Tech Tools for the History Teacher

One of the things that teachers often ask me for is a set of tools to get them started using technology in their classrooms. This is a common request because searching the internet for good tools can be so overwhelming. In general, the best tools you are going to find for your students are websites and apps that allow students to “show what they know.” Tools like these are not (necessarily) for teachers, because they are focused on helping the student think critically and creatively about the information that they’ve learned.  

This list has a different purpose.

I wanted to curate a list of tech tools for history teachers that matches my philosophy of education. Although I work with teachers in all subject areas (and I literally mean ALL subject areas), my passion and personal interests is history.

Let’s face it, most of what is currently assessed on standardized history tests are fact memorization. The standards are changing and the assessment of the standards are slowly changing too. But, we can’t let that stop us from doing what’s right and teaching kids things beyond rote memorization. As history teachers, we should spend our time helping kids learn to think for themselves, to communicate better, to examine sources and question what they are being told, to make connections between the past and their lives today, and to build empathy and understanding of people and places around us. The tools I have curated support my ideas about how we should approach teaching in history classrooms and are tools to help teachers think about teaching and learning a little differently than we have in the past. 

 

Tool #1: Stanford History Education Group {SHEG}

School systems and standardized tests are slowly starting to understand the thing that the rest of us have known for a while now…. having the internet in my pocket means there is no reason why I should need to memorize facts. I can google the name of the 16th president. I can google the year the Mayflower landed in America. What I can’t easily google is “What kind of man was the 16th president?” and “What about this painting about the Mayflower Compact be truthful and what might be misleading?”

The deeper questions are so important.

Students need to be able to look at the historical evidence, understand their context and their biases, and make judgments from them and other supporting pieces of evidence. These are the skills we should be teaching, NOT who signed the Declaration of Independence (that’s google-able). SHEG has some really simple, yet powerful lessons that help teachers and students begin thinking more like historians and less like fact memorizers.

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Tool #2: Centropa

Centropa is a non-profit, Jewish historical institute dedicated to preserving Jewish family stories and photos and sharing these stories through films, books, and exhibitions. This means that if you teach or learn about anything related to Jewish studies, there is a video, lesson plan, activity, project, etc… already made for you and already shared with the world.

Part of the reason I love using Centropa’s materials in the classroom is because of the personal connections Centropa is building. They are trying to connect students and teachers all over the world and they are trying to share personal family narratives. When students (and adults) can begin making personal connections to the past, they are better able to understand how we got where we are today, and able to make good decisions for the future.

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Tool #3: Big History Project

This history project is really big. It’s huge. Its an online history course that covers 13.8 billion years, it surveys the history of the entire universe, and it helps you understand your role in the world.

The BHP is too big, in fact, for one little blog post … and yet, it deserves your attention.

The Big History Project is not your “usual” history course. Created by David Christian and Bill Gates, BHP focuses on helping people make connections across time and culture by integrating multiple disciplines, creating opportunities for collective learning, and making and testing claims about the information we have traditionally learned from in the past. The resources provided by BHP are high-quality and easy to access. Best of all, this course is free, open to teachers and students everywhere. If you happen to be the odd duckling reading this post … and you aren’t a history teacher looking for resources to use in your classroom… BHP has a free course just for non-edu people who are interested in learning more about history.

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Tool #4: Google Arts & Culture

There is a big edu-focus on STEAM right now. If you haven’t heard of STEAM, it is STEM with an A (A = Arts). Yes, there are tons of science, technology, engineering, and math projects and lessons that can happen in history classes, and yet – arts integration is a natural and easy fit.

Many history teachers already use historical paintings to help students understand what happened in the past, understand biases and misrepresentation of information in media, and set the tone for deep conversation and discussion about historical topics.

Google Arts & Culture helps teachers bring historical paintings (and more) into the history classroom. It offers virtual reality tours of historically important sites around the world, 360° video tours, guided tours of museums curated by experts, browsing art by color or time period, and zoom views where you can see the brush strokes of famous painters.

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Tool #5: Listenwise

Listening skills are an important part of effective communication. As students develop their listening skills, they are better able to understand the other facets of language; reading, writing and speaking.   

Listenwise understands the connection between listening and literacy. They have partnered with NPR (and other podcasts) to curate short, real world, authentic audio clips of podcasts to be used in the classroom. The podcasts are searchable by topic, are applicable to a wide range of classrooms, come with an interactive transcript so listeners can follow along, and have some really good discussion questions. You can access the podcasts for free and they have a generous 1 month free trial of the premium account here.

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Tool #6: Smarty Pins

SmartyPins is an interactive geographic awareness trivia game created by Google Maps. Players are given a trivia fact and are asked to place a pin on the map in the place that matches the fact. A timer keeps the game fast paced and after each drop of the pin, the distance between the correct location and your guess are tabulated. See how many locations you can find without reaching 1000 miles.

This game is great for those few minutes of extra time we all have every so often when a lesson plan goes wrong or when there was a fire drill and you only have a few minutes left of class.

Smarty Pins teaches geography skills and it helps kids gain an understanding of the world. They learn where countries, cities, and cultural icons are located and they learn interesting cultural trivia which helps them make connections to the world around them.

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As I mentioned before, tech tools for student use should not be centered on content. Instead, student tools should be creation tools that allow students to take what they’ve learned and create things that “show what they know.” This may include tools like movie makers, poster/infographic makers, presentation building tools, etc… Sometimes, however, teachers are looking for some good tools to supplement their lesson plans and give them new ideas about different ways to approach teaching and learning.

What tech tools do you use in your history class?

Written by Lacy Bryant @TechNerdLB

 

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