History Lab Reports: A Template

Have you ever watched TV? Particularly a television program set in a high school (or with high school-aged people)? At the beginning of scenes that take place inside a classroom, there is brief shot to establish the type of classroom setting – if there are bunsen burners and the teacher is wearing safety goggles, it’s absolutely in a science class! If every student has the same book on their desk and appear to be reading it aloud, it must be an English class! When the teacher is at the front of the class lecturing near a map, it’s in history.

Yes my social studies friends, we get the boring one!

But why? History is not simply about passively taking in information and then regurgitating it back on chapter tests! It is about learning why the world is the way that is is today. It is about thinking critically about the past. In short, history is awesome. But why, according to television, is history simply a teacher lecturing near a map!?!

Follow up question, can we change it?

This year, I have decided to take a cue from the sciences and will transform my Freshmen US History class into a History Lab* – once a month during our extended classes (about 83 minutes).

The Setup: Students will be assigned a Lab Partner (which may change mid year). The class will be given a question to research like “What led to rise of political parties in the 1790s?”  There will be a brief write up of the question to set the stage (and perhaps students can use their textbooks) which students will use to create their hypothesis. After this step, they will be given a packet of about 6 primary documents. The partners will choose 4** out of the 6 documents to support or refute their original hypothesis. Upon completion, students will answer the initial question using evidence from the documents to support their answer.

I am currently putting the first few “labs” together but wanted to share with you the lab report template.

During March, I plan on having students revisit one of the labs to find another question to complete a research paper/project on.

For those interested in aligning activities with the Common Core State Standards, this template addresses

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
and possibly
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

My goal is to create a classroom environment that forces students to think and back up their thinking with evidence. I do hope, one day, that “provide evidence to support your answer” becomes to history as “show your work” is to math. The idea of the History Labs is to help bring us to that point.

Please, if you have any feedback or resources, share them! If you have other ways that you “flip the script” on the teacher lecturing near a map, share that too.

*Personally, I would love a completely new space for these to take place in. Someplace with high-topped tables where, ideally, every student is outfitted with a fedora and a magnifying glass. Every station would actually be set on a “white board” so students can take notes right there as well! There would also be exposed brick walls with a built in sound system because I’ll probably want to hang out their after school to plan.
**As was pointed out by a colleague, this number can be fluid depending on the documents.

About Michael K. Milton

I teach students Social Studies at Burlington High School. When I became a teacher, I believed that students would frequently give me apples. This has not happened (not even a Red Delicious ~ a name which is a misnomer). However, my school has given me a MacBook Pro and an iPad in an effort to right this wrong (I assume). I'm very lucky to work in a 1:1 school.
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11 Responses to History Lab Reports: A Template

  1. This is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do! Thank you!

    • Mary Wood says:

      This is how we roll! I am glad to see I am not the lonely only~ when I first read your intro about the television classroom, and what a history class looked like; I must say I was thinking “oh no,” I guess I am not a typical high school history teacher. However, as I read on I was relieved to find others who want to have fun learning and engaging in the past and show students what a real historian looks like.

  2. Lisa says:

    Your approach is exactly what DBQ project does, and they supply the primary and secondary source document copies with text-dependent questions with writing scaffolded support. Our district contracted with them and this is the first time I’ve ever seen History teachers this excited. Thank you for sharing your lab report format. I frequently share your site with Social Studies teachers in my district.

    • Absolutely, the idea is similar to a DBQ. I’m glad your colleagues are excited about using the DBQ Project!

      Thanks for sharing my blog with your colleagues! That is pretty neat to hear.

  3. I love the idea! Thanks so much for sharing your template. If my students complete a lab this year, I’ll be sure to share the results.

  4. Diana Marcus says:

    Students learn about the Scientific Method in 5th grade. What a great way for us to extend that learning! The Common Core skills are similar, and I can use many of the resources we already have in place. Thanks for the great idea!

  5. This is a great idea- it also causes students to state what they think they know and search for evidence to support/disprove their claims. Let us know how it goes!

  6. Great ideas as I completely agree that history is not a dull room to be in. I teach 6th grade an always tell my students that history is being changed all the time because of new discoveries and revisions. I tell them know their textbook was obsolete as soon as it came off the press.
    I use a key question each week to have students defend stances. They have 4 questions and pick 1 to argue with supporting evidence. I look forward to following your process.

  7. Karen says:

    Trying out the lab today with with Zheng He resources. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  8. Pingback: Going Meta: Cataloguing My Past Two Years of Blogging | Michael K. Milton ~ @42ThinkDeep

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