Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: History

Beyond tokenism: teaching a diverse history in the post-14 curriculum

As we approach Black History Month in England, I thought it would be useful to share a piece I wrote for Teaching History earlier this year. When I wrote the article, I recall scanning the past issues of Teaching History and thinking about work that addressed similar issues. What was surprising is how little those pieces had been cited or apparently used by history teachers, especially based on the conversations at the Schools History Project conference this past summer.

Recent books published on education in England have made the case for consuming research from the sciences as a way to further the profession. I would like to add that we should be reading critical work from other disciplines as a way of challenging the conceptions we use in our lessons. The article came from my engagement with Michael Rothberg’s work on the Holocaust and memory in Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonisation. If you haven’t read it and you teach the Slave Trade and the Holocaust, you really should as it provides a framework for teaching connected narratives in our classrooms rather than competitive histories which seem to populate the media.

The recent Battle of the Somme memorial, We’re here because we’re here, denoted by the Twitter hashtag, #wearehere, provided an elegiac and physical reminder of the soldiers who lost their lives during the first day of the battle in 1916.[i]  Thousands of volunteers across the country donned historically accurate uniforms and walked, sat and lounged silently in train stations, shopping centres and other public areas, carrying cards bearing the details of the soldiers they represented. Their silence was only broken by their rendition of ‘we’re here because we’re here’ – a song sung by soldiers in the trenches – and the overall performance captured the attention and imagination of the public and the media.

Soldier sitting down next to commuters.

From the 14-18 NOW site ‘We’re here because we’re here’ https://becausewearehere.co.uk/we-are-here-gallery/395/

What was particularly striking – and heartening – about this portrayal was the diversity of the volunteers, a fact captured in the pictures on the memorial site. This was not a nod to political correctness on the part the organisers. The diversity of the soldiers represented in the project offered a more nuanced – and truthful – picture of history than the one often held up for memorial. Rather than focus on one example of difference, for instance the fascinating story of Walter Tull, the former footballer and first ‘black’ officer in the British army, the everyday nature of this portrayal avoided any sense of tokenism. Instead, it celebrated the complexity of our history, and showed that British history was (and is) also a global history. The #wearehere memorial proved the point laid out by David Olusoga in his book to accompany the recent excellent BBC series Black and British: A Forgotten History, that new and different stories can emerge when ‘black’ history is more than just a history of the ‘black’ experience.[ii] Seen in this way, the song ‘we’re here because we’re here’ comes to speak as much to the ever-constant role of ‘black’ and ethnic minorities in the fabric of Britain and British history as it does to the enduring memory of those who fought in the Great War.

Unfortunately, the capacity to address this diversity within England’s typical secondary school history curricula has been limited, with the material effects of this limitation seen in students from a black and minority ethnic background, as well as for white students. For the black students, uptake of England’s examination courses, from History GCSE and A-Level courses to undergraduate degrees remains low, and for the white students, their understanding of the rich tapestry of history is limited.[iii] Recent debates asking the question ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ often attribute the poor teaching of black history at school to a lack of historical knowledge and a narrow focus on topics such as the slave trade. This could be addressed by focusing on ‘Black History Month’ and by teaching units of black history, but this moves history teaching into the realms of tokenism and threatens to become an ‘add water and stir’ approach to teaching. Such an approach is particularly limiting in the post-14 phase where history becomes optional and is subject to examination specifications.  The syllabi provided by examination boards are prescribed, curriculum time is restricted and recent upheaval in examined courses have whittled down the capacity for history teachers to think beyond the subject being taught.

For Rothberg, collective memory of the past seemingly obeys the logic of scarcity, where memory of the Holocaust, for example, must crowd out the memory of African-American history in the public consciousness. The rendering of the public sphere as a scarce resource creates the conditions where the interactions of different collective memories battle one another in a zero-sum way for recognition and pre-eminence. Rothberg suggests that instead of this zero-sum game, we should consider memory as multidirectional and the public sphere a place where collective memories are not simply articulated, but are ‘subject [to] ongoing negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing’.[iv] Relating this to the history curriculum beyond the age of 14, it is not a zero-sum game between teaching the prescribed examination content and, to use the phrase from a recent book, ‘doing justice to history’.[v] Both can be done. History teaching, like collective memory, has an anachronistic quality, where the here and now, and the here and there, are brought together in a lesson or sequence of lessons. This powerful creativity allows the space to rethink and make complex the history that is taught in schools, and allows a more complex and challenging narrative to emerge.[vi]

This may sound easier to state on the page than to realise, yet the examples below will illustrate what is possible by deepening the knowledge already deployed by teachers in their lessons on the modern world.

