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Learning History Through Storytelling

February 12, 2015

A history lesson taught well results in more than simple memorization of names and dates; rather, it inspires and equips students to be lifelong citizens. It teaches them to support their arguments using research, determine whether different sources of information are reliable or not, and be informed participants in society. At the Ransom Everglades School in Miami, history teacher Jen Carey does just that by assigning her students an inquiry-based project that hones their skills in both traditional and digital media: making documentaries.

Students research and find sources to answer questions like “What role did Old World conflicts play in the Revolutionary War?” They use school library resources like books and academic journals alongside online resources and digital content, like pictures, videos, and/or music that will illustrate their points. Anything goes – as long as they can cite it properly and prove that it’s from a credible, reliable source. The students start with a  PowerPoint storyboard outlining the documentary progression for Carey to review (much as she would an essay outline), and then they write a “script” in essay form detailing what the narrator will say.

To create the actual documentary, students are free to use whichever video software they prefer, but Carey doesn’t provide any hard and fast guidance. Instead, students figure it out themselves, using the tools they have online (like Help and FAQ pages). And they learn to work together while learning a new program and making videos.

Finally, the students upload their documentaries via Google Drive, embed the link on the class blog, and present it to their classmates for peer review. As a result, the students have not only honed the research and critical thinking skills critical to their academic careers, but have also had a chance to practice digital citizenship and become discerning users, rather than passive consumers, of online content.

Stay tuned - in honor of Black History Month and President’s Day, we’ll be highlighting more stories from history teachers in the coming weeks.

Photo: "Film Production - Film Shoot Class" by Vancouver Film School is licensed under CC BY 2.0