Former Ofsted history inspector, Neil Thompson, takes us through his review of History Bombs Classroom and his advice on how best to use the resources in class.
There is no shortage of video material on most topics of the KS3 National Curriculum for history. So, in this crowded marketplace, what makes History Bombs stand out? To me, the films are not only thoughtful and intelligent, but also flexible enough to be used by all teachers in a variety of contexts.
Above all, they do something very special: they manage to present interesting and rigorous content in a genuinely memorable way. By making each film enquiry-led and maintaining this approach across the whole series, History Bombs offers something truly unique.
The whole approach is right on the money. To start with, the topics have been well-chosen to ensure that they drive at the heart of historical enquiry. Without exception each film is question-led. This ensures that the films cover not only significant content, but also address important second-order concepts such as causation, change and continuity.
Unusually, they do not shy away from the harder-to-teach topics and the more conceptually difficult areas of interpretations and significance. This rigorous approach to mainstream historical topics would be far less effective were it not for the clever way the films engage pupils’ attention.
Considerable care has been taken to find innovative ways of making harder-to-teach topics accessible to harder-to-reach pupils. The films are just the right length to sustain interest and the actors’ performances are truly memorable, made all the more enjoyable with effective use of music and rap lyrics. This is content designed to stick.
If we needed an acid test to judge the success of the 40-plus films, we can simply ask pupils at the end of the lesson if they can answer the guiding key question around which the film was framed.
But the films do not stand alone, of course. For each, there is an accompanying activity pack, including three activities, most of which are differentiated in a range of ways and include activities tailors to lower-attaining pupils as well as those looking to be stretched. The whole History Bombs approach is one designed to appeal to pupils of all abilities, bringing history alive in novel ways.
The value of showing these short films in the classroom will be quickly obvious, but this is to underestimate the varied ways in which the films can be used. Whether following a flipped learning approach or not, all teachers are offered the potential to set tasks based on the films for homework, enabling pupils to ‘hit the ground running’ in the following lesson. This helps to maximise the time available in lessons to discuss and debate.
Additionally, the films can be evaluated as interpretations in their own right. By asking ‘How well does this film answer the key question?’ pupils are frequently challenged to use higher-order thinking skills. Analysis and evaluation are placed at the heart of the lesson, and not just an after- thought.
Having observed over 2,000 secondary history lessons, many during OFSTED inspections, I can honestly say that this is one of the best resources on the market for history teachers who want to pursue an enquiry-based approach. Personally, I can’t wait to see the next series.
Neil was formerly a Hampshire history adviser and OFSTED inspector, and History Bombs’ Activity Packs and Teachers’ Notes were developed under his guidance.