‘The sugar at the bottom of the tea cup’: a wider appreciation of ‘Britishness’ during World War II

Writing in the early 1990s, the cultural theorist Stuart Hall remarked that people coming from the West Indies and other parts of the Empire had actually been in England for centuries – if only symbolically – and that those coming over were merely ‘coming home’. He characterised this by thinking of himself, and the people from Jamaica, as the ‘sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea’ that was a quintessential aspect of British identity. Moreover, the ‘Britishness’ associated with tea also obscured the fact that it came from Sri Lanka and India, not Lancashire.[vii] The Home Front in World War II is usually seen as a cultural touchstone for Britishness, through the creation of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ and the war as a ‘People’s War’, where class and gender differences were united in their fight against Nazism. Investigations of the Home Front and the forging of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ are typically studied from the view of different economic classes but not from the Empire point of view. E. I. Ekpenyon was a former Headmaster in Nigeria who had come to study Law in London and served as an ARP warden. His account of his training and experience on the Home Front makes complex the notion of a ‘Blitz Spirit’ being created by an ethnically homogenous group of people.  He recounts that the people in his area were very friendly and called him “Uncle Sam”, and followed his instructions as he was a ‘man of colour’, which to the people in his district saw as a ‘lucky omen’.  Below is Ekpenyon’s account of an incident in his shelter where the mix of people in his shelter had led to tensions.[viii]

E. I. Ekpenyon, a former Headmaster in Nigeria who had come to study Law in London and served as an ARP warden, describes an incident in his shelter

Some of the shelterers told the others to go back to their own countries, and some tried to practise segregation. A spirit of friendliness and comradeship was lacking. If this spirit had continued it would, as certainly as the night follows the day, have led to riots.

So I told the people that the British Empire, which is also known as the British Commonwealth of Nations, is made up of peoples of many races. I said that though I am an air-raid warden in London, I am still an African. I also said that I am one of many peoples of other countries that make up the Empire.

Then I spoke of the three classes in the shelter – namely, His Majesty’s subjects, protected persons, and guests. These last were refugees from other countries. I said that this third group of people who were in the shelter, and who were not interned, were entitled to the protection of the Union Jack. I said that this being the case I would like to see a spirit of friendliness, co- operation, and comradeship prevail at this very trying time in the history of the Empire. I further warned my audience that if what I had said was not going to be practised, I would advise those who did not agree to seek shelter somewhere else. For to remain in the shelter and to behave in an unfriendly way would force me to report them, because they were trying to create disunity in the Empire. The people responded, and few left the shelter.

Ekpenyon’s story is a fascinating account of someone from the ‘colonies’ acting as the guardian, and enforcer of, ‘British values’ and the ‘Blitz Spirit’ at the heart of the empire. His story, rather than an additive or distraction, places him squarely within the narrative of the ‘People’s War’. Two films produced by the Ministry of Information in 1943 and 1944, Hello! West Indies and West Indies Calling also provide evidence of a complex narrative of ‘Britishness’ and the ‘People’s ’.[ix] Presented by Una Marson, the Jamaican feminist and writer who worked at the BBC during World War II, the films show a range of white and black British subjects supporting the war effort in Britain as military personnel, nurses, factory workers and lumberjacks.

These stories, and many others in texts like Stephen Bourne’s Mother Country, show that the Home Front and the ‘People’s War’ was more diverse and complex than has been previously rendered. These accounts – which have the potential to provide excellent, accessible source material for students – also move away from the ‘black’ British story which starts with the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948.[x] The ‘black’ presence in the ‘People’s War, like the diversity of the soldiers on the front, offer just one example of a history that preceded and anticipated our practiced narrative of migration and diversity.

