StoryMaps Live

Earlier in April, I was featured on the StoryMaps Live! broadcast where Allen Carroll (no relation) shared the latest updates to the platform. I was asked to share my experience in using StoryMaps both as a platform for digitally curating A Right to the City for the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum and to deliver content in my own classroom as St. John’s and the rest of the nation have transitioned to Virtual Learning.

StoryMaps Live! April 2020

The Sixth Piece of the Puzzle

The concept for my project is a website called Uncovering History that will eventually serve as a repository for digital lessons I create to engage students in learning to think historically and to make that thinking visible.  The landing page for Uncovering History will briefly explain the concepts of historical thinking and coverage vs. uncoverage as expressed in the writings of Calder, Levesque and Wineberg for teachers who are interested in digging more deeply for their middle and high school students.  The inspiration for the site will be the question “How do the raw materials of the past reveal an understanding of history?”  While the larger site will be a work in progress, the primary focus of this project will be developing a series of lessons over three to four days that help students to grapple with this question.

My source material includes items in the collection of the British Museum found in the Vale of York Viking hoard.  I have used these items under the museum’s CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and created an archive called Uncovering A Discovery.  Students will use the archive to work with the digital resources in order to make sense of individual items and to begin to categorize them into groups that will help them to construct a larger historical narrative about how the items might have come together under the influence of trade networks and geographical connections.  Students will also employ Maker technology and good old fashioned Model Magic to recreate the hoard in order to explore how material culture differs from digital culture in exploring history.

The main issue I continue to grapple with is making the lesson streamlined enough so that it doesn’t take too many class days in an already jam-packed year.  Having scaffolded discussion questions and guided lessons will help in this regard.  I also plan to use the concept of adaptations and extensions so that teachers with more or less time can use the lesson as inspiration for their own needs.

Eventually, I will build out other lessons that help students visualize historical thinking skills with raw materials from other historical eras such as the Roman world and Islamic civilizations.

Teaching in the Historical Abundance of the Digital Age

Teaching history in the digital age is a great privilege and a great responsibility.  The resources that I can access and share with my students are almost limitless.  Curious about how the Vikings traded across the river systems of Europe and Asia?  Let’s explore the Vale of York Hoard digitally.  I can even pull up examples of other hoards with a few clicks of the keyboard, and students can compare the similarities and differences between the finds.  Curious about how the idea of blue and white porcelain diffused from Europe to Asia as a result of Mongol invasions and those same river networks?  I can pull up a BBC Radio podcast produced in association with the British Museum and give students access to a 3D model of a similar artifact made possible through the Smithsonian. Having access to these resources gives me the opportunity to help students learn to think historically by engaging with what the raw materials of the past help us to understand about possible narratives that explain their existence.

But, sometimes all this access has its pitfalls.  As students in my class produce their own documentary films, they seek out images and other content that help them to tell their stories. In doing so they often struggle with wading through all of that abundance to find images that actually fit.  Need a picture of a man on a boat?  A Creative Commons search yields hundreds of images.  Choose the first one that looks good and call it a day, never mind the fact that the difference between a Sunday yachting excursion is far different than an immigrant’s journey to the United States.  Need information about the Hippie Movement?  Click on the first blog post that pops up in a Google search despite ads for the latest fashion trends.  But, even in these slips, these mistakes, my students are learning about what it means to think historically because they are actually practicing the skill rather than just learning about an event or memorizing information for a test.  Even though they often fail, they are learning from their mistakes and have an abundance of resources from which to make better choices a second or a third time.

And, digital technology also provides new ways for students to do the work of history in how they manipulate information.  Digital mapping, storytelling and even the Maker Movement have applications for students to create their own content and express their historical understanding in ways that would have been impossible less than a decade ago.  For students who struggle with traditional forms of expression such as writing an essay or taking a test, these digital tools help bring a a higher level of engagement to a wider population of students.

As daunting as navigating this new age of digital information may be, I am hopeful that the opportunities digital resources provide may be the “iron that sharpens iron” in the toolkit of leaning how to navigate this age responsibly.


The Fifth Piece of the Puzzle: Books

As expansive as the collections housed at the British Musuem, both online and in house, finding much information about the Vale of York Hoard on the British Musuem website wasn’t as fruitful as I thought that it might be.  It has LOTS of metadata for each of the 54 photographed items from the hoard and the 634 items yet to be photographed.  However, a larger body of content explaining how the hoard was found and processed or what history can be uncovered in examining each object is largely missing from the museum website.

