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Using @Twitter to promote historical thinking and improve your teaching

For a couple of years now I have been using @Twitter to help my students get better at studying history and to improve my own teaching practice. The use of such an obviously social media may still seem odd to some of you, but I hope I can persuade you that it has a place beyond just adding a bit of spice to history teaching life.

Twitter is about raising a profile you care about

I have used Twitter with students as a platform for them to promote their work. In order to promote their work on Twitter it needs to be good. No student wants to look second best on social media. Suggesting that we tweet the outcome of projects directly to people of influence can have a powerful effect. Let me give an example.

This term some of my students have been trying to locate York’s missing Roman amphitheatre. Sadly, we cannot go out with trowels and dig, but we have been in class learning about other amphitheatres and putting together criteria as to the sort of piece of land we might be looking for. For example, it had to be up to 100m across, not flood, not be inside the fortress etc. Armed with our criteria and maps of Roman York we have used scaled shapes to put together our favourite ideas for sites where the lost amphitheatre could be. So where does Twitter come into this? Well, students were required to record their justifications and to make them of such quality that they were able to be uploaded and the link tweeted to the City Archaeologist. This raised the stakes of achievement and has honed their evidence-based arguments.

Twitter can create a story and bring it home

Earlier this year was the centenary of the first zeppelin raid on our city. Students researched the story from the archives and then wrote it up in a series of Tweets. These were then loaded onto @Twitter with a specially created @ZeppelinWW1York profile. It is possible to load up tweets on timed release in advance. Students and their families then followed the twitter feed release in real time exactly 100 years to the minute since the actual raid. If you look at the picture of the twitter feed you will get the idea. This memorial via Twitter has been taken into the City Archives with the www.historypin.org collection that we also made (search ‘zeppelin’ + ‘York’). (You can read about how to use historypin in an earlier blogpost.)

zeppelin-raid-york

We created the zeppelin tweets ourselves, but look out for similar projects you can lift and use. For example, as I type this, we are approaching the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Each day at the moment there is a Twitter feed from various important characters of the time. My students are following this and feel engaged in the story. Once the Twitter feeds are complete, I will go into the profiles and print off each character’s Twitter feed. Students will then take different characters in groups. They will be able to put the story of the 1066 invasions together from the perspective of different key characters from the time. This will then lead into work about how the events have been remembered by different communities. Again, the screenshot here will give you an idea as to how the Twitter feed is currently appearing. You can see some different characters’ views.

english-heritage

Twitter to work with historical significance

This year I started a lesson on the Somme by asking students to search in @Twitter for #Somme 2016. They studied the feed and came up with views about the question: ‘To whom is the Battle of the Somme significant today?’ It is a really easy way for students to understand that this battle is still really important to many nations and to lots of different types of people.  You could do the same with any event that has, or has had, a specific hashtag.

Twitter for your professional development

Of course, one of the ways we help our students become better at studying history is by making ourselves better teachers. Twitter is a very powerful tool for helping you to connect to the history and history teaching world. Trial and error is the key to working out who to follow. If you pick someone who turns out not to be very interesting or helpful to you, you can always unfollow them. I suggest the following mix to start off with:

  • An educational journalist who is tweeting about policy and procedural announcements. You haven’t time to read all the media as a busy teacher, so find someone whose tweets will alert you to the fact that something has been said, or released, that you need to be aware of.
  • An academic historian who is working in a field of study that you teach. Some of them are very good at tweeting about the latest thoughts and resources in their academic sphere.
  • A fellow teacher who is a history twitter nerd. Follow them to pick up new resources, thoughts about what to teach, teaching gossip etc.
  • A museum with a very good education programme. Again, this is likely to help you to a rich seam of resources that you can mine.

To start you off I could suggest the following: @IWM_Centenary, @Europeana, @EUROCLIO, @kenradical, @Snelsonh, @eisenmed

And finally…

If you are worried about the age of students using @Twitter, remember that with younger students you can use an account that you have set up and manage. It is very easy to sign up to a Twitter account. You can have more than one. This is not the place to start getting into a detailed user guide; there are plenty of these online if you need them – or grab a younger person to help. Warning, it can become addictive!

I hope I have persuaded you that @Twitter can be used to help your students and yourself. As ever, please do share with us any ways that you develop these ideas in your classrooms. Why not write a blog for us about one of your own digital triumphs?

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