I have seen a debate between Daniel Webster and John Calhoun escalate into name calling. I have seen people celebrate the death of John Brown and mourn the assignation of Abraham Lincoln. I witnessed the US Civil War evolve in 140 characters or less.
- Course: Grade 9 IGCSE History*
- Unit: The causes and effects of the US Civil War
- Students were assigned a variety of major/minor players in the US Civil War to role play during the eight week unit
- Students set up a Twitter account in class based and had to create biography and introduce themselves to the class
During the Unit of Study: Tweet, Retweet, Link, Engage**
- As we study the Civil War everyone in the class should be tweeting about the specific topic we are studying. For example, if during class we are studying “States Rights” (#statesrights) people should be talking about that on Twitter.
- Tweet: You can tweet actual quotes from your person OR you can tweet what you think the person would have said. You must stay in character.
- Retweet: If you agree or disagree with a person’s post you can RT it. I would like that you add a little to the tweet to make it more specific for your character.
- Link: You can link to videos, primary or secondary documents that are appropriate to the conversation. To make the links smaller go to http://tinyurl.com/ to save space.
- Engage: If you want to have a engage in a conversation with a person/people you should include their name in the tweet. For example if you want to ask Lincoln a question (or just mention Lincoln) you should include @alincolnyisrm in the tweet.
I found myself saying the words I never though I would say. Get out your cellphones***. Adam, the other history teacher who was doing this assessment, and I were surprised that kids didn’t just Tweet because we thought it was cool and it was techy. It’s new and difficult to summarize ideas in 140 characters and the kids didn’t always want to do it. Students were asked to tweet during class discussions or when they were doing readings. Often I had to remind them or reward them (#tweetoftheday became a coveted retweet). I made tweeting homework, which was a great way to check understanding with minimal reading on my part. I created a Paper.li account, which was an easy way to see who was tweeting links of primary and secondary documents. I showed them that they had an authentic audience by retweeting their tweets on my personal account and posting a the Twitter feed on my blog. It felt more alive than any research project I could have assigned.
My students really understood their roles by the end of the unit. Equally important, they understood other people’s perspectives. I do worry they don’t fully understand the specific content about the other characters and not every student fully participated. But I am confident they all have an overall perspective of a conflict they knew nothing about when we started. They also demonstrated an ability to be clear and concise in their writing. By the end, most of my students were pulling out their phones as soon as something resonated with them. My students were finding, sharing, and applying primary documents without me telling them to. And it was assignment I enjoyed marking***** . I loved going back and looking at the conversations they had throughout the unit. Using technology didn’t make my job easier, but it sure made it more interesting.
While I won’t teach US Civil War again this year, it is one I can easily adapt for other eras. I think tweeting as a historical or fictional character has real value. It allowed for for engagement between students and allowed students to be empathetic to historical figures. History became a little more real for them. And I know for sure that this is an assignment I couldn’t have done without Twitter.