Category Archives: Tech tools

Historic Election Results (and other related resources)

District of Columbia,emblems,flags,government,men,Oval Offices,presidents,United States,Washington D.C.,White House,people,windows

Click on this link and watch the country change colors: Historic Election Results!  Of course, what is missing are the changes in party platforms to accompany the color-shifting map.  For comparison of those, follow this link to The American Presidency Project.  The same site also has the nomination acceptance speeches–some linked to YouTube–available going back to Lincoln for the Republican Party and to Wilson for the Democratic Party.

It is a piece of cake to tap into the history of electing our POTUS and to make comparisons from year-to-year, especially from the 20th century to the present.  This is potentially useful tool for specific historically-focused units or more general election-focused civics and government classes.  Or, it is of simple interest to those of us who like to be informed when it comes to the election of the POTUS and who are conscientious of the historical background surrounding the elections.

I would love to hear peoples’ comments, below!

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Filed under Brush off the Dust Best of the Web, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Historian's Journal, Tech tools

A Review of SimpleK12 Resources for Educators, Integrating tech

(All images from the http://www.simplek12.com site.)

SimpleK12, located at http://www.simplek12.com/, is a professional development site for educators specifically designed to integrate technology into the curriculum.  The website provides two services: one is the Teacher Learning Community and the other is a guide for integrating technology into specific student curricula.

Teacher Learning Community

The Teacher Learning Community is a membership available for teachers just like you who know integrating the latest educational tips and techniques in the classroom will engage their students and increase academic achievement. When you join, you’ll get immediate access to a global network of educators with whom you can share and collaborate, live and recorded webinars with education leaders, a resource center for sharing classroom documents, as well as a collection of over 500 hours of classroom technology how-to videos available anytime anywhere. It’s all the help and support you’ll ever need from your very own personal learning network (PLN)!

~ From the SimpleK12 website

The Teacher Learning Community is a membership program for interacting with other educators regarding personal experiments and experiences in teaching and utilizing technology in the classroom.  The idea is to stimulate discussion with the website’s resources and augment it with on-the-ground experiences from other teachers.  In the webinars available on the site, you are introduced to the concepts and the intent is to facilitate making yours a competent edtech classroom, successfully integrating tech into your classroom regardless of your own technical prowess–or lack thereof!

homepage 20110328

They bill themselves as relevant, in-touch, professional development.  As you teach history or social studies you can make use of these tools to help facilitate training your students the skills that will be of increasing value in the 21st century.  There is a difference from simply augmenting your instruction with technical tools and building useful skills for your students.  With these tools, aim for both.

Shared Resources search

Add to this the Student Curriculum, and you have some considerable aids to incorporate, including edtech built-in to lesson plans and modules for assessments and grading.

But, there is a catch.  The full membership requires a paid subscription fee of over $200.  That may be prohibitive for some teachers/schools.  This does not mean that the service is completely inaccessible, however, as there is an active blog, toolkits for specific technology, webinars, collaborative online forums and a series of free e-books for a free membership good for many professional development assets–you just can’t do everything.  Even at this level, you can still develop a professional development profile and print out the completion of hours earned through the site.  Despite the price of full membership, the freebies are copious and valuable even without spending the dough.

I encourage educators who are interested in edtech and integrating tech-skill development for their students into their regular classroom activity to pursue the options and see if it is right for you.  Not just classroom teachers, but homeschool teachers can also make use of these tools in home education utilizing the technology they own.  To feel it out, start with the blog: http://blog.simplek12.com/education/top-7-ebooks-for-educators/.

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The Tech-fallacy vs Quality Edtech

I’ve recently advocated a great deal of edtech.  My approach to education has always emphasized content and skills.  Because of this, I see a real value in incorporating technology into coursework.  There are, however, unfortunate side-effects that can emerge.

