Shifting from “student” to “Student-Historian” is a paradigm shift for 7th graders. They’re no longer following instructions, per se, but a trail. Today, to facilitate that shift, we watched 35 minutes of a PBS documentary, “Hamilton’s America,” which followed Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on his research journey. Today’s lesson is a focus on the process, not just the product. Here’s a sample of what we watched (the full film requires a PBS membership):
Students have a few takeaways after watching this:
- “History takes a long time to understand.” (Miranda spent over 6 years working on Hamilton.
- “You need a LOT of resources.” (Miranda uses secondary sources like Chernow’s biography, as well as primary sources and artifacts at libraries and museums)
- “You need people to help you make sense of it all.” (a great cast and creative team help Miranda develop and execute his ideas; they share his passion)
- “He talks to lots of experts.” (several historians are featured, as Miranda used Chernow and others to develop understanding)
- “If you work hard, good things happen.” (preach!)
- “I want to do that.” (kids actually want to do History Fair performances now – that never happens.)
I don’t like spending much time watching videos in class, let alone one which takes up the entire class. We spent valuable time viewing this film because it’s that important. Miranda is the model Student Historian; Hamilton is his History Fair project. Students seem him work through an arduous but passionate research journey, and see him collaborate to construct an argument and presentation for people to enjoy. That’s exactly what a great History Fair project is. Students might not create the next Hamilton this year, but they’d be in great shape if they follow his enthusiastic lead!