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“What If?” History Projects

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Regular readers know that “What If?” History projects are one of my favorite assignments each year. First, I have my IB Theory of Knowledge students create them, and then they come and help my English Language Learner History students make their own. You can see a ton of examples and supporting materials at The Best Resources For Teaching “What If?” History Lessons.

We began this year’s TOK project last week and, on the first day, one student asked a very reasonable question. She said, “Why are we doing this in TOK? It seems more appropriate for History class?”

I didn’t give a very articulate answer so, that night I created a one-page sheet on the topic, which you can download here (let me know how you think I can make it better). The paper talks about some of the connections between a project like this and TOK.

Then, before they began to work on their research at the library, I asked them to read it in pairs and answer this question in a short ABC paragraph (Answer the question; Back it up with evidence from the reading; make a Comment to elaborate): How is the “What If? History Project” connected to TOK – if it is?

I think it was a helpful exercise -both for me and for them. Here are a few excerpts from what students wrote:

TOK and the What If? project connect because it helps us think harder about what would have happened if this historic moment was any different. And if we make good counter arguments it helps our thinking in many other academic disciplines.

The connection between TOK and our What If? History project is that both TOK and history gives us an opportunity to look at things in a different perspective. With history, almost ever conflict deals with TOK’s Ways of Knowing – one’s emotion about the situation, one’s perception, the way one’s language was communicated, and ones reasoning behind the action.

TOK and the “What If?” History Project is connected in the sense that they both include us analyzing and going beyond the surface of the topic to get a better understanding of history and what causes what effects.

Theory of Knowledge is basically going beyond what you see. It’s about looking at things from different perspectives and reaching more than one conclusion, just like the “What If?” Project.

The What If? Project allows us to imagine what can happen or would have happened. It expands our knowledge because we search events that led up to that event and we use it to create our own scenario.

TOK connects to the What If? Project because of the Ways of Knowing is imagination and in the What If? project you have to use your imagination to create a picture in your head about what would have happened differently.

Over at the previously mentioned “Best” list, I also share many reflections students have written after they had completed the project.  I think it will be interesting to see if doing this “pre” exercise has any effect on the “post” reflections this year.

As I do every year, I’ll share some exemplars from this crop of projects later in the month….

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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