Connecting Students to History

Using primary sources and digital storytelling to connect students to history.

Student project

“The story of our past, our history, is pieced together through things that have survived the passage of time. Letters and journals provide us a look into every day lives of those living the history. By carefully looking into what people left behind in their writing, we can meet those who lived in the past. Their words help us experience the world they lived in.”
Gillian Ryan

As my students and I explored Colonial Times in our history studies, I found they didn‘t really comprehend what it must have been like to leave family, friends, and community and start over. Although we had discussed the perils of the journey, up until this time students had only read about the journey through secondary sources both in print and online.

I decided to use primary sources to help my class experience the world through the eyes of someone who had lived the history we were studying. To better understand the journey to the New World, my class and I read the journal of German schoolmaster, Gottlieb Middelberger. In this journal, Gottlieb shares his account of the treacherous journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World in 1750.

To continue to immerse them in the story, we began the process of digital storytelling. After reading his account, students used Pixie to create a digital version of his journal. I assigned students different passages which they shared through summaries, quotes, and supporting illustrations.

It wasn't until students used Pixie to write and illustrate the risks taken by passengers and crew making the journey and record the author‘s words to go with each picture that they truly comprehended the significance of the sacrifices that people were willing to make for a chance at a new life in the Americas.”

Gillian Ryan

by Gillian Ryan

Gillian Ryan is a teacher at Pride Academy in Santee, California.

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