Teaching summer school provides the unique and overwhelming situation of covering extensive periods of history in condensed classes over a few weeks: In this case, I needed to teach the Canadian 20th century in approximately three weeks. I was forced to be creative in helping students understand the scope of historical periods, without resorting to sweeping (and boring) four-hour daily lectures that merely skim the surface.
This summer, I allocated myself approximately 2.5 days to teach World War II (a somewhat daunting task, especially knowing that Canada’s role must be focused on, yet you also want to address the context and significance of what is happening in the rest of the world). In desperation, I turned to some online tools I had heard of through colleagues.
I am definitely not on the cutting edge of new educational technologies, and I tend to cringe when they are proffered as revolutionary solutions or used in the same breath as ‘21st century learning’ (ugh…sorry). Being forced out of my comfort zone by time constraints, I explored a few websites that I thought might be useful for incorporating historical thinking into a timeline activity, which would cover WWII and hopefully not just in a superficial manner.
My goal was to find online software that was both free, user-friendly, and could be used to embed primary documents and address historical significance. I suggested several options to my students, with most selecting Tiki Toki or Time Glider. Both sites offer free basic versions of their software that allows students to create public websites of their timelines that are easy to access, share and assess. There are multiple other options out there, but these worked for my class.
For simplicity, I divided the assignment into three sections:
First, I gave the students 18 events/developments in WWII (see below), most of which pertained to Canada’s involvement in the war. Students had to create an online timeline using the events, finding and embedding at least one primary document for each (photograph, audio clip, government document, newspaper article, etc.), as well as explaining in 2-3 sentences ‘what happened?’
Secondly, students had to categorize the events into three areas: the war in Europe, the Home Front, and the Pacific War.
Thirdly, students then had to choose five events that they considered to be most historically significant, in relation to Canada’s involvement in the war. Students then justified their significance with a short written response, using criteria we had already established in previous classes.
How did it go?
The quirks and glitches of the various software programs being used proved frustrating at first (I spent about an hour or so rushing around the computer lab putting out fires), but eventually the students became comfortable manipulating the software and I circulated and watched as students constructed some impressive and professional looking timelines. Two examples from students who were willing to share there work can be found here and here.
The informal feedback I received from my students was generally positive with students enjoying the ability to play around with their timelines; personalizing and adding to their work (with various photos, other images and audio clips) that would prove difficult with paper and pencil timelines.
Strengths of this assignment
If I did this project again I would…
The Events* (not necessarily in chronological order)
*I want to make clear that I am very aware this is a Canadian-centric list and that several key events are missing! Other events of the war were covered, just not as part of this assignment.