Educator Spotlight: Bringing History to Life with Danyel Goldberg
Why are students so excited about social studies at Shulamith School for Girls? Find out from innovative teacher Danyel Goldberg!
Danyel Goldberg graduated with degrees in English and Theology and has been teaching social studies at Shulamith School for Girls in Cedarhurst since 2011. Danyel currently teaches grades 6 and 7 and serves as a mechanechet and role model for the students. Over the summer, you can find her heading ruach at Camp Shira, and running the ropes course at Camp Kaylie.
When did you realize you wanted to be a teacher?
Throughout high school I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I had a lot of teachers whom I was very close to in high school, and one particular teacher inspired me and instilled a love of learning in me that I knew I wanted to pass on.
How do you engage students in learning history? What innovative methods do you use to keep learning fun and relevant?
It’s really hard. If you’re not a person who likes history, it’s very boring. I absolutely love history and always have. My favorite thing to do is to read primary source letters from any time period. I even do that in my spare time! When you’re in high school, though, you would much rather spend your spare time on Instagram.
Because I love history so much, I get really excited about teaching it. My class has no frontal lesson, no book, no tests. Instead we do project based learning. We’ll have a formal lesson on Monday introducing what that week’s aim will be. I’ll write a question on the board for students to “think/pair/share.” The rest of the week, we use hands-on projects and crafts, interactive learning, videos, technology and group discussions to make learning engaging.
I try to integrate as much technology as possible because today’s students have constant access to technology and are so aware of the world. In 7th grade, we use tech modules to learn about the 13 colonies. Each group creates a website. The students conduct research, learn to dissect primary and secondary sources, then create and present their websites. For another project, the students had to create a cartoon video, complete with a script, animation and voice overs.
With these tools, I’ve seen a lot of success. Students really remember what they learn when they do these projects.
How else have you used educational technology to support learning in your classroom?
Technology makes history come alive for them so they too are excited by it. One student came running up to me and said, “OMG, did you know that the vice president killed Alexander Hamilton?!”
I like to take five iPads and set them up in different places in the classroom. On each iPad, there is something else happening: one with clips from documentaries, one with primary sources, some with videos I’ve made, and another with critical thinking questions. The students go around in heterogeneous groups, and learn from each station. This works really well for particularly complicated lessons because the students are exposed to five different aspects of the topic at hand.
My goal is not to have them memorize. Instead, I want to challenge them so they can have critical thinking discussions. They really do talk about whatever it is that they’re supposed to be learning on that day. Sometimes they are tasked with creating something together using the iPads.
I have used computer games that are relevant to our subject, such as games where the player is an Egyptian embalmer and has to figure out the embalming process before the time runs out. The students ask me for links so they can play at home! I also like iCivics, which is an educational game around democracy and civic learning. A student came in to school one day and proclaimed that she spent an hour reading the Bill of Rights on iCivics.
Can you tell me about the special class you teach on mental health and social issues?
Once a week I’m a mechanechet for a class that focuses on mental health. The lessons are prepared by the principal who is a psychologist and focus on friendship, confidence, study skills, empathy and other critical social life skills. The girls enjoy the class, although it is difficult to get them to be emotionally vulnerable for a 40 minute session. Most recently, we spoke about empathy and by the end of the class, the girls discovered they were not so empathetic and that they needed to work on it. It’s a challenging course for myself as the teacher and for the students, but the benefits are immeasurable.
What are some other favorite lessons?
I use music to teach the 7th graders about slavery in Colonial America. This is one of my favorite lessons to teach. We discuss slave songs and listen to the songs and discuss the lyrics. Then we listen to a more modern day version, and a later 19th century version with former slaves singing it. We delve into what the song is really about. After that, the students have to create a song with a hidden meaning and the class has to guess what the meaning is. The students begin to appreciate how difficult it is to think of a message and hide it in a song. This lesson involves a little technology and really requires them to think outside the box.
In 6th grade, we create our own papyrus just like in ancient Egypt. First we watch a video demonstration, then we make it. Each student gets actual papyrus (that I order from a museum in Egypt) and uses a stylus and ink to take notes in hieroglyphs.
What’s been most rewarding about being a teacher?
I like that I start off the year with students who say they hate social studies and then, by the end of their time with me, they say it’s their favorite subject and they love it. I recently got a phone call from the mother of a former student of mine who chose to major in history in college because she had me as her teacher back in junior high school. Her mother was calling to thank me for planting the seed that inspired her to get her PhD in history so she could teach the subject. Everything comes full circle and I am honored to be able to inspire others with a love of learning and teaching.
Learn more about integrating educational technology from DigitalJLearning.
Yonah Kirschner, former Project Manager, Digital Content and Communications at The Jewish Education Project.