Q: When is a fact not a fact? A: When it’s in a film.

An excellent article in the New York Times on Friday reminds us history teachers of the dangers of films both when we are using them in class and when our students see them without us to correct misconceptions. The pervasive nature of sight and sound in our evolutionary history seems to have made us keen to recall key information but not so keen to recall where we got it from. This opens up huge opportunities for the brain to pass off as fact gained from a reliable source fact that was actually gained from a movie playing fast and loose with the truth. In my own teaching Mississippi Burning is a powerful way of introducing the Civil Rights movement and the profound sense of injustice it provokes in the students is something I draw on repeatedly, but the flaws in the films portrayal of the FBI are a danger that I’m not exactly sure I successfully quash year in year out. What this means for examination grades is minimal provided the selection of films and clips that we use are made with these thoughts in mind. What it means for the wider understanding of history is more of a concern.

What is History? A joke.

Q: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?

A: There is a great deal of debate on this issue. Up until the mid-20th century, the accepted answer was ‘one’: and this Whiggish narrative underpinned a number of works that celebrated electrification and the march of progress in light-bulb changing. Beginning in the 1960s, however, social historians increasingly rejected the ‘Great Man’ school and produced revisionist narratives that stressed the contributions of research assistants and custodial staff. This new consensus was challenged, in turn, by women’s historians, who criticized the social interpretation for marginalizing women, and who argued that light bulbs are actually changed by department secretaries. Since the 1980s, however, postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between ‘light’ and ‘darkness,’ and its phallogocentric privileging of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. Finally, a new generation of neo-conservative historians have concluded that the light never needed changing in the first place, and have praised political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for bringing back the old bulb. Clearly, much additional research remains to be done.

[This is from historian David Leeson, shared on Facebook]

Wikipedia Zero GB

I give money to wikipedia every month, I’m not sure whether I should admit to that either as a history teacher (unreliable source and all that) or from the point of view of anonymous charity giving, but to me it remains the single greatest achievement in mankind’s history and a reason to celebrate our collective humanity. The site never fails to impress or excite me, as does the organisation. Most recently I’ve been amazed by the Wikipedia Zero initiative which is committed to providing access to wikipedia pages on mobile phones in some of the poorest countries in the world entirely for free. With over thirty countries already signed up the project shows how powerful a force for good in global education Wikipedia is. The question therefore arises which of the UK mobile providers will be first to capitalise on the publicity and make the same offer here?

10 Things that Learners pay attention to

10 Things that Learners pay attention to

I know this intuitively but it’s the first time I have seen it spelled out so obviously. Would make an excellent basis on which to pick and mix activities for lesson planning but also I can see a huge amount of potential as the basis for assemblies, for tutor time and for presentations.

The Power of ‘I don’t know’

The Power of ‘I don’t know’ in the classroom

I love this poster created by @rebezuniga from a blog post by @tweenteacher . It crystallises many of my thoughts about the direction of teaching with the teacher acting as the curator of knowledge rather than the owner, able to direct students to sources of information and give them skills to interpret it. In this climate ‘I don’t know’ becomes a badge of honour and a route to shared knowledge (as the IB would have it).


As I’ve continued to explore the geek side of teaching over the past few years I thought I had come across most of the useful websites out there. The likes of schoolshistory, thinkinghistory, theoryofknowledge.net or tutor2u politics were all part of my weekly routine for ideas and inspiration (but never at the last minute of course). Twitter too was a source of valuable snippets and, through #ukedchat, curated snippets. But TeachThought was a new one on me this week and I like it alot. Partly this is because of the Buzzfeed-esque articles, ’25 Tips for teaching with Apps’ and the like but mostly it’s because there is lots of sensible, positive advice there, dispensed in a supportive way. Like any could CPD it assumes you want to get better at teaching and gives you a variety of tools and suggestions to achieve this. An INSET day spent reading articles would be cost effective and productive.

Challenge walls

An INSET or two ago one the speakers made reference to the idea of having a ‘challenge wall’ in the classroom. The concept was simple but inspired for those with their own classroom. Instead of loading brighter students up with extra work why not have a noticeboard covered with accessible folders in which you dump interesting articles, that way when students finish up the material they are working in they have a choice of what to do next, and you can either stretch them in subject specific ways or just provide interesting material that will challenge reading comprehension. The tragedy of this great idea is that in a school where teachers don’t have individual classrooms the whole concept falls down. However having allowed this to percolate, and redefining the goals a little, I’ve realised that the key point, getting students to read challenging material that stretches and broadens them, isn’t just something that should be locked into my classroom. As a result this summer will see a challenge wall/board going up in the History department with plenty of material for students to choose from. In order to keep a ready supply up I have started collecting material using delicious but there’s no reason why other aggregators shouldn’t be equally effective. Brilliant tools like Instapaper, Pocket or even Evernote may mean that you already have oodles of great material whilst those who get theweek could easily drop in the excellent ‘Briefing‘ section to ensure students that want to be up to date can be. Adding QR codes could even make it accessible to the paperless contingent.


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