A passion for history

I usually kick myself when I get distracted and blow half a morning dinking around the Internet, but sometimes it’s entirely worth it.

That was the case when I got lost in Mary Vorsino’s captivating piece in the Sunday Star-Advertiser about local teachers Amy Burvall and Herb Mahelona and the history lessons they post on YouTube set to popular music.

I started with their latest production that Vorsino linked to, “The French Revolution” (above) set to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” and as a history major in college, I couldn’t stop looking at one after another.

There was the story of Cleopatra based on “Fergielicious,” “Beowulf” to the tune of “99 Luftballons,” Charlemagne to Blondie’s “Call Me,” “The Canterbury Tales” to “California Dreamin’ ” and Pompeii to Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.”

I never had much use for Justin Timberlake until I saw the lesson on William the Conqueror set to his “Sexyback.”

This isn’t down-and-dirty dubbing, but elaborate video productions that take months to finish. Burvall, a history teacher at Le Jardin Academy, does most of the writing and performing while Mahelona, the technology curriculum coordinator at St. Andrew’s Priory, handles the production. Their YouTube handle is “historyteachers.”

There are 49 videos so far (see a directory here), and their popularity as teaching tools with students and fellow teachers alike is starting to get national attention.

I’m always heartened to see people putting so much effort into something so good just for the love of it. How much more of that could we use in the schools and elsewhere in our society?

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9 Comments on “A passion for history”

  1. ppcc Says:

    This might be good entertainment but not what our young school children need to learn history or other subject matter in our classrooms. These teachers should be applauded for their dedication and enthusiasm however the music, dancing, special effects, etc. get in the way of real learning and the limitations of verbal information to fit into the lyrics of a song just does not cut it. Just like the new $61 MILLION DOE public middle school with “roving IPads”, “smart” boards, flat panel screens, robotics laboratory, etc. Never mind this school is being touted as the most energy efficient public school in Hawaii, yet for $61 million, it does not even have photovoltaic panels to generate its own electricity like Punahou’s new elementary school which is TRULY energy efficient. Technology actually gets in the way of our kids learning as evidenced by the lowest average scores for the military entrance test in the nation. Many years ago I took such an exam in public high school that was provided by the military and that was a fair test of basic math, science, reading, etc. skills. Not too long ago it was in the news some private school on Oahu realized they need to “unplug” their kids with the latest gadgets and electronics and just get back to basics including having all of their kids take up knitting in one class which helps develop their basic motor skills combined with eye hand coordination and their imagination. Anyway most real world occupations of any responsibility often require deep sustained analytical thinking without any cool video, “EASY” button or computer robot to provide the answer or solution. So much reliance on hi-tech at such an early age unfortunately sets up many of these kids to failure later in life.

    There is a place for students to learn how to utilize high tech components such as laptops, I-pad, smartphone, computer software, etc but only AFTER they have mastered the basics of reading, writing, math, physics, athletics (NOT the Wii version of tennis, bowling, baseball, etc.) You can never get around the fact that a major part of successful learning is dependent on the quality of teachers and their ability to teach as evidenced by their knowledge and enthusiasm. No amount of technology can substitute for this and in a few years time when these public school kids in Kapolei are given a similar type of standardized military entrance exam, it will show Hawaii public school kids STILL lag behind their peers from the rest of the nation in receiving a basic education that they will need to be successful in college and society in general. As always, parents that send their kids to private school and then to college on the mainland; and those that return will take the majority of leadership/professional roles in Hawaii while most of the public school kids take non-thinking, non-management positions with minimal responsibility. Despite the BILLIONs poured into Hawaii public school education and the purchase of the latest in hi-technology equipment for public school kids, this cycle in Hawaii goes on and on and on. Yes, Punahou, Iolani, Hanahauoli, etc. utilize hi-tech in their education curriculum but NEVER as a substitute for ill-trained and/or incompetent teachers or inferior curriculums.

  2. Dion Cameron Says:

    I have witnessed what these videos have inspired in Mrs. Burvall’s students. Far from “getting in the way” of real learning, they have provided the spark for real engagement, fervent interest in further exploration of historical events, figures, and concepts, and vibrant creativity in the students’ own abilities to analyze and communicate their understanding of history.
    I add my applause to these extremely competent 21st Century educators who creatively use technology to augment their rigorous and thought-provoking curriculum!
    (The challenges that face the Hawaii Public School system is an entirely different subject.)

  3. Stanton Ma Says:

    Anyone who has spent any time in a classroom trying to engage young minds in the learning process will no doubt appreciate the efforts of these teachers. It is obvious to me and should be to anyone else watching, that this is merely a supplement to the standard history curriculum, which needless to say involves critical thinking.

    I highly doubt there is any connection between the creative and passionate energy used to create this video, and the current state of Hawaii’s public education system. It is exactly this kind of enthusiasm and creative gusto that our children need to become motivated to learn in a society that only favors material gains over intellectual and character development.