Recently, Jay Matthews wrote a Class Struggle column for the Washington Post online, called, “How computers can hurt schools,” discussing a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.  He describes the case of Melvin highlighted in the lawsuit whose English class functioned “virtually” with little to no interaction from his teacher.  The computer was, in his teacher’s mind, supposed to educate him.  It didn’t work.

I have also in the past advocated “slow reading,” bound paper books, and handwriting.  There are many advantages to technology, but it comes with its own drawbacks.  In this post,  I want to highlight the challenges.  These are a generous sampling of issues, not a particular tirade.

Access to technology
A great teacher in my area teaches STEM classes at an elementary school that has had a surging percentage of ESL students.  In her mind, technology is the equalizer.  If you were to walk into her classroom and watch her students working through a Robotic Legoes project in which they measure their designed cars’ ability to drag a load, you’d agree with her immediately.  The key to success has been her ability to write grants that allowed her to procure the equipment.

Few of her students have access to such technology at home, of course.  And, many of her ESL students without her instruction would not gain the advantage of expanding their English vocabulary.  Technology works in this case because the school owns it–the students need bring nothing but their thirsty minds–and the teacher is excellent at maximizing gains.

I advocate using technology to do a number of projects that many students simply cannot do unless the school provides the access to the technology.  Incorporating smart phones or tablets only works if every student has access.  Does this mean we will add such technology to our school supply lists?  Perhaps it means teachers in low-income areas need to learn to write grants as part of their training.

Screen time
South Korea is one of the most strongly plugged-in, high-speed technological cultures.  They recently halted a plan to transition all textbooks to e-books.  The reason for this was centered on studies about the dangers of excessive screen time.  These include brain-patterning and chemistry that develops over time, mimicing addiction.

In general, students with higher screen time hours tend to have a host of attendant health problems.  Some of these are cognitive though many are related to inactivity.  There are also concerns about reduced face time with other human beings and minimized time outdoors.  Besides concrete health concerns, such as a lack of sunlight and its natural provision of vitamin D, this creates a disconnect with the natural world which will, among other side-effects, challenge future conservation.

Scanning
The reliance on getting information digitally impairs a slow, concentrated ability to read in depth for comprehension of complex ideas.  Scanning is a useful skill for a quick upload of information–I use it all the time when I am referencing a source for a particular idea or concept to be sure of the context.  But, true comprehension of complex ideas, whether in a great work of literature, a written study, political analysis of an issue or legal problem, a work of philosophy, etc., requires more than a cursory scan.

It is also an essential cognitive skill to maintain and foster.  Slow reading promotes the ability to focus deeply.  This is a basic skill used in decision making, destressing, and problem-solving.  It is also life-enriching.  Consider the difference between the experience of social media memes and contemplating a Raphael, Van Gogh or El Greco three feet from your nose.  As with much of “slow” movements it comes back to experiences.

Experiences
I am an advocate of using technology to recreate experiences that cannot be otherwise accomplished.  You can use the web to create a virtual field trip even if the resources are not available to make the trip any other way.  But, the understanding is that this is a substitute resource.  Emphasis on substitute.

History instructors can use leisure activities, food, music, etc. (see the sub-categories under my Experiencing category) to recreate another era.  These are also very social activities.  The learning is achieved together and it uses the human senses, which in turn stimulate the brain and its learning.

Poverty limits experiences, obviously.  While technology can be used to ignite curiosity and encourage experience, it can also deprive one of experience and reality.  Naturally, this comes back to balance.

Handwriting
Studies show that practicing and learning handwriting does important things for our cognitive development with language.  Many schools have already abandoned it in their curriculum.  Keep in mind that part of the issue here is literacy, the other part circles back around tothe aforementioned concern about access.

On the one hand, learning to write by hand is a stronger means to learn literacy.  On the other hand, anyone who cannot afford a computer can still write out a job application or send a letter to his or her politician.  That same citizen should know how to type, too, because some day he or she may be able to get a computer, but until then… it’s all about access.

