Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Historical Scene Investigation in Classrooms

The Historical Scene Investigation Project (HSI) was designed for social studies teachers who need a strong pedagogical mechanism for bringing primary sources into their classroom. With the advent and accessibility of the internet, many libraries, universities and government agencies are housing their historical documents online. Simultaneously, there has been a push in K-12 history education to give students experiences that more closely resemble the work of a real historian. The National Center for History in the Schools (NCHS) provides standards challenging teachers to design experiences in which students:

  • to raise questions and to marshal solid evidence in support of their answers
  • to go beyond the facts presented in their textbooks and examine the historical record for themselves
  • to consult documents, journals, diaries, artifacts, historic sites, works of art, quantitative data, and other evidence from the past, and to do so imaginatively–taking into account the historical context in which these records were created and comparing the multiple points of view of those on the scene at the time (National Center for History in the Schools, 1996, p. 14.

Most social studies teachers accept these challenges but find it difficult to find projects and experiences that are accessible for their students. Researching the “cybraries” of the internet takes time, a precious and scarce resource for the typical social studies teacher. While the Internet provides access to Civil War diaries, newspapers from the 1920’s, images from the Jim Crow south, and many other primary sources, the sheer number of possibilities is daunting. Even the most sophisticated search engines provide such a vast number of “hits” that a classroom teacher would find it difficult to gather the necessary resources to launch a primary source investigation/interpretation activity. The HSI project was developed for these teachers. (The above description is from HSI website)

primary source, learning history

The HSI instructional model consists of the following four steps:

  • Becoming a Detective
  • Investigating the Evidence
  • Searching for Clues
  • Cracking the Case

For more on the H.S.I. model, click hereTo view sample investigations, click here.

This project brings authentic learning experience to history classrooms. If you are a history teachers striving to bring your students as close as possible to the actual historical scenes and study as if they were real historians. This is a excellent resource for you. You can download an activity and either use it “as is” or modify, rearrange or extend it for their own needs.

The creators and contributors behind this project :


Kathleen Owings Swan, PhD
Assistant Professor, Social Studies Education Department of Curriculum and Instruction
College of Education, University of Kentucky

Mark Hofer, PhD
Assistant ProfessorEducational Technology School of Education
College of William & Mary 


David Locascio, PhD
Assistant Professor, Longwood University
Department of Education, Special Education, & Social Work

Kathi Kern, PhD
Associate Professor, University of Kentucky, Department of History

David Hicks, PhD
Associate Professor, Virginia Tech University, Teacher Education 

Julie Bray, MAT
Middle School Teacher, Toano Middle School, Toano, Virginia

Abrianna Nelson
High School Teacher



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1 Response »


  1. History and Technology Is A Perfect Pair | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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