    To think that any student who is fortunate to have such a dedicated teacher will somehow expect life to be easy because of this, and eventually “fail” in life because of their mastery of technology is preposterous. Technology is simply a tool. It can be used for good and it can also be misused, but it’s prevalence in our society demands that children be literate in its applications and fluent in its use, as well as mastering basic knowledge. There is no evidence or data to show that technical skills and academic knowledge cannot be mastered successfully at the same time. Successful teachers always strive for multi-layered learning and aim to appeal to different learning styles and multiple intelligences. This video accomplishes just that: interweaving creativity, graphic elements, and music with relevant factual information that no doubt will be retained because music engages multiple areas of the brain (at least 6 according to researchers).

    My heartiest congratulations to these teachers for their efforts at promoting “real learning” by engaging students. They are truly the educators of the future.

  4. David Shapiro Says:

    ppcc, you’re starting to sound like the Philadelphia Eagles fans who booed Santa Claus.

  5. Michael Says:

    I grew up reading Classic Comics.
    I was also required to read books
    and write essays about them.

    Only when computers came out,
    it is easier and faster to acquire useful information. Basic education is reading
    a book not ipod, ipad, iphone, etc. or Kindles.
    Students now days think
    they are Ibad. They sure are one big mistake.

    NO electricity and all these
    gadgets are useless. A book is forever.
    Students now days can be tech geeks but
    not knowing the true meaning behind Moby Dick or
    William Shakespeare where palin
    makes a mockery of his using his
    own made up words.
    To refudiate or not to refudiate, that is the question.

    “A teacher is not a Teacher,
    till their students call them one”

  6. griffrost Says:

    Aloha! Super Special. My first business in Japan was starting a private ESL school. Started traditional with 27 students and quickly dropped to 19 students. Hmmm…what was the challenge?

    I was too “teachery”. Global MBA, three piece suit etc. Realized that if I was going to put groceries on the table I needed to innovate fast.

    If students like to go to school….

    If they like the teacher…

    You have a chance to teach them…..

    We got rid of the tables…

    We got rid of the chairs…

    I traded in the three piece suit for training wear….

    And we developed a structured curriculum where our students learned through “playing”….with tests to measure actual results…

    Results? 19 students to 3500 students in 4 years…

    (Also rated in the top 10 ESL foreign teachers in Japan)

    Lesson learned? Teacher’s attitude (including administration) is key.

    Whoa…lots more lessons learned (and I taught at UHH for six semesters and the same lesson learned apply)

    If you have a bad class it is the teacher’s fault…it is like looking in a mirror…what you reflect to the students comes back at you….

    As the owner of the schools we asked our 25 American teachers to come up with one new teaching idea per class…

    In one month we received over 5000 new teaching ideas for presenting our curriculum…

    In the end it is the teachers with proper support from the administration…

    Low cost innovative “making learning interesting” is certainly to be applauded…

    Hats off to the YouTube innovators…

    A final note…we had 17 schools in Japan and left almost all the decisions to the local staff…and it worked wonders both from an educational perspective and from a financial perspective…

    We eventually sold the schools to local owners and went on to start, build and sell 40+ other businesses in Japan.

    Doing the same on Hawaii Island now but focusing on Life Quality Businesses…

    Love you columns Dave…especially when they are written with such passion!

    PS: Interesting to note a column about education results in such lengthy “comments”. Thank you to everyone for taking the time to comment…educational.

  7. lavasusan Says:

    I enjoyed the videos (who wouldn’t like a song about Macedonia to the tune of “My Sharona”?), and I’m sure the students do too, and will pick up facts that will stick. These videos highlight the need for a revision of copyright law in the digital age, though. They very clearly use copyrighted material, and in a much larger quantity than “fair use” would allow, but they are transformative in ways that the original creators would never have thought of. If anything, watching the videos make me want to go out and listen to the originals again, so as a practical matter I don’t think the copyright holders suffer financially from these uses.

  8. Michael Says:

    One seemed like a missionary to Hawaii but
    instead to Japan. To push their way of thinking
    when Japanese people think differently.
    Arrogance in assuming one is there to teach in a foreign country but to be humble to learn as a student while teaching.
    It seems in Japan as well as Hawaii
    taught by American teachers. Missionaries
    in a different spelling.

    What did one expect when they
    teach in a foreign land? If I were a student there
    I would not call one a teacher unless one can
    teach me something. I would come to America
    to learn American. America does not own Japan.
    Neither by teaching nor by preaching. Goes on
    in Hawaii too. There will always be those who oppose
    those who push as I do. I don’t follow.

  9. hugh clark Says:

    Innovation is the key to engaging teenage kids. In my case, around 1956, a young teacher named Louis Delsol offered an off-beat course named “Great Men.”

    There was no textbook but plenty of spotaneous lectures, lots of outside reading and a fair amount of writing on reflections.

    It turned out to be my best semester in high school. I thought and expressed myself willingly and I learned more than in any other class.

    I left our small lumber town and becane a newsman for 46 years. Lou, now gone, went on to teach night junior college courss and then became county
    Superintendent of Schools. His influence is ongoing.

    He was educated at Cal-Berkeley as the rural product of a French sheep rancher and a testy Chilean mom who was purely excited about learning. And he taught.

    He was clearly unconventional and successful.

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