The boy in the Nazi jumper

In current history examination courses offered in England at GCSE and A-Level, the study of Nazi Germany incorporates the treatment of minorities in terms of persecution and death camps. Yet the lives of Afro-Germans at the time provide a nuanced understanding of the Nazi regime and social life in Germany. Born in 1926 to a Liberian father and German mother, Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi experienced first-hand what the transition from Weimar to Nazi Germany was like and how his skin colour defined his experience and his existence. His book, Destined to Witness is remarkable not only because it details the changing social circumstances in Germany but his life in the USA after the war. He explains in detail life at school, his relationship with other people and the attraction of the Nazis to young people. He too was an unabashed Nazi supporter ‘because they put on the best shows with the best-looking uniforms, best sounding marching bands’, which unsurprisingly appealed to his developing sense of masculinity.[xi] When he finally got his hands on a Swastika, he asked the elderly lady who looked after him to sew it is on his jumper and led to the picture taken below in 1933.

Hans J Massaquoi with a Nazi Swastika on his jumper taken from the front cover of his book Destined to Witness

The image shown is incredibly powerful. I have used it in my classroom, along with other extracts from the book, in order to help students move from the ‘concrete to the conceptual’ in their understanding of the Nazi regime.[xii] The text also provides opportunities to challenge simple historical explanations about the interactions of minorities with the Nazis. In one incident, Massquoi recounts his encounter with an SS officer at the Department of Labour in 1940. Obviously concerned that his fate lay in the hands of the one of the Nazi elite, Herr von Vett, Massaquoi was surprised when von Vett winked at him and invited him to take a seat. After inspecting his school record and an axe that he had created, von Vett stated that Massaquoi could be of ‘great service to Germany one day’. Thinking that von Vett had lost his mind, Massaquoi listened as the SS officer reasoned that Germany would reclaim its African colonies at some point and would need technically trained Germans to lead an African workforce and Massaquoi would be ‘ideal for such an assignment’. Massaquoi was promised an apprenticeship with a first-rate firm and as he gave the Heil Hitler salute before turning to leave, Massaquoi was called back by von Vett. He asked, ‘Aren’t you going to shake my hand?’.  Massaquoi duly did and gained his interview for an apprenticeship soon after.[xiii]

Massaquoi is not the only example of Afro-Germans living during the Nazi regime. Louis Brody was an actor in several Nazi propaganda films and Hans Hauck fought in the Wehrmact. Their lives, as well as being fascinating, provide a more truthful narrative of life in Nazi Germany, and would enhance students’ understanding of the complex racial laws, stereotypes, and hypocrisies at work in Germany in the years leading up to and during the war.[xiv]

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

One popular and longstanding unit within England’s history GCSE courses is Medicine Through Time.[xv] Its huge sweep of chronology and thematic approach provides another opportunity to deploy a ‘multidirectional memory’ approach when considering the ethical, legal and social effects of technology on public healthcare in Britain. Although the name may not be familiar, it is highly likely that we have all benefitted medically in some way due to Henrietta Lacks. An African American born in the 1920s, Lacks became the unwitting donor of cells from a cancerous tumour. Prior to Lacks’ cells being harvested, human cells that were cultured in labs lasted only a few days. There was something different about Lacks’ cells. They seemed to thrive and grow in cell culture and the mass manufacturing of her cells led to innovations in cloning, drug development for cancer, polio and many other medical conditions. Lacks’ family received no profits from these advances to modern medicine, or indeed any healthcare in a country that often denied them basic rights.  Henrietta’s cells – taken without the dying woman’s knowledge or consent – were helping people in countries where she would have been barred because of the colour of her skin.[xvi] Understanding modern medicine without an appreciation of Henrietta Lacks produces a history that is reductive. Her story – told in an engaging and accessible way in Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – also allows students to consider the ethics of the history they are studying, and enables them to see how one story can come into conversation, and indeed conflict, with another.

A black-and-white photo of Lacks smiling
By (archived link), Fair use, Link

The three stories briefly set out above are only a small introduction to the rich material available to teachers and students in the move towards diversifying the curriculum. Deliberately focussed on twentieth-century history, they are all easily linked to topics already studied in classrooms across the country, and fall within the existing subject knowledge of teachers. As I hope the stories demonstrate, a ‘multidirectional memory’ approach to teaching history can move us beyond a limiting method of seeing black history as separate, superficial and distracting  side-story from the ‘real’ history that needs to be taught at examination level.

