Now don't get me wrong, I don't claim to be in any way an ICT expert, nor do I know how a computer works. But what I do know is that it is the twenty-first century, people don't write letters with pens and paper anymore, nor do they regularly watch TV. Instead people use computers in all aspects of their lives – work and play. So why is it that in 2012 many of us teaching History cannot harness this technology with our kids who have only ever known a life with computers?
I am not actually interested in ICT for ICT's sake. I am interested in it to help kids understand History better. I think that it can be motivating and can help increase kids' higher order thinking. History provides the context; ICT provides the tools. Not for simply 'typing work up', no. Nor for 'researching on the internet', nor I'm afraid to say should they be used for some poor low-level 'beat the goalie if you can remember one fact' attempt at an online resource. After all if it's taken two weeks to book the computer room and this is the diet we give our kids – don't bother, do some real History!
I know I sound like a dinosaur, but I love the humble word processor. It is an amazing tool for the history teacher. Used correctly it is so powerful. It is best used to help kids move and use information, then for them to re-move this information into a meaningful end product.
A few years ago I was in the lucky position where my classes did have regular access to laptops – it was amazing. By developing a number of word processing activities that motivated and stretched my kids' thinking, I almost made myself redundant in the classroom. Their writing improved and they were able to improve their thinking. They worked hard, reading, moving and using their information. My classes just got on with their work and I felt that I was more of a pest to them by interrupting them to see how they were doing. And this is ultimately surely the main aim of the best teachers: to make themselves redundant.
So what did these word processing activities look like? Well put simply, they involved posing a big question, then getting kids to read and select and gather information to help answer that question. This would take the form of a chart or table or group. Next they would use this information to create a meaningful end product like a report, a plaque or an essay. I know this sounds simple but experience tells me it works. Why? Well what you remove is the requirement for kids to write lots. By copying and pasting information they are doing the hard part – the thinking, without doing the low level boring part, the copying. The only writing you require them to do is the more difficult explanatory aspects.
Also, by moving information again to form an end product they can quite quickly see that they have built up a decent piece of work. By getting them to then use microphones to record and edit their end product they are forced to review their work to ensure it makes sense. I have seen many a less-than-motivated-lad work his socks off (without really realising it) going through this process.
Such activities work well in class. If uploaded to the school VLE they would also make fab homework.
If you want to see a humble example of this on Oliver Cromwell then follow this History Resource Cupboard link.
Also there is a good article on the same website on improving literacy by recording written work, with links on how to record and edit for free using Audacity, an amazingly simple and free piece of software that can be used on PCs or Macs, direct links also here: