Every now and then (and especially after the NAEP reports) there is much lamentation about the sad state of history teaching, and all kinds of solutions are proposed, from abolishing the federal Department of Education to assessing teachers and schools more rigorously. But as if to show that an age of historical darkness is not really descending on the schools, and that much can be done without resorting to radical departures, many teachers in different parts of the country are using their ingenuity to teach history in more effective ways, sometimes using simple technological tools to enrich learning in their classrooms.
Two presentations on “The Old and the New: Teaching Historical Skills at the High School Level” at the Teachinghistory.org workshop for K–12 teachers at the 126th annual meeting showed precisely this kind of innovation.
John Schmidt and Jeff Treppa of the Homewood Flossmoor High School (a school located in the suburbs of Chicago that has received the federal education department’s blue ribbon for excellence three times) described how they “Renewed the Old” to impart to their students the skills necessary to write a research paper. Using seven simple steps and templates for all the preliminary parts of historical research, such as topic description, finding and evaluating sources, using note cards, and analyzing, Schmidt and Treppa were able to obtain dramatic results. Technology helped them in their task, but the foundation for their success was in recognizing that clarity of instruction and practical, hands-on application was more important than “teaching” the skills as theory.
In her presentation, “Using Technology to Teach Historical Thinking,” Molly Myers, also from Homewood Flossmoor High School, described the various social media (Schoology, a kind of Facebook for classrooms) and technologies (VoiceThread and MyFakeWall) that she uses in her teaching. Significantly, she drew attention to the fact that she stresses creativity above evaluation, thus digitally subverting the scriptural injunctions of Bloom’s Taxonomy. She also stressed that both teachers and students needed to participate in a learning community.