Some students in our area-elementary schools are extremely poor, relying on school for two to three meals out of the day (with after school programs), going to school in the winter in flip-flops because they do not have shoes, missing the afternoon of classes if they spoil themselves because they don’t have a change of underwear when they go home, and having no money for basic school supplies such as paper and pencils, let alone tablets and computers.

Teacher participation
The final x-factor is the instructor.  Technology cannot be a substitution for instruction in a classroom setting.  You walk into the classroom and it’s game on, period.  Teacher interaction has an incredible impact on students.  Buy-in problems and student management troubles are often the result of poor teacher interactions.

I can look back on my own career and identify those moments when I created problems with my students that otherwise, with a different pattern of interaction would have shared a productive learning experience with me.  They were not problem students, but I created problems.  In the end, their rebellion was unproductive but justified.  I can also look back at those teachers who had a lasting impact on my life for a point of comparison.

If it can make that much difference, think how much impact ignoring a student can have, telling him, like Melvin, to learn from the computer.  How inspiring.

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Filed under Editorials on education, Experiences, Tech tools

What if Twitter had existed in other historical eras? Tweeting historiography.



I recently was tickled to find this piece on (where else?) Twitter: British r Coming. Pls RT! | Foreign Policy.  It’s really funny.  It gets one thinking, too.  Others have pointed out the value of challenging students to make observations in a succinct 140-character medium.  This forces students to use precision about the subject they are evaluating and to prioritize the material succinctly.  This is also a moment of frivolity to share with your class.

Aside from being fun, you could actually delve into some real historiographical issues.   Each set of tweets could be altered based on the different interpretations from the historiography.  For example, assign small groups a different scholar and encourage them to create tweets from the primary documents based on the assigned scholars interpretations.  Then you could compare the results.

It adds an extra layer of education, but it’s still fun!  Done well, this should be a slightly addictive exercise in levity and history.  Students should get addicted because its funny and entertaining.  You may find they actually have a better grasp of the scholarly concepts at the end, as well.  Maybe you throw it in right before or after exams or a big paper due date to get productivity despite the intensity of their coursework.

This is similar to the concept behind making fake Facebook walls.  You are asking students to use the technology with which many of them are well-acquainted as the medium in which to present their findings.  This does not suggest that you abandon papers or other means for testing their knowledge and developing skills, it is an alternative that can give students a bit of break without simply putting in a movie and having them unplug.  These exercises introduce a little levity and they should be fun.  At the end, they’ll be #Twitterstorians!

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Historic American Newspapers – Chronicling America (The Library of Congress)

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The Hawaiian gazette. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii]) 1865-1918, June 18, 1912

If you visit the Library of Congress’s (LOC) website and click on, “Historic Newspapers,” you open up a unique tool for teaching American history.  The first thing you will see is a collection of newspaper front pages, “100 Years Ago Today.”   These, of course, offer great potential as a way to scan the current events from a century ago, but it is not the only resource the site affords visitors and educators.

“Chronicling America” is a joint-effort of the Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities to provide access to digitized newspapers and to digitize select others.  The intent is, of course, to provide a digital directory of such resources for American history.  The website explains the project in the following manner:

Chronicling America is a Website providing access to information about historic newspapers and select digitized newspaper pages, and is produced by the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). NDNP, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress (LC), is a long-term effort to develop an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages. Supported by NEH, this rich digital resource will be developed and permanently maintained at the Library of Congress. An NEH award program will fund the contribution of content from, eventually, all U.S. states and territories.

To search for particular content, start by clicking on the sidebar’s link, “Recommended Topics,” (location on left upper sidebar, as seen from the screen shot, above) a large alphabetic list of topics is provided.  From here you have two options, 1) find your topic among the listed suggestions, or 2) type in a search term(s) into the box labeled, “Find,” with one of three search areas (1, “News & Current Periodical Pages,” 2, “Researchers Web Pages,” and 3, “All Library of Congress Pages”) provided in the drop down box immediately to the right and see what is provided (see at the top of the screen shot provided, below).