Previously, I have relied on Neil MacGregor’s BBC Radio 4 broadcast about the hoard when I shared its story with my class, but that gives away too much of the narrative that I want students to try to create on their own.  However, I had a EUREKA moment when I remembered that I might have purchased a small book about the hoard from the Musuem’s gift shop on a trip to London three years ago.  I went digging on the shelves above my desk, I found it – The Vale of York Hoard by Gareth Williams and Barry Ager.

The book has been very helpful in fleshing out some of the specifics about what is known about each object, and I will use this information to scaffold some activities or learning opportunities in the lesson to make that historical thinking visible.  But, the most helpful part of the book is the conclusion at the end.  In three fairly succinct paragraphs, the book answers my guiding question:  “What sense can we make of the raw materials of the past?”  It reminded me of the importance of “backward design” in Wiggins’ and McTighe’s Understanding by Design framework.  In thinking about these very specific conclusions, I am hoping that I can design a lesson that will lead students to find their own meaningful conclusions without getting too lost in the weeds.

I also liked that the book spoke a bit more to the procedures employed by archaeologists, curators and historians as they actually collected the hoard.  I may include a short bit on the “forensics” of collecting artifacts in ways that doesn’t destroy the evidence of the past left by these raw materials.

Making Historical Thinking Visible with Images and Film

Digital images, film and storytelling, individually and collectively, factor greatly into the work I do in my history classroom each and every day.  Students spend a year producing documentary films combining original oral history research with images they find in family collections and in additional image research through the Library of Congress, National Archives and online subscription services.  This has been an ongoing project for the past six years, and each year I find new ways to improve upon the process through new experiences.

The readings over the past two modules have been helpful in rethinking some of my teaching approaches involving images.  In the same way that students may struggle with sequencing historical events, what I like to call historical literacy, they also struggle with visual literacy when working with historical images.  A student may find an image of a man working on a farm to coincide with a point in the narrative when discussing reasons why her family left Italy for America in the early 1900s.  However, if she selects an image of a family working on a farm in the American Dust Bowl, the image will silently disrupt the story she is trying to tell just as if she had cited factual inaccuracies in her narrative.

This is an example of a place where I can guide students and make historical thinking visible by giving them opportunities for practice.  In the same way that Sam Wineburg created “multiple choice” options in helping students discriminate among possible interpretations of a textual source, my idea is to take a similar approach with images.

My idea is to design an activity where students source images for 40 seconds of sample narrative from a series of curated choices.   Students would work in pairs to select approximately eight images (meant to coincide with the narrative) from 8 different visual multiple choice options.  For example, I would highlight the text “man on a farm” from the narrative and provide for different images of a man on a farm.  Students would select the “right” image from among several possible choices and write a written justification for their choice.  After compiling their eight “best” images, students would edit the sample images with the narrative in iMovie.  We could compare which films worked and which did not.  This would also give them some practice in editing and using the Ken Burns effect to highlight certain elements of the photo for narrative purposes.

Another way I have been thinking about using film in the classroom is through research into a World War I veteran around whom I am designing some curriculum for the National Cemetery Association.  He worked as a B movie actor and extra in films in the late 1930s.  One of those films, Verbena trágica, debuted in 1939, the same year as Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Young Mr. Lincoln.  Each of these films is a part of the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress. According to the Library of Congress, 25 films are selected each year that are “‘culturally, historically or aesthetically’” significant and “reflect the full breadth and diversity of America’s film heritage.”  Of that list, I doubt that anyone would have recalled Verbena trágica as an important film of 1939, and few would know of its existence if not for the Registry.

Verbena trágica was inducted into the Registry the same year Robert Toplin wrote “The Historian and Film: Challenges Ahead” in which he mentioned John Ford’s lack of historical consultation in making Young Mr. Lincoln.  Apparently, movie executives would have also benefitted from a linguistic consultation in making Verbena Tragica and many other Spanish language films of the era.  Movie studios assembled casts of native speakers from across globe.  Moviegoers heard Cuban, Castilian, and Columbian accents from a family living together in New York just as clearly as an English speaker would find it odd to hear Australian, British and Jamaican accents in a period piece about the battle of the Alamo.   While the words themselves were not “lost in translation” in these films, the authenticity of the experience for the audience clearly was.

