Thinking Historically

I am reading Sam Wineburg’s book, What Does It Mean to Think Historically?  It has made me continue to refine my thoughts on how I can best incorporate technology to teach history to my students.  Mr. Wineburg is correct when he says that we want our students to engage in the subject matter, and to evoke their own personal experiences so they can formulate good questions and possible solutions[1].  We also want them to develop an appreciation of the limited scope of their own understanding, and to realize that there is the possibility that what they are seeing when they view history might be something so totally new that is cannot fit easily into any known construct or schema.  Mr. Wineburg recounts the story of Marco Polo’s first sight of a rhinoceros; he identified it to be in the family of the magical unicorn, but different.[2]  I want my students to see that there are things in the world that can defy their senses, and can disturb their own personal reality, which is steeped in their culture.  Although the veridical, or true, world is out there, they may possibly never know it.  What is important for them is to try.  Is it possible, then, that teaching students how to think historically is more important than teaching them a chronology of events?

Andrews and Burke have developed a method to teach students how to think historically.  They call it the 5 C’s approach, and postulate that by teaching students to understand change over time, context, causality, contingency and complexity, we can develop students who are able to analyze primary source documents and think critically about secondary sources.[3] This is important in the digital age where students must know how to make value judgments regarding the content they interface with on Web 2.0 platforms.  I have been the recipient of a form of teaching using this method.  Dr. Jim Tuten at Juniata College uses this method by focusing on analyzing events through the use of the 5C’s.  He does this across the scope of topics, and it is very effective when used for analyzing multiple primary source documents.  His use of this technique is not only engaging but is an excellent example of how we can best teach critical thinking skills.  For K-12 teachers, this allows for sequential building of analytical processes and for easy differentiation as required.  Those students or groups who need more challenging assignments might be give the more difficult task of discussing the complexity of events, while others might focus on the more basic change over time analysis.  Both levels of analysis are important to come to an understanding of the historical event, but the tasks require significantly different skills sets from our students.

Here are some of my ideas for teaching using the 5 C’s approach with technology

Change Over Time and CausalityDesign History, An Interactive Timeline allows the viewer to examine events that occur within a span of time.  Teachers can have students create their own digital versions of timelines that allow them to link the interconnectedness of events, and demonstrate how events can impact outcomes.  I have seen this done very effectively with greater reliance on creativity than automation.  One librarian and instructor had students read individual works from an electronic timeline, verbally summarize the information for their classmates, and place their interpretation of the details of the event onto what became a large combined timeline.  The event was brilliant and engaging, but the timeline product was not necessarily portable, or accessible outside of the classroom by the contributors.  Merging this interactive student event with an electronic platform like Prezi would allow the students to later access their combined work on demand.

Context and Complexity:  The Internet allows the door of context and complexity to be opened more easily for our students.  We have evolved beyond the days of relying on a single textbook interpretations.  Our students are searching and discovering information that surrounds events, and through near real time and live feeds like twitter and RSS, contextual background information lands on the screens of their smartphones without asking.   We must teach our students well to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction.  See PBS’s Tips to Evaluate Internet Resources here.

Contingency:  teaching contingency is difficult, and can perhaps be best taught though the use of simulations.  Examples include role playing simulations like the one found here by Gleb Tsipursky that immerses students into to roles to include President Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev.  Do your students create peace or launch a global crisis?  This is an excellent means to develop students’ understanding of cause and effect relationships.

I believe by introducing the 5 C’s approach to high school students is a way to develop their historical thinking abilities.  Are you, or could you, use this  method in your classrooms?

[1] Sam Wineburg. Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, Charting the Future of Teaching the Past. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2001 p. 23.

[2] Sam Wineburg. Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, Charting the Future of Teaching the Past. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2001 p. 24.

[3] Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke. “What Does It Mean to Think Historically?” Perspectives (January 2007).


How do I become a truly digital teacher?

I downloaded Evernote this week in an attempt to become more “paperless”.   I typically use Outlook or Notes on my smartphone to capture most of my quick ideas.  I take digital notes for reading material, and use hand written notes in class.  As a college student, I believe Evernote may be a great tool.

But as a future teacher, becoming paperless may be more of a challenge.  I would like to be able to post homework assignments, have students access the document and fill in the required work, then grade the document on-line to provide quick feedback that can be filed for future reference.

