Sunday, October 6, 2013

Connect the Dots . . . Er, the Educators – Become a Part of Connected Educators Month

October is Connected Educators Month.  Being a connected educator can mean many things.  It could mean discussing strategies for working with a challenging student with a teacher down the hall, collaborating on lesson plans with a teacher in another school in your district, or corresponding with someone you met at a conference about instructional strategies.  As illustrated in these examples, connected educators are nothing new; however, today’s digital world offers endless possibilities for teachers looking to collaborate.  
Online tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, webinars, blogs, forums, etc. offer today’s connected educators an unprecedented opportunity to further the field of education within their classroom, school, district, and nation.  The establishment of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) provides teachers with a form of personalized professional development that cannot be matched by any inservice or workshop.  A PLN provides educators with personalized, just-in-time access to lessons, advice, resources, research, and, perhaps most importantly, inspiration.
It is also important to remember that today’s learners live in a connected world.  They spend countless hours viewing pictures on Instagram, creating videos on Vine, sharing on Twitter, watching videos on YouTube, etc.  Today’s students have technology embedded in nearly every aspect of their life.  This digital world necessitates an evaluation of how we, as educators, approach learning.  The creative, collaborative process students use daily, can also benefit teachers.  By becoming connected, teachers are able to deepen their understanding of students’ lives and to access the collective resources, creativity, and wisdom of the world’s educators.
I encourage all teachers to check the U.S. Department of Education’s Connected Educators website.  This site offers a number of valuable resources including a Starter Kit, a calendar of events, edConnectr, and many more.  Many teachers have already discovered that Twitter provides a valuable tool for connected educators to collaborate.  Connected Educators Month discussions can be found at #CE13.  #SSChat also offers valuable tools for any social studies teacher.  Connected Educators Month organizers also maintain a Facebook page and Google+ community to share resources and promoted discussions.  A simple search will reveal many other sources related to Connected Educators Month.  Regardless of what tools we use, all educators owe it to our students to become more connected.
In the spirit of connectivity, I would like to share some online sources that I frequent:   
This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but rather a starting point.  I encourage everyone to share some of their favorite sources with another teacher.
As a connected educator, I would like to expand my PLN by connecting with passionate educators who want to collaborate for the benefit of all our students.  Connect with me via Twitter or LinkedIn.


Monday, September 23, 2013

He Did It! – Wanted Posters Illustrating Who is to Blame for WWI

I believe that it is important for educators to allow opportunities for students to create.  This piques student interest by allowing them to be creative and providing some measure of choice in their learning.  Creating also requires a more thorough understanding of the significance of history than merely answering questions or completing a worksheet.  I have found that this practice works very well in conjunction with inquiry-based learning activities.  As a firm believer in inquiry-based activities, I often allow my students the opportunity to create a product to demonstrate their learning.
This practice can take many forms ranging from long summative assessments to brief formative checks of learning.  Last week I gave students a chance to create as a chance for me to check their understanding of the outbreak of World War I.  This followed an activity where students examined primary sources to determine the causes of war and a class discussion of the chain of events that led to the conflict becoming a world war.  As a formative check of understanding, I asked students who was to blame for the beginning of the First World War.  Rather than a simple written summary expressing their opinion, I asked students to create wanted posters to illustrate their view of who perpetrated war.  I decided that it was important for students to think beyond their initial impressions of guilt, so I required each student to create two posters to demonstrate the role of two separate individuals.  Depending on the availability of technology, students can draw their posters on paper or use one of many templates available online.
Students were instructed to model these posters after the wanted posters of the Old West.  Each poster needed to include the name of the person charged with the crime, a picture of the individual, a brief explanation of their guilt, and a list of allies and enemies.  Students were interested in this assignment because it allowed them a chance to be creative and  to make something fun.  This assignment also achieved instructional goals by helping me to gauge how well students understood the outbreak of World War I and the role different individuals played in the beginning of the war.
This activity can then be followed up with a lesson on the course of World War I, including the realities of life in the trenches 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Who Am I? -- Introducing the Teacher through Primary Sources


