Bringing history to life

March 31, 2016


Did Marco Polo visit China?

Before responding, consider a second question: How would students tackle that query in the class of Mr. Kevin Roughton at Jurupa Middle School?

The answer: through investigation.  Mr. Roughton uses exhibits, props, and even "Law & Order" music to ensure that his students experience and engage with history, as opposed to yawning through a lecture about seemingly remote events.  

And now, ripped from the headlines, Mr. Roughton himself has earned the prestigious 2016 Outstanding Middle Level Educator Award.  The statewide honor, from the California Council for the Social Studies, recognizes history teachers who "go above and beyond in the field of history-social science education."

Mr. Roughton transcends that threshold in two ways.  First is his offbeat, nontraditional approach to teaching history.  And second, Mr. Roughton, in his 13th year at Jurupa Middle, shares his innovations with teachers statewide free of charge on his website.  He believes unfettered collaboration makes all teachers better in the classroom.

To improve his own lessons, Mr. Roughton starts with a question: "What can we do to make students feel like they're in a museum instead of reading documents?"  He might begin by putting a historical quotation or passage on old parchment paper.  In a lesson about the assassination of Julius Caesar, he might add fake blood stains and compose the note in Greek.  And then he will ask students to examine the evidence surrounding the case.

"The most important word in my class is 'because,' " said Mr. Roughton, a 2011 Riverside County Teacher of the Year who is also a graduate of JUSD schools.  "Where is your evidence?" 

Typically his students need three reasons to support their findings – and often, as with the question about Marco Polo, there is no right answer.  Historians disagree over whether Polo went to China, and so did Mr. Roughton's students, who recently split 50-50 on the question.  The result was a great discussion about what really happened more than 700 years ago.

"When you can have seventh-graders have reasoned debates," Mr. Roughton said with a smile, "you know you're doing something right as a teacher."

Indeed.  Congratulations and great work, Mr. Roughton. 

​Visit Mr. Roughton's webpage at​