ChronoZoom offers new tools for history teachers


Make your mark in history with ChronoZoom

Last week, from November 22 to 24, I was in St. Louis, Missouri, at the annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), helping to promote the terrific work of our international partners in creating open-source technologies and free curricula to support history education. I spent two days in the NCSS exhibit hall demoing ChronoZoom, an interactive, multimedia timeline of the history of everything, which won the SXSW Interactive Award for Best Educational Resource last year.

I wasn’t the only ChronoZoom fan in St. Louis. Three of our collaborators presented at the conference, which draws 3,000 to 4,000 social studies educators each year. One of our pilot projects is actually in St. Louis, and its presentation was given by 13 high schoolers, all advanced-placement history students, who shared their collaborative timeline of world religions—and the power of ChronoZoom.

Microsoft Research Podcast

Collaborators: Renewable energy storage with Bichlien Nguyen and David Kwabi

Dr. Bichlien Nguyen and Dr. David Kwabi explore their work in flow batteries and how machine learning can help more effectively search the vast organic chemistry space to identify compounds with properties just right for storing waterpower and other renewables.

The pedagogical value of ChronoZoom was apparent in their comments, such as this from Dimitri Rucker, one of the all advanced-placement high schoolers:

“ChronoZoom changed the way I thought about history because of the format it’s displayed in. With the zooming capabilities, you can quickly and visually learn about history all the way from cosmos to humanity now and I think that’s very interesting about this educational tool. With ChronoZoom, we incorporated the timeline of religion and philosophy and how they have affected history throughout time. And by using ChronoZoom, it is easier to show the large timeline of events to help explain how religion has affected the world.”

My goal at the conference was to increase awareness of ChronoZoom and to encourage teachers to try it and provide feedback. In particular, we are interested in sharing the new authoring tools that provide a simple, intuitive means of creating timelines and then creating presentations around those timelines in a fashion similar to PowerPoint or Prezi. Our engineering teams will be prioritizing their work according to teacher requests, so this is an excellent opportunity for teachers to shape a piece of technology designed specifically for educational use.

Free resources for teaching history with ChronoZoom

I gave a lot of demos to share our technical work around ChronoZoom, but our big news was the non-digital, standards-aligned curriculum we released in partnership with the NCSS, the American Historical Association, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a team of amazing curriculum developers and subject matters experts. As I said repeatedly at the conference, the easiest thing about creating educational technology is creating the educational technology. Once that is done, the hard work begins: creating the pedagogical support necessary to make the technology comprehensible and easy for educators and students to use.

The curriculum consists of three core units that cover different approaches to teaching historical thinking: (1) The Causes of World War I, which teaches about causality and multiple perspectives; (2) Atlantic Encounters, which presents a more abstract introduction to historical thinking by studying the moments when two cultures meet and how the meeting changes both cultures; and (3) The ChronoZoomers Guild, which provides lesson templates and associated materials to create an immersive experience involving time travel and the alteration of pivotal events in world history. Read more about these three units.

Middle-school history teacher Samantha Shires helped develop the World War I curriculum and piloted it with her class of seventh and eighth graders in Greensboro, NC. What stood out for her was ChronoZoom’s usefulness as a presentation and assessment tool. “There’s a certain amount of messiness to history that can make it a challenge to fully understand,” she said. “ChronoZoom provides a visual representation that helps my students make sense of the messiness and act as an operator of history, rather than merely a bystander.”

ChronoZoom Curriculum and Technology

Each of the lesson plans is designed to be open-ended with enough room for individual educators to flex their creative muscles. In each lesson, teachers guide the students to answer basic research questions by using authoritative primary sources that are curated by subject matter experts. Then, students are invited to use ChronoZoom to build timelines and presentations based on their research. This allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter as well as their mastery of historical thinking principles outlined in the C3 social studies standards and the upcoming Common Core standards.

We encourage history teachers to download the curriculum, experiment with ChronoZoom, and join our community. If you like the ChronoZoom curriculum, let us know through the website forums. If you don’t like it, definitely let us know. Your feedback is essential to help ensure that we provide a curriculum that suits your needs.

So again, please try ChronoZoom and let us know what you think. I look forward to possibly working with you as we continue to evolve ChronoZoom, striving to make it a great example of what the future of education might be.

Donald Brinkman, Program Manager for Digital Humanities, Microsoft Research Connections

Learn more

The curriculum for teaching historical thinking with ChronoZoom

Lesson 1:  Causes of World War I
This unit focuses on the events of 1874 to 1914 that led up to the onset of World War I.  The focus of this unit is causality and multiple perspectives.  The material is taught by using non-digital techniques in the classroom.  Students can subsequently use ChronoZoom to create timelines based on what they have learned, and present these learnings to their classmates and teacher.

Lesson 2: Atlantic Encounters
This unit explores the difference between encounters and contacts. It poses such questions as “Do cultures have a moment when they collide, when the world is changed forever and seemingly inevitably? Or do cultures interact and mingle over longer periods of time?” It challenges students to show causation, contingency, and consequences, and introduces them to historical thinking by studying encounters among cultures from across the Atlantic and the outcomes of these interactions. By exploring the question “How did Atlantic encounters shape North America?”, students will understand that these encounters among indigenous Americans, Africans, and Europeans were major turning points in the history of the world. Drawing upon primary and secondary sources, students create and analyze exhibits collaboratively on ChronoZoom timelines.

Lesson 3: ChronoZoomers Guild
The third unit is a foundation to support historical thinking and is truly content-agnostic.  The material from the World War I unit is used to demonstrate the principles, but the unit is intended to be “plug and play” for any history content, allowing students to populate the templates with whatever historical information the class is studying.  This unit provides lesson templates and associated materials to immerse students in an epic narrative that revolves around the class being contacted by a secretive organization from the future that uses time travel to alter pivotal events in world history.  Students must master fundamental historical thinking concepts and meet Common Core historical literacy standards. They are then invited to create a timeline in ChronoZoom and present it as a proposal to change past events in order to create a better future.

Back to blog