Class detectives' clue to history

17th November 2006 at 00:00
FOR SOME lecturers, it might be enough simply to get the interactive whiteboard working. But one history teacher has been singled out for praise after designing a computer game which turns students into detectives and evokes Stalin's rule of terror.

Ofsted said the creation of a murder mystery game inspired by Stalin's purges and the assassination of reformer Sergei Kirov was an example that should be imitated at other colleges.

The game, which inspectors say is designed to professional standards, allows students to explore contemporary sources, follow up clues and produce the evidence to identify the guilty party.

It was just one of several ideas about how to teach history which were highlighted by Ofsted's latest report on good classroom practice.

The game was the brainchild of Jonathan Hills, at South Cheshire Sixth Form College. He developed the concept and sought the help of the college's IT wizards to make a working software programme .

It recreates the building in which the murder took place, including images of Kirov's office, based on photographs.

The game, part of the students' AS-level studies, is played following a briefing from Mr Hills about the situation in the Soviet Union in 1934, including an explanation of Stalin's struggling agricultural policy. "This was an exciting, challenging and imaginative lesson," the inspectors said.

A number of theories emerge, including the possibility that the killing was the work of a lone assassin, that it was carried out on Stalin's direct orders and that it was the work of the secret police.

Each student starts with different clues and, during their enquiries, develops and tests their knowledge of the historical context surrounding the murder.

Mr Hills says more history games are under development.

Oldham Sixth Form College was praised for working with schools, using its "junior university" to boost GCSE results and increase participation in further and higher education, holding master classes for school pupils.

One college asked its students to devise a secondary school history curriculum, to encourage discussion about history's purpose and relevance.

Another approach was to run a mock trial of William the Conqueror, defending himself against the charge of putting down rebellion too brutally.

Good history departments demonstrated a variety of teaching methods, several enrichment activities, and very good additional learning support, from exam preparation to help with dyslexia.

"Teachers were highly effective in helping learners to meet course requirements," said Ofsted.

"Lessons were well-planned, full of variety, appropriately paced and enjoyable.

"The use of group work to promote critical thinking, analysis and debate was exemplary."

FE teaching was praised by students for offering more choice and variety than the "patchy" pre-16 history lessons and the "tedious" focus on Hitler.

Lecturers were concerned that students thought history was a difficult subject and that it was being increasingly marginalised in schools, affecting enrolments.

Any colleges wishing to learning more about the ideas in the report, Sharing good practice: a survey of history in colleges, will have to to some detective work of their own. A list of the colleges looked at is provided but the case studies are not credited individually to them.

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