Sifting through the sea pt. 3: A few web 2.0 tools for the Humanities Classroom

The snow day has allowed some time for me to get back to this blog and post about four useful tools we use with our American Studies students. In a world where edtech tools for science and math dominate, the beauty of these tools is their utility in the humanities classroom.


1. Edublogs: After using WordPress last year, we made the switch to Edublogs this year because of the easy interface and ability to easily provide each student with their own blog that links to our blog. We use our blog  to post assignments, provide links, and also as a platform for students to publish their work. Although this is still a work in progress and we don’t feel we have mastered the use of blogging in our classroom,  we have had a much greater degree of success because of this tool. Students feel more ownership over the process, and we have found it far easier to assess individual blogs. I highly recommend taking at look at edublogs if you are looking for an easy to use platform for students, especially high school students. I have also created a blog for my ESL History students which you can locate here.

Image2. Peerwise:  Every year we have a sizable group of students who prepare to take the AP US History Exam out of our course, and we have found this tool invaluable. Peerwise:, created by Professors at the University of Aukland,  is a free tool that allows teachers to create classes where students create, answer, and discuss multiple choice questions. Taking a social media approach, students can rate questions, earn badges, and compete for slots on the leader board. This is the third year we have used Peerwise:, and we have had a tremendous amount of success using this tool because it enables students not only to practice multiple choice, but also provides for seamless review as each question must also have an explanation. It is also incredibly helpful for students to learn how to write multiple choice questions. While many schools are using Peerwise:, it is still quite easy to sign up for a school account and the people handling support are incredibly helpful and readily available.


3: Prism– Although I did post on this tool last summer, I hadn’t really had time to play with it until this fall. Prism is a a tool that allows for the “crowdsourcing” of interpretation. You can create a Prism from any text and then provide three attributes for students to identify in the text.  Students provide an interpretation of the text by highlighting words to fit each of the attributes which contributes to the generation of two different visualizations one based on size and another one based on color coding. For example, this fall while reading the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass we worked on mastering and identifying different rhetorical devices. I created a Prism based on a significant passage and then allowed students to highlight which passages represented the different devices. Prism provides endless possibilities for use in the humanities classroom, and in fact one of the best exercises is for students to create their own Prisms and set their own attributes, and then share them with their peers.


Video.notes allows students to take notes on youtube videos and save them directly to their google drive. In the age of the “flipped classroom” this tool provides students with the ability to take notes in real time and the notes are synced with the time of the film so it is easy for students to navigate. We use documentaries frequently in our class as a method of content delivery, and this tool allows us to view students notes not only as a mechanism for holding them accountable, but also as a way of assessing their note taking skills. Our ESL students have found this tool especially valuable as they are able to review significant moments from the films easily. Here is an example that I created to introduce our students to this tool in conjunction with our study of the Spanish American War using the film Crucible of Empire. I look forward to using during our Civil Rights unit when at home viewing of Eyes on the Prize provides our students with the majority of content.

“Our” American Studies: An Introduction

Three years ago after a long and deliberate process, our school adopted an American Studies to replace our traditional US History and American Literature curriculum.  The inspiration for this course which currently serves 2/3 of our junior class came both from my and my co-teacher’s American Studies backgrounds and our frustration with the apparent and unnecessary disconnect between  our US History and American Literature courses. Oftentimes, students would be studying Antebellum America while reading The Great Gatsby, and students weren’t given the opportunity to see the inherent connections between the historical period of a text and the text itself. Furthermore, they seemed to see the skills they learned about close reading and critical thinking in each class as distinct and separate and only applicable to each specific discipline. In rethinking how we could best serve our students, we wanted more than just a chronological alignment of the curriculum. We wanted to give them both the tools and resources to be able to see and understand a fuller picture of how history and culture inform and are informed by each other. Furthermore, we wanted them to see that the tools of textual analysis and critical thinking apply to all kinds of texts, and we wanted to be able to serve  all of our students, both high end and struggling learners better in a heterogeneous and team-taught class.

