9th Grade Students Bring Historical Analysis to Physical Life

Windward Communications

In January 2023, 9th Grade Habits of Historical Thinking students spent three weeks developing their historical analysis and argumentation skills and exploring, through their own research, the effects that the emergence of states and institutionalized inequality had on human life and social structures.

Having looked at the case studies of Egypt and Mesopotamia earlier in the unit, the students identified other early civilizations that they were interested in examining, among them Minoan Crete, Mycenae, Aksum, Harappa, the Shang Dynasty, Phoenicia, and the Olmec and Mayan states. After completing background research on their chosen society, the students generated research questions based on their individual interests and began the process of locating and vetting academic sources relevant to their questions. As part of their research, students were tasked with identifying a piece of material culture that was particularly illuminating, as well as writing a visual analysis explaining how their primary source sheds light on their research question. 

In order to deepen their understanding of their primary source, students spent time in the CREATE Studio where, with the expert guidance of Windward’s Resident Tinkerer, Max Nishimura, they set about recreating their material culture objects. The goal for this part of the project was to have a kinesthetic learning experience in which students were forced to think deeply about the materiality of their object and the relationship between it and its environment. Reconstructing the physical aspects of their artifact - such as shape, size, material, color, and design - afforded students the opportunity to consider the intention of the creator, as well as how it may have been perceived or functioned within the society that produced it. Thinking about their artifacts on this level and within the context of their research allowed students to identify the way in which the built environment functioned to demarcate and reinforce social hierarchy, to understand how religion often served to legitimize political power, and to visualize extensive trade networks between complex societies, among other examples. 

“It has been wonderful to see the immediate benefits of students’ time in the CREATE Studio,” said History Teacher Brittany Berriz. “Breaking down their artifacts for re-creation has allowed students to apply the context knowledge they’ve gained from their research to analyze what each element of the artifact contributes to their understanding of the question they posed. This, in turn, is translating  into much stronger argumentation as they now understand how much more effective an argument is when it is constructed around the analysis of evidence, and how much easier it is to write an essay when that same evidence is then used to support the argument. The ‘aha!’ moments have been a joy to witness!” 

Special thanks to Brittany, Max, Hatim Malek, and Kyle Shimoda for putting this excellent lesson together!