The biggest challenge facing teachers and communicators of history is not to teach history itself, nor even the lessons of history, but why history matters. History is not the story of strangers, or aliens from another place, it is our story had we been born a little earlier. The power of embedding personal and local stories into national narratives and using meaningful inquiries are important lessons learned from the past 24 years of history in the UK national curriculum.
Inquiry-based or investigative learning should involve an element of mystery – an enticing and meaningful inquiry question framing a series of lessons. Getting the inquiry question ‘right’ is key. Start with a hook or a puzzle to capture interest (names on the local war memorial, a letter, a song, a series of pictures, a postcard, a photograph), make a connection (why should I care?), establish an inquiry or investigation and provide students with the opportunity to show what they can do. The learning must have a real focus with students working like ‘real’ historians to frame questions, solve a puzzle, test a hypothesis, challenge a misconception or reconstruct the past from a variety of visual and written sources – archives, artefacts, photographs, landscape, buildings, etc. An active, multi-sensory approach using real and ‘original’ documents builds a connection between the student and their inquiry as they develop a greater sense of feeling for the source and the person who wrote or read it.
The Rocks offers students the opportunity to engage with the historic environment and archaeological, written and visual sources, to connect with real places and artefacts, and the people who lived and worked here. It also represents a real example of how the past is interpreted and reinterpreted, of the connections between local and personal stories and national and international narratives.