Useful tool for teacher and students to study primary sources. (website and app)

Submitted 5 years ago
Andrea M.
Andrea M.
Instructional Facilitator of Technology
Sterling Middle School
Sterling VA, US
My Rating

My Take

Student engagement with primary sources is important for providing context and for learning how to analyze and evaluate historical events. The website is useful for student and teacher research, but the mobile app has no research feature. Students can complete activities using the website or the mobile app, though students with certain special needs may need to use the website because the app has no built in assistive technology support such as read aloud. Creating activities for different reading levels requires duplication of effort, which is not ideal for teacher planning and preparation. With access to thousands of primary sources through the National Archives, DocsTeach can be a powerful tool for teachers and students to use as a research and document curation tool. Teachers who want to create activities will need to plan for a learning curve and set aside the time to learn the tools.

How I Use It

DocsTeach is a project of the National Archives which offers digital copies of thousands of historical documents. Students and teachers can use it as a research tool for primary sources, and teachers can use the learning activities on the site for individual or group work. The website is the main tool for research and learning activity creation, and the app is for students to complete learning activities. Teachers can using existing learning activities on the site or create new activities using documents from DocsTeach, and the site even permits teachers to upload other digital primary source documents to use in certain activity types. The site offers twelve activity types which focus on the higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy, including Analyzing Documents, Compare and Contrast, White Out / Black Out, Seeing the Big Picture, and Weighing the Evidence. When creating activities, teachers can choose from two general student reading levels to differentiate, but an activity can only have one reading level. If teachers want to have multiple reading levels, then two separate activities must be created.

The site has thousands of resources, and a basic search can yield numerous results, which can be overwhelming. Make sure to use the filters and sort options provided to narrow the scope of the search, and teach students how to choose keywords relevant to the topic. Teachers should use the Save feature to make collections of documents for classroom use. Creating learning activities takes some time, so teachers may want to start with existing lessons or provide a list of links to curated documents for classroom use before delving into the Activity Tools and all the options provided.

Students use the mobile app or the website to complete activities, which can be found browsing by era or accessing with a classroom code. Students engage in the activity and then send responses to the teacher via email. Teachers view the student responses on the website, and can create groups to organize responses. Emails can become quite cumbersome to manage with many students, and teachers may want to disable email notifications in their account settings.