As we begin another school year I’ve tried to rethink some of my beginning of the year activities.  I have always felt it is important to expose students to the procedures and routines that are expected within my classroom.  I also think it is essential for students to become comfortable in my classroom, get to know each other and get to know me.  This year I have tried to incorporate all of these introductory activities into a lesson that allows students to begin practicing skills that will commonly be used in the study of history while being exposed to the idea of an inquiry-based approach to learning.
I think it is important to introduce students to the study of history early in the year.  This means conveying to students the importance of approaching the study of history as a historian would; piecing together primary sources to try to form a complete picture of the past.  
This year I developed an activity to try and combine these objectives into an introductory activity.  This activity begins with a quick discussion of how we learn about history.  Students usually respond by stating that it comes from a book or from the internet.  Further prompting leads students to begin listing things such as letters, diaries, documents, etc.  This opens up a discussion to explain the difference between primary and secondary sources.  The differences between these two types of sources can be further clarified by the video “What is a Primary Source.” 
The next phase of this lesson allows students to practice analyzing primary sources in order to form a picture of the past and, in the process, to get to know more about me as a person.  Students are placed in cooperative learning groups of 2-3 and each group is given a few primary sources that relate to various aspects of my life.  Some examples of the types of sources I included are my high school diploma, one of my senior pictures from high school showing the sports I was involved in, ticket stubs from football games I attend, the program from my college graduation, my diploma from my master’s degree, my first teaching contract, some of my favorite books, pictures of my wife and kids, pictures of me camping and canoeing with my family, and my wife’s school ID that shows she is also a teacher.
Students work with their groups to analyze the primary sources, completing a chart to record a description of each source and any inferences that can be drawn from the source.   These inferences go beyond a mere summary of the document to draw conclusions based on evidence from the documents.  These conclusions will help explain something about me as a person.  This allows students practice analyzing sources and considering the significance of each source in helping to explain the past.
After analyzing each source, students put together all of their information and inferences to form a complete picture of me as a person.  Groups will illustrate their image of me by filling in an outline of a human body that represents me.  Students are instructed to add clothing, accessories, or anything in the background to help illustrate me as a person.
To promote a sense of community, each group is given a chance to share their picture of me and explain to the class how they arrived at their conclusions about me.  Students begin to feel like they know a little about me, but they are left with more questions.  After allowing students to ask additional questions about me, we discuss the benefits and shortcomings of primary sources in studying history. 
Students have now had a chance to get to know a little about me, so I transition into an activity that allows me to get to know each of them.  Each student needs to determine what is important about them as a person and brainstorm 5 primary sources that demonstrate these aspects of their life.  Students do not need to bring these sources to school, but rather just describe them in writing.  Along with the description of each source, students include an explanation of what someone could learn about them by examining the source.  Lastly, students complete a picture illustrating important things about them as a person.  Much like the picture they made of me, this will involve adding details to an outline of a human body.
This lesson worked very well to achieve the objectives I had for an introductory activity.  Students gained experience working with primary sources on an inquiry-based activity, they got to know a little about me as a person, they were introduced to some of their classmates as they worked together, and they were exposed to the procedures and routines I expect them to follow as we work in groups and complete in class activities.  I was also able learn a little about each of them as they explain primary sources from their lives and create a picture of themselves.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Hatching Tools for Education at the Innovation Incubator