My point here is one of agreement in our readings this week – that film is an incredibly rich medium but one that is equally complex because it is so multi-sensory.  In addition to making academic arguments, film also speaks to us visually, audibly and in many ways, emotionally.  Films about the historical past must be viewed not only in light of their historical accuracy (JFK comes to mind) but also in light of how they fit into an ongoing understanding of the past that often changes over time.

My World War I veteran also played the role of the Spanish Ambassador in another 1939 film called The Monroe Doctrine. It would be improper to view the film simply as a historical dramatization of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine as it was created in 1823 without understanding American fears of German encroachment into South America in 1939 as evidenced by President Roosevelt’s address to the Pan-American Conference on April 14 of the same year.

I am still wrestling with how to incorporate these rich resources into the lesson I am developing, but I am certain that making historical thinking visible will be an important part of the plan.


Toplin, Robert B. “The Historian and Film: Challenges Ahead.” American Historical Association. April 1996.

Wineburg, Sam. “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.” The Phi Delta Kappan 80, no. 7. March 1999. p. 488-499.

The Third Piece of the Puzzle

I am working to design a lesson that I will use in my own classroom this year to teach students about the role of the Vikings as raiders and traders across Europe and Asia.  I enjoy working with the “stuff” of history and have tried to implement more and more opportunities in my classroom where students learn by being hands on in order to grapple with historical thinking skills.

Teaching the skill of object analysis is a key feature in my classroom.  I find that students are more successful in grappling with visual evidence in primary sources than slogging though archaic texts.  And, since I teach World History, objects are often in far greater abundance than written texts.

While I am designing my main lesson around the Vale of York Hoard, I did set up the Omeka site in a way that will invite more than one exhibit.  The larger site is called Uncovering History, but the idea is that I will have different directories that could house different collections for specific lessons. Students do some work with Roman coins around the time of Caesar, and I can see how I could use this digital space to build a small collection that would make the current iteration of my lesson more streamlined. I can also see how I might eventually add other collections as well.

The other advantage of building an online collection is that it would be more easily shared with other teachers. Instead of poking around in a PDF of a lesson plan, teachers would have access to the lesson resources directly.

While my main audience remains my own classroom use, I am open to the ways in which digital media and publication might be shared with a larger audience.

Making Sense of Raw Materials

The driving question for my project comes from one Lévesque’s five essential questions about practicing history:  “How do we make sense of the raw materials of the past?” (37).

I am accessing the British Museum’s vast collection of digitized resources available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license in order to build a “history mystery” project around the Vale of York hoard.  My plan is to develop a small archive of items in Omeka for students to explore as “virtual interns” for a museum.  Students will note the individual aspects of their assigned piece, recording its distinct features and comparing it to other objects in the collection in order write a description of the item and to draw out possible theories for how the collection came together.

Once they’ve done the exploration, I will direct students to the British Museum site where they can round out the background of their specific piece, writing an exhibit tag and short description.  Each student will be able to use Maker technology to create a full size model of their item using the Glow Forge 3D laser printer. Students can use the replicated hoard as an instructional aid for teaching younger students about the Vikings.  It will also serve as vehicle for discussing the liberties and limits of digital technology in history. While one can take in so much of the world through digitized images or computer generated replicas, nothing can ever really replace the artifact itself.

I will also employ Story Maps to help students create a digital exhibit that they can share with younger students or their parents.  This vehicle will allow students to present their learning in a non-traditional format that allows for a greater narrative voice in historical writing.  It will also capitalize on digital mapping technology to help students explain how geography played a role in how the objects likely came together in England from places as far away as Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

The digital environment gives me access to materials and multiple tools for students to engage with the historical narrative on tacticle, digital, and spatial levels.


Lévesque, Stéphane. Thinking Historically. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Digitally Defying the Politics of Pedagogy

In Texas, public school history teachers have been woefully constrained by the elected officials on State Board of Education who tend to flout political ideology over educational credentials during the election cycle.  As a result, curriculum standards and textbook requirements are set by a governing body with very little understanding of the current research or pedagogical philosophy at the root of a robust history curriculum.

