AP Study Bit: An Interactive Playful Canvas Tool to Scaffold Historical Argumentation

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Listen and learn : Research paper
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Priscilla Cancar  
Laura Hull  

AP Study Bit is an interactive, playful canvas tool that supports AP World History students in building historical argumentation skills. This platform's design examines how an interactive UI experience can support students in amassing their historical knowledge while scaffolding the development of their argumentation skills.

Audience: Principals/head teachers, Teachers
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Attendees only need a laptop to be able to view the presentation and a resource link I will be sharing during the presentation.
Topic: Online tools, apps & resources
Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: Social studies
ISTE Standards: For Students:
Knowledge Constructor
  • Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
For Educators:
  • Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences.
Additional detail: Student presentation

Proposal summary


In AP World History, historical thinking skills are primarily critical thinking skills used to construct a meaningful understanding of the past (Mills, 2013; Wineburg, 2001). Course structures in the curriculum are centered on six historical thinking skills, outlined by College Board: 1. developments and processes, 2. sourcing and situation, 3. claims and evidence in the source, 4. contextualization, 5. making connections, 6. argumentation. Argumentation is the most important of these skills because it culminates students’ development of all five other historical skills under a single operation.

Argumentation is the process of creating a persuasive argument supported by evidence (College Board, 2019a; Monte-Sano & Allen, 2019). When defending a claim; students must rely on their critical thinking skills to evaluate, analyze, and contextualize evidence (Monte-Sano & Allen, 2019; Nussbaum & Edwards, 2011). Consequently, argumentation is not about presenting the “right answer,” but about presenting a strong argument backed by evidence (Monte-Sano, 2016).

In its purest form, an argument consists of a thesis statement, evidence (e.g., supporting data), and a statement linking the evidence to the claim (Nussbaum & Edwards, 2011). However, helping a student understand how to structure an argument and use knowledge as evidence (Reisman, n.d.; Seixas, 1996) is not easy. Students struggle to form arguments due to the following three challenges:
1. not having proficient literacy skills needed to read documents and write persuasively
2. not being able to effectively memorize and understand the background information
needed to gather strong evidentiary support
3. employing critical thinking skills to form historical interpretations and arguments
Mastering the above three aspects of historical argumentation require students to overcome a lack of literacy and critical thinking skills, as well as difficulty constructing foundational historical knowledge.

Argumentation and critical thinking are not one in the same. While critical thinking is the process of reasoning and forming opinions based on available data, argumentation is the process of persuasively communicating this reasoning. However, argumentation requires critical thinking when forming an opinion. As Andrews (2015) states, “Argumentation implies criticality; the one cannot function without the other” (p. 60). Mastering argumentation is far from easy, to do so, students must overcome the three above-stated challenges.

One note of clarification: this platform focuses solely on AP World History because the curriculum, content, and exam remain constant for all students across the US. Regular high school global history can change depending on state standards and grade level. While the project is closely aligned to AP World History standards, this paper pulls research that focuses broadly on the issues and challenges experienced by learning history as a whole.


Data Sources and Methods of Analysis:

Target Audience.​ ​There are two target users for this design are AP World History teachers and students. While students are the primary target end-user, teachers looking to give extra support to their students will also find this tool useful. Students coming into contact with this resource are primarily high school students taking a Global History course and are largely high school sophomores taking AP World History. Students using this tool may or may not have pre-existing background historical knowledge on the topic they are searching, but still, feel overwhelmed by the complexity of historical content presented by AP World History. These students are looking to understand information at a fundamental level before moving forward with learning content in greater detail. These students are looking for resources that are solely presented in a rich text format, but also find benefit from viewing visual resources that explain the content in alternative ways.

Data Source. Students and teachers were reached using various sources, such as emailing: Teachers within the Teachers College Columbia University network, emailing publicly available emails of public school teachers teaching AP World History, and social media platforms such as Reddit and Facebook.

Methods of Analysis. Two surveys were sent out to the data source noted above. The first survey was sent out asking teachers and students to summarize the primary obstacle they encountered with AP World History. The second survey attached the clickable Figma prototype (see below for link), asked teachers to give feedback on this prototype explaining which aspects they felt were the most important and useful, and which elements weren't. Both surveys were encoded and qualitatively analyzed to surface broad behavioral trends and emotions.

Design Description:

Clickable Figma Prototype --

Prototype Description. This platform introduces a solution with a two-pronged approach that scaffolds a student’s acquisition of historical knowledge and aids the development of argumentation. First, this design will help scaffold a student’s historical knowledge by breaking down or chunking information into​ groups of three. For example, the three points of a historical narrative utilized by this platform are the beginning (causes), middle (turning points), and end (impact and significance). Additionally, this design will support a student in contextualizing historical information using time and space/geography to anchor knowledge. The second component of this design will scaffold a student’s writing skills to help them communicate their arguments. This will be achieved by displaying outlines to simplify complex text structures and providing opportunities to use critical thinking skills when searching for supporting historical evidence.


