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History Nerd Fest 2013 – Historical thinking in ancient times

Seriously. If I start dozing off, somebody should nudge me. It’s after lunch Day Two and it’s gonna be a struggle. But I am in a decent sounding session – thinking historically with world history documents. So I’m sure I’m gonna be okay.

I’m constantly hearing from 6th grade teachers who are struggling to find and use primary sources with ancient history content and am hoping Matt Elms and Doug Behse are going to help.

Matt and Doug, from a middle school in Singapore, are sharing their strategies for historical thinking with ancient world history. Much of what they do is based on the work of Sam Wineburg and his stuff at the Stanford History Education Group. They also use a scaffolding tool they call SCAN. They noticed kids whipping through primary sources. And were concerned.

SCAN helps

to slow students down, allowing them to fully absorb the information.

I talk a lot about using graphic organizers with students but I like this idea of using the phrase – “slowing” kids down. Even with the students themselves. They need to start to see that deep understanding takes work and focus.

Again, this is very Wineburgish – asking kids to source, contextualize, use evidence, and corroborate.

  • Source (Who / What/ Where / When / Why?)
  • Context (Consider facts that place a document according to to time, place, and purpose)
  • Ask Questions (Develop questions about the time, place, and purpose)
  • Notice Discrepancies / Note Perspectives

One of the things they talked about using images in textbooks as a way to train kids to think historically and ask questions. One example is to use the Paul Revere engraving of the Boston Massacre. They start by asking kids to find the British sniper:


Did you find it? Or is it actually there?

They’ve got a lot of nice stuff on their historical thinking web site with Tips for Teachers, Resources for Teachers, and their assessments – including student examples. Very useful goodies here!

One of the things to check out is a tip showing how to have kids create timelines to create a visual connection between primary sources.

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