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Blatant self promotion and re-tweeting history

huffpost screenshot

I had the chance yesterday to sit and chat with some incredibly interesting folks. There were five of us:

We were asked by the Huffington Post to share our thinking about the practice of “re-tweeting” history.

So we did.

And I gotta admit . . . it was a good time. We only had 30 minutes but the conversation had a very “historical thinking is good for kids and we should be using these types of tools” sort of vibe.

Re-tweeting history is the practice of setting up a Twitter account and then posting tweets as if the event is actually happening realtime. Alwyn has committed the next five years of his life to “live-tweeting” World War II. Marion works with teachers and schools to “reenact” specific events such as a trek West in 1847 and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I wrote about both several years ago (here and here) but yesterday’s conversation opened up a new train of thought in my own head.

How can these sorts of social media tools help social studies teachers train kids to think historically?

How can Twitter help me as a classroom teacher align my instruction to the new Kansas state standards and the soon to be unveiled national C3 standards?

I believe that these historical reenactments have the ability to engage kids emotionally, which is a good thing. I think they have the ability to provide a multi-media rich environment that is a great way for kids to collect foundational knowledge, which is a good thing.

But I believe that the real power of these reenactments is that they create a sense of urgency, of uncertainty in the minds of our kids. We’re not sure how this is gonna turn out. Who survives? Who doesn’t? Do the good guys win? Who falls in love with whom? The Twitter feed creates a sense of “academic discomfort” because we don’t know how the story ends.

We have always done a great job of giving kids the answer. We lecture. We assign readings from the textbook. We have kids fill in vocabulary worksheets by copying/pasting from the glossary.

What we need to do instead is to immerse kids in great stories – stories with setting and interesting characters and a plot that we can’t predict. And these historical re-tweets let is do that. But Glenn, you ask,

how can Twitter support historical thinking?

Twitter (and other sorts of social media) reenactments provide a great opportunity for research, for evaluation, sourcing,  contextualizing – for the kinds of thinking that take kids beyond the simple recalling of facts. So instead of just lecturing on the Dust Bowl, reading the Dust Bowl chapter, and doing the Dust Bowl worksheet, kids could select (or be assigned) a specific historical character. They might decide to be FDR, the Kansas governor, a farmer, a bank president, a local sheriff – really just about anyone who was actually there.

Have kids research the period by researching their particular character. Build a fictional Twitter account, write “fictional” tweets, read the tweets of the other characters, respond with more tweets. Include documents, photos, video clips. How would the local farmer’s wife respond, for example, when she sees the sheriff and bank employee pull into her yard with foreclosure papers?

Better yet, contact Marion at TwHistory and do the same thing with the actual technology.

Some other examples:

Robert E. Scott

Cuban Missile Crisis

We Choose the Moon

John Quincy Adams

Civil War

1948 Arab-Israeli War

Samuel Pepys

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Pete Laberge #


    Will be better when you could work in more actual quotes and actual news details, but of course, Twitter is a very limited medium. To get around it: use the Picture tweeting ability to its best. (There are a lot of photos available of that era.) Also note that programs like Paint can be used to make pictures of “text” that is longer than the 100 or so characters allowed by Twitter. It is a pity Twitter does not allow more characters (say 500 like YouTube, though 256 would be plenty.) or allow small sound files (Max 2 mins.) to be tweeted.

    If you are looking for other people who tweet history, go check out:
    “amy burvall” & “amyb herbm”.
    You may also want to check out hiphughes (US Civics, and general history)
    Also, there is History Teacher @Avro_ArrowRL201 (for general Canadian & World content).
    See also on Facebook: History for Music Lovers.
    I know of others, but am not using my real PC, so the file I need is not available at this time.

    You may also find, for general history, some interesting videos at:

    If you are interested, I have more data, and you can contact me.

    October 25, 2012
    • glennw #


      Cool! Thanks for the comment and extra resources. The medium does have some limitations but it is possible to link to other stuff in your tweet / like your suggestion of using the twitpic idea.

      Familiar with Music for History Lovers and Amy Burvali but HipHughes and other people are new. Thanks for the heads up!


      October 25, 2012
      • Pete Laberge #

        No extra charge! Glad I could help. Also, if you can figure out how, you can tweet tumbler posts. I was never able to, but there are some that can. Then there is Face Book. Apparently there is a way to tweet those posts, too. I’ve never had a need to. Don’t forget My Jam, which is easily tweeted.

        October 25, 2012

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