Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: History

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

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

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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