Month: February 2017

Powerful, Seamless Classroom Tool for the iPad Environment: Apple’s Classroom App

As my school enters our seventh month of our 1:1 initiative, more and more teachers in my building are starting to utilize Apple’s Classroom app.  This app, which, within seconds of using it, will prove to be extremely easy and intuitive to use for any teacher or administrator.  Classroom enables teachers to maintain a pulse of student iPad use in their classes, while also using tools like AirPlay and Screen View to make it a more collaborative one all at the same time.  As such, I create a brief video to introduce Apple’s Classroom app and some of its capabilities for our teachers:

 

 

A Clear Lens to Personalize Learning: Digital Storytelling with Primary Sources & Stop Motion – PBS Webinar Coming Soon!

Imagine this as if you were a student:

Documents that are over two hundred years old are sitting in front of you.  Great.  More fancy “old English” words that you just don’t understand.  From what you can gather, the person that wrote it isn’t like you at all.  Your teacher says that you need to summarize the document by the end of class but don’t even know where to begin nor do you have any motivation to do so.

Now, imagine this:

A journal or poem from a soldier and war statistics are laying on your desk.  Once again, your teacher asks you to summarize the documents.  You perk up a little, just enough to complete the summary and get on your way to your next class.

And now, this:

You are watching a movie.  Forrest Gump. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Shawshank Redemption, or binge watching the Wonder Years.  You can’t turn it off.  You want to see what happens to the struggling man from Alabama, or the high school troublemaker, or the criminal Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, or even the young boy Kevin Arnold.  You are hooked in by the story of somebody that is completely unlike yourself.  You can see qualities in people with whom  you thought you had very few similarities, if any.

What’s the difference?  Visuals? Maybe.  A catchy theme song? Okay, maybe.  A great soundtrack?  Alright, that makes sense, too.  But the biggest thing?  A personal connection to the story.   You can see yourself as that person.  You are rooting for them.  You can insert yourself into their experience.

Hollywood does a fantastic job of doing this for us when we lose ourselves in a character.

How do we do it for our students?

This brings me to the story of Lin Manuel Miranda, who, as it can be seen on the PBS LearningMedia website, turned his personal reading of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, into what he personalized in his mind when reading it: an energetic hip-hop/rap song (and consequently, a hit Broadway musical).

Again: How do we do this for our students? 

I hope that you can join me in March as I share how I have done this in my classroom by employing quality (and free!) primary resources to allow students to answer a larger question while interpreting a story using their own materials and through their own lens using a simple, yet effective technique: stop motion animation.  (Think Rudolph!)

As Lin Manuel Miranda brought American History and hip-hop together, you and your students can bring together two things that may not immediately “jive” together in your mind: Primary Sources and Stop Motion.  In doing so, you will see a level of personal connection, creativity, and interest that you may not have experienced in your social studies, ELA, elementary, and/or library classes, as students latch on to tell a story through their own eyes.  Even neater, students will start to express stories while displaying their own interests, just as these students did, while answering the larger question of “Why did Jamestown struggle to survive?”

 

Disney?  No?  Pixar? Not quite?  Authentic learning for a real audience? Absolutely.  Join me in March to learn about the basics of putting your students in positions to do this as well as tips, strategies, and needed materials. and let’s get started with interpreting primary sources with digital storytelling tools such as stop motion on multiple platforms.

 

An Interview with Gram: How Students Archived Community Oral Histories by Creating Multi-Touch Books

It hit me.  This past summer, I panicked.  I had never stopped to interview my 95-year old grandmother, Sara Whalen, who has had experienced so much during her life.  From the time I was born until I moved out of my parents’ home in 2008, my grandmother had lived in the same house as me.  However, I had never sat down with her to interview her about her life.  I immediately worried that it was going to be too late.

Using the framework from the Veteran’s History Project, I focused my attention in August of 2016 on interviewing grandma.  I prepared interview questions, researched the Women’s Army Corp and its contributions during World War II, read over handwritten letters and records of my grandma, and viewed numerous artifacts andimg_1915 photos from her life.  I sat down across from her, with my iPad recording, and had a conversation about her life.  I heard about her early life in an orphanage, her relationship with her step-father that led her to join the service, experiences in the WAC, and life after the war.  Sadly, she would show her age at times, repeating stories that she had just told me.  Sometimes, she would use vocabulary that may not be considered “PC” today.  Still, I had it.  I had her story to share with the VHP.  This process, though, left me kicking myself.  Why had I not done this earlier in my life and in hers?  Surely, her story would have been more vivid, details more sharp in her mind.  If I had only done this when I was in middle school in the late 1990s, I would have a more polished and authentic piece of history.  If only…

This led me to realize how powerful an experience this would have been if I did this years earlier.  During that conversation with grandma, I learned things I had never known. I felt more connected to her (and my) past by simply having a conversation.  I had to share her story.

