Beyond Memorization

Teaching history is one thing…teaching students how to think is a whole other beast. Gone are the days of having students memorize names/dates and color in maps. Technology has opened the doors for teachers to change the way students learn. It starts with a mindset shift. Teachers need to understand why we need to change the way we teach but also how to best integrate technology create an authentic learning environment that is engaging and meaningful for our students.
I am lucky to have a group of teachers with whom to share my thoughts about how best to create an active learning environment for my students. Most students enter my classroom (I teach 7th grade) with the idea that they hate history. H.A.T.E. I’m not sure why or how this happened…but I have an inkling that it probably had something to do with them being forced to memorize useless information that could easily be Googled today. 
In my class do students have to remember things? Absolutely. I’m of the mindset that students cannot write or articulate their thoughts without remembering certain things. But I think that if you create a learning environment that is engaging, students will remember things. They’ll do it because it’s part of the active learning process.
Creating a classroom culture and learning environment to allow for this is not impossible. I cringe when I hear my own students talking about having to memorize passages from Shakespeare’s plays. I mean, unless they are going to become a thespian focusing on Shakespearian plays…how is that in any way adding value to their learning? 
In fact, just the other day, a colleague of mine (from a different school) told me that he heard AP US history students at his school were having to memorize the order of our presidents. Seriously? In an APUSH class? 
Why not utilize technology to make learning relevant? Why not ask students to create something that demonstrates their learning? Put the onus of learning on the student. Give them a choice in demonstrating what they have learned. But don’t make them memorize things. We’re in the 21st century and our students deserve better than that.