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Taking History Outside the Classroom: AP European History and Beyond
Meghan Bishop, 4/15/2010

Meghan Bishop is a PHAA homeschool graduate, and a graduate of Western Kentucky University (BA in History) and Indiana University (MA in History). She will be leading a 2nd section of our very popular online AP  European History course starting this fall-- you can read her full course description up on our www.aphomeschoolers.com website. I think you'll readily see that Meghan will bring the richness of her own homeschooling history studies, as well as her expertise gained from her university studies and professional work at many history museums and sites, to this course. It's great to have Meghan 'back' with us, this time as a teacher!

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*Meghan Bishop at her most recent job at the Tryon Palace Historical Site in North Carolina*

Stop for a moment.  Think of the word “history.”  What comes to mind?  What thoughts or memories does it conjure?

As you may well be aware, contrary to popular belief, history is not a subject that requires students to sit at a desk listening to a lecture or reading from a textbook for hours on end.  Teachers can bring history outside the classroom, into real life, and use it to educate students on an endless number of subjects.

The following article offers ideas for history education from my own homeschool, college, and career experience.  Starting in August 2010, I’ll be teaching AP European History online through PA Homeschoolers.  Although I plan to “teach the test” so my students enter the exam room well prepared, I also plan to give creative, fun, and relevant assignments that take history outside the classroom and directly into my students’ lives.

History was real life for me.  I lived it.  Growing up in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania meant absorbing history by osmosis.  It also meant watching history live, move, and breathe through reenactors.  If you are fortunate enough to live near a historic site, take advantage of it to teach history outside the classroom with fieldtrips to museums, programs, etc.  Even if you don’t live near a historic site, have your students do a project on the local history of their area, as I plan to do for my AP European History students.  (How does local American history relate to AP European History?  Sign up to find out!)

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*Meghan and her historically-minded fiance, Brian Paher*

I don’t subscribe to the rather interest-killing concept that “history is about dead people.”  History lives.  In elementary school, my parents introduced my sisters and me to the concept of living history through sites such as Colonial Williamsburg, Plimoth Plantation, and the Mayflower II.  One of the best ways to discover why people from the past acted and spoke in certain ways, did certain things, or used certain objects, is to observe—or, better yet, experience—it for yourself.  As a professional historian, I’ve been involved in a number of living history programs, from Conner Prairie’s “Follow the North Star,” in which participants become slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad, to portraying the wife of Colonial Governor William Tryon at Tryon Palace.  To understand and experience history more fully this coming year, my AP European History students will incorporate a living history element into their studies.

Because I learned history outside the classroom as a child, by high school when I took AP US History and AP European History through PA Homeschoolers (which was the single best thing my parents did to prepare me for college!), I saw history as a fascinating, living story.  I chose to major in history, then earned a Master’s degree with a specialization in public history (the public sphere of museums, archives, historic institutions, etc.).  As a result, I’ve worked at a number of historic institutions, including Conner Prairie, the Indiana Historical Society, the Shriver House Museum, the Indiana Medical History Museum, and Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens.  If your students are considering a college major or minor in history, encourage them to enroll in AP European History.  I will be glad to offer career guidance and help them explore the many options in the field.

History outside the classroom offers an amazing array of opportunities.  As a professional historian, I’ve been able to teach—and continue to learn—about the past in a number of unique ways: designing museum exhibits, examining artifacts, giving tours, demonstrating hearth cooking and historic sewing, teaching colonial and English country dance lessons, and portraying historic characters, among many others.  With each experience, I love watching the “ah-ha!” moments that hands-on history produces.  This coming year, I plan to use some of these methods of hands-on learning and history outside the classroom with my students in AP European History.

I am looking forward to returning this fall to the PA Homeschoolers’ on-line AP program as a teacher and introducing new students to a love of the past through the AP European History course.


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