The caption to the student-drawn picture above points to the high level of engagement that one of Julie Stavitski’s sixth grade students feel with historical content when it is visualized and accessible through interactive mapping technology. Big data collections have reached the point of saturation for the K-12 teacher, and simply finding resources is no longer the issue. Instead, access issues of the pre-internet classroom have been replaced by curation needs and remixing opportunities. Elementary, middle, and secondary grade teachers don’t need thousands of documents and resources – they need a judiciously chosen and displayed set that are relevant, aligned, and compelling.
Visualization allows for teachers and students to organize documentary evidence spatially to show connection and context. This process requires a consideration of the meaning and value of each document individually and in relationship to another. Common tools for this organization have been timelines and maps.
Several Mink’ED projects are enhancing this instructional goal with innovative new technologies. For example, ChronoBook: AP Edition is a teacher-created series of primary source sets culled from the Library of Congress and aligned with the AP US History curriculum. The final result will be a self-referencing timeline that an AP teacher can use to access documents from this massive digital collection that directly impact student learning and preparation for the AP exam.
Another technology that is proving extremely valuable is GIS (geographic information systems). Instead of static, two-dimensional maps that display information and spatial relationship, GIS maps are constructed layers of information that allow teacher and/or student to interrogate this relationship and reconfigure to discover new understandings. (Note: visualization technology is an amazing thing. Take two minutes to watch 20,532 slave ship voyages.)
Working with my colleague and good friend Chris Bunin, we began to explore the use of GIS technology i the history classroom as early as 2009. Our goal was ambitiously naive: to collaborate with K-12 teachers to create maps that subscribed to both historical and geographic habits of mind. We quickly discovered, however, that the historical data required for the scope of our project was simply not available.
So we trained the teachers to create the data.
With funding from a Teaching American History grant, a cohort of teachers began the arduous process of identifying data needs based on key research questions, mining archives and libraries for the right data, and creating the map displays that would allow them to work with the material in their classrooms. This year-long process was very time and labor intensive, but the model was proven. You can access podcasts, lectures, trip itinerary, and teacher-created instructional kits from this GIS work here.
With this proof of concept, new projects emerged. Digital archives like the National Archives in London and state libraries in Virginia, Indiana, and North Carolina partnered to learn more about how GIS technology can open and remix their online collections. Workshop trainings introduced teachers to the technology, soon expanding to focus on interdisciplinary approaches and cross-disciplinary connections.
GIS technology is quickly becoming much more lightweight and easy to use, including new platforms like StoryMaps that feature an app-based functionality. With these new tools, teachers are providing students with opportunities to unpack and repack historical sources, to arrange them in ways that show connection. In some cases, these activities are happening with teacher facilitation; in other cases, flipped environments allow students to create in advance of instruction.
Finally, many GIS-based projects are providing authentic opportunities for service and community outreach. Recently Chris supported an Albemarle High School student when she wanted to design a GIS map that visualized data of transatlantic slave voyages to Barbados. Leveraging our strong connections with the Barbados National Archive and Barbados Museum & Historical Society, he was able to donate this project to BHS, where it now is on permanent display.