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Digital Docs in a Box

Several years ago, at the 2013 NCSS conference in St, Louis, I had the opportunity to sit in a session by Mark Hofer and Kathy Swan. Mark teaches at the College of William and Mary, Kathy at the University of Kentucky. During their 2013 session, they suggested that student created documentaries are a great way to engage learners, align instruction to standards, and build foundational knowledge.

But they also admitted that using documentaries as teaching and learning tools can be difficult. They warned about serving a green pancake. Eating a green pancake will get someone’s attention but the pancake doesn’t taste any different or provide any more nutrition. It’s just green. But we can get very excited about it because, well . . . it’s green. So it must be really good. Technology can be like this.

It’s the shiny object idea I’ve talked about before. Technology, while important, is not necessary in every step of the documentary creation process. Make sure that kids are focused on the gathering of social studies content, on answering big ideas and rich questions, and on creating original solutions. Then you can begin to incorporate technology.

They also talked about the very practical problem of how much time it can take to use this sort of learning tool in the classroom.

Mark shared his idea of using Evidence-Based Arguments as a starting point. Every historical investigation needs to begin with a great question. Then they asked kids to do research and create videos. But what they got was disappointing. What they got was basically text with pictures, a script with a background. It wasn’t a story, it wasn’t engaging, and it often didn’t really answer the question.  They begin to realize that they needed to learn more about how to create high-quality documentaries, how to use images and video to actually tell a story.

Mark and Kathy have continued to develop their ideas of integrating digital documentaries into instruction. And I recently learned about their latest project. Called Digital Docs in a Box, the project provides scaffolding, resources, and examples of what the process can look like in your room.

Their About Page provides the basics:

Perhaps the most problematic and fundamental challenge we encountered involved the class time required to implement a digital documentary exercise. While the variety of content skills learned or reinforced in developing a digital documentary (history content, writing process, inquiry, synthesis, communication, etc.) are certainly valuable, in an era of high-stakes testing, it is difficult to devote large blocks of time to a single project – particularly given the ever-expanding scope of the social studies curriculum.

By providing digital moviemaking kits on Digital Docs in a Box, we hope to address the issues that have arisen within our research. Digital Docs in a Box was designed for teachers who, like us, find the digital documentary process in social studies rewarding but time consuming. Currently on the site are eleven digital documentary kits . Within each kit, there are a collection of annotated documents, images and audio clips primarily from the Library of Congress—all resources are copyright free and easily downloadable. To orient both the teacher and students, we have also provided both an overview of the kit and an introduction to the collection. Our hope is that by providing this resource, we can assist teachers to efficiently and effectively engage their students in the documentary process.

So you’ll find incredibly useful resources and tools as well as ready to use kits that focus on the Civil Rights Movement, The Great Depression, Age of Imperialism, Presidential Inaugurations and Women’s suffrage. Each kit is anchored in a question. For example, the question students investigate within the Civil Rights kit is: How did the actions of young people after the Brown decision help continue the struggle for civil rights? Within the kit, there are a collection of annotated documents, images and audio clips primarily from the Library of Congress. Additionally, there is also an overview of the kit and an introduction to the collection.

Pretty sweet stuff. And it’s free, practical, and ready to use. What’s not to like?

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