It was a real pleasure trying out the Softease Timeline software with my bottom-set Year 9 students. Students worked in pairs and were given a textbook containing a straightforward set of dates. They were asked to produce a timeline which contained the same information, but was a better visual to use with my interactive whiteboard and data projector. I asked them to consider how best to show the dates with pictures.
I introduced the software and gave them a time limit of one hour.
Students quickly grasped the central concepts for the software, and by the end of the hour were able to produce a timeline with pictures.
One pair even compiled a list of good and bad things about the software.
Ryan and Josh said they liked it because pictures could be added and colours changed; it could be used with lots of subjects, not just history, and it came with good pictures which covered lots of topics. However, they didn't like the fact that "when you make an event box, you don't know which line belongs to which box".
I also tried this out on my daughter, also in Year 9, who was creating a timeline using an encyclopedia on Queen Victoria's reign. Her comments about its strengths were that it was easy to understand and easy to get colours and improve the timeline. She complained that she thought the software was "dull and boring before you add colours". She's clearly a visual learner.
My favourite parts of this software include the information point, which is like a hyperlink from the basic timeline you have created from an event box to another timeline or fact box. This could be built into the tasks created for the students, so that every event has to have its own extra fact box and doubles the amount of research they need to do.
I also really liked the way you could show different events on the timeline as a slide show. This would be a great plenary for the end of a research lesson. The sound recording section is also excellent for student engagement and motivation with the task.
Overall, this software makes teaching chronology (something many students find a difficult concept) much easier, and for teachers who have data projectors or whiteboards, it is an excellent visual addition to our tool box.
Heather Scott is director of raising achievement at Challenge College, Bradford