How can technology help teachers to teach historical and critical thinking? | DH Fellow’s Blogpost

Amanda Regan (1st Year Digital history Fellow)

How can technology help teachers to teach historical and critical thinking?  Getting students to think critically about historical events rather than just memorizing the facts is challenging, but digital technology can help.  With so many new digital tools being developed each year, teachers are eager for resources to help locate free, quality tools that can help students become better critical thinkers and historians.

screen shot--teachinghistoryOne of the RRCHNM’s projects, Teachinghistory.org, has a section called Digital Classroom devoted to providing tips and resources for incorporating digital tools into the classroom.  The introductory video for Digital Classroom explains how digital tools can engage students and help them to think critically about the past.  The goal of Digital Classroom is to provide teachers with resources to help them incorporate digital technology in their classroom and to provide examples of how to enhance learning by using technology in the classroom.

To help teachers find free, digital tools for use in social studies classrooms, Digital Classroom includes a collection of digital tool reviews, called Tech for Teachers.  Over the last week the Digital History Fellows have been researching and writing reviews for this section and we’ve been thinking a lot about what kinds of digital tools are useful for teaching historical thinking skills in the classroom.

Tech for Teachers aims to provide detailed reviews of tools to help teachers evaluate ways in which it might be useful.  Each review provides an overview of what users will experience when they use the tool as well as what the most important or useful features might be.  Reviews generally include some examples or suggestions of ways that the tool is being used and may include examples of student work.  The goal of these reviews is not only to help teachers find digital tools but also to help them evaluate what the tool offers that makes it unique and useful for learning.

My Tech for Teacher’s review looked at a tool called myHistro which allows users to create “geolocated maps with a social twist.”  Timelines and maps are two tools that are commonly used to teach history.  However, now these tools have gone digital and several sites have created platforms that combine the two.  They allow users to create interactive stories that utilize timelines, maps, and multimedia such as videos and photos to tell a story.  Using these tools encourages students to think critically about historical events, their causes and effects, and how individual events culminate into a larger movement.

screen shot--myhistro

To help teachers see how students and teachers are using myHistro, I provided several examples and discussed how teachers might use this tool as either a presentation or as an assignment for students.  Many teachers are using myHistro as an assignment for group projects in which students create a story about the development of a historical event or movement.  One example is the student project, Road to the Civil War, where students created a story composed of the events that they thought led to the Civil War.  Beginning with the Louisiana Purchase and ending with the election of Lincoln in 1860, the students reflected on each event and wrote a synopsis about why each event led to the Civil War.  Another example is a collaborative AP U.S. History project where each student added an event related to their curriculum.  The story was then a review source that included all the major events the class had discussed and could be used to help study for the AP exam.

While researching and writing my Tech for Teachers review, I learned a lot about how K-12 teachers are using technology to teach historical thinking in the classroom.  One thing that I took away is that integrating technology into the classroom is a complicated process. Guiding students to use a digital tool in a way that will improve upon traditional ways of teaching history requires a great deal of planning.  I came to appreciate how much thought and critical evaluation is necessary for digital tools to be used effectively in a classroom setting.  Good history teaching is first and foremost based on good historical thinking skills.  Digital tools and technology help to guide, challenge, and engage students but they don’t do that on their own.  The technology must be paired with teaching skills to critically engage history.

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Since 1994, the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past. We sponsor more than two dozen digital history projects and offer free tools and resources for historians. Learn More

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Teachinghistory.org is the central online location for accessing high-quality resources in K-12 U.S. history education. Explore the highlighted content on our homepage or visit individual sections for additional materials.