History Detectives: A New Game

March 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment


Sandhya Nankani of Literary Safari, 
A Panelist from “Teaching Students to Become History Detectives”

There’s an annual gathering of 10,000 educators right here in New York City, and yet I had never heard of it prior to several weeks back. A sister alumna of mine at Bank Street College of Education tipped me off to A Celebration of Teaching and Learning. Why hadn’t I heard about this before?

The Celebration, sponsored by THIRTEEN AND WLIW21 – describes itself as “[…] a premier professional development conference that brings together the world’s best thinkers, practitioners, and more than 10,000 educators to share their passion for teaching and learning. […] Our seventh anniversary will bring experts and content from the areas of the Arts, English Language Arts, Global Awareness, Health & Wellness, Instructional Technology, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), Social Studies, Special Education and Whole School Issues.”

At The Celebration, I attended the panel entitled “Teaching Students to Become History Detectives,” featuring speakers Sandhya Nankani and Elyse Luray  kicked off the panel by describing in fascinating detail her experiences as one of the five hosts of the PBS’ American History series History Detectives. Once a top appraiser at Christie’s auction house, Elyse has spent her years on the show using objects ranging from canons to horse saddles as the jumping off point to make amazing discoveries about U.S. history. At one point, Elyse found a piece of Amelia Earhart’s airplane. At another juncture, she helped find the S.S. Portland, a sunken ship in Alaska which was the first ship that

Elyse conveyed the importance of primary sources as well as public institutions like libraries and historical societies as the keys to solving historical puzzles, and to “linking family, city, and community folklore to a bigger story.” Some specific skills which Elyse utilizes on the show, and which teachers can pass on to students, include appraisal, forensic science, geology, geneology, patent and property searches, and textile analysis. “What can a type of cotton or wool tell you about an object,” asked Elyse. “What does beeswax tell you about a certain kind of bees that were in our country at a certain time?”

Elyse was excited to announce that History Detectives is launching a focus on the history of music. In the show’s investigation of The Star Spangled Banner, Elyse had the honor of hearing a private playing of different versions of the song by President Obama’s band.

Following Elyse, editorial producer Sandhya Nankani described the interactive online game based on History Detectives which she and her colleague Sari Wilson created for students. She preceded her description of the game by sharing that American students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject.

The purpose of the game it to help middle school students understand themselves better through objects around them through investigating object-based mysteries as well as engaging in open investigations where they record their own research findings. The game is designed to teach the skills it takes to be a history detective, namely the ability to see, act, and think like one. Students beef up their capacity to make observations and inferences, to find and evaluate historical evidence, and to draw conclusions based on that evidence.

Through playing History Detectives Lab, students can gain a sense of what it’s like to be active researchers out in the real world. “The game gives them a sense of agency, but with limited choices,” explained Sandhya.

Some of the feedback from students who have field tested the game is that they enjoyed using technology, and that the game made history relevant and real. In terms of learning about history, they learn not only about what events happened, but why events happened.

Good for teachers to know: The History Detectives Lab game matches with state standards and also supports Common Core and 21st Century Key Skills. Also: most of the mysteries take one to two class periods for students to solve.


 Eleanor Traubman is Editor-in-Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC’s performing, visual, and literary arts. She leads Creative Conversations, a goal-setting group for women artists, and is also the arts writer for The Bank Street College of Education Alumni Blog. Her mission? To bring people together through the arts, creativity, and humor. Eleanor’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Brooklyn Paper, Family Circle, and Fitness, and she was listed as one of thePark Slope 100.  Eleanor is on Twitter under her blog name, @creativetimes

Entry filed under: curriculum, integrated curricula, teacher education.

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Some of Our Past Bloggers

Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school
Gloria Arenson ’58, psychotherapist
Bill Ayers ‘84, UIC professor, Chicago
Fred Baumgarten ‘84, writer/musician/naturalist/father
Keith Berman '03, founder/president of Options for College and Bank Street’s LinkedIn moderator
David Bowles ’08 (SFC ’93), museum educator at the Rubin Museum of Art
Elena Canaras ‘07, Special Education teacher, Hawaii
Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member
Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool
Mary DeCamp Cotterall ‘87, Reading Specialist, Michigan
Judy Coven ’77, retired public school teacher and former Antioch University faculty member
Leslie Day '93, adjunct instructor at Bank Street and author of Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City
Mary Louise (Molly) Day ‘76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher
Diane Trister Dodge '70, founder and president of Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Meghan Dunn ’08, 3rd grade teacher, Brooklyn
Steven Evangelista ’01, co-director Harlem Link Charter School, NYC
Janine Fetters ‘02, Senior Associate of Parent Engagement at NACCRRA
Dena Florczyk '88, middle school teacher and founder/director of The Nigerian School Project
Hollee Freeman '94, writes about parenting issues for the alumni blog and was featured on BSCAA's April 2012 Career Panel
Ellen Galinsky '70, is President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Joanne Ruvolo Gannett ‘84, Columbia College art history professor, Chicago
Joan Goldstein ‘67, sociologist and educator
Margot Hammond, Director of the Center for Early Childhood Professionals
Carol Hillman ‘67, early childhood educator, author, and Long Trip co-leader
Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor
Lee Klinger Lesser ‘87, trainer for the Parent Services Project
Preminda Langer ‘97, teacher trainer
Claire Milam ’97, life coach, Austin, Texas
Rabin Nickens ‘03, Speaker, Trainer and Educational Consultant
Beth Norford ‘89, consultant and former School for Children teacher
Susy Ogden ‘97
Marion Palm ‘95, Leadership in the Arts alum, writing tutor, poet and singer
Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
Jesse Pugh '76, BSCAA President
Meg Rauen ‘06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
Linda Reing, Bank Street Director of Alumni Relations
Rosalind Rothman '62, retired NYC teacher and guidance counselor
Kyla Ryman '92/'97, educational coach and consultant
Ariel Sacks ‘06, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, NY
Linda Appleman (Guidall) Shapiro ‘81, psychotherapist and author
Barbara Silver ‘80, literacy consultant and former NYC first grade teacher
Andrea Penny Spencer, former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Bank Street
Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School
Rachel Theilheimer ‘74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY
Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation
Eleanor Traubman '95, is Editor in Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC's performing, visual and literary arts
Allison Warren '08, new mom, recent grad, and early childhood teacher
Max Weinberg ‘03, Francis Parker School teacher, Chicago
Ted Wells ‘07, 4th grade teacher at The Park School, Brookline, MA
Tracy Wiessbrod ’03, kindergarten teacher and stay-at-home mom

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