Topics in Chronicling America

 For example, I typed in, “Thomas Edison” in, “News and Current Periodical Pages,” and hit, “GO.”  Now, here, it gets a bit confusing.  While I did not get a direct result for, “Thomas Edison,” the man, as such, I got a topic that is related to Edison: “Early Cinema.”  This could be frustrating for some folks, but the site does function best along the topics it has prepared.  An alternative method is to search, “Thomas Edison” in, “Researchers Web Pages,” and hit, “GO,” giving you research options from the LOC.  Not all of these results will be useful, some will be collections’ items that are not digitized, and others may be only tangentially related, such as the page for the, “Motion Picture and Television Reading Room,” which explains on its main page that:

The Library of Congress began collecting motion pictures in 1893 when Thomas Edison and his brilliant assistant W.K.L. Dickson deposited the Edison Kinetoscopic Records for copyright. However, because of the difficulty of safely storing the flammable nitrate film used at the time, the Library retained only the descriptive material relating to motion pictures. In 1942, recognizing the importance of motion pictures and the need to preserve them as a historical record, the Library began the collection of the films themselves. From 1949 on these included films made for television. Today the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) has responsibility for the acquisition, cataloging and preservation of the motion picture and television collections. The Division operates the Motion Picture and Television Reading Room to provide access and information services to an international community of film and television professionals, archivists, scholars and researchers.

 The last search option from this page is to search, “Thomas Edison” in, “All Library of Congress Pages,” and hit, “GO,” thus providing you with a wide array of materials, including lesson plans, events information and much more.  This brings up some of the same material that the last search provided, but it also includes the LOC biography of Edison and the lesson plan, “Thomas Edison, Electricity and America,” which provides some pretty interesting primary sources, though no newspaper sources (it does include magazine sources, focusing especially on advertising in select magazines).

If you are determined to cover Edison and use the Historic American Newspapers website, you still have a couple of options: 1) direct your students to the page on the 100th anniversary of something newsworthy from Edison’s career, or, if you can’t manage that, 2) use either the, “Early Cinema,” or, “Nikola Tesla,” topics.  Once you select on the topic of choice, you will first get a list of, “Important Dates,” for the topic, then, “Suggested Search Strategies,” and finally, “Sample Articles,” providing links to digitized newspaper articles.

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A Nikolas Tesla article, The Times. (Richmond, Va.) 1890-1903, October 21, 1894, Page 2

The digital copy of the newspaper can be manipulated with controls in the top left corner of the view screen.  In addition to zooming in and out, turning pages, etc., one can also take snapshots with the view screen which can be copied and pasted, downloaded, or printed.  By clicking on the, “Clip Image,” link, the snap shot is opened on a new page or tab with bibliographic information from the newspaper, itself, and the link to the site.

Keep in mind when using old newspaper articles that the rules of journalism developed over time and are relatively recent guidelines, despite the upheaval and threat to such rules created by the web.  As ever, multiple sources will often reveal biases and prejudices among individual publications or authors.

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My National Geographic Magazine project

In this post, I am sharing my National Geographic assignment.  This is especially useful in generating multi-disciplined assignments and projects.  I use it for home school, but it could easily be adapted to history, anthropology, English, social studies, language arts, or related subjects–the reading level is higher, obviously, so if you are doing it with younger kids, enlist the help of parents or reading coaches.  It also makes a pretty good extra credit assignment, if you do that.

The purpose is to get the student to read one of the articles and then engage in the content at a higher level.  Whether the student reads further, creates fiction based on the article, or is artistically inspired, he or she is reworking the content of the article into his or her own project.

This is a great way to expose students to science, history, sociology, travel, and culture beyond their classrooms!  Once they’ve tapped into the pictures and maps, the story becomes hard to resist.  Each article is a kind of field trip (almost) and it should capture students’ imaginations and fuel their curiosity–for life.

