Voices of the Vietnam Era: Creating Digital Historical Narratives
Ninth Grade Social Studies

Project Members:
Stacey Flynn

Stephanie Flaherty

Beth Knafelc

Lora Koehler


Digital storytelling mixes a scripted narration with photographs and music to create a coherent and dramatic presentation. As digital tools for storytelling have become more accessible, it has proven to be a powerful and engaging project to build 21st century literacies through use of technology, research, self-expression and the ethical use of information; as well, these projects present school librarians and classroom teachers unique avenues to collaborate across curricular areas in meaningful and engaging ways in language arts, social studies and art (Rebmann, 2011).

We see the library media center as the learning commons of the school because it brings together both the tools and the resources needed to support project-based learning, collaboration and new literacies.

Our purpose in this particular project is to bring history to life through the use of digital storytelling. Current research suggests that the blending of these creative strategies into the social studies curriculum helps to create a personal connection with history and a rich conceptual framework for critical thinking. It also maintains student interest and improves overall performance (Hanson, 2009).

Topic and Standards:

Our group chose to work with the 9th grade U.S. History curriculum from Montgomery County Public School District, specifically unit seven, “a survey of foreign policy in the postwar era.” According to the MCPS curriculum, “Balance in decision making and prioritizing objectives is the conceptual focus that unifies this complex era. To understand the Cold War period and beyond, students will analyze decisions of leaders and countries during the period to determine how the decisions maintained a balance between democratic United States and communist Soviet Union. Students will also determine how the Cold War and related conflicts influenced domestic politics and foreign policy from 1945 to the present.”

We chose to focus on the period of the Vietnam War, and its effects on American culture on the home front in order to hit the MSDE content standard “analyze the impact of the media on public opinion and the behavior of the electorate (G 1.1.4; SFS 2.2.3).” We chose to create a unit of study that went beyond the social studies classroom and incorporate the use of media itself, as well as creation of narratives that will synthesize the knowledge gained through research into coherent stories. The purpose is to make history more real to students, to have them gain the understanding that the event read about in books are very real events that had a lasting impact not only on history and politics, but on individual lives.

The implementation of this unit requires the collaboration of not only the media specialist and social studies teachers, but also a language arts teacher. The media specialist will play a very central role, not only as co-planner, co-teacher, and co-assessor, but also as a liaison between social studies and language arts, as often these teachers do not have the opportunities to work together in a high school setting. Because of this three way collaboration, we expect to hit indicators from multiple curriculums with a relevant and engaging project. Students will work with a partner and tasked with creating a character, building that character’s story using real information through research, and presenting that story using words, images, and music by creating a digital story using the software PhotoStory.


Montgomery County Public Schools

Grade: 9
Content : Social Studies
U.S. History: 1865 to the Present
Unit: 7.2 Balance in Foreign Policy: Vietnam

State Of Maryland Curriculum
Standard 5 United States History
  1. 1. Explain the development of the anti-war movement and its consequences for American society, including reactions to the military draft and returning veterans, the polarization of society, the Chicago Democratic Convention (1968), and Kent State (1970) (PS, PNW)
  2. 2. Evaluate the effectiveness of the media on shaping public opinion about the Vietnam War and the invasions of Cambodia and Laos (PS, PNW)
Maryland Common Core Standards
Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6–12
  • Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
  • Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

AASL Standards

Multiple AASL Standards apply to this project.

1.1.1 Follow an inquiry- based process in seeking knowledge in curricular subjects, and make the real- world connection for using this process in own life.

1.2.3 Demonstrate creativity by using multiple resources and formats.

1.3.1 Respect copyright/ intellectual property rights of creators and producers.

2.1.1 Continue an inquiry based research process by applying critical thinking skills (analysis, synthesis, evaluation, organization) to information and knowledge in order to construct new understandings, draw conclusions, and create new knowledge.

2.1.2 Organize knowledge so that it is useful

2.1.5 Collaborate with others to exchange ideas, develop new understandings, make decisions, and solve problems.

2.1.6 Use the writing process, media and visual literacy, and technology skills to create products that express new understandings

3.1.1 Conclude an inquiry- based research process by sharing new understandings and reflecting on the learning.

3.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use, and assess.

3.2.3 Demonstrate teamwork by working productively with others.

4.4.4 Interpret new information based on cultural and social context

Setting and Context:

Our lesson takes place in a Montgomery County Public School high school, located in Silver Spring, which has a population of 1600 students with the following demographics:
  • 9% Asian
  • 22% Black/African American
  • 45% Hispanic/Latino
  • 21% White
  • 43% Farms
  • 19% SPEC ED
  • 9% ESOL
According to Maryland School Report Card, our school met its progress goals in the last school year but, according to latest testing, the majority of our students read at the 82nd percentile with a graduation rate of only 86%. Many students, particularly those in the Special Ed and ESOL program are considered at risk. This school is home to a number of advanced and targeted career academies including the Visual Art Center, the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program and therefore lends itself to a project like this where modification and adaptations support a variety of learning styles and student needs.

