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Family History is a great motivator for the classroom because it gets students personally involved with history, and in the process involve language arts, reading, handwriting analysis, geography, economics, civics and more. Critical thinking really begins when it involves personal reasons for:
• Learning and understanding why they need to plan and organize research
• Using secondary sources to guide their search for primary sources
• Utilizing forms and programs to keep on track
Students also (with your help) can learn to:
· Locate primary sources in person and on the web
· Carefully analyze both primary and secondary sources to look for details and detect bias
· Write citations and keep careful records
Of course, utilizing family history can be a daunting experience because the students are all learning at different levels and speed and are all working on separate projects. I have known several prize-winning teachers who do it successfully however.
Some secrets I have learned from them are:
· Focus on a specific time period. (Late 19th and 20th century records are more readily available, so that is a good place to start. You will want to narrow it down further than that, though.)
· Learn family history principles yourself.
· Get a couple of volunteer helpers (who also know family history principles) to assist on the research-heavy days.
· Have each student focus on ONE PERSON in their family tree. This keeps it from getting too overwhelming!
Also be aware that not all families want their family history known and some students come from foreign countries that have limited access to individual records. So be prepared to have that student search some other family, such as a famous U.S. athlete or a U.S. President’s family member in place of their own. I once had a student search one of a President's household workers in the White House. It was great fun!