References

[i] ‘We’re here because we’re here’ was a UK-wide event commissioned by 14-18 NOW as a memorial to mark the Battle of the Somme. Details about the memorial and additional images can be found at the following address: https://becausewearehere.co.uk/

[ii] Olusoga, D. (2016) Black and British: A Forgotten History, London: Macmillan, p.xxi

[iii] Lyndon, D. (2006) Integrating Black British History into the National Curriculum, Teaching History, 122, Rethinking History Edition, pp.37-43; Whitburn, R. and Yemoh, S. (2012) ‘Hidden histories and heroism: post-14 course on multi-cultural Britain since 1945’, Teaching History, 147, Curriculum Architecture Edition, pp.16-25; Harris, R., Burn, K. and Woolley, M. (2014) The Guided Reader to Teaching and Learning History, London: Routledge, see ‘Diversity’, p. 182; Gilborn, D. (2008) Racism and Education, Oxford: Routledge

[iv] Rothberg, M. (2009) Multidirectional Memory, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.3

[v] Mohamud, A. and Whitburn, R. (2016) Doing Justice to History, London: UCL Institute of Education Press

[vi] Rothberg, op. cit.,p.5

[vii] Hall, S. (1991) ‘Old and New Identities’ in Anthony D. King (ed.) Culture, Globalization and the World-System, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p.48-49

[viii] http://westendatwar.org.uk/documents/E._Ita_Ekpenyon_download_version_.pdf

[ix] Hello! West Indies (1943) Directed by John Page, Great Britain, Ministry of Information/Paul Rotha Productions; West Indies Calling (1943) Directed by John Page, Great Britain, Ministry of Information/Paul Rotha Productions

[x] Bourne, S. (2010) Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-45, Gloucester: The History Press

[xi] Massaquoi, H-J. (2001) Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, New York: Harper Perennial, p.41

[xii] Phillips, R. (2001) ‘Making history curious: Using Initial Stimulus Material (ISM) to promote enquiry, thinking and literacy’, Teaching History, 105, Talking History Edition, pp.19-25

[xiii] Massaquoi, op. cit., pp.198-199

[xiv] Lusane, C. (2002) Hitler’s Black Victims, London: Routledge, Campt, T.M. (2005) Other Germans, Ann Arbour: The University of Michigan Press

[xvi] Skloot, R. (2010) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, London: Pan Books

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Using new technologies to enhance teaching and learning in History

Using New Technologies book coverA brief update to publicise a book that I have contributed to and edited by Professor Terry Hadyn of UEA. Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Learning in History (Routledge) is now available in paperback and a ebook friendly version will be available within the month.

I recall a few years ago being told by someone very prominent in the History teaching community that ‘ICT had been done’ and did not require any more thought. This book indicates that the judicious use of technology is still an issue to be grappled with especially as the thoughtful use of technology stems from careful thinking about subject knowledge, skills and literacy.

The ebook version will have links which will be constantly updated and may come with additional chapters. My contribution includes how iPads can be used to enhance History teaching and also the use of iBooks Author. I hope you find it useful and let me know if you have any questions.

Contents are below:

Professor Terry Hadyn What does it mean to be good at ICT as a history teacher and We Need to talk about PowerPoint),

Neal Watkin The history utility belt: getting learners to express themselves digitally

Ali Messer History Wikis

Arthur Chapman Using discussion forums to support historical learning

Dan Lyndon Using blogs and podcasts in the history classroom

Richard Jones-Nerzic Documentary film making in the history classroom

John Simkin Making the most of the Spartacus Educational website

Ben Walsh Signature pedagogies, assumptions and assassins: ICT and motivation in the history classroom

Johannes Ahrenfelt Immersive learning in the history classroom: how social media can help meet the expectations of a new generation of learners

Alf Wilkinson What can you do with an interactive whiteboard?

