Out-of-the-classroom ways to engage young learners

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb 10 – The new Broadway show, Hamilton, is a history lesson put to music and a “perfect example” of how teachers can use out-of-the-classroom resources to engage their students in school, according to award-winning educator Neme Alperstein.

Alperstein has nearly 30 years of teaching experience, and numerous honors for her work with gifted and talented students in New York City’s Public School system. She is also a staunch advocate of using extra-curricular activities to “fire up” young learners, particularly when it comes to putting history lessons into an absorbing context.

“What better example is there than the new Broadway show, Hamilton, written in rap and hip hop style? The story alone is compelling, and teachers who find an interesting story in any historical period can make history enchanting,” she says.

Few will dispute the notion that history lessons can be boring, particularly for middle school students. Nor will they disagree that history lessons are important.

“For young learners, history class should make them curious as to why an event or a personality from the past impacts their lives. A story of the past offers a context in which to place events of the present and future that illuminate and further understanding.”

Alperstein says a musical such as Hamilton is not the only means of motivating youngsters; teachers have numerous opportunities as well.

“The Library of Congress has a huge online presence with resources to support research with the touch of keyboard. The Teaching With Primary Sources Teachers Network is another excellent and free resource. In addition, art museums and local historical societies are also wonderful sources of historical context.”

One of the simplest and most immediate ways of getting the attention of students might be to assign the class to read “a good page-turner of a book,” a work of historically accurate fiction or nonfiction that can absorb him or her, according to Alperstein. She was recently selected to sit on the Panel of Judges for the 2016 Grateful American Book Prize, which encourages authors and publishers to produce such works for young learners.

“The Prize,” she explains, “is a powerful invitation for new and established authors to step back in time and relate with historical accuracy an adventure. Aspiring authors can reimagine the impact of events on characters through fictional accounts, or reveal new interpretations of history in nonfictional accounts. Meanwhile, historically accurate books can transport, enchant and uplift the reader— young learners in particular.”

The 2015 winner was Kathy Cannon Wiechman for Like a River: A Civil War Novel. It was described by Prize co-founder David Bruce Smith, who is also an author and publisher, as “an exemplar of what the award is all about, riveting books that rouse the emotions of young readers in a way that leaves them wanting to learn more about a critical era in the evolution of the country. It goes beyond the dry retelling of the Civil War that often puts students to sleep at their desks during history class.”