Below is an article I wrote for theapple.com. For the full article complete with links, please visit the original article.
Kelly Tenkely | TheApple
When I was in school, I dreaded history. I found it completely uninteresting, dry, irrelevant, and quite frankly…boring. This was unusual for me. Normally, I really enjoyed school. Creative writing, language arts, science, and even math were fun. History was unbearable.
I can count on one hand the things I remember learning in history. I learned that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, that there was once a thing called slavery and it was abolished (I saw Roots in school at least 5 times), that there have been several wars and battles, and I remember my freshman history teacher breaking out in “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” (though I can’t say why). For me history was a lot of dates, strange names, places, and events presented as points on a line. The goal of history was to memorize all of these facts and dates, recite them on a test, and repeat the process the following week. Sadly, that was about it. It wasn’t until adulthood, and my introduction to the History Channel, that I realized that history is interesting. History became engaging when it was presented as a story. It really isn’t about all of the dates, places, and facts. History is about people. History is about story. Students need more than the loosely connected events, people, and dates that fill history textbooks. They need narrative. Textbook writers are boring, history is not. In high school I vividly remember reading a first person account of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the horrors of nuclear war. Why does this account stay with me? Because it wasn’t about the dates. It was about the emotions, the aftermath, the effects on human life.
How can we engage our students with history? How can we help them make personal connections to the events of the past?
Access to history has expanded, students today have learning opportunities that have never been possible before. Today students have the ability to view and read historical documents first hand, ‘interact’ with historical characters, and observe the events of the past through the eyes of the children who lived it. Thanks to technology, students can be truly engaged in the stories of history.
Primary resources are the actual documents, artifacts, and writings from history. These resources give students an up-close view of life in the past.
1. The World Digital Library is a collection of primary materials from around the world. Students can explore artifacts that will help them to better understand other cultures. This incredible collection of resources brings museums from around the world into your classroom for your students to explore.
2. Awesome Stories is a collection of primary source materials separated by category. Primary sources include images, videos, narration, slideshows, artifacts, manuscripts, and documents. Awesome Stories is essentially an interactive textbook. With the interactive textbook model, students are able to delve deeper into topics that interest them.
3. Picturing America takes hold of the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words and applies it to teaching American history. The National Endowment for the Humanities is providing classrooms and libraries with American art masterpieces. Bringing our Nation’s artistic heritage into the classroom provides students with unique insights into the character, ideals, and aspirations of our country. The program is free for schools and libraries, providing them with 40 high quality, poster-sized masterpieces, a teacher resource book, and the program website. Picturing America brings history into the classroom, helping students create authentic connections to the past.
4. Primary Access is a web-based tool that offers students and teachers simple access to digital images and materials that provides them the opportunity to create personal narratives. The idea behind the site is that if students are offered primary source documents, they develop better historical thinking skills. Students use Primary Access to create digital historical narrative movies that help add to meaningful learning experiences. The digital movie is 1-3 minutes in length and can contain images, text, movies, and student recorded narration. Students have a place to write, research, narrate, view, and search within Primary Access.
5. Library of Congress on Flickr is a photostream of historical images on Flickr. These incredible photographs will bring history to life for your students. Many of the photographs have no copyright restrictions which makes it a great place for students to find images for projects that they are working on. These are also great images to use in your classroom presentations, and as printouts for bulletin boards.
Videos have the unique ability to make students feel as if they are witnesses to history.
6. The History Channel has a wealth of resources to teach history in the classroom. From online historical videos, to a daily dose of history with “This Day in History”, the History Channel brings history to life.
7. American History in Video has more than 5,000 free, digital, on-demand videos in its collection. The videos allow students to analyze historical events, look at events over time through commercial and governmental newsreels, archival footage, public affairs footage, and important documentaries. These videos will make students feel as if they were a part of history.
8. Watch Know is another educational video site. All videos are offered digitally for free. Watch Know brings together the best education videos online into one convenient-to-search, safe site. Students can interact and think critically about the videos by rating them and leaving comments. There are more than 2,500 history related videos on Watch Know.
There are many websites that let students interact with history. Whether they are playing a game or exploring a virtual world, these websites help students understand history in new ways.
Interacting with History:
9. Secret Builders Students ages 6-14 can live and play among fictional and historical characters in this virtual world. Students interact with characters such as Shakespeare, Galileo, Motzart, Oliver Twist, Plato, Van Gough, and Amelia Earhart. Students take quests, publish artwork and writings, play games, enter contests, and participate in a virtual economy and social life. Students are given all the tools needed to build out the virtual world with their own ideas, activities and actions. This virtual world has the added benefit of allowing students to interact with historical figures in ways that are meaningful to them.
10. Scholastic has an email sign up where teachers and students can receive fictional emails from historical figures. These emails are written as letters from children who live in the past. Get email letters from a young girl traveling on the Mayflower and a young Native American boy. This is a fantastic way to give your class a glimpse of history through the eyes of two school-age children.
11. Scholastic’s “Our America” takes students on a journey through American history from the Colonial period to World War II. Students learn about major events in the American story by reading journal entries from the people who lived them. Students can complete their own journal entries about what they have learned. Activities accompany each time period such as arts and crafts from that time period or designing a period home interior.
12. The Oregon Trail game is one of the memories I should have listed above. I remember playing Oregon Trail in small groups on our classroom computer in fifth grade. Through the game we learned about the hardships of being a wagon leader, how to build a team, and purchase supplies that would help us make the journey from Independence, Missouri to Oregon by way of the covered wagon circa 1848. This role playing game helps students connect to events of the past through play.
