Review by Amy Lauren Botula, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2019

Ancient History Encyclopedia

Crowd-sourced ancient history site features extensive, varied resources

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • 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.
7–12
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Pros: Presents ancient history in a lot of different formats, including teacher-friendly lesson plans and curated collections.

Cons: It could use more extensive coverage of non-European ancient history, and ELL students will need some extra support.

Bottom Line: It's free, web-based, and regularly updated with vetted info, so classrooms can turn to this site often to kick off research projects.

Ancient History Encyclopedia is a good place to go for research and inspiration, both for teachers and students. Teachers will appreciate the ready-to-use lesson plans and curated collections as well as the many ways students can engage with the content (watching, listening, and interacting). All the teaching resources try to appeal to different ways to learn content, and are organized by specific themes or time periods. Many also connect with contemporary topics like climate change. If teachers prefer not to use the prepared materials, they might use the images, videos, or audio articles to introduce or supplement units. This might work especially well for younger or reluctant students. 

Students can use the site for research and project development. And, with so many ways to explore content, Ancient History Encyclopedia could be a particularly great resource for group research projects. Teachers might assign each member of the group a different feature or type of content to explore. Advanced students -- such as those in AP courses -- could be challenged to draft their own submission following the site's guidelines, as a summative assessment.

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Ancient History Encyclopedia is a free, web-based encyclopedia with a vast library of resources for teachers and students studying ancient history and ancient cultures. All submissions, like those on Wikipedia, go through editorial review, and the site is endorsed and recommended by Oxford University, European Commission's e-Learning Initiative, School Library Journal, MERLOT, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The resources are divided into many sections, but two in particular -- the encyclopedia and education sections -- will be useful to classrooms. The encyclopedia section features an easy-to-navigate alphabetical index of key topics, locations, historical figures, and more. Clicking any of the listed entries takes you to a cleanly designed page -- reminiscent of Wikipedia -- that balances images with middle school reading-level text that is organized into large, bolded headings and pull quotes. Images -- including the timelines and maps -- are high-quality, with an entire section of 3D models inviting interaction and manipulation. Outside of the index, information within the encyclopedia section can also be browsed by media library, timeline, maps, weights and measures, or audio articles. 

The education section offers a variety of supplemental resources for putting the encyclopedia to use. There are grab-and-go-style lesson plans and curated collections with teaching tips, a media library, primary sources, articles, 2D/3D images, and printables.

Given some of the nervousness teachers have around using web-based, crowd-sourced resources for learning, teachers might question how trustworthy Ancient History Encyclopedia is. Many of the resources are created by Ancient History Encyclopedia's staff, and anything that's submitted undergoes editorial vetting. The site is also very transparent about the sources behind each resource, so students and teachers can explore the biographies of authors behind each resource and consult the citations they've used. There are also quite a few educational institutes backing the site, including Oxford University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2016, it won the .eu Web Award for education. Still, it'd be useful to go over how the site vets and curates information with your students, and use it as a news and media literacy learning opportunity. Encourage students to investigate and validate the sources of information they find. In general, the information is extensive and well developed, and students -- as well as teachers -- are likely to find useful content to fuel lessons and projects.

The Ancient History Encyclopedia is also notable for how many different types of media and formats it features, and how it combines all of them. This gives learners a variety of ways to explore and understand topics, and it could be an indispensable supplement to classrooms digging into ancient history. The curated collections with teaching tips are especially useful, not just because they are ready-made units, but because they also model multi-modal learning. There's some room for development, though. As of this review, the content devoted to ancient civilizations of Asia and Africa is not quite as extensive as that of Europe, especially when it comes to teaching materials. Still, there are resources for many of these civilizations that could provide a starting point for students.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Students can go straight to the index to find what they need, use the media library, or consult maps and timelines. 

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Well-researched information just a click away, including articles, images, maps, videos, and 3D models. That said, African and Asian ancient history is not as represented as European.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

The option to consult image-based and audio-based information instead of depending on text-dense articles will support more reluctant students. The site is seeking to offer translation, but for now everything is in English.


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