An average Ancient History class in NSW will attract no more than 15 students, yet 40 Year 12 students from the College will sit the subject’s HSC exams this year and an even larger group of Year 11 students are ready to succeed them.
The popularity of the information-heavy subject rests in large part with teacher Courtney Fraser, who provides a healthy dose of perspective and encouragement to students in her class along with academically rigorous discussion.
“I don’t teach from a textbook often because the world of history changes so rapidly,” she said.
“People go ‘Oh it’s the past, it’s fixed, but it’s not. It’s ever changing and dynamic.
“Our Ancient History students learn to be critical thinkers and to back up what they are saying in a respectful way. They are a class that pull together, work together and encourage each other.”
I’m not the keeper of the knowledge. We’re learning together.
The explicit teaching and encouragement that punctuates lessons with Mrs Fraser extends to students’ physical environment. Pompeii mosaics, a Latin ‘word wall’, artifacts and copies of literature of the time including Homer’s epic poem The Illiad are around the room. These help to trigger students’ memories as they wrap their minds around the social and political happenings of ancient Roman and Greek civilisations.
I get fascinated by what we learn.
Writing tips are also glued to each desk so students never need to struggle with an essay. The accessibility of resources in Fraser’s class extends to ‘The Folder’, which contains everything students need to know within the subject and can be referenced by them at any time via Google Drive.
“I’m not the keeper of the knowledge, we’re learning together and I think that’s important,” she said.
Though Mrs Fraser’s students consistently do well in the HSC, she encourages them to maintain balance and mental calm. “I want them to question everything and to keep it all in perspective,” she said. “The HSC is only one step along the way. Young people are amazing and they have such busy lives today.”
Year 12 Ancient History students Jessica Spooner and Natalia Aiton are full of praise for the subject and their teacher.
“I get fascinated by what we learn – it’s 100 per cent my favourite class,” Jessica said.
“Mrs Fraser works so hard for us that we want to give that back and show that we take in all that we do. I love that she understands that different students learn in different ways. I learn better if we have a discussion, some people prefer to watch documentaries, then we have mind maps and source cards – she accommodates each student’s learning.”
Natalia agreed. “Her approach makes you want to learn for the sake of learning, not just for an exam,” she said. “Everything we do along the way is definitely fun.”