Active Learning on

Approach 8 – Injecting personal experiences into
‘GCSE Medicine through Time’


Download the attachment – What do we owe our lives to? [ click here ]

Several years ago I was sitting at the back of an Inset session, listening to Jane Richardson explain how she helped GCSE students understand the interplay of factors that led to improvements in medicine and health after c.1850. The exam question behind this was one of those GCSE questions about factors – worthy and interesting in abstract but hardly motivating in itself – where was the individual experience? It suddenly occurred to me that we could explore the same issues, at least initially, through an individual’s medical story and, unfortunately, I have such a story. So would it make a difference to students’ interest levels and motivation if I’d begun by telling them my story and then asking ‘why am I alive today when, if the same illness had hit me in 1850, I’d have died within days?’

That thought eventually led to me writing the account attached and including it in the TRB accompanying SHP’s 2009 ‘Medicine’ publications. In this form it was conceived as an introductory activity at the very beginning of Medicine through time, an alternative to thinking about medicine and health today as a generality. But, as suggested above, this account could be used as students are moving into work on the medical revolution post-1850 to overview developments - while surgery appears to be the dominant element in explaining my survival, factors such as science and technology lurk beneath the surface. Can students use their knowledge of medicine up to 1850 to suggest how other factors played a part in saving my life?

Hopefully you don’t have such a story to tell yourself (and, just in case you’re worried, I’ve only told the less gruesome bits – much has been left out, either because I don’t have the skills to describe it or don’t want to try) but there are plenty of personal medical stories out there – colleagues, family, stories in the media all can be used to lure students into an investigation that might otherwise be very general and abstract and thus less effective. And a personal story needn’t be so surgical – something like dehydration is treated very easily nowadays using a drip but can have fatal effects if untreated and often did in the early 1800s and more recently, and still does in parts of the world today.

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Using Family Histories

Using Family Histories

  1: Generations

  2: Migration

  3: Sense of Period

  4: Industrial Revolution

  5: Changes in Everyday Life

  6: Overview of 20th Century

  7: Outbreak of WW2

  8: GCSE Medicine


The entire article (PDF)

My mother’s 1930s (PDF)

Dad’s 20th Century Lifetime (PDF)

My mother’s Wartime (PDF)

What do we owe our lives to? (PDF)