Monday, November 30, 2009

ECI 525 Meaning.

Preface: Why is this meaningful.

In this course I have gained tremendous insight into how a teacher can effectively present social studies ideas in a meaningful way. With tightening budgets and more restrictive school guidelines, teachers must become more creative in what they do to engage students. Teachers are seemingly competing with technology instead of incorporating it into their regular classes. Now we have many tools for incorporating different ideas into the classroom. Many of these ideas do not even require each of the students to have a laptop, but can usually be accomplished by an afternoon session in the computer lab.

21st century Video 8/24:
Diane Ratvich critiques the idea of 21st Century skills stating that this set of skills has no content associated with it. Skills by definition do not have content, but must none-the-less be taught. Note taking, for example, is nothing but a learned skill. It has no content, and can be used in any content. Some skills require content knowledge, such as being a skilled historian or skilled mathematician. Because a skill does or does not have an associated content does not make said skill important or not. I might even attempt to argue that skills without a content association are more important than skills directly associated with a content. You can see here that utilizing technology, as a skill, can increase the utility of a given lesson. Students can read material, given specific instructions on how to interact with the information, only to utilize technology to report their findings.
This type of activity requires that students know how to interact with technology, and allows the teacher to float around the classroom, checking for understanding. If one student is having difficulty with the text, he or she will be able to gain further assistance from the teacher without disrupting the entirety of the class.

Historical Soundscape 8/31
Many times teachers look at social studies from the point of view of one type of learner. The visual, intrapersonal or linquistic learner will find that the social studies lessons are easy to follow, while many of the other students have great difficulty learning the concepts. An activity that allows students to engage in material in a new way can be of great benefit to different types of learners. Creating a soundscape takes history out of the textbooks and puts it into a context of reality. If you ask students to recreate an event using only sound, what would it sound like? Would the students be able to record a variety of different sounds to simulate the original event? What would happen if you asked your students to explore an idea of local history through sound?
I examined the events surrounding hurricane Floyd in Tarboro, NC, 1999. You can hear the audio here. The exercise allowed me to look at the event of this flood in an entirely new light. I was able to feel like I witnessed the flooding first-hand. I was almost a thousand miles removed from the actual flooding, but through this experience I felt very close. Could the same work with the signing of the Declaration of Independence?

Illustrated Lincoln 9/14
When students look at an image, then typically seem to take a surface view of the image and move on. Partially this is learned behavior, and partially it's non-learned behavior. The learned part of this behavior is that the students have been spoon-fed ideas about images, or have been given interpretations and alternative ideas have been squelched. The non-learned behavior is that the students have not been given opportunities to learn how to appropriately interpret images.
If a teacher is able to use Werner's 7 ways of reading an image in a classroom, he or she then has a very valuable tool to scaffold the understanding and interpretation of various kinds of images. Students will be able to identify what is an open or closed image, and what can be inferred from that image. If you visit here, you will see an example of interpreting a historical image using the Werner readings. Many people can look at this image and take a surface view of what it represents, but using a 7-fold method of reading an image really helps the viewer to extrapolate a lot of meaning.