Nick Dennis and Doug Belshaw Tools for the tech savvy history teacher

Janos Blasszauer History webquests

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#SHP12 Reflections

My Saturday evening wear at SHP - Viking mask

My Saturday evening wear at SHP

On my way back from the national Schools History Project conference, I read this passage in Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan’s ‘Professional Capital’:

‘People are motivated by good ideas tied to action; they are energized even more by pursuing action with others; they are spurred on still further by learning from their mistakes; and they are ultimately propelled by actions that make an impact’. p.7

For me, this neatly described the ongoing attraction of a conference in its 24th year; people are drawn to and spurred on by actions which make a difference in classroom across the country. The conference is unique as far as I know; classroom practitioners mingle with subject advisers, publishers, academics and trainers with the express purpose of improving historical understanding and buying into the key principles of the Schools History Project:

  • History should be meaningful
  • Historical enquiry should be the bedrock of learning
  • Studies should take the long view to enhance chronological understanding
  • Diversity in terms of content, approaches to study and peoples is important
  • Local history should play a key role in the historical education of young people
  • History should be fun and rigorous.

Everything that followed from Michael Riley’s opening address tied to the core principles which he outlined and not just limited to the workshops but also in the spaces in-between; the coffee areas, the dining hall and the pub. I was surprised and delighted with the new faces at the conference and there seems to be a growing shift in the age of attendees which bodes well for the continuation of what is possibly the longest serving curriculum development project in the world.

Dr Michael Riley – SHP Director

I presented two sessions and I thought the first one was poor by my usual standards. Everything I normally do before giving presentations I did not/was not able to do (I have a routine, like athletes do). As a result, I felt that is was middling at best. I then spent most of lunch and the Saturday afternoon/evening ironing out the technical/logistical issues. As a result, the second session on Sunday felt a lot better. One key learning takeaway for me? Make sure that all equipment is set up for me (especially when using around 50k worth of kit loaned by Apple) and if not possible, limit your ambition! I would like to thank Leonie and Mike at Apple for their help in arranging the iPads and Macbooks for the conference. We should all keep an eye out for some exciting things coming from English Heritage and the National Archives on the mobile learning front…

As usual, Don Cumming and Dan Lyndon‘s session showed the positive power of collaboration in the classroom and how it can be used to solve genuine historical issues. Their enthusiasm and deep understanding of learning left me lots of things to think about. Donald and Don’s campaign for Olaudah Equiano’s Blue Plaque is something I would urge you to get involved in. The only other session I was able to attend was the brilliantly practical workshop by Tim Jenner and Paul Nightingale on using sources. The argue that source skills should not be taught as a ‘bolt-on’ but should become familiar to students through  I liked how they used the ‘splat’ game to get students to hit inferences created by the class/teacher. I loved their idea of cutting up a source and asking the students to recreate what they think it is and then at the end of the lesson, compare with the original. The example they used in the workshop was ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ with the images cut up. Our group created an image to conform to our expectations of ‘normal’ which seemed plausible. As the lesson progresses, the students are asked to move the images around to reflect the learning. I thought this was particularly powerful as it meant that students could then explain why the church appears upside down and in the sky due to the nature of the religious upheaval rather than just guess at it when they see the source for the first time. I will certainly be using their ideas in all my lessons next year.

 

The World Turned Upside Down – in pieces

A TeachMeet was also held this year and once again, I cannot thank the contributors enough (some did not know they were presenting until I twisted their arms when they walked into the room)! Feedback was great with attendees loving the rapid-fire nature of the presentations.

 

TeachMeet SHP12 attendees

 

The plenary sessions I attended were led by Richard McFahn and Neil Bates, Ben Walsh and Chris Culpin. I really enjoyed all of them, albeit for very different reasons. Richard and Neil’s session gave you pratical tips to take away and use, Ben (the ‘Silver Fox’ of History teaching – he sure is a handsome man!) left me laughing about the pressures we face as history teachers with some great clips to illustrate his points. This was my favourite as it showed how dangerous a very small amount of historical knowledge can be:

Saturday’s entertainment, as ever, was supplied by Ian Dawson. Making the point that Anglo-Saxon history is important (yet takes little time in the school curriculum), Ian showed us through militant Witans, jovial, shameless Vikings and an inspired King Alfred (played by Chris Culpin) that we really are missing a huge part of history when we leap from the Romans to the Normans (there was even a quick rendition of Monty Python’s ‘What have the Romans done for us?’ sketch).

