Archive for the 'History' Category

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]

App Review: Skitch

It was INSET yesterday and I did some sample lessons for my colleagues which were designed to put them back in the classroom as well as introducing them to some of the apps I have been using. The principle one I worked with was Skitch, one of a range of image annotating apps that are available on the appstore. Most of the videos on youtube suggest that a principle reasons for liking Skitch is because of it’s links with Evernote. However what Skitch gives you is a quick and easy image mark up tool for looking at portraits on cartoons, obviously these can then be saved and emailed to students with ease (or Chirped!). Perhaps more powerfully it allows you to take a picture of a students work and annotate it live on the screen for the benefit of others, perfect for differentiating work, rewarding students who do a good job and highlighting good practice. Skitch has quickly become the app I use most in the clasroom.

History Porn

I’ve blogged about reddit before, specifically the wonderful which is replete with interesting conversations and sound advice, so much so that I will often point my upper sixth coursework or IB Extended Essay students there to get an understanding of historical debate. But there is much more to reddit than just geeky historian texts, there’s also geeky historian pictures. Most notably on the unfortunately name which is awash with incredible images that make ideal starters or can liven up a powerpoint. This picture of soldiers from nine different countries sent to help put down the Boxer Rebellion is a case in point.



History websites either seem to cater to the content consumer with videos, text and flashy animations or to the content creator in terms of sites for educators. Those that offer any form of discussion rarely hit academically challenging heights. So thank goodness for the sub-reddit /askhistorians. Those of you that know reddit will be aware of the fact that there are many good reasons for keeping it blocked in school, nevertheless if it is at all possible opening up to your students and allowing them to benefit from posing complex historical questions and reading informed debate as to the answers could be tremendously beneficial. Many of the questions form possible research areas for coursework and for IB History students there is a huge amount of TOK material there to be discussed, a sample question,

Why are the Nazis considered THE symbol of evil, whereas the Imperial Japanese and the Soviet Russians are largely ignored, despite having committed similar atrocities?

has over 200 replies some of which delve into areas as diverse as national psychology and the nature of historical interpretations. It’s worth a lunch-break of anyone’s time.

The Power of #hashtags

I’ve blogged a little before about the amazing power of twitter and it has been brought home to me again of late as the result of two incidents, one huge, one tiny. The events in Tunisia and Egypt are, of course the huge one, and reflect how information is freeing itself from the control of governments. The tiny one is the fact that I have a friend staying at the moment who is coming to my school tomorrow to observe. She’s doing a PGCE in English and I wanted to show her the power of twitter so posted a quick query to my PLN (Personal Learning Network ie. people I who follow me on twitter) about which would be the best hashtags for English teachers. The result was exceptionally swift and accurate and came from @lmsahistory, a history teacher in Chicago. Amazing and par for the course for the twitterati.

The experience got me thinking about the usefulness of hashtags in finding information and people to follow on twitter, I certainly found the service useless until I started following the right threads and hence found the right people, so I thought I’d blog some of the useful hashtags I’ve found in case anyone else is searching:
Education Technology
#edtech #ukedchat

#historyteacher #sschat

#politicsteacher (although I think there are only a few of us using this!

MFL teaching

English Language & Literature
#englishteacher #engchat

Those are the ones that spring to mind, I’ll add more to this post as I come across them.

Next time you catch a child doodling in class, challenge them!

Brilliant piece of animation on the History of the World


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