I had the chance yesterday to sit and chat with some incredibly interesting folks. There were five of us:

We were asked by the Huffington Post to share our thinking about the practice of “re-tweeting” history.

So we did.

And I gotta admit . . . it was a good time. We only had 30 minutes but the conversation had a very “historical thinking is good for kids and we should be using these types of tools” sort of vibe.

Re-tweeting history is the practice of setting up a Twitter account and then posting tweets as if the event is actually happening realtime. Alwyn has committed the next five years of his life to “live-tweeting” World War II. Marion works with teachers and schools to “reenact” specific events such as a trek West in 1847 and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I wrote about both several years ago (here and here) but yesterday’s conversation opened up a new train of thought in my own head.

How can these sorts of social media tools help social studies teachers train kids to think historically?

How can Twitter help me as a classroom teacher align my instruction to the new Kansas state standards and the soon to be unveiled national C3 standards?

I believe that these historical reenactments have the ability to engage kids emotionally, which is a good thing. I think they have the ability to provide a multi-media rich environment that is a great way for kids to collect foundational knowledge, which is a good thing.

But I believe that the real power of these reenactments is that they create a sense of urgency, of uncertainty in the minds of our kids. We’re not sure how this is gonna turn out. Who survives? Who doesn’t? Do the good guys win? Who falls in love with whom? The Twitter feed creates a sense of “academic discomfort” because we don’t know how the story ends.

We have always done a great job of giving kids the answer. We lecture. We assign readings from the textbook. We have kids fill in vocabulary worksheets by copying/pasting from the glossary.

What we need to do instead is to immerse kids in great stories – stories with setting and interesting characters and a plot that we can’t predict. And these historical re-tweets let is do that. But Glenn, you ask,

how can Twitter support historical thinking?

Twitter (and other sorts of social media) reenactments provide a great opportunity for research, for evaluation, sourcing,  contextualizing – for the kinds of thinking that take kids beyond the simple recalling of facts. So instead of just lecturing on the Dust Bowl, reading the Dust Bowl chapter, and doing the Dust Bowl worksheet, kids could select (or be assigned) a specific historical character. They might decide to be FDR, the Kansas governor, a farmer, a bank president, a local sheriff – really just about anyone who was actually there.

Have kids research the period by researching their particular character. Build a fictional Twitter account, write “fictional” tweets, read the tweets of the other characters, respond with more tweets. Include documents, photos, video clips. How would the local farmer’s wife respond, for example, when she sees the sheriff and bank employee pull into her yard with foreclosure papers?

Better yet, contact Marion at TwHistory and do the same thing with the actual technology.

Some other examples:

Robert E. Scott

Cuban Missile Crisis

We Choose the Moon

John Quincy Adams

Civil War

1948 Arab-Israeli War

Samuel Pepys