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#UrsinusSummer: Learning How to Create a Course

Summer at Ursinus is when selected students pursue research with faculty mentors. Summer Fellows work on projects they can truly own. Meet Summer Fellow Ed Malandro ’16.

As a prospective high school social studies teacher, Ed Malandro ’16 is doing a lot of thinking about what he wants his future students to learn. He wants them to be able to analyze facts, not memorize them. And to make that happen, he wants to learn how to develop a course with critical thinking at its core.

The Summer Fellows program is giving him that opportunity. Creating a secondary level course on World War I, Malandro is observing his faculty mentor, Professor of History Ross Doughty, who is developing his own special topic course on World War I for the Ursinus Fall 2016 semester.  

The challenge? Big war. Lots of information. And not only are the origins of the war  controversial, but its effects are still being debated. 

“We touch on World War I in a lot of courses,” Malandro says, pointing out that World War I is seeing its 100th anniversary (1914-1918). “But I wanted to delve into it, create an entire course. Over a whole summer, I can make mistakes and learn from them.”

It’s Complicated

The first World War is in many ways more complicated than its 1939-1945 sequel. “World War II has its bad guys and good guys,” offers Malandro. “World War I evolves from a changing Europe, a complex alliance system, in which economic powers regrouped during the war.”

With the abundance of information, what should be left out? Malandro ponders this next to a pile of books, and four completely filled legal pads during only the second week of the eight-week Summer Fellows program. 

Professor Doughty says he and Malandro are reading many of the same books and dealing with a lot of the same questions. “The origins and the effects of this war, including the current situation in the Middle East, and the state of much of Eastern Europe today, are all the result of the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, and peace accords to end World War I,” says Doughty. “The Russian Revolution, America’s rise in the world and Nazi Germany, are rooted in World War I. How do we teach the seminal event of the 20th and 21st centuries?”

Influenced by Ursinus Alum

For Malandro, a curriculum and instruction course he took with Associate Professor of Education John Spencer provided a theoretical guide. Now, he is putting theory into practice. He wants the finished lesson plan to be evolving, not static, and wants students to be able to consider the role of a historian, why countries go to war, and what drives large groups to support a cause. Beginning with these goals, he is filling in the specifics of a syllabus and lesson plans.

A good course should allow for some transfer to other situations, he says. “What you learn would go beyond the facts of World War I. Students should grasp ‘the whys’ – why Italy entered the war, what happened years before that had an impact on this.”

Malandro, from Glassboro, N.J., is a history major who will obtain a teaching certificate at Ursinus. He has always had teaching as a goal and was especially influenced at his high school, Penn Charter, by Brian McCloskey ’86, dean of students there. 

At least until he gets into a student-filled classroom, Malandro’s biggest challenge is how to teach the essence of history. “The role of a historian,” he says, “is to analyze and make an argument.” He hopes his Summer Fellows project will make his future classroom a place that “dispels the notion that history is just a timeline and a collection of facts.”