The first day back in the classroom can be disorienting for students and teachers alike, so I always like the idea of easing back in. Can you Dig it is a free game that lets kids stretch their brains without thinking that they’re thinking. They go through an archeological dig collecting Mayan artifacts and solving puzzles. It works on the iPhone or iPad, but not Android devices.
If the whole of American history is too overwhelming for you and your students, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has divided the county’s past into 10 easy-to-swallow chunks, from pre-history to just about a year ago. Once in the sections, you see a timeline that shows the major events. A convenient slider lets you go through the years quickly and there’s an 11th category that explains themes that crossover the 10 eras. There are links to key art work of the time, interactive features and multimedia resources as well as a slew of primary sources and teaching resources that can turn a dry lesson into a thrilling classroom experience, like letters from soldiers in the War of 1812.
What’s the best way to teach shapes and the states at once? Owl and Mouse’s array of free puzzle maps are a great way to help kids master the shape of the states while manipulating them onscreen. Just grab the state of interest from the side and put it in its place as the name pops up on the side. You can set the game to show the state’s outline or not, and print a slew of individual state maps. There are versions for the countries of the world as well as a variety of countries, such as China.
Is Addis Abbaba the capital of Ethiopia, an island in the South Pacific or a mountain range in South America? Figuring it out is a snap with Sheppard Software’s online geography games. On top of a good summary of the people, landscapes and governments, the site has excellent interactive apps that can show the countries, capitals and geography. There’re a good variety of online quiz games to see how much of the geographic information has been absorbed. There’re also similar online resources for chemistry, math, vocabulary and history, and they don’t cost a dime.
Looking for a way to bring the marvel and culture of the outside world to the classroom? Try MimioConnect.com’s content that lets teachers digitally explore some of the world’s most interesting World Heritage sites. The best part is that the first two installments (the Great Wall in China and Imperial palaces of the Ming and Qing dynasties) are the start of several additions coming. Some of the other categories include flags of the world and a cool series of math quizzes. The material works with Macs, PCs and Linux computers, but you’ll need the latest MimioStudio viewer, which is available on a trial basis. Good news: it’s all free if you register.
It’s not a freebee, but The Concord Review should be on the desk of every high school social studies teacher and in every library. The periodical has published excellent papers written by high school students for more than 30 years. The online journal (it stopped physical printing last year) is a great way to show kids that they are capable of writing top-notch essays that are publishable, but are an excellent teaching way to teach how to write a paper. There are essays on everything from the “protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” to the collapse of the British Liberal Party. It costs $40 a year to subscribe and is a labor of love by Will Fitzhugh.
Years ago, a fourth grade teacher pulled me aside one day and told me that “the key to history is maps: Alexander, Napoleon, Grant. It’s all in maps.” While putting digital maps online is nothing new for teachers, Maps 101 finally takes the big step by linking the maps to history, culture and economics.
The center of attention is the Maps 101 Explorer, which presents students or teachers with a Mercator projection of the globe. You can zoom in and out, pull the map so that what you want is front and center and then click on any place to reveal a variety of resources, from the ecology of the region to detailed diagrams of battles that took place there to the area’s major religions.
It all works well, particularly when using a tablet computer and a projector. Most places have multiple things available. They’re shown as a large thumbnail and as many as 9 smaller ones, making it hard to scan and quickly find what you want. After a little nosing around, I figured that if you click on See All Results, you’ll get a large box that has the resources organized by type.
There are maps galore and a slew of National Geographic videos as well as Spanish language maps. The material is aimed at early learners, middle-schoolers and high schoolers. There’s no shortage of lesson plans and classroom ideas as well as geo-centric games.
My favorite are the site’s animated maps that show changes over time. The ones displaying the movement of troops during the 1940s in the Pacific or which states consumer more hamburgers are true gems that can telegraph information better than text alone.
There’s no software to load and the site works with all the major browsers, although Map 101’s designers suggest Navigator and Internet Explorer. It makes extensive use of Microsoft’s Silverlight and Adobe’s Flash animation and because of the horizontal nature of the maps, a wide-screen projector or monitor works best.
On the downside, every time you get something it opens a new browser window. At the end of a class you can easily have 8 or 10 windows cluttering your machine to close.
Navigation of Maps 101 is quite intuitive, but it has its quirks. For instance, some resources are opened by clicking on the thumbnail while others require that you click on Go to this Resource.