(Additional tip for history use:  Assign older Nat. Geo. magazines from a period you are studying–the old Life magazines work well, too–so, students could, for example, read about the Space Race as it was unfolding.  Now, you’ve advanced it to a primary source project!)

National Geographic Assignment

Directions:  Read the current issue of National Geographic Magazine and do one of the following activities using an article of your choice from that issue:

  • Write a short story
  • Make a board game
  • Write a play
  • Do a related experiment
  • Further reading
  • Write a short report
  • Make a travel brochure
  • Do an art project
  • Invent a product or service
  • Write a blog post
  • Write a letter to the author or someone in the article
  • Make an informative map or chart explaining an aspect of the article
  • Create a storyboard for a short movie or documentary inspired by the article
  • Draw one of the photographs from the article
  • Write a speech
  • Make a cartoon strip
  • Write a song or poem
  • Make a PowerPoint explaining the article or an aspect of the article
  • Create a glossary or encyclopedia entries for the article
  • Design a craft project inspired by the article
  • Create a non-profit/fundraising service idea to address an issue raised in the article
  • Prepare a meal inspired by the article

These projects also make good “show” projects when highlighting the class’s  work or an individual student’s accomplishments.  Stories, artwork, and other projects may be used for contests or projects beyond the school or home school.

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Filed under Drama/Theater/Cinema, Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction, Food, Games, Music, Tech tools, Travel

Facebook’s Five Degrees of Separation and the Need for History in an ever-shrinking World

Facebook users: Five degrees of separation – The Washington Post.

The Washington Post recently published an article (linked above) about the incredible interconnectedness of the world through the use of Facebook and, by implication, other social media sources.  It reveals, as did the tweets of Egyptians at the start of the Arab Spring, how remarkably small our world has become.  With this increased contact among 1 out of 10 world citizens using Facebook, it reminds me of how important history and the other liberal arts are as necessary disciplines and groundwork for the future.

It comes down to two basic points:

  1. It is imperative that we know ourselves:  Understanding our own development and culture allows us insight into our own reactions and motivations which is essential self-knowledge, permitting us to gauge why we operate the way that we do.  Thus, it allows a greater access into a foreign culture and society as well as a better probability for successful communication and interaction.
  2. History and the liberal arts teach necessary skills for interacting with new or foreign cultures: History and the liberal arts, such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and even English and literature, teach us the skills we need to meet the challenges of foreign cultures, unfamiliar customs and language, foreign habits, and new perspectives.  It gives us the discipline to pause and investigate instead of jumping to conclusions or erroneous assumptions.

New Zealand rugby team performs the Haka dance, born of south Pacific warrior tradition, in the face of the French rugby team (bbc.co.uk)

These are tense, tender times when a history education and a full-bodied liberal arts education are a necessity which signals hope for future relations, both domestically and abroad.  I do not mean to suggest that math and the sciences are unnecessary–quite the opposite as they have an honored place in the liberal arts tradition and teach hypothesizing and testing of theories, and besides that, math is the universal language–but, they cannot come at the exclusion of those skills and that knowledge imparted by history and its humanistic brethren.  Nor, for that matter, do I want to suggest turning away from vocational and job training programs.  Again, quite the contrary, as my A.P. history professor pointed out many moons ago when he shared the story of a young man in the Votec program for heating and air training:  The young man began his history class rather disinterested, convinced that it was a simple waste of time.  A few years after his graduation, he returned for one of the high school football games and shared his perspective on a contemporary policy issue in light of certain historical precedents.

The need that has always existed for cultural awareness and origins not only remains relevant, its necessity becomes more pressing.  Sam Wineburg has argued, eloquently, for the need of history as a method for gaining access into a foreign culture–whether separated by time or distance or both.  The increased and incredible accessibility of the world’s citizens demands the due diligence of both students and educators.  What has always been true in grappling with domestic issues through their roots, now extends to the world at large.  We cannot fail.

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