This is the main page for the East Orange School district "Witness to History" new literacies project.

Using History as a Learning Focus

Some ideas for classroom project "vehicles":
  • Google Earth movie making tutorial. This tutorial is for the Google Earth Pro mode, so when it gets to the part about actually recording onscreen action, you need to add a step: you need to use separate software to do your onscreen recording. If you are using a PC, download Camstudio to record your Google Earth Movie; if you're using a Mac, play around with using Jing to record your google Earth movie in fullscreen mode.
  • Voicethread
  • Use Windows Movie Maker or iMovie to create documentaries using "found" photos and footage, re-enacted footage, and interviews.
  • Read Chris Shamburg's article, Podcasting and Fluency, for podcasting ideas for oral history interviews or radio documentaries; find addition technical advice here
  • Using Comic Life (Mac) or download a free trial version of Comic Book Creator (PC) to create student-made historical texts (cf., popular historical graphic novels such as Maus, Persepolis, and Barefoot Gen, to name only a few)
  • Flesh out particular sections of the Wikipedia entry on East Orange (which currently contains no "History" section)
  • Explore historical simulations in Second Life and creating machinima movies within these settings. For example,

Spend some time exploring history resources recommended for K-12 educators on the Center for the Study of History and Memory

View: What works: Teaching history to Middle School Students
And don't forget to check out the Free resources section of this wiki for additional ideas.

Getting started

For teachers interested in local history projects, here are some links that might prove useful in terms of generating data/information:

For teachers interested in world history projects, here are some links that might prove useful in terms of generating data/information and project ideas:

Links to the core curriculum standards

New Jersey core curriculum standards overview for Social Studies, History and Geography
  • Standard 6.1 for Grades 5 to 8: (Social Studies Skills) All students will utilize historical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to maximize their understanding of civics, history, geography, and economics."
  • Standard 6.3 for Grades 5 to 8: "(World History) All students will demonstrate knowledge of world history in order to understand life and events in the past and how they relate to the present and the future."
  • Standard 6.4 for Grades 5 to 8: "(United States and New Jersey History) All students will demonstrate knowledge of United States and New Jersey history in order to understand life and events in the past and how they relate to the present and future."

Copyright and You

This project is also a useful one for teaching your students about some basic copyright rules of thumb, and to encourage them to use Creative Commons resources in their projects in order avoid copyright issues. The Creative Commons initiative has developed a range of copyright license types that creators can attach to their work, and which signal the extent to which the material can be used without infringing on copyright. so, for example, this entire wiki as a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License (see for details). this means anyone is free to sue the materials posted to this website, provided the cite the original creator and don't try to profit monetarily from the materials.

Here are some useful resources about copyright and "fair use" for teachers:

Here are some useful starting places for Creative commons-type resources to use in your projects:
  • Creative Commons - a searchable data base of resources (video, photos, documents, etc.)
  • DiscoverEd - a searchable data base of resources for classroom use and which have Creative Commons licenses
  • (music)
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Freeplay Music
  • Our Media
  • Look for the Creative commons licences on Flickr, too. This will tell you which photos you can use without special permission and which ones you can't.

Primary and Secondary Historical Data

Historians typically differentiate between two types of historical data on which they draw in their research: primary data and secondary data.

Primary historical data describes official documents, records, art works, postcards, diaries, radio broadcasts, memoirs, speeches, letters, newspaper accounts, photographs, film footage created during the event or period being studied. These data also include oral histories recorded in the present, where the interviewee was living during or was part of the event being studied.

Secondary historical data describes texts that write about and analyze primary data. These secondary texts can be academic research articles, but also include magazine articles, local newspaper stories or columns, television documentaries, and the like.

In schools, we can even argue that students use tertiary historical data in the form of history textbooks, in which the textbook authors typically draw heavily on secondary, rather than primary data.

The general assumption with historical research and study is that the more primary documents one examines and analyses, the better because these artifacts help capture a sense of the times or of the complexity of an event. Digital technologies and the internet have been a boon to historical research in that together they are enabling more and more widespread, non-specialist access to primary historical data.

Online primary historical data archives

Additional reading on primary and secondary historical data

Conducting oral history interviews

The following suggestions are taken from Barbara Truesdell's Oral History Techniques: How to Organize and Conduct Oral History Interviews. This is an excellent practical guide and highly recommended reading.

Before the interview
  1. Read up on as much background history as you can prior to the interview
  2. Learn as much as you can about the interviewee before designing your questions
  3. Listen to as many oral history interviews as you can before you start to get an idea of the kinds of questions asked, prompts used, etc. to obtain as much useful information as possible
  4. Aim at being more conversation-like than questionnaire-like. Make sure the questions—and their purpose—are committed to memory so that you’re not looking down at a paper as in a clinical interview
  5. Always explain to the interviewee the purpose of the interview and how the interview data will be used; explain how long the interview is likely to take
  6. Ask the interviewee sign a consent form that fully outlines the project in accessible language, and which asks permission to make public use of interview data. Some interviewees may ask to be made anonymous and all interviewees should be given this option

Designing the questions
  1. Always by respectful of the interviewee’s dignity and privacy (this includes tone of voice, body language etc.)
  2. Always keep in mind that you are imposing on the interviewee’s time and goodwill
  3. Aim at framing questions in "neutral" language
  4. Aim at asking just one thing per question
  5. Trial the questions to check for (a) clarity, (b) usefulness to the larger project, (b) ease in which the question can be responded to, etc.
  6. Aim at having sufficient questions for half an hour to an hour long interview

During the interview
  1. Carefully check recording devices immediately prior to the interview to see they are working properly
  2. Be prepared to answer any questions the interviewee has about the project
  3. "Start your recorded interview with a statement of the names of yourself and your interviewee(s), the date, and the location" (
  4. Collect interview biographical data as needed (e.g., interviewee's name, gender, ethnicity, where they were born, how long they've lived in East Orange, when they participated in the event being studied, etc.). A written checklist helps with managing audio files after the interview, too).
  5. Remember to leave time after asking a question for the interviewee to think about his or her response. Silence can be very productive within an oral history interview.
  6. Be sensitive to the interviewee's body language and signs that they are physically or emotionally uncomfortable with the interview process
  7. Demonstrate active listening (e.g., nodding, prompting the interviewee to tell you more) and avoid speaking too much as the interviewer
  8. Check for background noise (e.g., traffic, radio, television) and respectfully ask to either move to another room or for media devices to be turned off or muted during the interview
  9. Keep comments neutral, too (e.g., avoid being judgmental, disrespectful)

After the interview
  1. Don't leave abruptly, but chat briefly about the interview and what you, the interviewer, learned and appreciative you are of the interviewee's time and life stories etc.
  2. Document the interview and carefully store the recording or notes made of the interview
  3. Listen to the recording and made a transcript of it, or make careful notes linked to the tape counter etc. If handwritten notes were made, write up additional notes after he interview while your memory is still fresh.

Some sample oral history interview transcripts:

Additional resources: