group of junior high kids and survive has something going for them."

Another student, Amanda Lange, wrote that she had initially dreaded the class in American History.

"When I found out that history was in the beginning of the school day, I thought 'Oh, no, an hour of sleep,'" Lange wrote. "But to my shocking surprise, it was not an hour of sleep it was an hour of fun and learning."

April Salazar said she appreciated Harrell's unique teaching methods.

"She helps us study for a test by playing a game such as Jeopardy and other things, such as debates," Salazar wrote. "These things involve the students, which I believe is a better way of holding on to your knowledge than by reading a book. She is truly a remarkable teacher. We don't only consider her as a teacher, but as a friend."

As for Harrell, she said it's because of these students, and because of those with whom she teaches, that her teaching methods work.

"There's a sense of discovery with learning that my eighth-graders do have, and it's their excitement for learning," Harrell said. "I think that's something that keeps me going."

Eighth-graders are good about questioning things, Harrell said. "They help me see history from a different viewpoint, which is good for me it helps keep me fresh as a teacher."

Harrell also acknowledged the other teachers and staff.

"I realize how privileged I am to work with such a great staff and administration who continue to teach me every day and inspire me," she said. "I am just a product of them."

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