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Tip of the Week: iPhone from the past

I’ve spent the last few weeks having a great time with teachers and iOS 7, learning tools and sharing ideas. During a conversation yesterday, another social studies guy and I started talking about ways to use cell phones as instructional tools. He mentioned a photo he had recently seen with Abe Lincoln holding a cell phone.

And, yes, we went there.

Who was Lincoln texting on the way to the play?

Too soon?

But that image did lead to a much more appropriate conversation. As in . . . if historical characters would have had access to an iPhone, what would have been on it? And could we use that sort of question with kids to help introduce content or to assess learning?

We figured yes. So I quickly fashioned a graphic organizer that you can use to help kids brainstorm and discuss historical content.

  • If we looked at Lincoln’s phone log, who would he have been talking with? Who would he have screened out?
  • Which apps would he use the most?
  • What generals, leaders, or family would he text? What would those conversations look like?
  • What did his contact list look like?

iphone past 1

(Download a PDF version of the graphic organizer here.)

I don’t have a problem manipulating kids into thinking about social studies by using their tools. This is the sort of historical thinking and problem solving that we need to be doing anyway and if pulling the iPhone card sucks them in, I’m all over it.

Think about it for a second or two.

When we ask kids to list who Lincoln talks with and who he doesn’t talk with, we’re really asking them to think about those important to him. Those who gave him advice. Would he be talking to Stanton or Grant? Did he let McClellan go to voice mail? What was Lincoln texting Sherman while he was burning his way through Georgia?

What apps or tools would he be using to run the war? The government? Do you think he had a Constitution app handy when he suspended habeas corpus? How about Google Maps?

Would the phone look different at different periods of Lincoln’s life?

Maybe an even better question might be to have kids compare two different phones. How would Lincoln’s phone look different than that of Jefferson Davis?

We want students to gather and organize useful data. To classify. To compare and contrast. To look at different perspectives. To use primary sources. To make arguments using evidence. And this kind of activity can help you encourage that sort of thinking.

Have fun!

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Glenn, I love this idea. I can’t wait to use it later this year when we address the Civil War. I’m not sure I can wait until April though! Keep up the great work.

    October 18, 2013
    • glennw #


      Thanks for sharing! I really like the calendar piece. I need to add that.


      October 20, 2013
  2. Looking forward to using this with characters as we read My Brother Sam is Dead!!!

    October 22, 2013
  3. Great idea- Now I know what I can do with me photoshopping skills that I recently honed in my educational technology class!

    October 28, 2013
    • glennw #


      Sweet! Glad it was useful!


      October 28, 2013
  4. Antonette #

    Awesome idea!!! Will use for General Washington…I too can’t wait till April! Thanks!

    November 22, 2013
    • glennw #

      I hadn’t thought of Washington! Sounds great. Good luck!


      November 23, 2013

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