A trio of Torrey Pines High school students hopes to make learning U.S. history more user-friendly and interesting by creating their own website that uses visuals and images to tell the story of America. The educational website called Pictoria (learnushistory.org) invites students to click and learn about the past at their own pace, done as an independent summer project by Long Tran, Anthony Chen and Ly Tran.
“We are immigrants and good friends. I moved to the U.S. last year and it’s a wonderful place, I’ve very much enjoyed this community and the school here. Ever since I’ve been in the U.S., I have fallen in love with U.S. history. I’ve studied it and researched it obsessively,” said Long, who studied English and U.S. history in his native Vietnam and took AP history his first year in San Diego.
For five weeks this summer, the friends spent nearly every day working to recount history and create an “awesome web learning experience” for their peers.
“We were extremely passionate about it, we spent many hours on it and the product is something that we’re all very proud of,” Long said.
The group believes that their website can be a valuable asset for students today. The 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress administered by the Department of Education found that only 12% of high school students in the U.S. is proficient at history, the lowest of any subject.
“We hope to inspire learning, understanding and interest in history by helping students see both the big and small picture,” wrote Long, Anthony and Ly on the website. “We hope to be able to change the way students understand history by using media and technology. Students should learn history from the top down, they should learn it using images and intuition.”
Long and his friends made a big commitment to work on the website this summer and were very motivated. Throughout July and August they worked sourcing from reliable materials, designing the curriculum and writing, writing, writing. They collected thousands of “meaningful” and high-quality photos that would accompany each lesson.
Long designed the interface for the website to appeal to students. “We built all of it ourselves from scratch,” Long said. “Building a website of this scale was very difficult.”
Anthony, an artist, designed the little characters that welcome each historical period.
The resulting website goes from the discovery of America through President Barack Obama with multiple chapters under each period. There is a “Lightning Study” where students can click through photos to learn a lesson in under 15 seconds, as well as more detailed lessons within the chapters.
The group has shared the website with classmates who said they have used it to study for tests and have found it a helpful tool. They would love to keep working on the site—Long particularly wants to develop a quiz function—but they are busy seniors with AP classes and college applications, “When I’m done with college applications I will begin working on it full speed because I really believe in it,” said Long, who right now works on the site only when he has time, about four hours a week.
Long said the experience opened his mind about a lot of things, both good and bad.
“I’m probably the most history-literate teenager in the U.S. right now,” Long said. “I learned a lot.”
He said there are some periods that are glossed over in the high school curriculum, completely ignored or not given much depth. He believes it’s important for students to learn it all, as the quote goes: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
“History is the bottom subject and people don’t see the use for it but there is a lot of use for it,” Long said. “If more people understand history, it would make the U. S. a better place.”
Check out Pictoria at learnushistory.org