Learning about leaders of old, dramatic events and the origins of modern day politics has made history classes a favorite for many students. Project-based learning in the history classroom has been a common pedagogical technique used by many teachers.
This self-directed approach, framed by educators, can help students learn by inquiry and doing rather than by just reading books and memorizing essays. Not only does project based learning in the history classroom help students understand a different time and place, but it also gives them experience of how historians, archivists and researchers work.
By incorporating technology into history project-based learning, teachers can move beyond the textbook and give students a chance to learn about history on their own terms. Since many resources are not physically available to students, bringing technology into the classroom can help them access many of the resources they need. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes while reading primary source documents, interact with history through museum exhibits, and access music, news articles and other historical resources through apps, online documents and immersive 3D experiences.
One of the best ways to engage in project-based learning is by having students actually tour historic locations and pretend what life would be like if they were actually living there. Numerous apps give students the opportunity to visit important places from history. Pyramids 3D lets students tour an Ancient Egyptian pyramid and then design a pyramid of their own based on what they have seen. The app allows students to tap areas on tomb walls to see hi-res images of real spaces, and explore a catalogue of fully rotatable 3D objects including Tutankhamun’s famous golden mask. Similarly, with Virtual History ROMA, students can take a tour of Ancient Rome, and then write a story about a day in the life of an Ancient Roman including many of the places from the app.
Part of learning about history involves connecting it to present-day life. Students can use apps such as MyCongress to track what is currently going on in Congress and compare that news to past events in history. The Fluent News Reader, News360 and Pulse apps can help students stay up-to-date on the latest news and quickly locate relevant news stories from multiple sources. If they need help finding historical events to research, app such as World Book – This Day in History and History Today can give students ideas based on what happened on a particular day in history a few years, a few decades or even a few centuries ago.
Instead of getting information for a project from an app, students can also use an app to organize and present their learning. With apps such as Timeline 3D and Timeline Builder, students can create timelines to represent different periods in history. These timelines are more than simple boxes with dates and descriptions; students can also incorporate images, videos, links to articles and other digital resources related to the time period, making them a historical experience.
With some apps, students can also use what they have learned about history to create their own worlds. My Country HD has students create a country with a starting capital of $65,000 and they can use lessons they have learned or examples of particular countries to help make or avoid decisions as they run their virtual country. Of course, there are also popular world-building apps such as Minecraft, Exploration and Blockworld that students can use to recreate periods in history and interact with one another to help learn concepts of citizenship and government. Students can then present their worlds to the class through a short presentation or paper, explaining why certain choices were made and comparing their worlds to what they have learned about history.
David Moursund’s book, Project Based Learning: Using Information Technology is a must for any teacher looking to expand their knowledge of IT resources for project based learning. In particular, it has a section on lesson plans for history teachers (Pg 27) that has some useful tips.
Learn NC has a massive repository of project based learning lesson plans, with over 200 history specific items. Turning the Century, a lesson plan created by Lisa Stamey, combines traditional project making tools such as paper and pencils, with technology facilitated investigation to create a museum displaying 19th and 20th century daily life.
High Tech High is another excellent go-to resource site for searchable history projects. The Civil Rights Museum lesson plan, created by Mellissa Vincent, has students research a Civil Rights topic and present an interactive museum exhibit.
Buck Institute for Education is one of the most popular project based learning resources on the web and for good reason. The projects are very detailed and have excellent lesson plans associated with them.
Intel have project examples related to History teaching sorted by grade and age that can be helpful to get some ideas for technology-related history projects. 21st Century Schools have some innovative History projects geared towards US classes such as the Johnny Appleseed curriculum.
History does not have to be limited to the facts in the textbook. Through project-based learning students can truly learn about history by applying it in ways that can trigger creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. They will discover that many stories have multiple sides and that not all events happened the way they think they did. Students will also learn how to make connections between history and their daily lives, perhaps applying what they have learned to create worlds of their own or just keeping the information in the back of their heads as they read the latest news from around the world.
Samantha Kotey is the editor for AvatarGeneration and has a background in educational technology and virtual worlds. A mom of two, she is passionate about all things related to toys and technology.