Telling (Digital) Stories of our Nation’s Past: Using Film Technology in the U.S. History Classroom

The technological revolution has knocked on our classroom door, and it is asking to come in. Proponents of using technology in the classroom insist that it allows students to investigate learning in new and individualized ways. Teachers must focus on the skills students need in our rapidly advancing world while still maintaining the integrity of intellectual and independent learning.

Dr. Tony Bates purports that we are living in a “knowledge-based society,” or a society dependent on its 21st century skills so I began this week by questioning how I could better incorporate the tech-skills needed for this same society into the Social Studies classroom. I asked what types of tech-driven projects have been used in the History classroom that have allowed student to demonstrate creativity while constructing genuine experiential knowledge? What innovative ideas were out there and what technological products and processes were best for students to engage fully in exploration-based projects?

I began answering this question by reading up on digital storytelling. History, after all, is our world’s narrative; it’s a compilation of stories – biased, tainted, epic, and tragic. Bob Dillan (2014) writes of the power of digital storytelling and promises it is “now both easy to produce and simple to publish [and is] an ideal way to energize learning and engage students at a deeper level.” The digital storytelling model allows students to showcase their learning not only for their peers and teacher, but also for a public beyond the school building.

I have found that telling stories, particularly through film (with its important visual aids and historical reenactments), really brings History alive for students. My mentor teacher and I have been discussing developing a project in which our AP U.S. History students create a digital story through a historical film reel. We plan to introduce a little bit of film history to the course — i.e. when it was that the reel was first invented and what early filmmakers did with it — and ask that students channel the storytelling skills of those early filmmakers and document something of that time in a short film sketch. Dillan’s work assured me that there was a lot out there. Students can use tools such as WeVideo, Youtube, and iMovie to craft and edit short films to better tell their digital stories of the past.

Further investigation brought me to, a website with incredible resources for Social Studies teachers, full of ideas for best practices and suggested teaching materials. I stumbled upon an article about integrating technology in the classroom, which referred to the Reel American History Project (see, a film project created by Lehigh University students which offers a list of independent and historically significant films, and explains how best to use them in the classroom. Each film helps students construct a deeper understanding of history. The project also encourages students to submit their work to its archive so they can be shown in other classes throughout the country. also described Digital Storyteller (see a web-based tool used for creating short digital movies using text, images, and narration. “The goal,” states, “is to guide students in effectively using, interpreting, and integrating primary sources” (n.d.). Teachers can even create a classroom account and select and annotate resources students may use to create their 1-3 minute movies.

Students are always more engaged in their learning when they are asked to produce something creative, original, and uniquely their own. Short film reels will allow them to do just that, and to tell their own digital stories through independent renderings of the past.

Is it just me or is technology’s knocking on the classroom door getting even louder? We better let it in, invite it to stay, and see what it can do! At the very least it can help us tell pretty great visual stories of times long past.


Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (1). Retrieved from

Dillon, Bob (2014). The power of the digital story. Retrieved from National History Education Clearinghouse (2016). Integrating technology in the history classroom. Retrieved from




3 thoughts on “Telling (Digital) Stories of our Nation’s Past: Using Film Technology in the U.S. History Classroom”

  1. Hi Jordana,

    I think it’s great you and your mentor teacher are being innovative in the classroom. I wish my high school teachers thought of cool projects like the ones you presented, we definitely would of stayed awake and learned more! iMovie, youtube and the other examples are great resources that can showcase students creativity, individuality and team/leadership skills.

    Great post! 🙂


  2. Hi Jordana,

    I really liked that Reel movies resource and I thought that it had some great films to offer. I agree with your statement that students are more engaged with an assignment when they can create something unique and personal to them. I remember a lesson from my 8th grade Spanish class where we created our own commercials in Spanish and got to film them to present to the class. I think incorporating film with any subject is fun for students and also encourages them to think creatively and come up with some great material for their project.


  3. Jordana — I love films, and I have fond memories of watching films in many classes during my years in public schools. Back then, they were on reels rather than on YouTube (or even VHS tapes!) and it was a bit of a treat when we got to see them. It is fabulous that technology has made it possible for students to create their own films, and learn about history in the process. I had a friend in high school who did a film about the Civil War using his family’s Super 8 movie camera — and I still remember it!


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