As a former public school teacher, I feel for my colleagues who are still slogging it out in the trenches trying to cover as much as they can before the standardized STAAR tests each year.  These tests tend to focus on covering facts, and in this case, a set of highly politicized ones. I do agree that “covering” history in middle school and high school is important.  Having a framework in which to place current events in light of the past cannot happen without some level of coverage.

Dallas Independent School Students were confronted with that very scenario this year – placing current events into a framework of the past.  Recently, the DISD board voted to rename four schools named after Civil War generals, and two of those schools are only a mile or two from my house.  I am mindful of the ways in which neighborhood students will be asked contextualize the renaming of their own elementary school since their state mandated textbook celebrates the contributions of Stonewall Jackson’s leadership.  In only applying the state’s standards, they will do that work lacking the skills to wrestle with Lévesque’s essential questions that invite students to confront “what changed and what stayed the same” or how to “understand predecessors who had different moral frameworks” (37).

But, the digital turn gives me hope in applying a different standard: “To support the teaching of the essential knowledge and skills, the use of a variety of rich primary and secondary source material such as biographies, autobiographies, novels, speeches, letters, poetry, songs, and artworks is encouraged. Motivating resources are available from museums, art galleries, and historical sites.”

Good teachers, the classroom experts, who teach day in and day out now have access to hundreds of different websites promoting museums, biographies and National Park sites about the general.  Teachers could design a lesson that compares and contrasts how Jackson is portrayed at a variety of different sites and ask students to wrestle with the question of how to view Jackson in light of his “different moral framework.”

Of course, not all lessons need be so politically charged.  Opportunities abound for teachers to pull in resources from across the globe that help them to do the good work of teaching critical historical thinking skills and to consider their textbook as only one source among many.


Lendol Calder, “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey,” The Journal of American History, volume 92, no. 4 (March 2006), pp. 1358-1369.

Lévesque, Stéphane. Thinking Historically. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.


Uncovering a Hoard in History

Several years ago, the BBC produced a series called A History of the World in 100 Objects based on a collection of items housed at the British Musuem.  One of the items highlighted is a thousand year old Viking hoard that had been recently discovered by two amateur detectorists in England near York.  The Vale of York Hoard, as it now known, was a history mystery, and it stood out to me as something that might hook my students in developing their historical thinking skills.

As a new discovery, the artifact had no narrative, and it was up to scientists and historians to uncover a possible narrative for the hoard based on critically thinking about the evidence contained in the hoard.  First of all, what is it?  How could one understand what the artifact was since it didn’t come with a museum tag.  What did it contain?  How could sourcing the contents reveal it object’s purpose or significance?  How did all these items come together? Are they similar or different?  What technology might be involved that brought these diverse objects together?  To whom did these objects belong?  What might their lives have been like? And, finally, why was it buried?  Who might have done so?


Over the years, I have tried to incorporate these skills into my classroom by coming up with a very rudimentary “hoard” simulation.  It’s a fun story, but I am not sure that my students have really fully understood the point of the lesson.  While it’s clearly evident to me that historians had to figure all this out, the lesson was rushed, and frankly, a little incomplete using paper coin replicas.  I’m not sure that I gave students an opportunity to cross the threshold by making my thinking visible to them.

My idea is to build a small archive using items from the hoard made available by the British Museum using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.  Then I would create a PBL (Project Based Learning) unit around the items in the archive.  Drawing upon the concept of being a “virtual intern,” students might each be assigned an object and investigate the item by asking some of the historical thinking questions listed above.  I can pull from this archive to create scaffolded resources in Scalar, Omeka, or some other forum, that will guide each student on the journey.  Pulling from the idea of the importance of narrative, students might each write a short piece imagining to whom each individual object might have belonged.  Finally, students could work in small groups to examine individual findings and work to develop a larger narrative about how the object came together.  Perhaps there could be a history prize for the group whose best demonstrates historical thinking skills or one for the narrative that comes closest to that developed by the British Museum.

One pitfall that I see is that clever students might “Google” the name of the coin and accidentally (or on purpose) stumble on to the real story of the Vale of York hoard, thereby ruining the game.  However, it’s something that I’m willing to take the risk of trying in order to help my students that the written history they read in textbooks has to be uncovered by real historians using the skills of historical thinking.