The good news is that it’s all aligned to many of the state’s educational standards. All in all, it’s a big step forward from mapping sites like StrataLogica, and can turn a boring lesson into an interactive extravaganza. At the moment you can’t buy Maps101 for a single user or class, but it costs $600 for the typical school –
a small price to pay for delivering the world and what makes it tick.
$600 per school
+ Great collection of static and interactive maps
+ Video, animation and interactive elements
+ Lots of historical, cultural and economic resources
+ Looks great with projector or large screen monitor
- Navigation can be confusing
- End up with lots of open windows
- No single user version
Is the tired American history textbook you’ve been using not getting through to the imaginations of your students? The History Channel’s “America, The Story of Us” is a great way to get kids to absorb and understand American history and a rare opportunity to build a curriculum around a TV show. The network’s Classroom section has a variety of teaching materials. There’s a 10-page set of lesson plans as well as an 8-page Classroom Activity Guide.
Between the two booklets, there are breakdowns of each episode, from the rise of the revolution against Britain to Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American president. There are activities to do with the class before viewing the show as well as multimedia activities along with links to online supplementary content. Too bad the online content doesn’t include the actual shows, which are available on DVDs. The History Channel is offering to give your school a set of the DVDs. All the principal has to do is register. Hurry, the offer expires during the summer.
Stay tuned because the History channel is putting together a Webcast with the Smithsonian Institution that will show and explain a variety of historical documents and artifacts. It will be broadcast on May 6th at noon, eastern time, and is a rare chance to see these objects and have experts explain them to you and your class.
With more students taking Advanced Placement courses in high schools for college credit, inevitably more kids are not passing the AP exams at the end of the school year. The latest count is that 41.5 percent of AP students get a disappointing 1 or 2 on the test, up from 36.5 percent a decade ago. Clearly, a little extra class work and exam prep is in order to bring their grades up a notch or two.
On top of Cerebellum’s hundreds of curriculum videos, its Light Speed series of DVDs can get kids ready for the exam with a quickie program that condenses the AP curriculum into two discs. While there are 37 AP exams in 22 disciplines, so far, the company has put together only four AP exam prep courses for English Language and Composition, History of the U.S., Chemistry and U.S. Government and Politics.
If the U.S. History prep discs are any indication, I hope they put together others in a hurry. It’s not perfect, but the program is a big help for students studying for the AP exams.
Each package is a two disc set that has videos, a digital workbook and a multitude of test taking tips and tricks. The U.S. History set has a light and airy feel to it with young actors talking about test taking, what will be on the test and how to be comfortable taking the test. There’s valuable information about the test in general and some nice specific ideas on how to do well on it.
My favorite part is the 30 in 30 video, a fast-forward look at the curriculum that promises to squeeze 30 major topics into 30 minutes, but like any good lecturer runs over its allotted time. It has a lot of general historical trends from why the colonists came to America to the effect of the Tariff of 1832 to a look at the Constitutional amendments.
It is actually a good quickie look at the major topics taught during the year and I think can help kids organize their thoughts for the all-important essays on the exam. On the other hand, I would have liked to have seen more depth and detail.
As a result it totally ignores important events, like the Spanish American War. But, the biggest problem is that the exam prep material goes through the end of the Cold War. That, however, isn’t enough because the test can cover more up-to-date material, leaving a 20-year gap.
The Workbook disc complements this material with a 22-page Acrobat file with a slew of handouts that digest the year’s learning into charts, bullets and major themes. There’re also hundreds of multiple choice, matching and fill in questions.
Unfortunately, the prep program misses a huge opportunity by not linking any of this material to the videos or supplementary online material. Plus, you can’t type onto the digital sheets so printing them out is the only option
With the exam itself costing $86, the $11.24 price of the Light Speed AP prep courses are a genuine bargain. On the other hand, there’s no way that 74 minutes of video a 22 pages of review can get a student ready for a college-level exam on its own. It’s an excellent adjunct to a well-taught AP course, but the History of the U.S. AP Exam Prep course is no substitute for 9-months of hard work.
In the final analysis, it will work best for those who have put in the time to understand and absorb the classroom material so that the Light Speed discs will serve to reinforce it.
+ Videos and workbook
+ Nice overview
+ Engaging content
- Only covers 4 AP subject areas
- Need to print worksheets
- Material is not up to date
- Lacks detail and depth