In Dr. Zavitz's 9th-grade humanities class, the dynamic fusion of technology and historical exploration opened new avenues for students to engage with the past. Recently, students undertook a digital timeline project where the rich history of major medieval West African empires – Ghana, Mali, and Songhay – came to life in a vibrant and interactive format.
The project, designed to foster both historical understanding and technological proficiency, challenged students to embody the role of historians. Their task was to meticulously research their assigned empire, drawing not only from class sources but also delving into external references. The goal was to distill the empire's intricate history into six major events, showcasing the students' ability to discern historical significance, order events chronologically, synthesize information, and construct a cohesive narrative – essential skills for emerging scholars in the humanities.
The transition from research to presentation occurred in the digital realm, as students transferred their findings to Google Sheets. Here, they used Northwestern University's Knight Lab, a collaboration between journalism and technology. This innovative program empowered students to craft visually captivating digital timelines that intertwined text and images, elevating the narrative beyond the confines of traditional essays.
As students finalized and unveiled their digital timelines, the room echoed with exclamations of awe and satisfaction. This enthusiasm was a testament to the depth of learning that had taken place, illustrating the potency of hands-on, inquiry-driven projects in education.
Exploring the Empires through student perspectives:
Here are insights from some of Dr. Zavitz's 9th-grade humanities students:
Jimena: “I learned a lot from doing this assignment, like knowing more details and dates. Everything just made more sense, and I felt very educated on the Mali Empire.”
Lauren: “I learned how to use Google Sheets and the cool timeline website.”
Gray: “I enjoyed making the timeline a lot. It was more interactive, and I think it gave me a better understanding of the order of events.”
Bo: “I learned about how to make an actual timeline using a website, and I also learned how to use Google Sheets more. I liked making a timeline because it felt like I was learning more by using images and things like that. It also felt more creative, which I liked.”
Bailey: “I feel like making a timeline was definitely a more interactive project and while it was challenging, it helped me understand the material a bit more. I learned more about how Google Sheets functions and how the events of the Ghana Empire piece together and build on each other.”
Rose: “I learned the importance of summary writing and how to credit sources when you write a summary. I also learned a lot more about the Mali Empire.”
Sophia: “I learned a lot about the Mali Empire in more depth. Also, I learned the format of this timeline and how to create the online timeline, which was so cool! I loved it. I think it worked very well, looks very nice and professional, is very organized, and is not a super difficult process. I would 100% do it again.”
Through the digital timeline project, the students acquired historical knowledge but also developed invaluable technological and analytical skills that will serve them well for years to come.