Historical Painting 9/21

Wikipedia and epistemology 9/28
When students look at Wikipedia, they often see a monolith of modern knowledge. As such, many students do not know what to do with this information. Presented here is a short overview of what one can do in order to make sure that a Wikipedia article is valid and useful. You'll have to make your own decision about if any encyclopedia is a valid source for most research papers, but Wikipedia is undeniably useful.
New Literacies and digital history design 10/05
History is moving towards a digital age. Never before have students been able to access so much information. Many sites offer primary sources with only a little bit of interpretation. These sites allow students and historians alike to engage materials in a new and meaningful way. Never before could students access such vast tracks of information. The problem falls when students cannot meaningfully access this information because of the format.
Our class took letters from the plantation letters website, and pulled out all the references to slavery. This task was able to be accomplished because we were able to essentially crowd-source the information. It was not a necessarily difficult task, students from different levels could easily accomplish it, but there is definitely a feeling of legitimate history taking place through this process. You can see the results here
Stagville Interpretation 10/12
We didn't just leave those references to slavery on the website, but we worked with them as well. In this forum we examined the historical information through the eyes of the SCIM-C technique. We were able to pool our information and gain increased understanding about the impact of the historical analysis we had done.
Hollywood film 10/19
Teachers often use film in the classroom. For this section, we collected clips that would enable students to experience something from history that is difficult to grasp through written word alone. For example, what did the Soldiers of Blackhawk Down do right? What did they do wrong? For my piece, I examined the sort of reverse propaganda that occurred after World War II. Soldiers returning home suffered many of the same difficulties that later soldiers faced, but they did not admit suffering in the face of adversity. The blog post here explores some of those feelings of difficulty and displacement.
Stagville on History Engine 11/02
The final portion of our evaluation of Slavery through the plantation letters was a culminating episode from one of the letters. I looked at the idea of casual affection through the case of one of Duncan's distant relations, Frances. An exercise like this has the feel of creating original research, as well as allowing the student to create a piece of historical analysis that may be used by others in the future. You can read my final assignment here.
Google Street View 11/09
Social Studies is not purely a study of history. Many students struggle with understanding geographic concepts. How does one region impact another? How does the location of one city influence its cultural design? In this thread, you can find my response where I examine downtown Mexico City and infer some ideas about this capitol city of our neighbor to the south.
Adventures in Early America 11/16
Social Studies is not all new historical enterprise, but also synthesizing learning in a new and meaningful way. IN this exercise, we examined Tony Horwitz latest book, and used his point of view to understand the progression of historical understanding. By Juxtaposing Horwitz with two previous historians, we can see how history has adjusted itself as our understanding has increased. Look here for and examination of Columbus, and you can go from there to explore more histories.
Tangents 11/30
Finally, continuing the idea that Social Studies is more than just History, I present an idea for incorporating the GPLv3 into a Civics and Economics class. Students are often steeped in the idea that economics are best rooted in capitalism, and that a share-and-share-alike idea would not work. The GPLv3 shows an instance where this communistic ideal is in existence, and even thriving. This kind of tangential exploration of content material is beneficial to both students and teachers alike. Students benefit by getting to explore new areas of their content, while teachers get to work with content that they like.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Designs for Democracy.

The website, Designs for Democracy Is an amazing tool for any American History or Government course. This site shows useful graphics, from hull design of ships, to boot innovations. There is even a design for a card including some of the founding fathers. (And you thought the monetizing of political figures is a new idea... Silly goose.)

Classroom integration can be very interesting for this site. The focus is on Democracy and it's development, which does not just include political action, but also private action. Without the private sector supporting democratic ideals, the government could have never gained traction.

Overall, this is a great site for use with middle to high school students, and I'm sure even lower grades could benefit.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What is History?

I've just read a review of, "A VOYAGE LONG AND STRANGE, Rediscovering the New World," By Tony Horwitz. I think its great that a he realized that there were glaring gaps in his historical understanding, and chose to seek out answers. Granted, not many can afford such a journey of historical exploration, which is why we enjoy reading about others who are able to embark on such entertaining voyages.
The most interesting words of the review are those words that explore the myths of history. This brings to mind two other trade paperback books that I have. One is an excellent account of history, and the other is a book I've never been able to get through. Norma Goodrich's "Merlin," is an account of the possible truth behind the myth of Merlin. The man apparently did exist, possibly did meet one of the Arthurian-style kings, and live on the Isle of Man.
The other book is, "Lies my teacher told me, Everything your American History Textbook got wrong," by James W. Loewen. The presumptuousness of the title alone bothers me, but Loewen commits the same error that he highlights in the textbooks he lampoons. When we declare a hard-and-fast, one way fits all version of history, we often have to leave out some valuable information.
I am interested in the Tony Horwitz book, and I think I shall read it sooner or later. The reviews on cover the gambit of positive to negative, but the positive reviews seem more well-reasoned. Of the two 1-star reviews, one of them was complaining about this historical accuracy of the book, while the other reviewer was just complaining in general. From the first chapter of the book, and the New York Times review, the book seems to be designed to be an entertaining historical narrative.
Part of the book seems to be focused on the idea of exposing myths and their societal value, which gives the author some leeway with regard to the facts. Realizing this, the first negative reviewer on Amazon is arguing about a point that the author might readily agree with! The reviewer states that the maps and routes traced in the book are inaccurate. The author seems to be expressing the idea that the myth still stands, so where is the basis for this idea?

I look forward to reading this book. Hopefully I'll have some time for it over Christmas break.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Yearning for Geography.

I've never been good with geography lessons. Why not? Let me take you back about 16 years to my remembrance of Geography in high school. (This is a vignette from my life, but I'm sure you've been there too.)

(Insert Wavy Lines here...)

"Ok Class," the teacher say, "take out your maps and label Europe.

I look at my blank map of Europe and begin to feel bored. I'm not bored because of a lack of interest. I'm good with maps, and I know that Europe is some place I want to visit, but this outline is... well... boring... Black lines on a copy... Zzzzz...

I'll open my book and start thumbing through a few pages. I know I'm going to fail the Geography section on the unit test, so I'm not too concerned with filling out this page. The teacher starts checking work, so I make it look like I'm doing something... Oh no, here he comes.

"What do you have done, Jonathan?"

"Well, I figured I should look in the book, but I haven't found all the countries yet." I always knew what to say to get the teacher to move on to the next person.

He leaves and I go back to looking like I'm doing something without doing anything. I finish some countries... England is that Island... No, the big one... France is over near Russia... I think... I wonder what's for dinner tonight...

(More wavy lines bringing us back to today.)

Gosh, what a terrible day that was. NOT ANYMORE! Now, with just a few clicks and a few squiggles on the internet, I can find exactly what I need! Teachers can too.

While I was reading the articles for this week, my mind was filling with ideas for lessons to help students engage Geography in an entirely new way. If we use the timeline feature of Google Earth, we can go back to 1942 Europe and follow Hitler through some of the battles of the middle of the War. We begin to get an idea of the scope of the war and can start to understand that the caricature of Hitler as a long raving lunatic causing massive problems is somewhat flawed. How did one man take over such a large part of Europe? He wasn't alone.

We can also begin to understand some of the problems faced by Axis and Allies alike. How were soldiers from the Axis forces supposed to get supplies while they were invading Russia? How long do you think it would take for soldiers to walk from one place to the next? If you were going from Berlin to Moscow, how would you go? Give the reading on the Nazi's invasion of Russia, would you follow the same path, why or why not?

Students can engage in the text in a completely new way, exploring various parts of the world; looking at pictures and images from around the world to help them associate events with places. Students can create a WWII trip-tick to help explore what happened and where.

I really like the stuff at Students can participate in this world-wide experiment and learn more about local culture at the same time. I think that I'm going to offer this as a Bonus exercise in my AVID classroom this up-coming week.

The exercise will look like this:
Please make a drawing, painting or artistic representation of a place in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When you are done, write a reflection that answers the questions:
-- What exactly did you make a picture of?
-- What does the original image tell you about the Culture you were representing?
-- Does this original image look like where you live? Why or Why not?
-- How does your representation reflect yourself and your culture?

When I'm done, I think I'll see how the students feel about knowing where Nova Scotia is, and what they think they've gained from the exercise... Maybe it won't be bonus, I think I'll make it a whole-class activity. The bonus will be if the students want to digitize and upload their images.

Monday, November 2, 2009

History Engine.

I don't know how I feel. On one hand, I see the tremendous potential of the History Engine as a tool for driving pedagogy. On the other hand, it smacks of gimmickry. I don't mean that it is a gimmick, or that it should be taken as such, but it has that feel.

I know that sounds controversial, but it seems that they are touting this as something that people will be able to utilize as a secondary source for later research, but are not doing much to expose this to the outside world. A Google search brings up History Engine readily, but the landing page is not very inviting. It is obviously more focused on content creation than it is on content utilization. Students, I fear, might look at these articles and simply ascribe them to the dark hallways of some forgotten years at University. This would break the illusion that the work being created would be meaningful in the future.

On the other hand, if the grand plan of History Engine is to develop enough meaningful content to begin featuring it and putting the content at the center of the experiment, that's another story. I can easily understand how they would want to focus primarily on content creation until there is some solid content to brag about.

When one views the current landing page, you are presented quickly with the idea that this is for educational purposes of content creation. While this is good, I think if there is too much content with not an obvious effort to put that content into a more main-stream venue, students may disbelieve the idea that they are able to push the field of History further.

As it stands, I look forward to contributing to this experiment. I hope that it does open up a little bit more and begins to push content. I also think many of my students in high school could create meaningful content, especially if it were obvious that some of the best written articles were prominently displayed or featured.