Willemijn Zwart is a Dutch teacher and director of Komvoor, an educational design agency that develops ready-made teaching materials, educational excursions, guest lectures and children's exhibitions on behalf of social organisations, governments and cultural institutions. In addition, she is administratively active at various organizations in the field of language, identity and education and she used to be a teacher trainer.
Photographer: Jellien Tichelaar
She introduced us to Expeditie Vrijheid (“Expedition Freedom”), an educational project of Historical Centre Overijssel. In this project, children discover the meaning of war and freedom in their own neighbourhood, by analysing the concept of heritage.
In 2020, The Netherlands celebrated 75 years of freedom after World War II. At its core, the project aims to teach students about the Second World War by taking their own city or neighbourhood as a starting point. Whilst in the normal history teaching methods, there is a list of frequently shown events and topics that students will learn, such as the bombing of Rotterdam or the history of Anne Frank, usually none of them has a direct relation with the area where they grew up. Therefore, with this teaching practice, students would be able to discover stories of events that happened close to their homes - researching, answering questions, and developing citizenship skills.
Expeditie Vrijheid was developed together with 10 primary schools in the province of Overijssel (in the East of The Netherlands). The schools that participated had different backgrounds - ranging from public to religious schools, as well as a special education one. However, the idea of the project and its materials were later shared with the 500 schools present in the province. In 2020, 188 schools participated, obtaining a great and unexpected success.
To implement the project, the schools made use of digital and physical heritage by getting the children out of the classroom. Digital methods allow students to search online (websites or interactive maps) and physical methods enable students to also search in their own neighbourhood to discover what happened (i.e. going to the train station or a building that had another function at that time, etc.).
For this project, schools selected (4) typical stories of the region of Overijssel with some information and pictures. This was useful because one of the
core elements was having a big poster in the classroom (which was sent before to the schools). In the poster, students could connect every source they found with the questions presented.
Regarding technological equipment, a device (at least 1 device per group of students) and an internet connection is needed. However, it is also possible to print the materials. For this teaching practice, the material was first formatted into digital working sheets that were easy to print. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, many schools used digital materials.
In addition, during the process of finding the sources, some digital heritage websites helped them by adjusting the text for the students so that it was easier to read and understand. It also served to improve the content of heritage online for the general public. Some of these heritage websites were: www.beeldbankwo2.nl, www.joodsmonument.nl, www.tracesofwar.nl, and www.mijnstadmijndorp.nl.
While it is true that this practice requires a lot of work to develop and present from the regional point of view, for the Overijssel province, Willemijn considers that the practice will remain relevant for the next 5 or 8 years. Now, other schools from different provinces of The Netherlands, would like to work as a team to develop the material.
If you are a teacher and you are considering introducing this practice, Willemijn tells us what is needed: time, writing educational material, and having sources available for it. In this case, it took them 1 year to have the sources, with 4 people working on the project. Willemijn would love to share her experience and knowledge about this teaching practice with other teachers.
"Teachers should feel free to use this method and to make it even better."
You can contact Willemijn at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The information presented in this blog post is extracted from an interview between Willemijn Zwart, Andreas Holtberget, and Adriana Fuertes Palomares as part of the Critical History project and the collection of best teaching practices on heritage education, and which took place on July 6, 2021 in an online format.