Chris Culpin’s talk resonated with me as he is clearly focused on core purpose and principles and this was the running thread of the conference for me. It is clear that for over 40 years, the Schools History Project has worked hard at staying true to their principles and it was a challenge to me as I thought I may not be able to attend the conference next year due to the new role at Berkhamsted. I now think this was wrongheaded of me to even entertain this idea. Why would a senior leader in a school pass up the opportunity to see in action an educational organisation that operates so tightly and effectively within its principles and promotes high quality staff development?

Say ‘hello’ when you see me next year.

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How to improve your history teaching in under three hours

One of the most positive things in my early history teaching career was going to the Schools History Project Conference and learning from experienced and supportive practitioners like Ian Dawson, Christine Counsell, Dan Lyndon and residents from the History Teachers’ Dicussion Forum. Being able to ask the leading lights in my field questions on everything from curriculum issues to classroom tips helped me enormously as did the conversations in the pub afterwards.

Esther Arnott and a few other history teachers (myself included) are organising a free event for history teachers in London so they can also benefit from a positive supportive atmosphere and share ideas and resources. Based at the Department for Education on the 28th January (Friday) from 5pm-7.30pm, the agenda looks like this:

Opening address: Sue John – Headteacher, Lampton School
Keynote: Richard McFahn (Humanities Adviser, West Sussex) and Neil Bateson on enquiry-led learning
Meet the chief examiners – controlled assessment
TeachMeet – sharing ideas
Pub/meal

If this appeals, please go to the site and register your interest. We already have around 30 teachers making their way to the event to learn, share and improve their teaching and the learning of their students. A pretty effective use of three hours and it will certainly improve what you do. Did I mention that it was free? 🙂

Look forward to seeing you there.

UPDATE: London History Network poster attached. Please distribute to any interested parties.

Image: Pedro Guridi @ Flickr

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David Cameron and historical learning

David Cameron

Prime Minister Cameron in happier times.

I suspect that you would have seen/heard David Cameron’s comments about the ‘Special Relationship’ this week. One comment in particular has drawn a lot of attention:

“We were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis.”

On the surface, it does display a poor grasp of the Second World War but I think it shows two deeply important, but contradictory, lessons. The first lesson is that History is important. In a day and age where the threat to the subject appears to loom larger than ever, it shows that getting key events wrong can offend a large majority of the population and might even lead to questions about your ability to do your job. Pretty serious stuff.

The second lesson to be drawn from the reaction to Cameron’s comment is the difficulty teachers face in creating an ethos where mistakes are seen as a normal part of the learning process. It seems clear to me that Cameron is learning to be Prime Minister and although he may be gifted in certain areas, unfamiliar situations cause people to react in different ways. Within the context of the rest of his discussion, the comment made sense but it was a small error not a terrible threat to the social fabric of British society. It is therefore unsurprising that students can sometimes battle with a classroom environment where mistakes are seen as a necessary element of becoming better; the pressure to get things ‘right’ the first time from society seems overwhelming.

Who said teaching was an easy job?

Front and top image: The Prime Minister’s Office@Flickr

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Comic Life and changing life in Germany 1933-1939: an update.

Today was the day students used the Regional Training Centre MacBooks and Comic Life to create the display/revision guides for changing life in Nazi Germany. Overall, I was pleased with the end product and the historical thought that went into the process of creating the pages. However, there were a few issues:

  • Lack of time meant that I could not show the students all the features they might need. When I do something like this again, I’ll make sure I give enough time to go through the program properly.
  • I did have to cajole them to think historically more than I wanted too. I think they were really excited by the activity and the technology and this detracted from the thinking process somewhat. As the lesson went on, many went into their books and notes to make sure they were using the correct information and they were making sure that the images they were using were appropriate for the subject matter. I firmly believe that when we use Comic Life again, concentration will be at the level I usually get from them as the ‘newness’ of the activity will wear off.

There were minor issues and they will be addressed. However, I thought the first attempt was pretty stunning and conveys the concept of change fantastically. What do you think?

