Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Zoom In to History - Lesson for Students...and Teachers!

About 3 years ago I was first introduced to a new web program called Zoom In.  They were financed by the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation and were trying to create an online platform to help students use historical thinking skills, and help teachers learn how to best instruct these skills.  Because, let's face it.  Most of us were NOT taught this way, and most of us were not instructed on HOW to teach this way.

For me it was love at first sight.

And then I got the bad news.  The program wasn't completely iPad friendly, and we are 1:1 iPads.

But I was too much in love with this idea to just let it go.  So I did what I do best...I changed it up to fit the needs of my classroom. (What I would later find out is just what the creators of Zoom-In wanted me to do.) For this post I will be detailing what I did with the Zoom-In lesson over Lowell Mill Girls.  I will also provide a link to a Google Doc that has everything I did to make this paper/pencil or iPad friendly lesson.

Here's how it works.

Each lesson has an essential question and is divided into the following sections:

  1. The Hook
  2. Context Information
  3. Document Analysis
  4. Deeper Thinking Discussion
  5. Making Connections
  6. Written Response
Lowell Mill Girls:  This is the first Zoom-In on History lesson we will do for the year, so I will spend more time going through each of the different sections listed.  Eventually we are able to get to where I only participate in the discussions and they are able to do the rest independently.

The Essential Question
I take some time to break down the question and make sure the students know exactly what we are trying to answer.  Once they "get it" I show this quick video for some brief background knowledge (and the video plays the "unremitting clatter" noise that is talked about in the "Hook" activity.)

Students are placed in "Zoom-In" teams and given a folder which has all the materials they will need for this unit (a bunch of work to set up ahead of time, but saves valuable time later).

The Hook:
In their teams, students read and discuss the two quotes mentioned on this page.  We discuss the differences in the two opinions of working in the mills, identify any vocabulary we don't understand and start to see that there were some very different view about the opportunities for women and the hardships they encountered.

Setting up some background information.  I converted the activity from the website into a PowerPoint which share with the students.  They go through with their teams reading the slide, answering questions, and are prepared to discuss with the class.  **I do not read the slides to them. This is done in their teams.***  We then go through what they came up with on their slides and make sure they all understand. 

Document Analysis:  
Again, these are taken directly from the Zoom-In website.  I copied the documents and sourcing information into a Word document and then saved it as a PDF.  This allows my students to be able to open it in various apps on their iPads so they can highlight important information in the text to use later.  Students work in their teams to complete the document analysis form.  **This may seem like tedious worksheets, but it does help them to understand the document and start to pull out important details that will be used later to help form their opinion and in their written response.

Deeper Thinking Discussion: 
During this time I take specific questions that I want to go over, and use the teacher manual that comes with each Zoom-In lesson on their site. (Seriously...they have created such an awesome resource for teachers to instruct historical thinking).  We usually play some sort of Kagan game in order to make sure students have grasped the concepts of each document and the context of the time period.  My favorite is Numbered Heads Together.  I don't want this to take too long, just a quick over-view before they begin working on their own.

**Up until this time kids have been working in their Zoom-In teams.  I don't do much in the area of grading for the first three exercizes.  That was all team work, discussed in class, and not something I want to spend hours upon hours grading.  I usually take some sort of "completion" grade.  The bigger scores come next (and are worth my time grading) because the next activities are done individually.  This is where they prove to me what they know and can do.

Making Connections:
Here the students start to organize all the information they have learned about life as a Lowell Mill girl.  This "sets the stage" for their written response, which comes next.

Written Response:
Students now answer the essential question in written form.  The website actually walks them through step-by-step how to write a 3-5 paragraph essay, depending on the type of essential question.  Unfortunately, I just don't have the time for that in class, so my students usually need to respond with one or two paragraphs.  I always have a rubric for them to use (and to make grading SO MUCH EASIER).

And there you have it.  The first "Zoom In on History" lesson that I do with my 8th graders for the year.  We will do 3-5 more depending on time available within the year.  I have modified five of the lessons from the website to this version.
  1. Lowell Mill Girls
  2. Conflict of Nations - Indian Removal Act
  3. Underground Railroad (my personal favorite)
  4. Lincoln and Emancipation
  5. African American Soldiers during the Civil War
I don't always require a "written response" to answer the essential question.  Sometimes we do an interactive game such as Cut-Throat History or History Chef, or we might do some sort of technology integrated presentation.  

Want to check out Zoom-In site.  Cool Stuff and many more lessons to choose from!  Click Here

Want the materials to this lesson that I have modified?  Click HERE

Want more?  Contact me via Twitter @JillWebs or leave a comment!


  1. Great info! Are you familiar with Stanford History Education Group? I've used some of their stuff with my 8th graders.

    1. Oh yeah! I'm a BIG FAN of SHEG...I have used some of their stuff with the Zoom-In activities too. They have great lessons that are easily adaptable to any classroom setting!

  2. I love the Lowell Mill Girls Activity you created would you mind sharing the 4 other lessons. I am especially looking forward to checking out the underground railroad one! Thank you so much ! My email is seturmel@methuen.k12.ma.us