Turning history into more than memorization is the goal for Byron middle school teacher

Jordan Shearer, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.
·2 min read

Mar. 13—BYRON — Matt Weyers is trying to teach his students that history is more than an endless litany of dates and names sandwiched between the two covers of a textbook.

To help achieve that goal, he's undertaken a little bit of extra classroom time himself. The Byron Middle School teacher is one of 120 teachers throughout the country taking part in the National History Day spring professional development program.

The course "focuses on using online Library of Congress resources to develop and support historical arguments," according to a news release.

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In other words, its a class helping Weyers teach his students how to contextualize information — how to think about it critically. He says that's something that'll be beneficial for students throughout their lives, especially in an era of information overload.

"Good history teaching can be really productive for the kids as adults — (it's) that ability to critically think," Weyers said.

Weyers has tried to do that all along in his classroom. Nonetheless, the course is helping him communicate some of the broader goals of history to his students, such as the need not only understand history itself but also how that history impacts people today.

Armed with those thinking skills, he and his students delve into questions such as should historical figures be held to modern values? Can a particular leader be considered the greatest mover and shaker of their generation?

"The idea is to get kids more comfortable with the grey area of what history is," Weyers said. "It's getting kids to know that history can be its own specific method of thinking — that there's a specific process to it."

Weyers has been a teacher in Byron for the last 10 years, four of which have been spent as a history teacher. In the classroom, he engages his students, telling them at the beginning of the class that whatever they say, he's probably going to argue with them.

He likes introducing students to what history can be: not just a chronicle of the past, but a way to understand the present.

"Some version of 'how does this connect to the real world' comes up almost on a weekly basis with the kids," Weyers said.

As a seventh-grade teacher, Weyers is influencing students who are just starting to formulate their own views of the world rather than relying on those of their families. History class, in a way, is a chance for them to continue growing into their own personhood.

"They're genuinely curious. You can see them kind of mentally grappling with 'what do I think versus what do my parents think? And if I think something different, is that OK?'" Weyers said. "Coming into these conversations helps that along and helps that process. You know what, let's help these kids figure out who they are."