Deeper thinking with timeline projects

Timeline projects can be one-dimensional with shallow thinking. Here are some ideas to kick up the Depth of Knowledge level. (Graphic by Matt Miller)

Timeline projects can be one-dimensional with shallow thinking. But they don’t have to be! Here are some ideas to kick up the Depth of Knowledge level. (Graphic by Matt Miller)

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. As cyclical as education is, it’s almost impossible not to.

We do the same activities year in and year out — even if we’re constantly trying to reinvent our classes. It happens to the best of us.

Twitter is a great way to get unstuck. It also helps others to get unstuck. Kudos to Jane Highley for that.

She recently posted a question that caught my attention:

How can designing a timeline be a rigorous activity?

Higher-order thinking and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge have been top of mind for me. (I spent some time recently with Alice Keeler, my co-author for Ditch That Homework. Spend more than 15 minutes with her and you’ll hear her say “DoK”. And that’s a good thing.)

  • Norman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge: Depth of Knowledge (DoK) categorizes tasks according to the complexity of thinking required to successfully complete them. (via Edutopia)
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy: The go-to source for higher-order thinking for decades. The original framework consisted of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. It was revised and improved in 2001. (via Vanderbilt Center for Teaching)

Timelines. Poster projects. Brochures.

Any traditional activity can be put through the DOK/higher-order thinking process. Take an old, tired activity and put a deeper spin on it.

Here were some suggestions I gave Jane for her students’ timelines:

Deeper thinking with timeline projects (4)

Deeper thinking with timeline projects. Icons via TheNounProject.com. Created with Google Drawings. See a post here on how to create these infographics yourself. (They’re really easy!)

1. Compare timeline with another from history (or with present times). Compare/contrast kicks the Depth of Knowledge up to DoK level 2: Skills and concepts. Some ways to compare/contrast:

  • How does this timeline compare to a civilization/event/period in another part of history?
  • How does this compare to present times/today?

2. Identify problems and give advice to people of that time. Giving advice kicks the DoK up to level 3: Strategic thinking. Some questions to ask/answer:

  • What was a key mistake/error and how could it have been fixed?
  • What was a general/overall problem and what could have improved it?
  • How could people have lived differently to make their lives better?
  • How could a leader have changed his/her leadership style or decisions to have a better outcome in history?

3. Create a new ending. This also kicks the DoK up to level 3: Strategic thinking. This is like putting a fork in your timeline. There’s the way it happened and the way it could have happened. Ways this could be done:

  • Identify a turning point in the timeline. Determine how it could have been improved and what the outcome could have been.
  • Go into the future. Take a timeline that goes to today and predict the future based on what you know.
  • Swap characters. For the timeline or events of a life you’re studying, pick a different person to lead or live through those events. How would that person have responded differently?

These could be done with Choose Your Own Adventure stories with Google Slides or Forms! See #8 in this post for ideas.

4. Categorize events. Tagging events on a timeline can help students make sense of them and what the timeline says as a whole. It kicks the DoK up to level 2: Skills and concepts. A deeper explanation of why they’re categorized the way they are takes it up to level 3: Strategic thinking.

Some ways to categorize items on a timeline:

  • A simple good/bad (or very good/good/bad/very bad) or helpful/harmful
  • Grouping the items on the timeline into categories and tagging each based on those categories created by the student
  • How it impacted society
  • How expensive it was
  • How important it was

5. Identify common themes. What does the timeline say as a whole? This kicks the DoK up to level 2: Skills and concepts. Explanation and justification of those themes can bring it up to DoK level 3: Strategic thinking.

The themes could be added above or below the timeline. Think of them as a headline or a title. A subheadline or secondary title could be added to give further explanation, like a secondary title better explains a vague title of a book.

Several tools can help you create timelines, like:

  • Google Drawings: It’s simple. It’s part of the G Suite apps for education. You can save your product as an image file. I made the above infographic with Google Drawings.
  • Sutori: Sutori lets students create and share visual stories collaboratively. It was formerly HSTRY.co, which was focused on social studies. Now it’s been rebranded so it’s inclusive to all subject areas.
  • Timetoast: From the site: Timetoast timelines are a beautiful way to share the past, or even the future. Creating takes minutes. It’s as simple as can be!”
  • ReadWriteThink Timeline: This tool walks you through creating a timeline by date, time or event, step by step with text and images.

Question: How else can we kick up the thinking in a timeline activity? What other advice do you have for Jane? What other tools can we use? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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9 thoughts on “Deeper thinking with timeline projects

  1. I have my students find cause and effect relationships with the events on the timeline, We also categorize the events, and then I have the students make a “Top Ten” list, (Our timeline is events leading to statehood for Washington State) where the students pick out the top ten events that led to statehood in their mind, and they have to justify their picks.

  2. In terms of “Create a New Ending” – reverse the order of 2 events on the timeline. Would it make a difference? Why? How would each event, as well as the outcome, be different?

  3. Great post!
    BTW, check out this timeline tool: https://timeline.knightlab.com

    I haven’t used it with my students yet, but I introduced it to my daughter and she used it for a social studies project and it was pretty awesome! Both her and her teacher really liked it and it helps with digital citizenship as it forces students to cite their sources. Let me know what you think,

  4. I use categories with our timelines…I love to have students categorize events as social, economic, and political. Then justify their choices to other students or teams. It can make for some interesting conversation. Another ones to have students creat a picture timeline with no words. That one is super fun!

  5. Great post Matt! I’d love to do something similar with our Wax Museum project (dress up like person you read biography on and speak 2-3 min) which is currently DOK1 and missing the 4Cs. A typical timeline was done in Tech but this really kicks it up a notch! If your readers have any additional ideas, please share 😀