Inside the Classroom: History at GPS

Dr. Andrea Becksvoort, History and Social Sciences Teacher
Walk into a sixth-grade Global Cultures class and you might encounter students in the midst of a spirited Balloon Debate. They are asked to imagine that they are the person who has impacted the world more than anyone else … ever. Who would they be? They can be dead or alive, male, or female, young or old, but they must be from Asia, the continent they recently studied. For this task, girls will take on the role of this person and create a persuasive speech to convince others of their importance, so they won’t be thrown out of the balloon. The winner of the balloon debate will have persuaded the audience that their ideas or actions have made the most significant impact on the world.

Walk into a ninth-grade Modern World History class and you might see students completing their National History Day project. This project allows students the freedom of choice in historical topic and project category; it therefore requires autonomy and self-management. As the majority of students work in groups, they develop effective communication skills, time management, and project collaboration. In the National History Day experience, students become experts within their topic and confidently communicate their research. Along the way, they learn to locate credible primary and secondary sources, utilize online databases, compose an MLA-formatted annotated bibliography, develop a research process paper, and construct an engaging product highlighting an arguable thesis. 

Walk into a United States Since 1945 class and you will see students working through a simulation in which they, as President Kennedy, had to decide how to handle the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Working in groups, the girls had to weigh options and unknowns within the complicated calculus of the Cold War. How could the U.S. protect its territory, credibly act as a global champion of the free world, push hard enough to get Khrushchev to remove the missiles, and yet not back the Soviets into such a tight corner that they might see no alternative to a nuclear strike? How could Kennedy look tough enough to get reelected, especially in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, and not escalate the situation to a point of no return? 

While on the surface, each of these signature classroom experiences are different, they are all part of a curriculum that helps students develop their historical thinking skills. The teachers in our history and social sciences classrooms ground the student in her own learning journey, equipping her to ask good questions and make evidence-based arguments. The intent is not to require students to memorize facts and dates, but to encourage analysis and critical thinking about the past and its effect on society. Each class is part of a mosaic that enables the department to achieve its mission. The History/Social Sciences Department at GPS prepares each girl to ask meaningful questions about the world and its peoples by exploring interpretations and impact of the past still felt today. The department challenges girls to consider multiple perspectives and think critically, to build communication skills for powerful self-expression, and to act with intent and responsibility.