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2010 – The Year of the Monolith?

iPod Touch

iPod Touch – 2010 style

After talking and thinking about how I would use mobile devices in the History classroom with a variety of people on Twitter and at Ed Tech Round Up, I decided to look at a few applications that may help me achieve my objectives. I always have in mind a number of questions when looking at technology/applications and the most important is whether I can do the same job without it (it keeps my inner geek instinct to use new tools without thinking about how useful they are in check).

One of the apps that has some impressive possibilities is Big Nerd Ranch’s eClicker and eClicker Host for the iPod Touch/iPhone. Louise Duncan plans on using it with her iPods (I recommend reading her blog if you are interested in using the iPod Touch in your classroom) and I can see why. Apart from its apparent ease of use and visual feedback is how it fits into Dylan Wiliam’s 2007 paper on good assessment in the classroom (thanks to Neal Watkin for passing this one to me). Essentially, Wiliam thinks good questions with multiple answers (without designating one correct answer) relays how much students understand and allows the teacher to adjust their teaching accordingly. For example, I may set a question on Women in Nazi Germany with five possible answers and the students have a minute to answer. All the choices may be correct but at different levels of the GCSE markscheme. So if the minimum target grade of the class is a ‘B’ but half give answers akin to a ‘C’ or ‘D’ grade I can then discuss this with the class and tease out the misunderstanding. It also allows the results of the sessions to be emailed for further analysis so decisions about the process in the classroom can be made.

Of course, this can be done using cards or mini-boards and the teacher checking visually and adjustments made during the lesson. What is really interesting is how the technology allows you to aggregate the information from the students in email form to be studied closely when more time is available for reflection, leading to a more thoughtful calibration of the teaching/learning process. Ideally, combining both the app and the cards/mini-boards would be a great way to check understanding in the classroom. I hope to explore the technological side of this in more detail over the coming year as well as looking at other ways to integrate mobile technologies into the classroom.

Image by nickhumphries @ Flickr

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Mobile devices, Megatron and the History classroom

Megatron
What I look like when homework is not handed in. Apparently.

I have been thinking about using mobile devices in the classroom for a long time. Doug Belshaw and I used them to great success with Twitter and presented our findings at the National Schools History Project conference in 2008. The students found it very useful in terms of revision or asking questions quickly (I hasten to add this was sanctioned by the Headmistress at my previous school and at no time did I see the students’ ‘phone numbers). Twitter then removed its free text message service and the project had to dropped. I’ve gone on to use mobile devices in many ways, drawing on the work of many other educators but have still felt that I was not really tackling the issues within my classroom.

For me, they revolve around two key areas:

1) Organisation – how can I help my students become more organised in terms of accessing work set, completing it and reviewing their progress?  If possible, I want to link into the work on Assessing Pupil Progress mentioned in the last issue of Teaching History.

2) Collaboration – how can I get the students to work with each other inside and outside the classroom to create a piece of historical work that would remove the constraints we face in terms of time and location? Mobile technology, especially with the use of GPS data tagged to photos or uploading videos creates all kinds of interesting activities for field trips for example.

You will notice that History as such is not really mentioned and that is simply because that is my job not the role of the technology. I may be overstating the obvious here but sometimes, just sometimes, technology is viewed as the panacea to the problem in front of us. The two issues identified above are not really major problems in that they can be overcome using traditional methods (review sheets with target grades on, sharing pictures of visits once we get back to the classroom or my transformation into Megatron* wrecking havoc on pupils who dare to hand homework in late because they forgot it was set). However, I would like to try and claim back some of the time spent becoming the leader of the Decepticons and being the teacher who is able to create engaging activities.

In terms of what devices/technologies we will use, I’m pretty sure we will cover the iPhone/iPod Touch/Blackberry as the main devices (as this is what many of the students already have) but basically any device that has unlimited data connections. Moodle and a few other tools will be used too but that will require some work with the ICT dept. If anyone has any other ideas about how to promote learning using mobile devices, I’ll be glad to hear from you. My students will be glad too; as Optimus Prime says, ‘Megatron must be stopped’.

*One of the many nicknames I have acquired and the students share with me. I like to think it has something to do with my geekiness…

Megatron image from mdverde@ Flickr

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