I enjoyed working with thematic approaches to history, such as shelters and settlements, or materials in science, with a historical aspect embedded. This latter came into view again recently while watching a three part series on the Celts, and another about the Hundred Years War. In both series, it was the improvements in the technology of warfare that allowed successful winning of battles.
Being reasonably close to Butser Hill, near Petersfield, I was able to take children to the relatively newly developed experimental archaeological site being developed by Peter Reynolds. Peter was a gracious host and often led the visits, even with the relatively young visitors, showing them how the group of scientists worked from the ground plan of the excavated buildings, but had no real idea of how the upper parts and the thatching were arranged. This was the trial and error aspect. It took several attempts to establish what was the most likely methodology. The site at the top of the hill moved down into the Queen Elizabeth Country Park for a few years, before moving again to Chalton, nearer to Waterlooville. Each time, it has been developed through the experimental route. They are still exploring, but moving onto how Iron Age people kept grain through the winter and other nuanced explorations. It is again trial and error, some moderate certainty, especially when buildings last, or when crops succeed and the grain lasts through the winter. “Facts” are constantly changing, as discoveries enhance the knowledge base.
In teaching terms, there is a perennial debate about “best ways”. My experience is that every time I picked up a bright idea from colleagues, reading or courses, everything had to be adapted to the circumstances of the school; the available space resources and time, not to ignore the needs of the class at that time. I like to think of this as an adaptable evolutionary approach, which I think is likely to be shared by the larger proportion of the teaching profession. The best way is that which gets across the ideas needing to be shared to the largest part of the audience.
Ideas are shared through real life experiences, first hand, with second hand classroom experiences being supported by visuals, artefacts, sound, and tastes, relevant to the experience. Each brings a different and essential dimension to the learning experience and needs to be retained. The teacher voice is not necessarily an appropriate substitute for effective supporting resources.
I actually like the idea that we may not know everything, that explorations can add to and alter the sum of knowledge. I think children should also understand that what is presented as facts and knowledge might alter over time and that they should be prepared to reconsider what they know in the light of new information.
That’s what life offers, as well as lessons in class. I’m happy to keep learning and playing with ideas. Teachers are, quite often, very similar to experimental archaeologists.