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Funny History for Active Learning

May, 2018
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When the second semester of the school year started at Beijing Xin Fuxue International Academy, many students rushed to sign up for a selective after-school class on history.

xin-fuxue-teacher-and-funny-history-photos2As a matter of fact, so well received is Funny History that its creator, social studies teacher Xie Junyang, had to limit the number for enrolment in order to keep it from becoming too crowded. Xie began to offer the class in the previous semester in hope to teach something that is usually not included in textbooks, such as the history of false teeth or the toilet.

Fifth grader Chen Siyuan attended the class in its debut semester, partly attracted by its peculiar title. He found himself becoming aware of quite a few interesting things that won’t appear in textbooks. For example, once he learnt the development of the sewage system in cities and surprisingly and found out that the flushing toilet was only invented in the recent stage of human history.

“Before that, I didn’t have the faintest idea that toilets of old times didn’t have flushing water in the first place,” he says. That’s why he did not hesitate to enroll himself again this time.

New to the class, Grade 5 boy Zhou Junchen says, “I am fond of history. And when I saw the word ‘funny,’ I thought it must be very attractive. So, I chose the class.” Eventually, a total of 30 students from Grades 5-8 have been enlisted for Funny History in the new semester, almost tripling the small group of 11 students in the last. Funny History is taught every Monday afternoon for 5th and 6th Graders and Thursday afternoon for 7th and 8th Graders, each time lasting about 90 minutes. 

xin-fuxue-teacher-and-funny-history-photos4Each topic normally takes two 90-minute sections. The first is learning the knowledge and the second experiencing it via games, where the students may argue, debate, and compete individually or in groups.

The first topic of the class immediately aroused everyone’s curiosity. It was about the history of auctions and how they work. “After learning the knowledge, we had a model auction in class, where we bid against each other to see who could acquire the most. It was so much fun!” Zhou looks still excited as he recalls the scene.

Games such as the model auction are designed by Teacher Xie, partly being his own invention and partly based on existing games. Being a teacher for more than ten years, Xie believes that experiencing what they learn is crucial to the students.

That’s why when he decided to offer the selective class, he was determined to include games. “Nowadays, access to knowledge is diverse and convenient. Learning of history should not simply focus on remembering some facts and events, but rather it should place more emphasis on discussions, and the interchange of ideas and experience,” he says.

One of the popular topics was about the difference between a republic and a monarchy. After being taught the basic ideas and theories, the children were divided into two groups which played a chess game against each other.

On one side of the board, Group A had to decide a move by voting, with each member having equal voting rights. While on the other side, Group B’s move was always given as an order from just one member, who held the absolute power to make the decision by him or herself, but who did not get to see the chessboard and instead was fed with information by other members of the group.

So, while members of Group A would fall into fierce debate with everyone trying to convince others, the subordinate members of Group B would convey incomplete, distorted or false information to their highest leader, either deliberately or blindly since each of them had their own interests to attend to.

The children were so into it that Xie had to arrange additional sections for the game to conclude, because it took long for these excited learners to make just one move.

“I hope such experience will help instill them with something that may through the years take effects, so that one day when they come across an issue, they may suddenly catch a spark in their mind: ‘oh, I know how it works!’ though they may have forgotten the details,” so anticipates Xie.

 

By Qin Chuan

 

 

 

 

 

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