The first survey sent out asking teachers and students to summarize the primary obstacle encountered within AP World History received 105 responses from 51 students and 54 teachers. A majority of teachers outlined a need for students to acquire historical information in tandem with historical learning skills. However, students prioritize learning historical content, with 51% of the students surveyed indicating that they struggled most with acquiring background knowledge, followed by 43% of the students struggling with DBQ and LEQ essay writing. Due to teachers emphasizing mastery of analytical skills and essay writing, two students indicated that they felt unprepared for the exam because their teachers prioritized the development of historical thinking skills but minimized efforts acquiring background information needed for the exam. A student wrote, “My teacher gives us the skills to logically reason and use the historical thinking skills provided in the course framework, but they refuse to teach the concepts and the content behind them.”

The second survey asking for feedback and input on the clickable Figma prototype received ten survey responses from five teachers and five students. From the responses received, it was clear that having a resource that provided a user-friendly, and visually engaging format of presenting background information was vital. When asked which section of the site was most important, only 30% of responses suggested the Figma prototype section that scaffolded writing skills. Furthermore when asked, what aspect of the site the user found most valuable 70% of responses noted that they liked that the prototype resource was user-friendly, organized, and simple to understand.

These findings suggest that while it is important to scaffold students in developing their argumentation skills, it is prioritized by the student to first gain a solid foundation of historical knowledge. In addition, if given the proper resources, and user-friendly interface, teachers feel that they can support students in reaching this goal, allowing them to move forward confidently and develop argumentation skills.


Resources like the College Board AP Classroom is solely designed as a Learning Management System (LMS) meant to help teachers keep track of students and their progress. Such systems like this act as a central location that hosts student’s assignments and exams. Textbooks (such as AMSCO) and websites like Freeman-pedia and Age of Revolutions on the other hand, do an excellent job of providing detailed AP World History content but are often hard to navigate and require students to read lengthy texts. And so, students often turn to YouTube, where they search to find relevant content from channels like Khan Academy, Crash Course, and TomRichey. These tools are the most popular resources students utilize because of the condense content relayed in consumable chunks, allowing students to learn the information they need quickly.

In comparison to other platforms that merely support the acquisition of content knowledge of AP World History, this platform also pushes students toward utilizing their knowledge at higher cognitive levels (e.g., critical thinking, forming opinions, constructing argumentation). While previsouly noted resources and websites are popular and content-rich, they have several limitations. For example, for videos produced by TomRichey and Khan Academy, do not ensure content retention because the learning experience ends when the video ends. Thus, while these resources aim to solve the needs of teachers and students beyond the classroom, none of these resources apply knowledge in an actionable way. Resources such as MindNode and Newsela that do try to exercise the use of critical thinking and analysis are either too time-consuming and or are too elementary for the high school classroom. None of these resources adequately prompt a student to think critically about information presented or scaffold a student’s ability to analyze within a high school history classroom. Furthermore, these sites and videos provide a one-dimensional view of historical content, communicating to students that what is being presented is all a student has to know about the subject. These resources are valuable in helping students and teachers tackle AP World History, but there is still room for improvement, technology can further contribute and enhance history education through alternative means.


Packer, T. (2018, June). 2018 AP world history college board open forum. In Kristy Brasfield. YouTube.

College Board. (2019a). AP world history: Modern course and exam description, effective fall 2019.

College Board. (2019b). Student score distributions AP exams: May 2019.

Mills, K. (2013). Teaching history in the digital age. In Teaching History in the Digital Age (Vol. 9780472029). University of Michigan Press.

Wineburg, S. (2001). Historical thinking: Charting the future of teaching the past. In Temple University Press. Temple University Press. ?docID=481155#

Monte-Sano, C., & Allen, A. (2019). Historical argument writing: The role of interpretive work, argument type, and classroom instruction. Reading and Writing, 32, 1383–1410.

Nussbaum, M., & Edwards, O. (2011). Critical questions and argument stratagems: A framework for enhancing and analyzing students’ reasoning practices. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 20(3), 443–488.

Monte-Sano, C. (2016). Argumentation in history classrooms: A key path to understanding the discipline and preparing citizens. Theory Into Practice, 311–319.

Reisman, A. (n.d.). Teaching students to think like historians. University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

Seixas, P. (1996). Conceptualizing the growth of historical understanding. In The Handbook of Education and Human Development: New Models of Learning, Teaching and Schooling (pp. 765–783). Wiley-Blackwell.

Andrews, R. (2015). Critical thinking and/or argumentation in higher education. In B. Ronald & M. Davies (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education (pp. 49–62).

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Priscilla Cancar, Teachers College
Graduate student

Laura Hull, Study Bites

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