Experience is Learning


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Reflection on the process of creating DBQs for social studies: by Erik Nelson

My grandfather used to tell me stories of climbing Mt. Rainier in his youth. I loved his stories.  My imagination tried to relive those events, longing to know what that challenge was like. Growing up in Western Washington Rainier dominated our views on clear days; a monster of snow, ice and rock beckoning me. The challenge awaited, I needed to experience it for myself. No old person could tell me how or why, I needed to do it for myself.

As a young teacher, I am re-learning lessons I should have understood from my own past. Learning happens through experience. As a teacher, I need to focus on creating opportunities for my students to experience history and social studies for themselves so that they can draw their own conclusions. In the same way my grandfather’s stories enticed me to the mountain but could not tell me how or why, I can present opportunities for my students to develop their own hows and whys about social studies.

Creating my first DBQ has been an experience for me to learn as a teacher. It is very difficult for me to stay in the mindset of thinking how students might approach a document, let alone a series of documents. It is very easy for me to know how and why I am studying history, but not so easy for me to think how students might encounter the same sources. I am committed to treating my students as capable and independent learners, and DBQs like the ones we are creating in class can harness student independence and focus it into learning. As I curate source material and create accompanying questions to guide students I need to always keep the perspective of how they will approach the document in mind. This will allow me to give ownership of the creation of meaning and understanding to the students.

Going through this process has helped remind me that the learning found in experience can be truly rich, and should be the type of learning I am committed to regularly making available to my students. They will need to experience for themselves the lessons, and not simply be told an answer from this old guy. My own experiences on Mt. Rainier mean so much more to me that my grand father’s stories, but I might not have my own experiences if he had not presented the ideas and possibilities for me to explore on my own.

As a teacher, I hope I can always create opportunities for my students to learn through experience, and well crafted DBQs are a tool to facilitate that process. The irony is that I need to experience making more to make them well crafted. Further proof that the experiential process reveals the rich learning.

(This DBQ will be published in iBooks in Dec. 2014. Check back for the link and free download!)

Image Credit: Mazamas hiking trip to Mt. Rainier. Original Collection: Gerald W. Williams Collection. Item Number: WilliamsG:Mazamas_Ranier1905. Link.

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