Review by Stacy Zeiger, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2014
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The Civil War Today

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Daily paper helps kids relive an important period in U.S. history

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Newspaper format makes information easy to navigate, while diary entries and quiz games help engage kids.

Cons: Text-heavy, black-and-white newspaper will challenge struggling readers.

Bottom Line: Ambitious day-by-day account of the War Between the States updates daily with news headlines.

Teachers can use The Civil War Today to help introduce students to the Civil War and provide them with multiple perspectives on the war itself. Through its unique format, the app gives students a chance to read about the events of the Civil War from multiple perspectives and draw their own conclusions. Teachers can use the material as part of a whole-class lesson, pulling out particular articles or diary entries as a part of lesson on key battles. Teachers may also have students use the app individually as part of research or writing projects and other in-class activities. For example, teachers may have students choose an individual, read all of the diary entries from that individual, and then write a paper explaining how the Civil War affected him or her. Teachers may also have students create a timeline of a particular year of the Civil War and have students use the app to find key events to put on their timelines. 

Unfortunately, the release of specific dates does not coincide with a traditional classroom schedule, but teachers can use the already released dates to find material to incorporate into their lessons.

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The Civil War Today is an ambitious undertaking, giving kids a daily overview of the Civil War using a newspaper format. Developed by The History Channel cable network, the app gives a day-by-day account of the War Between the States, updating each day with the news headlines citizens would have seen if they were alive during the war. Updates run from April 12, 2011 (150 years after the start of the Civil War) through April 26, 2015 (150 years after the capture of John Wilkes Booth), in an attempt to help students and history buffs actually feel like they were part of the war. 

When kids open the app, they see the entry for the latest date and the year in the sequence. For example, opening the app on April 28, 2014, reveals the newspaper for April 28, 1864. While kids can't see newspapers for future dates, they can scroll back to read prior editions. On each paper, they'll find a quote of the day, the casualties to date, a daily quiz question, battle maps, and a featured story. Each paper also includes the section "A Day in the Life," where kids can read diary entries from key people involved with the war, including well-known figures like Abraham Lincoln. As kids read through the content and view the photographs, they can mark their favorites and share interesting information through social media. They also have the opportunity to send a modern telegram using the digital telegram machine to compose a tweet, preferably one related to the content they've been reading.

Using a newspaper format helps make the app easy for kids to navigate and track the events of the Civil War. Even low-level readers will find themselves learning a little bit about the war as they peruse the headlines, look at the pictures, and view the daily battle maps and casualty counts. However, those same readers may struggle a bit when it comes to actually reading the additional text that accompanies the headlines and some of the lengthier diary entries. Despite the length of some of the entries, the "A Day in the Life" section offers some of the greatest potential for learning within the app. Kids can follow a particular character's entries to gain an individual perspective on the war or compare and contrast character diary entries on a particular day to help understand multiple perspectives and begin to think critically about the events of that day.

While full of information, the format of The Civil War Today somewhat limits how much kids learn about the war. Yes, they'll gain a lot of information about key people, battles, and other issues, but until April 26, 2015, they cannot read about the war from beginning to end. And even then, they'll miss out on key events such as the last Confederate surrender on November 6, 1865, and Andrew Johnson formally declaring the end of the war on August 20, 1866.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Straightforward design makes it easy to navigate, while features such as a daily quiz question and continuing diary entries encourage kids to view additional days.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Incorporates multiple text types, including diary entries and articles, as well as pictures and maps, to help kids learn about the Civil War.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Text-rich design makes it less accessible to low-level readers. There could be more support to point out all available features.

Common Sense Reviewer
Stacy Zeiger Homeschooling parent

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