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College students will live history through new program

By: CAROL MCGRAW
March 29, 2013
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photo - PPCC history professor Glenn Rohlfing dressed up as  Master Robert of the Templars for a history  re-enactment. The school is starting a program that will have students learn history through role-playing. Photo by Courtesy photo
PPCC history professor Glenn Rohlfing dressed up as Master Robert of the Templars for a history re-enactment. The school is starting a program that will have students learn history through role-playing. Photo by Courtesy photo 

Last summer Professor Wayne Artis was the Marxist head of a miner’s union in South Africa.

Before you raise your eyebrows, know that the Pikes Peak Community College professor was actually recreating history in a program which will soon be become part of the curriculum.

PPCC has received a $100,000 grant from the Colorado Community College System to develop the student learning tool called Reacting to the Past. PPCC will collaborate with University of Colorado at Colorado Springs history professor Roger Martinez of, who is using the program, to expand it regionally. The program consists of scenarios that set students at the center of historical times. They take the roles of historical figures, divide into factions and argue issues of the time, using classical works, historical papers and other documents to shore up their positions.

There are no scripts. The students have to do research to develop their personas and arguments. They sometimes create costumes, and items popular during that period — at UCCS, students created a catapult-like weapon.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to engage students with primary sources and look at the assumptions that people at the time were dealing with,” said Artis, co-chair of PPCC’s history department. “If they are really good at their arguments, they can change history.”

“Reacting to the Past” was created at Barnard College, and has spread to more than 300 colleges. It has been found to promote teamwork, speech and writing skills, critical thinking, and global knowledge.

There’s a myriad of scenarios, touching topics including: Charles Darwin; Confucianism; Henry VIII; Patriots Loyalists and Revolution in New York City; Threshold of Democracy in Athens, 403 BC; Trial of Anne Hutchinson: Liberty Law and Intolerance in Puritan New England.

At PPCC the first two games will be “The Trial of Galileo, Aristotelianism, the New Cosmology and the Catholic Church, 1616-33” and “Kentucky 1861: Loyalty, State and Nation.”

The beauty is that the topics are endless and can cross many disciplines besides history – science, philosophy, theology, culture politics, social studies, economics, said PPCC history professor Glenn Rohlfing.

One of the first projects under the grant will be a regional conference April 19-21, where faculty from area schools can learn the curriculum and how to use it. “This flips the classroom and puts students at the center of their learning with professors as advisors,” Rohlfing said.

The students become invested in their own learning, particularly if they show up unprepared. “They get their clocks cleaned by other students — so come back prepared,” he said.

Rohlfing, who attended a Barnard Reacting conference with Artis, wound up being Master Robert of the Templars.

He says, “It’s a lot different than old professors drumming on and on.”

Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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