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Subject Series: History

In the history lessons of our imaginations, filled with piles of dusty manuscripts, fascinating facts to learn and a mandatory project on the wives of Henry VIII, does technology really have a place?

A quick scout through the pages created on Firefly by our history teachers would strongly suggest it does. We share some tips from our most prolific historians, showing how and why technology might be useful in history lessons.

Information Pages

Sometimes there’s no getting around it: in history, there's a lot of information to learn. So how do you make that information interesting for students, quick for teachers to create and easy to revise?

Mirroring course structure in your menu: developing a well-structured, reliable bank of information helps your students locate key material and saves you time redrafting and printing in subsequent years. In Firefly, any information page can be recommended to multiple groups or classes. The simple plain page is perfect for quick creation using a variety of media. You could try using the right hand sidebar template to vary content whilst maintaining clarity, as in the example right from Brighton College's history department. The main body of the page is reserved for information, but the thin right-hand column adds interest with pictures, prompt questions or news feeds. Brighton College also mixes information and tasks on each page, which helps to focus students as they read.

Flip your classroom: with your information pages in place, you have the perfect start to flipped learning. By setting information-learning from your pages as homework, students arrive at your lesson with a good, basic level of knowledge. You can then focus lesson time on solving problems and group work. This is exactly what history teachers at the Compton School have done with their GCSE cohort. They even use the page hit statistics to check which students have done at least some preparation.

Create streams of mixed content to support your next lesson: using Firefly's quick tricks for getting content onto a page (drag & drop Powerpoints, copy YouTube videos and embed websites or interactive content) you can create information pages in minutes. Creating just for the next lesson helps you focus on what is really useful, adapt to previous lessons and keeps all your resources in one place. You can encourage independent learning by asking students to review the mixed material and personalise their notes depending on what they found most interesting or challenging. You can also appeal to different learning styles, using videos, images and podcasts. Students can listen to podcasts on their phones and revise on the journey home.

Don’t forget about staff information: using permissions, you can keep some of your history pages hidden from students and only visible to staff. That might be minutes from your department meetings or resources to help colleagues collaborate.

Organisationally, it is very helpful to have all your schemes of work and handbooks in one place, especially when inspectors need to see them.
Alex Seeley, Head of History Duke of Kent School

Review and revise

Holiday work: Brighton College set holiday tasks via Firefly to help students revise information learnt in the previous term. For example, Joseph Skeaping, Head of History, has set tasks to create mind-maps or plans for past paper questions on topics recently studied. With each task, he attaches relevant topic pages from their Firefly site, useful past papers, example essays and guides to good writing. That way, skills and information are brought together with the task in hand, and no bits of paper can be lost at the bottom of a bag underneath this year’s Easter eggs. 

Polls, quizzes and tests: for quick-fire recall, history teachers use a variety of polling or quiz tools. Socrative, for example, allows you to construct different open or closed questions to test students’ knowledge. The Firefly poll let's you ask questions and gauge overall responses visually. You could try a question to test how many students have really understood the lesson and how many need more practice. When more in-depth testing is necessary, you could try experimenting apps from your exam board. Alex Seeley, Head of History at the Duke of Kent School, uses Edexcel's Exam Wizard to create exam papers from a combination of past questions all focussed on one topic.

Deepening knowledge: to help students to explore topics at GCSE in more detail, The Compton School’s history department have created a blog. The blog picks certain topics (currently student-driven, but will develop to include an entry for each GCSE module) and outlines additional research, recommends further reading and includes videos too lengthy to show in class time. 

The blog allows students to follow-up on topics that we cover in class, in a less-formal, mixed-media way.
Morgan Baynham, Head of History The Compton School

Skill development

Information learnt, it's time to hone the skills that will make students great historians.

Creativity and critical thinking: The Duke of Kent school encourages students to use iPad apps to show different creative or critical skills. Comic Life, for example, can be used to reproduce historical events in the form of a comic strip; the camera on any mobile device to record theatrical re-enactments; and Book Creator or Explain Everything, to combine pictures, videos and text in an eBook. Whichever app students are using, or if it’s a simple PDF essay, they can submit work to you via Firefly's Student Planner app. Alex Seeley collects work in this way, then projects his Teacher app to the front of the class and flicks through submissions to engage students in self or peer assessment.

Administration of work is really helped by the Firefly apps. They're fantastic.
Alex Seeley, Head of History Duke of Kent School

Source analysis: try creating a source analysis blog. Students can comment on each post with their analysis of the source and reply to each other's comments with further points or critiques. To ensure the first round of comments are all original views, you could set up the blog with moderated comment permissions. Then you can make all the comments live at the same time and let peer assessment follow.

Web searching: even a simple Google search can open up new ways of analysing historical sources. Students could try experimenting with site-codes in their searches as a way to differentiate reliable and unreliable material on the web. For example, adding '' to a search about World War II to show results from Russian websites; adding '' will refine that to sites from Russian universities.  

Beyond the curriculum

Trips: on Firefly sites, blog pages and galleries devoted to history trips are plentiful. Comments are used to review what happened and what was learned, or engage the wider school community in the trip activities, perhaps even including parents. 

Popular topics / current affairs: our history teachers also make great use of current trends in the media to encourage interest beyond the curriculum. For example, using the recent BBC series Wolf Hall, they can stimulate debate about Henry VIII’s court or reliability of historical characterisation. You could try using ClickView plugin to add a BBC programme to your Firefly page, or simply embed a webpage that leads to an interesting topical debate. 

Wider reading: in their section of Firefly, Brighton College's history teachers have a created a page each to introduce themselves. The right-hand sidebar on their page lists their favourite books: a personal way to encourage students' wider reading. These suggestions could one day form the basis of a book club. 

Top tips from history teachers

  • Don’t be swayed by gimmicks when choosing which apps to work with. Instead, decide what you want to achieve and find the technology to help you do it. You will probably end up with three or four apps you use regularly.
  • Build up your information pages steadily: start with one class and create not only exciting information pages, but also something that will be useful for the students e.g. a quiz or linking to a homework task.
  • Set aside department time to outline the structure for your history section - be collaborative in deciding what information should be shown so that students get the best and most informative experience and your whole department is behind it.
  • Keep things simple and focussed, prioritise the content that is fundamental to the course.

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