Thinking about Historical Thinking in the K-12 Classroom

The readings this week have been valuable and thought provoking for me professionally as a teacher in an independent school.  Being part of this type of learning community allows teachers a greater degree of academic freedom in how and what we teach.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  As we explore the process of updating our curriculum, I am struck by the ways in which Wineburg, Lévesque and Calder speak directly to the process of how history education looks currently and might look like for our school long term.

I would like to explore the tension between coverage and uncoverage.  Calder is teaching a survey course at the college level in which students are asked to write their own narratives of American history. That presupposes that students have been exposed to coverage in the past that allows them to construct these narratives.  At some point, students do need to have an understanding of the historical narrative in broad brush strokes so that they may “uncover” history by contextualizing information.  How do schools teach historical thinking skills and help students to practice uncovering history while still providing enough coverage to satisfy the need to have a basic understanding of an overarching historical narrative?  How do we as teachers decide what is important to cover?

Secondly, Lévesque cites the work of Bruner who notes that “‘intellectual activity anywhere is the same . . . whether at the frontier of knowledge or in a third grade classroom . . . [noting] that [t]he difference is in degree, not in kind” (11).  To what degree should students be exploring historical thinking in third grade?  Developmentally, what does that look like, and what strategies should teachers be using at this level in order to scaffold skills that will help them uncover history down the line?  Even at the earliest ages, teachers can train students to practice historical thinking skills using techniques and practices highlighted in Project Zero’s Thinking Palette. Metacognitive strategies such as KWL charts also are effective from early ages and, in many ways, bear a striking resemblance to the process Alston used in his assessment of Lincoln’s speeches. What are other strategies and ideas that could also work from 3rd through 8th grade.

Finally, I am curious about the role of narrative in expressing historical understanding. Lévesque differentiates writing about the past in recording a chronicle of the past from constructing a narrative about the past.  Lévesque notes that narrative formulation seems to be more intuitive for students because of its familiarity to them “in the classroom and outside (e.g. novels, cartoons, films, textbooks, and family stories” (136).  I have seen student success in my own classroom in this regard when students adapt their oral history research papers into narrative scripts for their documentaries. Even students who struggle as writers and critical thinkers seem to “cross the threshold” in new ways when engaging in this style of writing.  It actually gives me some pause in thinking about other activities I do earlier in the year.  For example, I ask them to write a one paragraph historic analysis of a work of Renaissance art in much the same way they would do a literary analysis of a work of literature.  Some students are successful, and others struggle.  It gives me pause to rethink how I might be overlooking success in one area by not applying it to another.  In thinking about my project, I wonder how using evidence to write a narrative story (while still citing evidence) about how an object might have come into existence might be more effective than writing a research paper or analysis of the object itself.


Mills brings up a good point about Making, Mining, Marking and Mashing being essential elements of the history classroom in 2023.  I would daresay that they are critical elements in any classroom in 2018.  When our school first went 1:1 with iPads seven years ago, we overwhelmed ourselves with apps that were each designed to do one specific job.  What we discovered was that students were experts in adapting elements from a few key apps and using them in completely unexpected ways.  Notability became an novice artist’s best friend as it allowed students to trace over an image to create a custom coat of arms.  The digital story telling app Puppet Pal’s was used as an image editing tool.  When we gave students the resources, they were often much more creative than if I had provided a structured “how to” for them.

Similarly, in defining learning outcomes by insisting on something written as a work product, I may be limiting what students can envision as a learning outcome.  Giving students the tools to demonstrate their knowledge in a maker space might give them a more authentic and successful opportunity to demonstrate their learning while allowing them to practice a real world skill that might someday be useful outside the context of the history classroom.

And, for some students, they might decided that doing something with history is exciting in the same way that dropping Mentos into a bottle of Diet Coke is always a treat to watch in the science lab, inspiring some budding chemist or future doctor.  What if giving a student the opportunity to MAKE in history lab led her to investigate being a curator, an archaeologist or historian using digital tools to mine new ways to understand the past?


Lendol Calder, “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey,” The Journal of American History, volume 92, no. 4 (March 2006), pp. 1358-1369.

Lévesque, Stéphane. Thinking Historically. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Kelly, Mills. “The History Curriculum in 2023.” edwired (blog). January 2013.

Wineburg, Sam. “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.” The Phi Delta Kappan 80, no. 7. March 1999. p. 488-499.