The Montclair Kimberly Academy incorporated Evernote into their classrooms, and here is what they say:

Here are some options I’ve considered:

1.  Evernote allows for all types of data to be stored:  documents, PDF, Jing, and pictures.  No smartboard, no problem.  You can take a picture and upload.  Cool new apps are discussed in an article 10 New Features You Should Know.  Additionally, @TheNerdyTeacher did what he called his Epic Evernote Experiment, and I was very impressed with how he has developed a system for class organization.  But I’m not yet convinced that Evernote is for everyone.  Evernote does allow for shared folders, but without a premium account you cannot edit shared notes.  Not all school districts are going to have access to this tech.

2.  Programs like Edmodo allow teachers and students to share work easily with each other and with other students.  Classroom supplementary work can be added or linked easily, like Prezi files.  I thought this to be a very effective tool in the classroom environment.  Edmodo also allow for parental viewing of student work and grades.

3.  GoogleDocs easily allows students to collaborate on team projects which can be share with anyone that has an email account, and students can give teachers access for grading purposes.

What are your techniques for decreasing paper homework in the classroom?


Why I want my students to blog


From +Catherine Flippen and +Jaime Vandergrift, I found A Sixty Second Guide to the Use of Blogging in Education from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.

Blogging teaches reading and writing processes that facilitate 21st Century learning skills and literacies.  This simple 5 step procedure shows how to implement a blog into your classroom and discusses the multidisciplinary approach that incorporates student blog skills with digital citizenship, quality work projects, and connected learning environments while showcasing students’ work on a global communication hub.

In Retooling the Social Studies Classroom for the Current Generation the authors study ways in which teachers in this discipline can use blogging, wikis, and digital media sharing to improve student engagement and the overall learning process.   The authors believe that technology should enhance student learning, rather than be a simple replication of old ways of presenting materials, and they use as a founding principle the National Council for the Social Studies guideline that implementing technology should

“Capitalize on many students’ ubiquitous, yet social, use of such technology and demonstrate the technology’s power as a tool for learning” (National Council for Social Studies, Technology Position Statement, para 7)

I would like to use blogging as a tool to reach across disciplines, like creating links between literature and history.  Different teachers can examine student’s work across subject areas, and this technique could re-inforce the material on multiple levels.

Are you using blogging in your classes to expand their research, writing and reading skill, or to create a multi-disciplinary approach to learning?   It this an effective strategy?

It takes a Village

They say it takes a village to raise (and teach)  a child.  How has Web 2.0 with its interactive elements changed the way the village acts in the capacity of educator?

Web 2.0 has created greater flexibility in our methods for teaching.  I found this post from Dangerously Irrelevant with his thoughts about videos compiled by the Digital Media and Learning Resource Hub.

The video that drew my attention the most was this one:

It explores the importance of how we learn, and asks the question, should the starting point in developing curriculum be the content, or should it be “what is the experience we what our students to have”?  How is it that we can best reach our student to create that optimal experience?  Web 2.0 has changed how we can answer that question.

What I have learned from my many years of dealing with a multitude of people is that they all learn differently.  It takes them different times, and it takes different strategies.  You have to approach people from angles they understand.  How can we possibly control the educational process in which children are learning from such a multitude and varied number of static and interactive sources?  I think the bottom line is that we can’t all the time.  What the community of those who educate children can do first is to create a student that wants to/knows how to maximize students’ learning potential while always focusing on creating a foundation of good citizenship skills.

If you are interested in ways to differentiate objectives for your students’ skills to maximize their output view this post by Byrdseed.

Web 2.0 creates an environment in which people are learning all the time, not only through 1.0 ways like  absorbing the information created by others, but also through the 2.0 ways of interacting and creating on the internet.

The Video Citizenship for Cyberkids is a discussion of how we as a community must join together to create a generation of good cyber citizens in our youth.  The internet provides learners wonderful tools, but  risks like cyber bullying and predators are real and must be addressed.  The answer is not to rid ourselves of productive technology, but to teach good cyber citizenship skills to users.  We need to collaborate as a community to discuss best practices.   The teacher might be an entry point is this training, so training programs for educators must be considered.  It is also critical to remember that the scope of education for cyber citizenship must be wider than a classroom.  It takes a village.

How does this new creative and interactive way students are learning change the way we are teaching?  Do you start with the content, what it is you want the student to learn, or do you begin with asking the question what experience is it that I want my students to have?  What have you done  to become more Teacher 2.0 to meet your students movement towards Learner 2.0, and has it required a shift in emphasis in how you teach people to engage with each other?