(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series highlighting USD 410 teachers.)
“There is no right answer,” Jim Robb told students in his American history class Jan. 8 at Hillsboro High School.
He had the students form small groups to rank the causes of the Great Depression, and he told them he wasn’t looking for a specific answer. Instead, he wanted students to be able to justify why they chose their answers.
“He makes his classroom safe for kids to voice their opinion,” HHS Principal Max Heinrichs said of Robb. “He makes them feel their opinions are valid, and that leads to good discussion.”
Robb teaches three sections each of American history and American government. Dates and places are important for understanding history, but it is much more than that, he said.
“History is the story of who we are as a people,” Robb said.
To remind his students of the effect the Great Depression had on people’s lives, he began class by having students analyze several photos from the era.
He asked the students to look carefully at the details, and when they did, students saw the worry and hopelessness on the subjects’ faces. At the end of the class, Robb read firsthand accounts from people who were children during the Great Depression.
Students need to see why a subject matters to them, he said. During class he showed students a map of the United States, showing unemployment by county growing over the past two years.
Senior Candace Weinbrenner is in Robb’s American government class and took American history in 2008. He presents information in a way that makes it memorable, she said.
“I’ve always thought I learn the most in his classes,” Weinbrenner said, adding that Robb is like a “fountain of knowledge.”
She said she likes that he welcomes discussion. Students have to get involved in his classes, rather than just sitting. When a student doesn’t know an answer, Robb is good at helping them understand without making the student feel stupid, Weinbrenner said.
“Any time you can put students in a situation where they can learn by doing, it has a much bigger impact,” Robb said.
As an example, every year he has his government class participate in a congressional simulation. Students learn how hard it can be to satisfy everyone, he said.
Robb has seen dramatic changes in technology and curriculum since he began teaching in 1975, and he thinks students today are forced to grow up faster. But students still have to find their own identity, the same as always, he said.
He has taught in Hillsboro for 16 years, following times at Stanton County, Lyons, and Sedgwick high schools.
Robb sets a good example for his students, showing an interest to continue learning, Heinrichs said.
“He is a lifelong learner, and he encourages his students to be lifelong learners,” he said.