“Why are we studying history?”

A few posts back, I wrote about bringing reading into my biology classes. This week, I brought in some history… I love confusing my kids! haha!  There are two reasons I did this: it hooks the kids who are interested in history, but not science and it shows them how important understanding biology is in the real world.

We were in the middle of our Fungi unit (which most of them are not real interested in anyway). So I brought in the Salem Witch trials because there is lots of evidence that the horrible events of 1692 were actually caused by a fungus! When they came in to class, I gave each student a colored pencil. Then they were told to get into groups of 4 or 5 based on those colors (there could not be 2 people with the same color in a group). Each group was given a poster board. On the back, each student wrote their name in their color (this way I can tell who actually wrote what). On the front, they divided the board into Who What Where When and Why.

The 5Ws of the Salem Witch Trials

The 5Ws of the Salem Witch Trials

Each student got an iPad and they had 15 minutes to find as much information as possible to fill in each section of the board about the Salem Witch Trials. I let each group decide how they divided the work; some assigned each person a section, others had each person write as much as they could find in whatever section they wanted. At this point, students start asking “why are we studying history?” I love this!


Then we come back together and bring in the biology. I printed off the information from the PBS link below: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/previous_seasons/case_salem/

It gives them a good description of what happened and the current research that the events were actually caused by a fungus. This completely blows most of their minds. “So they were on DRUGS?” Then they go back to their station and have to explain how science could have changed history. They can draw a comic or write a short story. By the end of class, they are making the connection that science could have saved the lives of the 20 accused victims.

We did this activity in a 45 minute class period. I’m sure you could adapt it to draw it out, most students are pretty interested. There’s also a really great video that I have shown…. and lost the name of. So if anyone knows what I am talking about, let me know! They discuss the fungus, but also get into the mob mentality that led to mass hysteria.

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