Review by Jennifer Sitkin, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2016
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Today's Document

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Simple, slightly buggy app serves up primary documents

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • Social Studies
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
8-12
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4 images

Pros: Easy access to important historical documents; quick links to archives.org and additional information.

Cons: Freezes occasionally, and some features don't work; not much different from going online to the National Archives.

Bottom Line: A nice supplemental resource in social studies classrooms, but teachers will need to design meaningful ways to use the daily documents.

There are a number of ways that teachers may want to use Today's Document in the classroom. It can be used as part of a daily or weekly activity in United States history courses. Teachers could project the daily document and have students make connections to current issues or topics from the curriculum. In BYOD or 1-to-1 classrooms, students could do regular reflections on documents as a kind of warm-up or conversation starter. Today's Document might also spur some research; even though it doesn't have tremendous depth and is in need of updating, the links provided could be helpful to students as they're learning about a particular topic. In addition, teachers can search for documents to integrate into an assignment to develop critical-thinking and writing skills. 

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Today's Document is a free history app that provides users with a primary document per day from the National Archives. A significant historical document or image is displayed each day of the year. With each resource, users can zoom in to get a closer look, read background information related to the document, and access links for further research. Along with the daily document, users can search for any topic or by any date to uncover specific resources that might be useful in the classroom. Additional features include the ability to share documents, to scroll through a calendar, and to star documents for later use. Unfortunately, the app has not been updated recently, and a few bugs limit its value as a classroom tool. 

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The integration of primary documents into the curriculum is a big part of Common Core, and Today's Document is a simple tool that helps teachers find relevant materials. Since it's a pretty cut-and-dried experience, the value here hinges on how the app is used by classroom teachers. History buffs will certainly enjoy a daily window into the past by allowing them exposure to key documents that shaped America. For most students, it will be necessary to supplement and provide background information to help students make connections between the documents and the class content and to prompt daily usage and exploration. Many of the documents are written at a high reading level and must be edited and/or accompanied by a guided assignment. The links provided with each document will be useful for both students and teachers who want to further understand either the document or the topic. There are some visual documents that would be useful for struggling readers and English language learners.

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Overall Rating

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

The stripped-down design means student interest in daily documents will depend on the topic and instructional strategy. Teachers will need to provide context for students to see relevance.

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

The variety of documents and topics covered will be useful to educators. Text-based documents will be difficult for English language learners and struggling readers. Images will be good for visual learners.

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

The app is simple and easy to navigate. Users can search by topic or date. Some of the features don't work, and the app randomly freezes.


Common Sense Reviewer
Jennifer Sitkin Classroom teacher

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