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Explain Everything App, Primary Sources and YouTube.... A History Techie's Dream

Yeah....February vacation!!!! Although I am going to take it easy and just have fun with my baby girl (the boys had vacation this week.... How sad, right?) I have three school related tasks.

1. Enter professional development into the system.......Ugh! I'm up for renewal this year and in the last three years I have entered zero hours of development yet completed about 300. I also left that folder at school. Guess I'll be bringing the midget for a field trip!

2. Grade my Citizenship Project.... If you can find the time to blog about the project, I guess it's kind of pathetic that I haven't "found" the time to grade them. I tend to be pathetic so I'm okay with it but there is always time for change :)

3. Blog! My last post has received over 800 hits which is just ridiculous in such an awesome way. I had been keeping a list of blogging topics so I'm going to try to carve out the time to write at least two over break

As I have been documenting here, I have really been trying to wrap my head around the Common Core, their role in the middle school, and Social Studies' role in the standards. I tend to throw myself into things, sometimes forsaking others, to try to feel some semblance of mastery. I have continued to use the primary source lesson for Reading Like A Historian, a project of the Stanford History Education Group and continue to love them.

They have obviously seen the potential for major success because they have added content and reworked their web page. We had been learning about the formation of the first political parties with a focus on their founders, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. I had my kids use this great website that appears to be created by a fellow teacher ( and they created a really great foldable. We watched the BrainPop video that detailed their differences, played Grudgeball to review and took a quiz that the kids aced. They really understood how different these guys were from each other. After I felt we had established the textbook differences I introduced the Reading Like A Historian's lesson, which included letters of from each of these men to George Washington. Sometimes I feel like the sole thing holding kids back from truly understanding primary sources is just the fear that they won't understand them. I have found a good way to take away this fear using an app called Explain Everything.

Explain Everything is one of those iPad apps that acts as a whiteboard and allows you to screencast. It does cost $2.99 and although there are a lot of free ones out there, this one has the capability for you to screen cast your actual use of a website. I bought this when I needed to create a video tutorial of our online sign up for parent teacher conferences and many of the free ones didn't have the capability for recording my use of a web page. This one does that and a whole lot more. What I wanted to use it for, this time, was basically to create a screen cast of me reading the letters with the appropriate emotion, focus, etc.

1. I went to Google images and got myself a picture of Alexander Hamilton and saved it to my camera roll. (I borrowed the picture from

2. I brought the picture into the Explain Everything app, added the title from the primary source document and simply recorded myself reading.

3. When I was all done I simply exported the video directly to my educational YouTube account.

4. For the kiddos, I created a Google Presentation and embedded these two videos.

I had the kids read these to themselves when they were done with the quiz. When I played them, I gave them the choice of listening or reading along. The point of the lesson is that Hamilton and Jefferson weren't just different. Jefferson was bashing Hamilton all over town and as one of my students said, "Um, Jefferson's kind of a jerk, Mrs. Wilkins." As they were listening to the letters I saw their faces register with understanding. The videos allowed them the freedom to really pay attention to the letters and not stress over them. I had already done this for the Shays' Rebellion lesson as well, so this definitively allowed me to know that attacking primary sources this way was successful.

So....are you trying to integrate more primary source materials into your classroom? Do you have any tips for us early stage Common Corers?


  1. Hi:

    Thanks for the information on this app. Right not, I don't have access to iPads, but it sounds like something I will bookmark if/when I finally have them in the classroom.

    Have you heard of VoiceThread ( It seems similar - and it lets students leave their own comments on the video you post. The interface is easy to use and it lets the students interact with the content in a more direct way..

    Thanks for all the posts - I am working my way through them now!

    John P

    1. Hello! I have played around with VoiceThread but never used it. I've been thinking about giving it a whirl this year. In our classroom, we just have my iPad and no wifi so we are very limited but the iPad has just made production of videos and screen casts so easy. I'm glad you're hanging around to look at my other posts!

  2. How many Reading Like a Historian videos like this have you made, and can you would you be willing to make them accessible for other teachers to use?


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