Children writing history…

Information and communications technologies provide imaginative teachers with the opportunity to revolutionise the learning and teaching of history by enabling children to become real historians in their own right. I have already looked at children collecting and querying graveyard data using database software. In this post I will look at tapping into a powerful but rapidly disappearing historical resource – our senior citizens, especially those who were involved in fighting in one of the mankind’s greatest conflicts, WW2.

hms

AB L.M. Paul HMS Illustrious

As a boy I would sit entranced as my father, his brothers and other war comrades spoke about their wartime experiences. My father joined the Royal Navy aged seventeen in 1941, seeing action in the North Atlantic, Indian Ocean and the Far East. I became an avid reader of books on WW2 – especially those involving the navy and air force, at an early age. The  number of servicemen who served in WW2 is diminishing rapidly, and as they die off we lose their untold stories, a rich source of history for anyone prepared to go out and collect it.

Involving senior citizens in the life of schools has the potential to build strong community links. Old soldiers love telling their stories and showing off their uniforms and medals. This provides a great opportunity to involve children in researching and writing history, using information and communication technologies to hone both their interviewing and story writing skills. Digital still cameras, audio and video recorders can be used to capture images and stories. Reworking these by editing provides opportunities to engage with technology to develop both technological and story telling skills while creating unique historical resources based on primary data. This is history as it should be, rather than the dry-as-dust rote learning of uncontextualised and largely irrelevant facts which constituted history when I was at school.

Senior citizens have more than memories of old wars at their disposal. These including ‘old’ skills such as soap and butter making and resources in the form of old photographs of their communities. These also provide opportunities for history making, be they in the form of video clips, photographs or History Days at school in which senior citizens are guested and encouraged to share their experiences.

Wikis provide a unique opportunity for communities to share information. I have aired the idea of a Community History wiki in a number of schools I visit, but have not had any response as yet. The essential idea is for a school to set up and manage a community history wiki in which community members are invited to share their stories and artifacts in digital form. I have been encouraged to see older people using computers in local libraries and suggest that there are enough older people in our communities with computer skills who would be prepared to take on the duty of speaking to their friends and recording their stories of the community as it was in days gone by. Many of our communities have changed radically over the last fifty years or so. The spirit of these communities can be recaptured by old pictures, old movies and first hand stories about the past. Any year six class willing to coordinate such a project would be creating  a unique and valuable resource as well as developing their own ict and story telling skills.

On another level, we tend to undervalue the potential of getting into the community to look at historical sites within our communities. The UK has a long and rich history and we are surrounded by historical buildings and artefacts. Walking around our communities armed with mobile camera phones and other digital recording equipment enables us to capture these resources and to discuss them back in classrooms, reworking and upload them to websites including wikis, class blogs and photo sharing sites like Flickr. Rather than blocking sites like Flickr, we should be using them as tools for sharing resources and ideas and as relevant, context-rich locales for training young people in the art of safe  Internet use.

Schools interested in taking on this kind of work are welcome to contact me.

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