This week I served as a judge for the Software & Information Industry Association’s (SIIA) Innovation Incubator program.  SIIA states that this program “identifies and supports entrepreneurs in their development and distribution of innovative learning technologies.”  The winning innovation will be awarded the Educator's Choice Award at the Ed Tech Industry Summit (May 5-7, 2013).
Overall I was impressed with all of the entries.  Each innovation seemed to offer a benefit to classroom teachers and most included tools to help with instruction.  Most entries focused on encouraging thinking skills and many innovations promoted the idea that students need to be allowed to operate in a flexible, real-world environment where they are not given the right answer, but have to utilize critical thinking and problem solving skills to arrive at a conclusion.  This is a direction that I have tried to take my instruction in teaching U.S. History and I know many other educators strive to meet this same goal, possibly even more so with the adoption of the Common Core Standards across most of the country. 
Below are my thoughts on each of the entries in the Innovation Incubator program:
Citelighter, Citelighter Inc
Citelighter is a tool to help students research and organize information to write papers.  The features of Citlighter that I found unique are its ability to open as a sidebar in Google Docs to allow students to have their research right there as they write and the fact that it generates reports for teachers allowing analytical data for the teacher to see which part of the process students may need help with.
simCEO creates an online market simulation allowing students to recognize key economic factors.  Students simultaneously run a business and invest in corporations controlled by their peers, requiring them to recognize the effects of various factors upon the economy.  Market conditions can be altered by the teacher and different scenarios can be set up to allow for the achievement of different learning goals.  One example given during the presentation was a scenario set in Boston in 1770 to demonstrate the effects of British taxes on colonial businesses.
Naiku, Naiku, Inc.
Naiku is an assessment program that allows teachers to guide instruction based upon data from formative assessments.  Naiku provides automated scoring and reports aligned to standards allowing teachers to adapt instruction to student needs.  I don’t know how unique Naiku is, but it seemed to have an easy-to-use interface and it is compatible with any web enabled device (desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.).
scrible, scrible
scrible is a web app that allows users to annotate websites for research.  Students are able to highlight, take notes, and annotate key information in addition to using scrible to organize and sort information.  scrible also generates citations for a research project.  I know of several products that serve similar purposes as scrible, but without conducting further research, I don’t know if any combine all of these functions within one application.
mAuthor, Learnetic S.A.
mAuthor allows users to create content that is viewable on any platform.  This service appears to be easy to use and does not require any programming skills.  mAuthor allows for the creation of original content or customization of existing content to allow for viewing on any device with any screen size.  This would be particularly useful for schools that have gone to a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach.  
See.Touch.Learn., Brain Parade, LLC
See.Touch.Learn is designed to help provide services for special needs students.  This application allows for assessment based on visual images and can help with learning names of people and everyday objects.  Lessons can range from identifying objects/people to higher-level categorization and associations.  See.Touch.Learn allows users to utilize existing content or create new content to meet the needs of learners.
ParentSquare, ParentSquare
ParentSquare is a little different than most of the other entries highlighted during the Innovation Incubator program because it does not directly relate to instruction, but it still offers benefits to teachers by attempting to improve communication with parents.  ParentSquare allows teachers or school officials to post announcements, requests, pictures, etc. online and to have messages emailed to parents.  Although I don’t know a lot of specifics, I believe there are other programs that serve similar functions.  Without knowing much about the other applications, I can’t offer a true comparison, but ParentSquare appears easy to use and it seems to serve the purpose it was designed for.
Shmoop, Shmoop University, Inc.
I had some familiarity with Shmoop before the Innovation Incubator program and Shmoop’s presentation confirmed some of what I already knew as well as informing me of new and upcoming features.  Shmoop claims to “speak student” by explaining concepts in a fun, interesting manner that students can relate to.  Shmoop offers material relevant to a number of different subject areas as well as test review materials.  Some of the new features of Shmoop that I learned about during their presentation include the development of short videos to teach key concepts and the creation of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses).  
Globaloria, World Wide Workshop
Globaloria is designed to allow students to create games.  As a game design platform, Globaloria seems to have a variety of educational applications and possibilities.  As educators, we know that programming skills are becoming more and more important and often pique student interest; Globaloria allows a platform to incorporate these skills into an existing curriculum.  I did not feel like I gained a solid grasp of how Globaloria works during their presentation, but the concept behind it seems beneficial to students and teachers.
zondle, zondle
zondle is another game based learning application.  zondle allows users to create games or use ready-made games that are accessible on web-based or mobile platforms.  Another nice feature of zondle is that it allows users to monitor their progress.  Users can compare their performance over time as well as seeing which questions they struggled with.  I see zondle primarily as a way to review concepts already studied in class and there are several similar products in existence, but zondle seems to meet its objective of using games to support learning.
I could envision ways that teachers could incorporate each innovation in an educational setting.  Although some of the innovations were not unique in the services they offered, each seemed to meet a need for educators/students and nearly all of them promoted critical thinking skills by students.
The winners of SIIA’s Innovation Incubator program will be announced Tuesday, May 7 at the Ed Tech Industry Summit.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Picture Perfect – Creating Animoto Videos to Illustrate Life During the Great Depression

Today I came across one of the numerous lists of top 10 technology tools for teachers.  As I scrolled through the list I saw several resources I was familiar with, a few new tools, and a couple of resources that I have used in the past, but had forgotten about.  While scanning this list I began thinking about some of the web-based technologies that I have had success with.
One of my favorite technology tools for the classroom is Animoto.  Animoto is a web-based tool that allows users to create high quality videos that incorporate pictures, videos, and text all set to music.  One of the reasons I really enjoy Animoto is because of the simplicity of creating a professional looking video.  Students get very excited to create these videos and it does not take an extended amount of class time.  Anyone who is unfamiliar with Animoto should view the sample of videos created for educational purposes.  
Animoto allows users to create a free 30 second video, or teachers can apply for a free Education Account which will give you a promo code that allows you to create 50 Animoto Plus accounts. Animoto provides some helpful hints about setting up these accounts, including a method to create multiple accounts associated with the same email address.
As with other technology tools, it is important that Animoto is used to achieve an academic objective rather than simply being a toy to play on the computer.  To this end, Animoto’s blog includes a post discussing 6 ways to use Animoto in the classroom.  I have used Animoto for several different U.S. History projects, including an I Love the . . . project where students focus on a particular decade to create a video that highlights significant events from the era.  I think the most successful Animoto project I have utilized relates to the Great Depression.  There are so many powerful photos from this era that it helps to reinforce the suffering experienced by many Americans in the 1930s.
To ensure the achievement of academic goals, I begin this project by assigning students an essential question to research.  I use the following questions:
  1. How did the Great Depression affect the lives of American workers?
  2. What hardships did urban residents face during the Great Depression?
  3. How did the Dust Bowl affect rural residents during the Great Depression?
  4. How did popular culture offer an escape from the Great Depression?
  5. How did the Great Depression affect family life and the attitudes of Americans?
  6. How did the Roosevelt administration address the concerns of African Americans?
  7. How were women affected by the Great Depression?
  8. How were children affected by the Great Depression?
  9. How was Franklin Roosevelt viewed by American citizens?
  10. How did the New Deal affect American citizens?
After completing their research, students must submit an essay that provides an answer to their essential question.  This ensures that students understand the historical significance of their topic.
Upon completion of the essay, students may begin gathering images that help support their response to an essential question.  To ensure that students are gathering pictures related to their topic, I require them to write a brief explanation of how each picture helps to support their essay. 
Students are now ready to create their videos.  Animoto has made this an extremely simple process.  Students simply have to upload pictures and/or videos, choose their music and add text to their video.  Although text is limited to 90 characters per slide, it is possible to add more text by using PowerPoint to create an image file of the text.  This offers a method of increasing text, however, I usually encourage my students to try to limit their text to the 90 characters allowed by Animoto.  This allows them to add some explanation, but it ensures that the images are still the focus of the video.
I have had excellent experiences with Animoto.  Student comments on Animoto have been overwhelmingly positive.  Many students talk about showing their projects to their parents and friends.  This verifies my hopes that Animoto can be a tool that piques student interest while allowing for the achievement of academic standards.  

