From the classroom to the battlefield | UCL Institute of Education
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From the classroom to the battlefield | UCL Institute of Education


I’m the programme director for UCL’s First
World War Centenary Battlefield Tours programme. A government-funded initiative, trying to
engage every secondary school in England with the First World War centenary. Over the last couple of days what we’ve
been really trying to engage the students with, is understanding these
locations, the sites that they’re visiting, but more so than just visiting
them and seeing them, actually asking questions about them, really engaging
with those locations and trying to understand the significance of these
sites, even today. The First World War has huge historical significance, It was one of
those punctuation marks of history. The consequences of that are still felt today, and one of the core elements of what we do is that professional
development for teachers. Ensuring that they themselves are developing through
this programme. That as well as the students having
an incredible experience, the teachers themselves are taking away loads of new ideas, having a much deeper
understanding of the actual historical context. Understanding the landscape of
the battles which we haven’t really understood before. We teach it in the
classroom and use that to draw a line on a map, but actually being here
especially on the Somme, which meant that we could see the landscape, you could
see why some places were defended and why some places were extremely open and
you’d been mowed down. When they first came it’s just looking at things, it’s
sightseeing but by today they know exactly how to find where somebody’s
buried, they’ve actually understand how to read the landscape, they actually
really learned so much that they said to me even this morning this is something
they’ll teach their children, their children yet to come so they will
remember. When you read it in the textbook you talk about 60,000 people killed on
the first day at the Battle Of The Somme, and the students can’t comprehend
that but when you come to a cemetery and you see all the graves lined up they can
start to understand and I think it was yesterday we went to Sunken Lane, that
was fantastic because they can see the images from the film, ‘The Battle Of The
Somme’ and then they can be there and they can look at the environment. Making it personal is the answer I think to really make them understand it’s not
just figures and facts, it’s actual people and it’s people like them. The person we were looking up here
today was only 17 when he was killed. The hope is that this programme
has reached many many teachers and has given them
new ideas, giving them inspiration to teach the First World War in
new and innovative ways, but also that we are engaging the next generation of
young people. These students who will remember this experience in the years
to come, will themselves hopefully bring others and pass on what they’ve learned
about this war and the significance of it.

About James Carlton

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