Image via Wikipedia
I’m still in the process of finding that perfect computer game that can simulate the battle experience best for my students. In the meantime, I will be using what is fast becoming one of my favorite websites.
History Animated has been in heavy rotation in my lesson plans for the past two years. Every time I use it, students say two things: (1) Wow!, and (2) Can you burn me a copy, Mr. D? Few interactive experiences give as much information–and provide such a chance to be an armchair general–as the interactive battle maps from the folks at this site.
Part of what makes History Animated so fun is that its founder has, on the surface, little to do with history. James Cagney (from what I can tell, no relation to the actor) was a former tech exec who now teaches Computer Science at Central Oregon Community College. According to Cagney, as he was reading books about various wars and seeing only “complicated maps with dotted lines and dashed lines crisscrossing the pages,” he decided to use computer animation to make the maps real.
So far, Jim and his team have created animated maps for the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the US Civil War, and World War II, both in Europe and the Pacific (he correctly denotes the Pacific Theater as a separate war, as do most historians and political scientists). In each, the dashes, lines, thrust arrows, etc. of a conventional battle map come alive through detailed computer animations using various resources. With each animation, there are also loads of information about the generals, organization of the army, weapons, and background on the wars themselves. They even provide bibliographies for further reading on each particular battle.
To an extent, History Animated takes a real effort to provide accurate animations, often clocked to the hour. Now, in WWII, this seems more of a possibility. With earlier conflicts, this could become more like guesswork. Yet the team at History Animated have really done their homework, using all available sources to provide the best picture possible.
However, if you’re looking for realistic pictures of combat, then look elsewhere. This is the main reason why I use this so often: it provides a safe, non-graphic method of analyzing an often gruesome subject. The sounds of marching, gunfire, horses and trains magnify the movements of the rectangular units on the map. That’s it. That’s the extent of the violence. In a way, it gives a student the rare perspective of conducting war from a general’s standpoint.
One way I like to use this is to let my students be the general. For example, I will show the animation of a particular battle, say, Shiloh in 1862. I would then stop the animation at a certain point and then pass out papers with screen captures of the point in the battle they are looking at. In teams–half of them are Union, half Confederate–I ask each group to plan the next move for their side. What seems very easy will often get complicated when considering escape routes, timing, weather, terrain, location of reinforcements, etc.
All the animations are online: you can get the CDs of them for your hard drive for a small donation. Even if you’re not a teacher, nor a history buff, History Animated offers an interesting way to view the great conflicts of history.
Visit often, since they update their selections periodically. Tell them Mr. D sent you.
Review of Khan Academy’s “American History Overview Part 1: Jamestown to Civil War”
I had not been a huge fan of Khan Academy.
Even before I started working with one of its competitors, I generally took a dim view of anyone that thought they could do better than a teacher with just a computer and a voice recorder.
However, Salman Khan’s little creation, originally meant to help his own cousin in math, has been a founding father of today’s explosion in virtual pedagogy. Practically everyone, including my own kin at LearnZillion, has a patch in the virtual quilt—from reading to math and even science and social studies.
When I heard that Khan Academy had ventured into history, again, I was skeptical. His approach seemed to work in math, and somewhat with language. History, however, is a massive, multi-headed monster that can go very wrong very fast if not handled properly.
Its just natural that I had to see if Salman went off the rails in his history videos.
There were quite a few to choose from, but I decided to start on American History overview Part 1, Jamestown to the Civil War. This is a typical spread for the first year of a two-year cycle in US history, and such an intro film made perfect sense.
Let’s start with the video itself.
Virtual production has come a long way since the first Khan videos. Yet here, they still stick with the crude visible cursor and neon handwriting reminiscent of a specials menu in a Chinese takeout restaurant. At least they’re consistent in their design—not thrilling, but consistent.
The voice, while familiar and somewhat relatable, doesn’t give me confidence. He doesn’t sound like he knows what he’s talking about. It feels like grad school when I basically corrected the poor adjunct they threw at me for two hours at a stretch.
Now for the facts. Honestly, Khan is not half bad here, since it is an overview. Just some notes as you use this video:
Apart from that, it’s not a terrible summation of the early years of the republic. I wouldn’t base a final report on this, but it’s a good introduction to the year, provided some of the gaps are covered in better detail.
In coming weeks, especially after my summer break begins, I’ll be looking at other Khan videos—as well as their competitors—to see how useful they can really be to serious history students.
By the way…the constant use of the word “Indian”, by a company named after an actual one, is really inexcusable.
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Tagged as American History, Commentary, Curriculum, Education, education reform, Educational leadership, French and Indian War, History of the United States, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Khan, Khan Academy, Opinion, Republic of Texas, Salman Khan, Social studies, Teachers, Teaching, television, U.S. History, United States