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Using digital resources to enhance social studies, history instruction

5 min read

Voice of the Educator

With the variety of content covered at the secondary level and the need for multiple perspectives, digital resources provide access to the content and perspectives necessary to teach students to be active and responsible citizens.

In the Common Core State Standards, it is not the teacher or the textbook that holds all of the knowledge. Historical knowledge is acquired through considering the perspectives presented in primary, secondary and tertiary sources.

Digital resources enhance a teacher’s ability to plan lessons that will enable their students to build the historical literacies necessary to be college, career and civic-life ready.

Collecting and interpreting data

The variety of digital resources available online provide students with the perspectives necessary to deepen their understanding of how to think like a historian and process events throughout time. Whether it is the student or the teacher locating these sources, it is necessary to find multiple types of texts including reference articles, biographies, photos and illustrations, maps, visuals, speeches, letters and narratives, government topics and newspapers. In order to understand any historical event in depth, a student must interpret the collected data and use it as evidence to support their understanding of the event. They must ask themselves such questions as: Who created it? Why did they create it? When was it created? Whose perspective is not included? What was the context of the event? Internalizing the ability to think like an historian allows students to transfer knowledge to new contexts while considering how past events were shaped by the author, time and place.

Aligning digital resources to the common core

In light of the adoption of the Common Core, our district has been rethinking how we teach history and social studies. This past year we took on the challenging task of creating a new history and social studies scope and sequence. Our goal was to infuse the College, Career, and Civic Life Framework (C3) with the California History/Social Science State Standards. Textbooks alone do not meet the demands of the C3. Dimension 3 of the C3 Inquiry Arc requires students to evaluate sources using evidence before they communicate and take informed action (Dimension 4). In order to fulfill this goal we recognized that digital resources offer the variety of text types and multiple perspectives needed in order for students to engage with content at a deeper level to meet these requirements. Our scope and sequence directly links to these sources so teachers can easily share what they already use. Additionally, new resources can easily be added, and each individual teacher does not have to spend her valuable time searching for them.

Moving beyond the textbook

As a teacher, there was a time that I was excited just to use the textbook image of John Gast’s “American Progress” in my Manifest Destiny lesson plan and to explain to the student what was going on in the painting. Now I understand that I was just skimming the top of what needed to be done in order for students to learn how to think historically. Digital resources greatly expand not only the amount of resources I have but the depth of understanding and knowledge students will have by exploring multiple resources. By using digital resources, a Manifest Destiny lesson plan can now be expanded to include: a map of the Missouri Compromise, biographies on James K. Polk and Horace Greeley, Stephen F. Austin’s Texas Independence Address, Thomas Corwin’s speech against the Mexican-American War and Sam Houston’s Report of the Battle of San Jacinto. Using such resources moves beyond sole reliance on the textbook and dramatically changes a student’s understanding of Manifest Destiny.

Rejecting the single story

When I write lesson plans or give workshops to teachers on how to plan using the C3, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” is always in the back of my mind. She ends the talk by saying, “…when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.” Digital resources push students to recognize that there is never one story. In any historical event there are multiple perspectives and it is the student’s responsibility to find those other stories that were not included in the original account. This approach to studying history also translates to how current events are understood. When looking at any current text, students need to ask themselves the same questions they would ask when looking at a historical text. Teaching this way is how students become active and responsible citizens.

Mary Janzen is a Common Core State Standards 6-12 Literacy in History/Social Studies TSA with Fresno Unified School District, training and working with secondary history/social studies teachers as they transition to Common Core instruction. Mary is also a member of ABC-CLIO’s BRITE team.

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