Mysteries in History: History-based activities with post-secondary students
Chatteris' own Alex Budanov on bringing history to life in the classroom.
In multiple schools all over Hong Kong I met students with a profound knowledge of world history. Their interpretations and conclusions were original and fresh. We could debate for hours, with topics floating from prehistoric societies and Egyptian characters to the Cuban Missile Crisis and modern politics. History is so addictive. It is so alive. You can put yourself into the shoes of a historic figure and try to learn from them and absorb rich life-long experience. Here, I’m going to share how I’ve incorporated my country’s history into activities for students to enjoy at school…
One of my students constantly carried two books of Joseph Stalin’s biography in his backpack. He didn’t know too much about him as a politician, but was really inspired by how hardworking and ambitious Stalin was. Together, we drew a timeline of Stalin’s rule, tracking his achievements across time whilst condemning his crimes. As we created this timeline, we both found it very interesting to compare Stalin to his political rivals like Churchill, Truman and Hitler. Our conclusion was that dark times quite often breed harsh and brutal rulers. At the end of our activity, I recommended a couple of podcasts and books on the topic to satisfy this students’ thirst for knowledge.
Another time, I initiated a ‘Day Trip to Russia’ workshop in my school. My role was to help students plan a trip to Russia, in which they would have to pick a destination (one of the three major cities), describe its cultural and historic heritage, and give some travelling tips on public transport, visa requirements, and the best places to visit. Students were amazed as I showed them the impressive dungeons of Moscow Metro, deep as dwarven tunnels (built by Stalin, by the way), perhaps as magnificent and grand as European cathedrals. They went away with a fresh thirst to visit a less traditional European destination.
Once, I found a student who turned out to be an actual walking encyclopedia! He knew every single date/ruler/battle of Russian history and constantly bombarded me with questions about the origin of Slavic ancient tribes, Mongolian invasion, and Russian revolutions and world wars. His curiosity was endless. But his vision of Russian people living through these events was a bit monochrome and stereotypical, portrayed mostly by Hollywood images. He was seeking deeper insights from a native. Later he mentioned a new drama, Chernobyl, a disaster movie about an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union in 1986. He was captivated by the thrill and terror and for him, it looked incredibly real as the creators were mimicking the real documentaries about the disaster. However, Chernobyl the drama, only looks like the Soviet Union. The drama is made by modern people and for modern people; a classic tear-jerker.
These activities made both the students and I think, open up new topics, and expand our horizons. My students proposed I create further history-related activities to inspire even more students to join our debates and share their opinions. I followed their advice and created an activity focusing on the greatest world figures and their achievements, in which students took part in simple matching game to refresh their memory and learn some new facts.