13. BBC Primary History has an extensive collection of activities, short readings, and a kids point of view on the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Vikings, Anglo Saxons, World War II, and Victorian Britain. Students can explore interactive timelines, stories, primary source images, and much more. Students gain a sense of what life was like during each time period.
14. Picturing the Thirties is a virtual web activity from the Smithsonian. This virtual museum exhibit teaches students about the 1930’s through eight exhibitions. Students will get an up close look at the Great Depression, the New Deal, the country, industry, labor, city, leisure, and the American people in the 1930’s. The virtual museum is full of primary sources such as photographs, newsreels, and artist memorabilia. Virtual video museum guides explain each exhibit to students.
15. The Secret in the Cellar is an interactive web comic that is based on an actual forensic case of a 17th century person that was recently discovered. Through graphics, photos, and activities, students begin to unravel a mystery of historical and scientific importance. Students learn how to analyze artifacts, and examine the skeleton to determine a cause of death. As students act as historians, they will gain a wealth of information about Colonial life in America.
16. Kids Past is a history website created for kids that covers topics including: prehistoric humans, the rise of civilization, Middle Eastern civilization, the Ancient Greeks, Romans, African civilizations, civilizations of India, civilizations of China, Byzantine empire, the Slavs, Islam, medieval Europe, Asia in the middle ages, ancient Americans, the Renaissance, the Reformation, exploration and expansion, Asia following the middle ages, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution. All reading on Kids Past is kid friendly and age appropriate. There are several history games based on the reading. Students can also find historical quotes and songs about history that they can listen to online.
17. Historical Tweets- Students can follow history on Twitter. With Historical Tweets, history’s most amazing men and women can be more fully understood 140 characters at a time. These historical tweets can act as motivation for students to learn more about historical events. 140 characters is just enough to leave your students wanting to learn more.
Static timelines are a thing of the past, today’s timelines are interactive, informative, and fun to explore.
18. Franklin’s Interactive Timeline is an engaging look into the life of Benjamin Franklin. Students can play, listen, watch, observe, and have fun learning about Benjamin Franklin’s legacy. Students can explore Franklin’s life through themes such as Franklin’s character, Franklin as printer, at home, doing good, and on the world stage. This site breaks Franklin’s life down into manageable pieces for students and provides a well rounded view of Franklin.
19. Capzles is an interactive timeline creator. Students can add photos, video, audio and text to their timeline. Themes, colors, backgrounds, and background music can be added to the timeline making it unique and personalized. Capzles brings the timeline to life and allows students to add story to the dates.
20. Dipity makes it simple for your students to create and share interactive timelines. Students can embed YouTube videos, Twitter, RSS feeds, Blogger, Flickr, Picasa, Last FM, and more right into their timelines. Dipity makes timelines relevant and fun for students. Best of all, students are creating and viewing timelines in “their language” of Digital Native.
21. Time Tube is the perfect website for your YouTube addicted students. Students can type in a historical event and Time Tube will create a timeline of related videos. Students will be able to explore historical events through related videos.
Research papers leave much to be desired in the history classroom. There are ways for students to show what they know in history without the dreaded research report.
Creating with History:
22. Domonation is an animation website where students can create cartoon animations with characters, dialogue, props, music, and special effects. Instead of presenting knowledge about history through the traditional report, diorama, or poster, students can create a cartoon of an interview with a historical figure or an eye-witness account of a historical event.
23. Xtranormal is a site where students can create and direct their own animated movies. Students can recreate historical events, or create cartoons about a historical figure. Hold a historical movie day to showcase all of the animations that students have created.
24. The National Archives Experience: Digital Vaults is a site put together by the National Archives. Students can create their own digital content mashups using primary resources. Students are able to search photographs, documents, and other records collecting them to create a digital poster or movie. Students can also create a Pathway Challenge. In a challenge, students create a series of clues that show relationships between photographs, documents, and other records. Other students can attempt to solve these challenges. This is an incredible way for students to interact with history.
25. Creaza is a suite of web-based creativity tools. There are four tools in the Creaza toolbox that will help your students organize knowledge and tell stories in new creative ways. Students can arrange events in history with Mindomo the mind mapping tool. Using Cartoonist, students can create comic strips and digital narratives about historical events or characters. Movie Editor makes it possible for students to create movies with thematic universes, video, images, and sound clips. Movie Editor can import historical film clips, sound clips, and images to tell a story. Audio editor is the final tool in Creaza’s creative suite. Students can splice together their own newscasts or radio commercials that display their knowledge of any historical event.
26. Animoto for Education is a site where students can create compelling and impressive digital content quickly and easily. Teachers can use Animoto to teach complex concepts in history. Students can showcase their understanding of history through pictures, music, and text.
27. Blogging- Assign each of your students a historical character to play. They can research and learn about the time period, events, and people. Students can then blog as if they were the historical character. Other students can read and comment on the historical posts.
28. Museum Box is a website based on the work of Thomas Clarkson who collected items in a box to help him in his argument for the abolition of slavery. Students can use the Museum Box website to collect information and arguments in a virtual box of their own. They can collect items to provide a description or add to an argument of a historical event, place, or time period. Students can add images, text, sounds, videos, and external links to help them form their own virtual museum. The finished box can be shared with other students, saved, or printed. Students can view and comment on boxes created by other students. This is a fun medium for students to learn and collect information about a historical event, person, or time period.
History shouldn’t be dry, boring, or irrelevant to students. Technology makes it possible for students to interact with history in new and interesting ways. Use these resources to take your students beyond facts and help them to realize the stories that make up their past.