With these factors in mind, we decided to expand upon a standard lesson about the Vietnam War era to create a project-based instructional unit that will be made even more powerful infused with technology. Our lesson provides for multiple literacies and modalities to support different learning styles; visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners all respond well to this type of project (Rebmann, 2011). The needs of gifted students as well as struggling students can be easily accommodated through adaptations (see below).

This lesson will be team taught between the library media specialist, the history team and the language arts team. History teachers will be expected to introduce and explain the objectives of the unit. The LMS will teach the research and technology component and the language arts teachers will cover the script-writing component. Based on population, there are 18 classes of approximately 30 students in each class.

Challenges to Integrating Technology

There are a number of challenges to integrating technology into this unit -- staffing, administrative support, varying skill-levels with digital tools and lack of access at home for students to complete work. There is only one full-time library media specialist. There are two part-time assistants and one dedicated Media Services Technician. While the library media center is well stocked with up-to-date resources, media equipment, a dedicated computer lab area with more than 50 PC’s for student use, students may need extra time to complete the tasks. Therefore, the library media center will extend hours on three afternoons each week and students may use their lunch periods to work on their projects.

In the case of technological failure, i.e. the network is down, resources such as reference books and textbooks will be made available and encouraged. As well, students will not need the internet to use Photostory software. Students will also be able to work on their narrative script if the internet is not available.

Collaborative Planning

This project is in alignment with the Maryland State MSDE Standards and Common Core. While ambitious, it is modeled upon the latest trends in cross-curricular instruction. For successful implementation, administrative support is necessary particularly as it relates to collaborative planning. The staff, in developing this unit, will require Principal/Administrative permission and support to ensure success as well since the project extends the normal expected time frame of the unit.

Finding time for the staff to meet to co-plan will also have to be met creatively. Staff can meet initially before or after school or during a shared lunch hour. Once the initial plan is decided, the conversation can continue through email or through a collaborative webpage such as Google docs or a wikispace. Having the project lessons in a shared online space can make it easier to modify and continue to refine the lessons for future years.

In developing the assessment, the rubric for the assignment will be the same for all classes. But, classroom teachers may wish to modify or use extensions, based on their students' needs. For identified struggling learners, guided note-taking and preselected resources will be provided. For gifted/strong learners an extension in breadth and depth of the research for the project can be expanded. Expected text complexity of the resources can be higher for the students in the IB program. Another extension to the lesson is creating an assignment where students can provide critical and constructive feedback; possibly attractive to the students in the Visual and Performing Arts program. These students may also benefit and enjoy an extension that would allow the project to be turned into a performance.

Student Success

Ensuring student success and interest can be addressed in several ways. Creating the technology component rather than a written report can make it more appealing, as confirmed by research. There is a ‘coolness’ factor in having the students create a video narrative but there also may be some concern or uncertainty by other students who may not feel as comfortable using technology. To address this, students can be placed in small groups where each student’s strengths (one who writes well, one more comfortable with technology and one strong in creativity) can lead to a successful end product. The current technology skills of the students and the teachers can be a potential challenge as well. A demonstration lesson will be given on the use of the technology, Photostory 3, as well as a refresher on using available image software. Detailed step-by-step handouts will be provided for students to reference as they work on the assignment. In addition, allowing the use of NoodleTools or another citation machine can encourage students to properly cite their resources as well as make the process easier.

Providing music for students to use in the final project is a challenge that will be most difficult due to copyright laws in place. Consideration must be given of how to provide music available in the Creative Commons. Students will be encouraged to use royalty free music sites or use the available music within the Photostory software.

Materials and Technology:

  • Storyboard Template
  • Graphic Organizers
  • How-to Handouts : Developed by the LMS as a guide/resource for the students
  • Reference Books: Selected by the Library Media Specialist from the LMC collection
Technology Tools:
  • Computers : Computers will be necessary for students to perform most research activities, image search and the final narrative report using Photostory software.
  • Promethean or other Smartboard : Used to interactively demonstrate technology tools when appropriate.
  • Access to School Network file share: Necessary to store the images selected.
  • Online Database/ (Historical) Newspaper Articles: The students will use online subscription databases to research the history of the topic. The students will need to research different viewpoints through articles and historical newspaper stories in order to write their narrative.
  • Image Quest by Encyclopedia Britannica: Students will use Image Quest to find appropriate photos to use in the PhotoStory narrative project and will need to save these images to shared space on the school network file share. Image Quest is a subscription database full of a professional collection of historical photos and images that are rights managed allowing students to practice safe and ethical search strategies to obtain their pictures.
  • Citation generator such as Noodle Tools: Students will be encouraged to use a citation generator such as NoodleTools, a subscription based software provided by MCPS, to properly cite their resources and add to their credit slide at the end of their digital narrative project.
  • Photostory 3: Students will use the software Photostory to create their narrative assignment. The software is not web-based but loaded on all computers in the school. Photostory is an elementary level software product lending itself to all types of users. The students will be able to access the software even if the network is not available.
  • Music files: Music can be selected from within the Photostory library, from a royalty free music website such as Incomptect (http://incompetech.com/) or from a private, personal downloaded soundtrack.
  • Headphones with microphone: While only a microphone is necessary to record the narrative piece, the headphone style with microphone attached allows recording of the narration within a crowded media center or lab environment.
Implementation and Assignments:

“Voices of Vietnam” will fall in Unit 7 during the “Balance in Foreign Policy” aspect of the curriculum. Students are expected to have the appropriate background knowledge in order to best analyze the perspective of certain groups during the conflict. Therefore, research should begin either in tandem with “Session Four: The Home Front: A Divided Nation” or immediately following it. By placing the project in this context, students will have the opportunity to further investigate the different perspectives that existed on the home front and also begin to develop their own opinions on the legacy of the war.

The first lesson is created in order to review the AGGOPE research model and begin to actively ask questions and gather information based on the assigned character for the narrative. After students review AGGOPE they will have an opportunity to begin their research using a guided note-taking graphic organizer. Lesson one will span the course of two days at least, and may need to be modified based on student progress. During instruction, the teacher will use an exit slip as a means of formative assessment in order to gage how far students are in the research process. A student checklist will need to be completed in order to move on to the next component of the activity. Handouts have been created for the AGGOPE warm-up, note-taking process, the check list and also a how-to for NoodleTools.

During lesson two, which should span two days of instruction, students will begin to organize their research notes using digital story-telling techniques. Students will synthesize information gathered during the research lesson and note-taking lesson to create a written script in first-person. For an introduction to the six elements for creating a narrative script, the LMS and Language Arts teacher will co-teach on the elements, prior to students beginning their script writing. Students will utilize a storyboard template and once completed, will perform a peer review for another group/character. Peer reviews will be assessed using a Google form.

For the final component, students will be using PhotoStory to present their narrative. Initially students will be provided a demonstration lesson accompanied by a how-to handout by the LMS. Once students have had an opportunity to ask questions and become familiar with the software, they can begin to work on their own PhotoStory’s. As a formative assessment, the LMS will use an exit slip to evaluate student’s knowledge of PhotoStory. As students continue to work on their group narrative presentations, they should refer to the assignment page and rubric to guide the creation process.


Extensions and Accommodations:

This lesson is structured to support a wide variety of learning styles and levels to address the needs of individual learners. Digital storytelling activities support diverse forms of literacies as well as differentiated learning styles including visual, auditory and kinesthetic. All computers are equipped with headphones, microphones, zoom magnifiers and screen readers to reduce barriers to access for all users. All project materials have been evaluated for readability and accessibility standards by the Library Media Specialist. Checklists embedded throughout the project help to gauge if students who struggle with organization need additional time for successful completion. For those with specific IEP requirements, para-educators will be available to provide supports for writing, reading and listening tasks.

A. Collaboration on this project may extend to the performing and visual arts team to plan a school wide event with an evening of dramatic readings of the student's narratives with the digital stories playing on a large screen as a backdrop. Alternatively, the team may wish to plan the event with a screening of the student's work.

B. The library media specialist may wish to create a gallery of student work to post on the website where parents and family members can enjoy it.

C. A collection of recommended historical fiction titles can be displayed in the library media center and on the website. Here is our recommended list:

Vietnam Fiction.JPG



Hansen, J. (2009, April). Multiple literacies in the content classroom: high cchool students’ connections to U.S. history. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(7), 597 -
606. Retrieved from Education Research Complete database

Lambert, J. (2010). The digital storytelling cookbook. Retrieved November 31, 2012, from The Center for Digital Storytelling website:

Mcglinn, M. (2004). Digital historical narratives. Retrieved November 31, 2012, from Documenting the American south website:

Montgomery County Public Schools. (n.d.). The six stages of AGOPPE. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from

Montgomery County Public Schools. (2000). Proposed social studies curriculum: United States History 1865 to present. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from

Rebmann, K. R. (2011). Theory, practice, tools: Catching up with digital storytelling. Teacher Librarian, 39(3), 30-34.