“Powering Up” Facing History’s Unit on the Reconstruction Era

Posted by Guest Blogger on May 27, 2016

Malia Warner has taught at Beverly Hills High School for 11 years, and is a member of the Los Angeles Teacher Leadership Team for Facing History and Ourselves. In 2015, she participated in our "powering up" project with her United States History class. She describes her experience.

In approaching The Legacy of Reconstruction unit, I knew I wanted to try a new method for my students to present their work. In previous years, students would simply turn in all the early work piecemeal, without taking the time to reflect and put things together in a “portfolio.” At the end, I would normally ask students to write an essay. I might also have previously considered a poster presentation or powerpoint. This year I wanted something different.

By using Prezi, students have a tool easily available and accessible from school and home, without the necessity of bringing a flash drive back and forth or continually emailing various versions. While my students still did most of their classwork on paper in the classroom, they were asked to present their findings and conclusions onto their constantly growing Prezi presentations. Also, rather than writing a traditional paper or poster project for their summative assessment, students were able to utilize the Prezi format to organize their thoughts and present their research in a clear, visual manner.

I also chose to use Wordle for my students to create their identity charts. Wordle allows the students to customize their identity charts through various fonts and color choices, additionally, students can emphasize certain aspects of their identities, by making them appear larger in the Wordle.

The result:


Ultimately, I felt that using Prezi was a great tool. Because students needed to continually navigate through their projects, they were constantly reflecting on their learning. The “big ideas” of the unit were clearer and connections between the Reconstruction unit and the current events involving race were made with less prompting from me.

Grading was relatively simple (although sometimes it slowed a little because of the Internet connection.) My students presented both a portfolio of their work from the unit and the final project and conclusions in a quick, visual and concise way. I could easily zoom through each piece and check off the rubric as needed. I could also grade anywhere with an internet connection. There was no need to lug around numerous projects, nor did I have to download 90 different PowerPoint presentations.

Students like using the new format as well…

  • “I didn't have to go to Staples to buy posters and decor for it. It was easy to use and I could edit it and fix my mistakes when needed.”
  • “Prezi was quite easy to use. Once I became familiar with the tools, i flew through every step of the way.”
  • “I liked the variety of themes and colors, also it's many uses for all of my subjects in school.”
  • “I prefer Prezi because it's something different and it can look like a collage. But, power points are more boring and too overused.”
  • "I like Prezi more than posters because it feels more professional."


  • “I may not have been too familiar with the features but I wished I could have mixed the features of two different templates.”
  • “It was somewhat difficult to create new slides and properly format the presentation, as they are usually pre-designed to be used with only the amount of slides they provide for you.”


On a practical level, what made this work?

First, I made sure that students understood the importance of keeping all their work as organized as possible, so that on computer lab days, they could find the needed components easily.

After the first week of working through the unit materials, I scheduled the first computer lab day. The main goals for that first day were for the students to create their identity wordles and to create a Prezi account and to begin familiarizing themselves with the tool. I provided students with a list of “slides” or sections they would ultimately have in their presentations.

Note: for me, there were a number of problems using Wordle. The website did not work at all on the Chrome browser, and only had limited functionality on Internet Explorer. We were ultimately able to work around the problems, but it took a lot of on-on-one time. If you were to use this, please have your students type their identity lists in a separate document and then paste into Wordle. Wordle doesn’t save your Wordle, so if you go back to make minor changes, you have to type the whole list over again.

After the initial computer lab day, I usually included in homework instructions up to which “slide” they should have completed.

I scheduled a second lab day for the following week. That day I checked on everyone’s progress and at that point, asked the students to “share” their presentations with me. This way I could continue to check on their progress without needing to schedule extra lab days, additionally, that way there could not be any last minute email problems delaying them from turning in their projects.

After completing the in-class portion of the unit, I presented the students with the final piece of their assessments. They were to connect evidence from the unit to a current event. Then I gave the students two more computer lab days. Students used those days to gather their evidence from hopefully reputable news sources and databases. I gave the students a couple days and a weekend to ultimately complete the project.

While Prezi is ultimately a presentation tool, I did not have my students present their completed projects – mainly because the first 4/5ths of the projects would have been very similar.


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Topics: Reconstruction, Teaching, Using Technology, Powering Up Facing History Lessons, Tech Innovation

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