The course we came up with integrates a variety of web 2.0 platforms, many types of texts (including readings, images, films, and songs), and different modes of learning that enable us to differentiate and meet the needs of a diverse student body.  A sample lesson might include reading Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration “To My Dear and Loving Husband” and “On the Burning of Our House”  by Anne Bradstreet while examining documents from Digital History to see points of connection and disconnection between Puritan ideals and real, lived experience. We use both traditional and 21st century types of assessments.  Students blog, write lengthy research papers on a topic of their choice related to American History, create websites about artifacts from the University of Virginia’s Special Collections, present on supreme court cases, and regularly participate in seminar discussions to name just a few of our modes of assessment.   Right now, we are currently reading Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (see lesson plan for the opening day) and studying the Great Depression using many different kinds of images including WPA posters and photographs.  Our students each analyzed contribution of the WPA for homework last night. Some of which can be found at our class blog.

The course continues to evolve and we continue to refine it, but we have been pleased with the success of our students of all levels. We have been able to prepare a significant number of our students to earn college credit worthy scores on the APUSH exam while at the same time helping students who had previously struggled in our former discipline specific curriculum really thrive. I could write pages and pages, and I will. Consider this post just a brief introduction to our program.

Sifting through the Sea: Edtech that Works

Listed below in absolutely no order of preference are web tools and applications we’ve used successfully in our class room this year.

1. Socrative– I’m pretty new to using this tool, but it has been a great addition. We’ve used it to get feedback from students about what they’ve learned from readings, lectures, and films. It has also helped us to make the  connections between the different lessons we teach during our double period class clearer to our students. The ability to give auto-graded quizzes which output into a spread sheet is a definite bonus. Students can use their phones, tablets or computers which is nice in a class where not everyone has a laptop.

2. WordPress– We created a class blog this year Students have posted information on their research paper sources, shared responses to the 2012 election, and we have also used it to share information with them. We will probably use it more next year when we plan to have students blog about all of their sources instead of handing in an annotated bibliography.

3. Livebinder– This site which allows you to create online binders to store and share material has been a godsend for us. Since I teach with a team, we have used this to share resources with each other and have shared binders with students. Here is a binder we created for our opening unit:

4. Google Aps– As you can see from my post about using google docs to give students feedback about thier writing, we really value this platform. It makes it easy for our team to collaborate when making tests, creating lesson plans, and writing assignments. We have also used google forms to create surveys for our class and to get feedback via anonymous course evaluations.

5. Learnist– This resource was one of the best discoveries I’ve made recently on twitter.  It is much like Pinterest, but easier to navigate and with an audience that seems to involve mainly educators. It is so easy to make boards and there are already great resources on the site.  It is incredibly easy and user friendly. Here is one board I made for our upcoming unit on the Great Depression and this one on tech tools we use.

7. Prezi– Although I have to say I have not yet mastered the art of making great Prezi’s, this is a fantastic tool and one of my teammates is incredibly proficient. We have used Prezi for many different presentations and it is incredibly useful. I particularly like the ability to imbed all different kinds of media. There are also some great ready made prezis available through the search function. Here is one I am working on right now for the day we go back to school. I will be talking with the kids about the historical forces that set the stage for the Harlem Renaissance and some of the key artists/intellectuals involved. Here is one that I used when talking with students about First Wave Feminism

8.– This is another recent discovery. A bit like Prezi, I find it slightly easier to navigate. Like Prezi, it enables you to embed a variety of different types of media. Here is one we just started working on for the same unit on the 1930’s.

9. Dropbox– A great way to share and save documents. We also used shared folders to transfer material from one teacher to another.

10. Itunes U- We have used a variety of the resources both as ways to deliver content to our students either in class or for homework. We have also used some of the courses especially Berkley Professor Michael Cohen’s American Studies Course.