Below are a few examples of Animoto videos created by my students.



Friday, March 29, 2013

Who Dunnit?? -- Recreating the Kennedy Assassination for a Critical Analysis of Evidence

As I debated whether to enter the world of educational blogging (To Blog or not to Blog . . .), one of my reservations was whether I would have time to regularly update a blog.  Over the last few weeks, this concern became a reality.  Although I have not updated Adventures in History Class for a few weeks, I am not abandoning this venture and I am going to make an effort to be more consistent in my posting.
This week I taught about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which is one of my favorite U.S. history lessons.  I enjoy this lesson because I am personally interested in the topic, but also due to the fact that it is one of the lessons that students come back years later to talk about.  Year after year this lesson piques student interest while forcing them to think critically about every piece of information.
My goal in presenting this lesson is to expose students to the controversy surrounding JFK’s assassination while forcing them to interact with historical details.  I am not trying to promote any conspiracy theories, but I do want students to recognize the reasons why as many as 80% of Americans have expressed doubts about the findings of the Warren Commission.  In the process, I am able to incorporate a review of some of the key concepts we have studied throughout our unit on the Kennedy administration.
I begin the lesson by showing the Zapruder Film.  Before showing the film, I warn students that it is a graphic video of a sensitive nature and they must be considerate of this during the video.  As we watch the Zapruder Film, I ask students to describe what is shown and to detail any evidence investigators could draw from the video.
After discussing the evidence in the video, we re-create the scene of the crime.  I display a diagram of Dealey Plaza and explain how different parts of our classroom will represent key locations within Dealey Plaza.  
Next I assign students to take on the role of witnesses to the assassination.  Each student is given a slip of paper including a brief summary of statements given by the witness they represent (witness statements can be gathered and summarized from many websites including: History Matters: The JFK Assassination, JFK Online, and Spartacus Educational).  Any combination of witness statements may be used; I usually use Nellie Connally, Bob Jackson, Harold Norman, Jean Hill, Abraham Zapruder, S.M. Holland, the Umbrella Man, and the Dark Complected Man.  Additionally, I have students take on the role of JFK, Jackie Kennedy, and John Connally, although these students are not given slips to indicate their recollections.  I recognize that the credibility of some accounts of the assassination have been questioned, but this spurs just the type of conversations that I want students to have.
The students playing each role are placed in the appropriate locations in the room to represent their vantage point in Dealey Plaza and we go around the room with each student sharing a summary of the actions and/or statements given by the person they represent.  Following each statement, students are allowed to ask questions and to speculate as to how this testimony could provide clues to an investigator.  As we discuss the various observations, I throw in additional information following each account of the assassination.  Through this process I incorporate background information on Lee Harvey Oswald, Oswald’s purported actions following the assassination, the Magic Bullet theory, Jack Ruby’s role, conflicting claims about the wounds suffered by JFK, and further information about each witness and their account of the assassination.
Lastly, I ask students to analyze one of the theories posed on Spartacus Educational (scroll down about two-thirds of the way to the section titled Primary Sources: Theories).  After analyzing one of these theories, students complete a writing assignment where they either support or refute the theory they chose to read.
Inevitability, students are completely engrossed in the conflicting evidence and various theories involving the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  This high level of engagement along with seemingly contradictory evidence and accounts results in students analyzing available data and thinking critically about all information, which is exactly what I want students to do as they study the past.