My students HAD to have this opportunity.  But, how would it “fit”?  Thankfully, I have an incredible English teacher on my team in my building, who was more than willing to amend and augment the annual our 8th grade research paper to revolutionize it to be something more meaningful.  Over the course of an iMessage conversation this summer, we moved from a 5 paragraph essay on a westward expansion figure, to a project that had a few basic principles and goals:

  1. Connect our students with the community and/or a family member
  2. Conduct primary source research using archived newspapers and magazines to promote historical thinking skills
  3. Employ the services of our library/media specialist to teach database research skills
  4. Organize research into focus areas and develop a thesis that encompasses both the oral history and student research from legitimate primary & secondary sources
  5. Author a 5 paragraph essay that intertwines research with the oral history
  6. Create an multi-touch interactive iBook chapter per student that archives an image, the full audio interview of the student, and the student work.
  7. Design and release 5 volumes of multi-touch interactive iBooks available to the community (and the world!) to highlight student learning by the Spring of 2017

This project was a team effort on all angles.  Prior to the holiday break in December, students learned of the project and used the break to make connections to relatives to figure out what significant event they would want to research and who they would want to interview.  After the break, students watched my grandma’s interview as a guide and began to write their interview questions in English class.  With the assistance of our library/media specialist, our English teacher did a fantastic job in explaining how to locate primary sources using Google News Archive in addition to utilizing databases that our school has access to this year.  Moreover, she introduced NoodleTools, a web-based tool to cite sources, create focus areas, and create note cards, before seamlessly moving thoughts into an outline.

img_1311-jpg

Many students went above and beyond.  Several students elected to interview grandparents and great grandparents on the topic of the Great Depression and World War II.  The Vietnam War was one of the more prominent topics as well.  Still, some students reached out to relatives around the world, with one student interviewing a relative about the first post-apartheid election in South Africa while another interviewed her grandfather about living under Mao during many of his reforms.  Some topics included significant personal tragedies, including a Holocaust survivor now living in Washington state, Kosovo under Slobadan Milosevic, a NYC emergency call center employee on 9/11, and a Washington, D.C. Air Traffic controller on 9/11, to name a few.  Some topics were very local, including the closing of a local theme park that was part of the community, a major blizzard in the city, the decline of the steel industry, and how flooding impacted the region at various times.

No matter the topic, students reported an underlying theme: they became more connected to those they interviewed and took a greater interest in their topics. The community undoubtedly stepped up as well to contribute to student learning, which was simply awesome.  I have the utmost respect for the English teacher that led the note-taking, focus area, thesis development, editing, and writing of the papers.  As mentioned, our librarian and special education staff jumped right in as well. Many members of our teaching staff volunteered to be interviewed as well.

My role in this project was that of a guide of historical research, oralscreen-shot-2017-02-13-at-8-22-47-pm history, and, on the educational technology side, developing and releasing our class iBooks, which will be released on the Apple iTunes Store in late March or early April.  Students certainly took ownership of their own learning, while being guided by our English teacher and supported by the community.  It will come full circle when the students “give back” to the community members that assisted them as we are working on creating a book that archives such astounding stories and personal contributions to our local, national, and world history.  A bridge was truly built using oral history and primary source research, and I have so many to thank for it, notably the English teacher on my team that was so willing to not only adapt to the oral history idea, but to completely redesign her research guides and templates and instruct students how to intertwine oral histories, primary, and secondary sources to make it happen.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

How George Washington’s Winter at Valley Forge Inspired Memes in My Classroom

Okay, we’ve all been there.  We’ve seen that hilarious meme that gets posted on social media.  Then again, we’ve all been there, we see that borderline inappropriate (or over the line) meme that is neither funny nor witty. Unfortunately, sometimes people we known in our own lives may rely a little too heavily on proving a point by showing a meme that they had seen on Facebook.

Our students, too, see memes.  Some students even enjoy making them over the course of the day to day.  This led me to a few thoughts, why not harness this interest and try to spin it to allow students to express and enhanced their understanding of a topic by creating an appropriate meme.  I stress appropriate for a reason, as it leads to a digital citizenship discussion on what is an is not the proper way to utilize images on social media, and really, on the internet as a whole.

Enter Valley Forge.

No, really.  Valley Forge.  One of the most trying times of our young nation during the American Revolution.  Washington struggled to keep his men alive, let alone thrive as a fighting force to take on the British.

Enter primary source documents from Valley Forge.  There are many journals of the trials of soldiers at Valley Forge, paintings the support their struggle, and data to provide even more of a buttress for the idea that life was difficult during that winter in eastern Pennsylvania.

Enter memes.  Stick with me.

Stick with me like Washington needed his men to do at Valley Forge.  Why not have students display their understanding of the underlying message of the document by creating memes that would express the viewpoint of a soldier there?

Many of my students were familiar with memes.  Some didn’t know what they were until they saw some examples, and some still had never seen one.  This “teachable moment” allowed us to have a discussion about how using images in memes to “pick on” others was in no way being a good digital citizen, and moreover, led to students having the ability to make a meme highlighting what a soldier their may have been thinking in a creative, and humorous manner.

What resulted after was, put simply, awesome.  Students were asking to make two, three, four, five, six, or more memes to display different aspects of how life was harsh at Valley Forge.  Their favorite part was sharing these with the class, explaining the rationale of their meme if not immediately able to be discerned from their text tagline. There were lots of laughs, lots of “oh, I get it” comments, and, most importantly, lots of interaction with the primary sources to garner additional ideas.

It may not have caught the social media world by storm like the “Obama-Biden” memes, but, this is a tool that will now be a go-to when expressing an underlying theme of content in my class, and one the students will want to “wait out the winter with me” to experience some more of, just like those soldiers at Valley Forge.