What excites you about History, Social Studies Education?
Most of our program majors will tell you that their decision to become a secondary social studies teacher stems from their love and passion for history. Thinking back to my own college experience as a NC Teaching Fellow and history major, I recognize their motivation for teaching history. However, as I grew into my earlier career as a high school teacher, I realized that my responsibility went beyond teaching interesting stories or fascinating figures from the past. My job was to help students make sense of the world they live in by exploring the humanity behind our shared history. It required me to help students acquire a variety of critical thinking skills that would serve them in their future endeavors.
What do you love most about teaching this subject to Appalachian students?
At Appalachian, I have the privilege of working with future social studies educators and exposing them to a variety of instructional approaches. We discuss chronological, thematic or even hybrid approaches to designing curriculum for a history course. We also explore the potential of digital tools to transform the history classroom and analyze ways that we can globalize the curriculum. Nothing is more gratifying for me than seeing the process of self-discovery take place as students begin to generate their own philosophy of teaching.
Why does North Carolina, and beyond, need quality teachers for History, Social Studies?
Although many people – including my students – would like to blame high-stakes testing for the tendency of social studies teachers in NC to “teach to the test,” and try to cover too much content in a given semester, the reality is that history educators have relied far too long on delivering long lectures. This approach may be dynamic in the hands of gifted and knowledgeable presenters, but it also creates a teacher-centered environment where students are largely passive recipients in the classroom. It’s a miracle that so many of our program majors love history despite their own experiences with long lectures, worksheets and videos.
North Carolina students deserve social studies educators whose mission is to empower them to develop historical thinking skills and use these skills to become active citizens. Teachers should constantly ask students to analyze primary and secondary sources and learn of different ways to present their findings – especially with the enormous amount of digital tools at their disposal. Our job at Appalachian is to encourage future social studies teachers to nurture this type of dynamic student-centered, digital and global learning environment.
What is your research specialty and how does it fit into and/or strengthen your teaching?
My research specialty centers on mass culture in modern Latin American history. Although my current area of focus is soccer (in Argentina), popular forms of art and entertainment present a different dynamic when studying the past. In my case, soccer becomes an accessible way to discuss political matters, human rights issues and gender dynamics in Argentine history. Thankfully, social studies curricula in the United States has increasingly incorporated cultural history alongside economic and political history (although more can be done in this regard). When possible, I discuss the ways in which social studies teachers can embed popular culture in the existing state curriculum. As a digital historian, I also focus on the ways in which new media and digital tools are re-shaping the teaching, learning and production of history.
Why should a student interested in this degree choose Appalachian?
Appalachian runs one of the two largest history and social studies education programs in North Carolina. Our BS in History, Social Studies Education program is also the second largest education program on campus behind K-5 elementary. Graduates from our program have a strong reputation for quality teaching in North Carolina, across the country, and even overseas.
While all of these facts make Appalachian an attractive destination, it is the strength of our entire History department that makes us unique. Students in our major can work with scholars in history education, public history and digital humanities. Their areas of specialization cover a wide range, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and the US – including experts on Appalachian history. By using the skills and expertise of our entire History Department, our goal is to produce graduates who are confident in their knowledge of the past, skilled at teaching history, and ready to incorporate digital tools and a global focus in the classroom.
Dr. Rwany Sibaja is a former North Carolina social studies classroom teacher, K-12 social studies curriculum director, and AP European History exam reader for the College Board. He also has worked on educational projects at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.