Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Animate Your DBQ

Teenagers send videos to each other all the time via iMessage, Snapchat, and YouTube. Why not teach them to make videos that answer deeper historical questions?

The document based question (DBQ) is a staple in most middle and high school history classrooms, but your day-to-day document analysis can be humdrum. To add interest and encourage students to create something unique based on what they've learned, I asked them to produce videos that explained their document's importance.


The DBQ Project has a great American History Mini-Q that asks "The Battle of Gettysburg: Why was it a Turning Point?"  It contains four excellent documents that range from maps to letters to statistics.

Step 1: History Recall

In a previous lesson of this unit, students analyzed statistics about the North and South at the outset of the war and created infographics. I asked them what they remembered about the advantages and disadvantages of both sides.

In another lesson students created their own Civil War battles scavenger hunt that had them running the halls and discovering trends in the war. I asked them what they remembered about who was winning and losing early in the war.

Once they established the context they needed to know, it was time to teach them the tech.

Step 2: Animoto Tutorial


Using Reflector Mirroring, I demostrated the Animoto app on my own iPad while they watched and listened via the SmartBoard at the front of the room. This literally took no more than 3 minutes.  You can also find great tutorials on Animoto on YouTube.

Step 3: Distribute the Documents

The class was divided the class into four groups. Each got one of the four documents. They used the guiding questions that come with their document to figure out what evidence from the document helped answer the overall question of why Gettysburg is considered a turning point in the Civil War.

Step 4: Students Analyze and Create

I gave students about 30 minutes to analyze their documents, draw or find their images to represent what they learned, and create their Animoto videos. I checked in with groups to ensure their analyses were moving in the right direction. At times, if they asked I gave help with the app.

Step 5: Share & Discuss

Each group presented their short video to the class and we talked about how it proved document analysis had been completed and how it answered the overall question of why Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War. Great results! Here are a few:

Click here to watch a video explaining why the casualties were more devastating for the Confederacy.
Click here to watch a video explaining why Lee chose to invade the North, a risky tactical decision.
Click here to see how Lincoln's Gettysburg Address changed the purpose of the war.

By the end of one 55 minute class period we had reviewed, analyzed, created, shared, and discussed. DBQs are an important part of teaching students to learn about history from various sources, but they don't always have to prove their learning in the form of a traditional essay. Of course, the writing process is essential and we certainly do that quite a bit in my history classes. But a fresh creative approach can go a long way with a classroom full of teenagers... and you just might be pleasantly surprised with what they create.