Teaching

Building Bridges: Using Social Media to Connect Historians and History Teachers

Published on: 16 Mar 2020

In November 2018, the Washington Post published a story with the headline, “Historians: What Kids Should Be Learning in School Right Now.” In asking this important question, the reporter chose to only ask historians, all of whom were university professors, authors, or filmmakers. The ideas presented were thoughtful. However, none of the people asked were K-12 history teachers. I wondered if any of the historians being interviewed had suggested that the journalist interview K-12 teachers.

A few days later, I started a social media campaign…

Realizing that many teachers (#SSChat) and historians (#twitterstorians) use Twitter to learn and share, I attempted to connect the two groups by using the hashtag #BridgingHistoriansAndTeachers. I asked the teachers who I followed on Twitter to give me the handles of historians that they followed. I then chose a new historian each day, Tweeted at them, and challenged them to follow back any K-12 teacher who followed them. Of the 42 historians from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that I followed, 33 followed me back and promised to follow K-12 teachers. I then made a Twitter list for historians to join and teachers to subscribe to, which currently has 154 teachers (teachers: consider subscribing here) and 50 historians (historians: you can e-mail me to join).

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In January 2020, I had an opportunity to speak on a panel at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting about my social media campaign and possible ways to build bridges between historians and history teachers. I argued that this must be a two-way bridge. Historians and history teachers need to collaborate around historical research, pedagogy, and public history. They should be learning from each other. More teachers should be invited to work on historical research projects (granted, there are many K-12 teachers who are already historians). More professors should visit K-12 classrooms and observe some of the creative teaching techniques that are being used (granted, there are also many university professors who use inventive methods). Both groups should work together by designing history curriculum and materials from kindergarten to graduate school.

A few weeks later, I read a Tweet from Kevin Levin, who is a historians and high school teacher in Massachusetts, about a recent story in The New Yorker on the role of #twitterstorians (a space for historians on Twitter) on helping journalists and the public gain historical contextualization for the Trump administration. I imagined a similar space for history teachers (from preschool to graduate school) to share their history teaching practices. 

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#TwitterHistoryTeachers has become a space to help spread the word about history pedagogy. I have noticed three different types of posts from teachers there. First, history teachers have been using it to share about connections between the past and current events. For example, teachers recently shared ways that they were connecting the COVID-19 disease to the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Great Plague, but also teaching about the fear and discrimination that can develop during pandemics, such as the treatment of LGBTQ people during the initial outbreak of AIDS or drawing connections to historical anti-Asian racism in the United States. Other recent discussions have included adding a historical context to the impeachment of Donald Trump and the U.S. government’s detention of migrants. Second, it has become a space for sharing about under-taught historical topics. For example, in the last month teachers have shared articles and lessons about Black Wall Street (Tulsa, Oklahoma), the Mexica (Aztec) people’s views of invading Europeans, and African soldiers during World War I. Lastly, it has become a place for history teachers to share images of their students working on projects or links to history lesson plans and assignments that they are using.

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My hope is that this small social media campaign might lead to more sharing and collaboration between historians and K-12 history teachers, with the ultimate goal of improving history education for everyone. I hope it will add to the important work already being done by groups like Canadian Historical Association (and this blog), History Education Research Network/Histoire et éducation en réseau, National Council for History Education, National History Education Clearinghouse, the UCLA History Geography Project/California History-Social Science Project, and the Stanford History Education Group. I know there are many historians and history teachers out there that desire these types of connections. We just need to build it.

Christopher C. Martell is an assistant professor of social studies education at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a former high school history teacher in the Framingham Public Schools.

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