The Big Ideas in Medical History
One of the initially surprising problems in SHP Development Studies is that students have difficulty developing a clear understanding of the chronology of the topic, even though it is taught in chronological order. Examiners report that students struggle to sequence periods and key developments correctly. This suggests that teaching in chronological order is not sufficient. Students need to tackle specific activities designed to develop their chronological knowledge and understanding and to repeat the activities as reinforcement at regular intervals. So this is a quick activity that could be repeated a number of times during the course in different ways to reinforce chronological understanding.
This activity (originally part of the Thinking History Active Learning DVD) is now available on YouTube.
But please don't just leap into watching the activity – please read the introduction, context, points and questions first [ HERE… ]
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Or, a WORD version of this activity can be downloaded, click here.
This activity is based on the ’Timeline’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.
This activity can be used as a revision task but can also be used at the beginning to diagnose students’ ability to sequence periods and then built up in stages as students work through their Development Study. It is designed to reinforce students’ understanding of
- the sequence of periods
- the key medical developments associated with each period – the ‘big ideas’.
- the pattern of changes and continuities among these key developments.
a) 8 tabards showing the key periods –
Prehistory, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Nineteenth Century, 20th century
b) tabards or large cards naming the big ideas of each period. As a minimum you need
Magic and Spirits, Specialist Doctors, Four Humours, Public Health, Respect for Tradition, Enquiry and Experiment, Germ-theory, Free treatment
You will also need a number of blank tabards or crowns.
c) a life expectancy crown for each period (simply paper crowns with 40, 50 etc written on them)
1. Give the period tabards to 8 students and ask them to arrange themselves in sequence as a timeline. Check that the rest of the class agrees with the sequence.
2. Give each human period a life expectancy crown to wear. Again ask the class what they think the average life expectancy in each period was before giving out the answers. Ask questions about the pattern of life expectancy – they should show continuity through time until the nineteenth and particularly the twentieth century. Also ask students what questions the crowns trigger e.g. why did life expectancy increase then? Why did it stay the same for so long?
3. Now it’s time to bring in the ‘big ideas’ tabards with individual students wearing these tabards. Take each period in turn and ask the class which Big Idea goes with Prehistory and then repeat this with Egypt, Greece etc. At the end you have one big idea per period with the idea standing next to or sitting in front of the appropriate period.
4. Next you can develop the details on the timeline to your heart’s content! You could
a) ask students to identify individuals associated with periods and add their names
b) ask students which of the big ideas continued into other periods? A good example is the Four Humours which continued as a key medical idea through the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. Ask students how the timeline needs to be amended – this is where you can use your blank cards or tabards to add more detail.
c) ask students whether there are any big ideas missing? e.g. herbal treatments, from Prehistory onwards or Public Health in the 19th and 20th centuries. Again you could use blanks to fill in this detail
d) ask whether the big ideas have answered the questions about life expectancy that were raised in stage 2.
5. You now have a physical timeline, showing the main periods and their key ideas. What questions does this raise? Create a question list on the board – if necessary prompt by asking for questions about change, continuities, turning points etc. and then talk through the answers using the human timeline to answer the questions.
For the most part, debriefing takes place within the physical activity but it’s worth thinking about recreating the activity in other forms. For example,
a) As soon as students have returned to their seats ask them, in pairs, to recreate the physical timeline by drawing it on paper. Give the pairs a set amount of time, then ask them to link up with another pair to compare their drawings and to check and correct each other. Then check as a whole class whether everyone has the pattern correct.
b) Repeat the physical activity or the ‘on-paper’ activity two lessons later – repetition is a vital part of reinforcing and helping the students to embed the information in their brains.
c) Alternatively, give them a copy of the pattern on paper with gaps in it or with mistakes in it – maybe say ‘there’s 5 mistakes in this’ – who will be the fastest to find and correct them?
An alternative way to record the pattern is to get students to step out of their tabards and leave them placed on the floor so everyone can then copy the pattern as a diagram. Alternatively, a digital camera could be used to record the scene and put onto the school network for annotating.
Notes & Variations
1. While this whole activity works well as a revision exercise, it can be built up in stages across the Development Study, using it first after the Roman period. Then, after completing work on the Middle Ages, repeat the Ancient societies and build in the Middle Ages. Then repeat after each major period, so reinforcing the pattern back across history. This is vital for enabling students to acquire a sense of sequence that lasts.
2. This activity focuses on sequence but not duration. You may wish to help students develop a more accurate sense of chronology by building in a sense of duration and overlap. For example, spread the periods out along a timeline in such a way as to accurately reflect the passage of time – this will have the 19th and 20th centuries huddles together at the end while the earlier periods stretch out much further from each other. You can also use physicality to show overlap. In the history of medicine the impression is often wrongly created that Egyptian society petered out to be replaced by the Greeks who themselves were replaced by the Romans when, in fact, Egyptian medicine continued side by side with the Greeks and then with the Romans. This can be shown by having three students as Egypt in a row, putting two Greeks in front Egyptians 2 and 3 and then one Roman in front of Egyptian 3 and Greek 2.
- What impact has this activity made on chronological understanding? Roughly how often will you repeat this activity during the course? How can you amend it to have a deeper impact?
- What was the impact of this activity on understanding of changes and continuities across periods and students’ abilities to make comparisons?
- Are there any other aspects of chronological understanding that could be tackled by physical activities, either in the Development Study or elsewhere e.g. in KS3
Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.