Teaching History: A More Enjoyable Affair With Visual Tools

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Photo courtesy of flickingerbrad via Flickr Creative Commons

Reader and prolific blogger Jennifer Birch was kind enough to submit an article especially written for us. History is a subject that seems to turn off students, but as Jennifer writes, that doesn’t have to be the case:

If there is a subject that benefits the most from visual medium, then it has to be History. It’s not a secret that many students find this particular field of study uninteresting, dull, and irrelevant. Of course, to us educators, that is not the case. But because history is comprised of entangled events that stretch endlessly from the time of the Neanderthals, it is hard for teachers to avoid the pitfall of history teaching for young learners –boredom.

Forget the tiresome dates and trivial facts; what’s more important is that the students realize the importance of these events and their relevance to the present. There is a reason why the History Channel is such an engaging piece of the television – it’s interesting. In this age of smartphones, tablets, and the rise of visual media, we can transfer the same charm that the History Channel creates for us into the classroom. Here are some of the best tech tools that take advantage of 21st century technology, helping out teachers to get students more interested:

American History in Video

This app is a cornucopia of historical footage, comprised of over 5,000 (and counting) videos on demand for free. It offers a wealth of archival footage, newsreels, olden broadcasts, images of important events and many other visual aids. Rather than letting students read up on a boring wall of text, American History on Video will show them exactly how it happened and how people at that time reacted. Hook up your laptop on your iPad and play the most exciting videos for the class. Expect many raised hands when the question and discussion time comes.

Event-specific Apps

Whenever a historical event is being discussed, know that there is a good chance that a dedicated app is already made for that. For schools that employ the BYOD model, it is recommended that teachers guide their students in downloading these apps for a better understanding of the lesson. For example, the Gettysburg 150 app “acts as a Gettysburg Battlefield assistant for visitors.”

Sheldon Jones, Verizon’s Public Relations Officer, said in his article that other historical apps such as the Civil War Trust Battle App and the Historic Gettysburg Walking Tour app are perfect for discussing the American Civil War.

Secret Builders

Role-playing games are great tools for teaching history, especially on topics that tickle the imagination of young kids such as the Greek and Roman era. Secret Builders enable children to do just that – create a virtual world where they can participate in the economy, talk to prominent people, create art and many other things. Recommended for students on the first to fourth grade, they will get a clearer picture of how it was to live during the romantic era.

Time Tube

This website is the epitome of engaging students through visual means. With Time Tube, students can type in a moment in history; and a series of related videos will be laid out on a timeline. Very easy to use and informative, this tool is even recommended for teachers to expand their knowledge on a particular historical event. Teachers can also create a custom timeline which students can access, acting as a learning aid and lecture guide.

Chrono Zoom

Created by Microsoft Research, the app contains massive amounts of curated content about thousands of topics including most of those in the curriculum of a history teacher with the help of international researchers. Middle-school teacher Samantha Shires vouches on the effectiveness of the tool. “Chrono Zoom breathes life into history,” she said.

The main brain behind Chrono Zoom is Professor Walter Alvarez from the University of California Berkeley. He was one of the proponents of the theory that an asteroid was the cause of the extinction of dinosaurs.


History is far from boring and dull. It’s our job as educators to present this fascinating subject to learners in an interesting and engaging manner. With tools such as the ones mentioned above, it is easy to create an enjoyable history class. What other tech tools for history did we miss? Tell us your favorites in the comment section below.

About the Author








Jennifer Birch was a volunteer teacher and Ed-tech researcher. She spends most of her time writing and reading. Read more of her musings on Techie Doodlers. Contact her on Twitter or Google+.


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