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Centennial High history teacher brings home new teaching techniques to help students

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Philip Clarke attended a four-day workshop at Harvard Business School and learned a new way to teach history. Philip Clarke, a history teacher at Centennial High School, spent four days last summer at Harvard Business School learning a different method of teaching history that will benefit his American history students.

"It was an exciting experience for me as a history teacher, and I hope I can get my kids to experience that too," Clarke said.

The distinct technique for teaching history is the core of the Harvard Case Method Project, run by the Harvard Business School. The Case Method is the famous business school's noted educational approach.

In Case Method, teachers present an actual case or situation from history that generally includes a provocative issue. Students play the role of decision makers in the situation and work toward settling the issue or solving the problem.

The Case Method pushes students to understand the real-life implications of abstract concepts. Students have to sort and evaluate the facts presented in the case, draw conclusions and come up with solutions.

Harvard has prepared 22 cases with teaching materials on key situations in the history of American democracy for teachers in the program to use.

"They gave us tips on how to deliver these 22 lessons," Clarke said.

Clarke has taught at Centennial for three years and teaches U.S. history, which is taken by sophomores, world studies and one college level computer science class.

Clarke's deep dive into the Case Method came courtesy of Harvard and the League of Women Voters of Portland.

"It's something I would never have been able to do without the League of Women Voters," Clarke said.

Harvard paid for the weekend, but The League of Women Voters of Portland nominated Clarke and arranged for him to attend the four-day workshop in Cambridge, Mass., in August.

The League is working on organizing an event in the spring where Clarke can teach other educators and the public about the Case Method of teaching history.

Improving history and civics education is part of The League of Women Voters mission.

"We feel that effective civics education is critical to preparing future citizens for participating in democracy," said Margaret Noel, director of communications for the League of Women Voters of Portland.

"We have a long history of trying to help young people become engaged in democracy, especially through voter registration and through the League of Women Voters of Oregon's Student Mock Election," Noel said.

Nationally, 240 high school teachers have gone through the Harvard Case Method training.

The often-praised Case Method is also sometimes criticized for devoting an inordinate amount of class time to one situation or topic and giving short shrift for a broader knowledge of history. The Case Method focuses on the skills of thinking and evaluation over a comprehensive knowledge of history facts and information.

Clarke plans to employ three case studies this year, taking a couple of weeks, and then teach the sweeping overview of content the rest of the year.

"I won't sacrifice the broad content. And, we wouldn't meet state standards if we did that," Clarke said.

Clarke thinks the new approach will push students "a little bit, in a good way."

They'll improve reasoning, research, reading and debating.

"The reading level is more difficult than many of the students are used to," he said, and a large volume is required.

One case Clarke plans to use is "Regulating Radio in the Age of Broadcasting" which focuses on the years around 1927.

"This case describes the debate in the 1920s over how the federal government should address the rapid development of a new communications technology with major implications for American democracy: broadcast radio. In particular, it focuses on President Calvin Coolidge's decision of whether to sign a 1927 bill that would establish a Federal Radio Commission with the power to license radio stations," the Harvard materials on the case said.

This case resonates with students today because of the new media available with the internet and the hype around so-called "fake news."

Clarke said "we can pose a more topical question. How is this like the situation today?"

Another case Clarke may employ covers Martin Luther King's struggle for black voting rights and specifically focusing on the 1963 Children's March.

King made the decision to let the march go ahead and Clarke said the study examines was "it right to put a large number of children in harms way?"

Clarke said if the class studies the Children's March, they will bring the issues discussed up to contemporary movements.

Clarke said evaluations done by Harvard after history students work with the Case Method find that the students become more engaged in democracy.

Clarke said learning about and using the Case Method is "a huge opportunity to improve what I do."

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