Investigate U.S. History With Zoom In

As a U.S. History teacher at the middle-school level, I keep an eye out for resources, tools, and ideas for lessons that allow my students to work with the content of my courses in a lab-type format. Zoom In, a new, free online platform to help teach U.S. History through inquiry using primary- and secondary-source documents, has proven to be a great match for my overall teaching philosophy: Get students involved and working with real historical documents and they will be engaged, interested, and — best of all — remember what they’re learning.

I realize this is a bit different than the traditional role that social studies courses have taken on in the past. (Remember the days of memorizing dates, names, and facts and Jeopardy-style learning?)

Investigate Historical Questions

Zoom In’s lessons ask students to investigate a historical question and to gather evidence from primary and secondary sources of information that they can use to build written essays. The lessons hook students from the start, and include interesting resources — political cartoons, graphs, pictures, timelines, music — making lessons fun to teach, and understandable to students.

Last year, I taught a Zoom In lesson on early 20th century immigration that used a political cartoon, “The Immigrant,” as the hook for the lesson, supplementing this with other primary source documents. Students answered a series of questions about the documents that helped them build their background knowledge and gave them the ability to respond to questions about the hopes and fears that Americans had toward immigrants at that time.

The lesson helped them take a look back at history from a variety of perspectives. It engaged students and prompted them to think from various points of view, driving them to look at present-day immigration issues on their own.

Support for Writing

Once my students researched the lesson’s documents and gathered evidence to answer the guiding question, our team’s ELA teacher worked with them to produce outstanding written pieces using the Zoom In online module. The writing component in Zoom In has an interactive template with prompts that help students structure their writing. They can even import the evidence they’ve gathered and saved, while reading the lesson’s documents to support claims in their writing.

In addition to learning how to gather and use evidence to support their writing, my students also learned how to source documents — helping them to place the document within its historical context. In doing so, they gained a better understanding of point of view, conceptualization, and reliability when digging deeply into historical sources.

This year, as we work to provide students with opportunities to hone their 21st century-skills, Zoom In has a front row seat in the U.S. History curriculum at our middle school. We’re excited once again to provide our students this outstanding online tool that not only engages them to build reading and writing skills, but also moves them to interact with historical content through rich, meaningful lessons.

Jennifer Hesseltine teaches U.S. History at the Malone Middle School in Malone, New York. Jennifer teaches in a 1:1 technology setting, prompting students to engage with the content of the course in a student-centered, hands on classroom environment. Jennifer is among 28 educators worldwide recently accepted into the first cohort of TED-Ed Innovative Educators, and can be found hosting and participating in the weekly Bammy Award winning #TEDEdChat on Twitter. Connect with Jennifer on Twitter: @jenhesseltine.

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