Saturday, February 28, 2009


"It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought -- that is to be educated."
         ~Edith Hamilton

What I Learned on Summer Vacation.

How to catch frogs. (By watching my brothers do it, and then running away when they tried to touch me with them.) That the north sides of trees and rocks have moss on them. How to build a fort. How to capture the flag. That crayfish lived in the crick behind the house. How not to make a profit at the lemonade stand. How to make a profit at a carnival my best friend and I planned for my backyard. What giving to a cause felt like. (We donated half the proceeds to the MS foundation.) How to make compost. How to grow impatiens from seed, and then impatiently wait for them to sprout seed pods we could pop. That those “frogs” were actually toads, and couldn’t swim so well. That a snake can be eating a frog [toad] while it is still croaking and alive. (Freaky. I think I might have cried.)

How to take pictures. Fill water balloons without getting blisters on my fingers. How to find those little crabs that burrow in the sand after the wave washes up on shore. What happens when you hit your neighbor with a large stick because he snuck in and destroyed your fort.

That some people are mean. And some aren’t. And I’d rather spend time with the ones who are nice, and make you laugh.

How to write a play. And pretend. How to swing on vines. How far we could ride our bikes. How many times I could fall and break open the same wounds on my knees. How to grow a vegetable garden, and not get too upset when most of it died. That no matter how hard I try, I can’t catch a rabbit.

One of the best things I learned on summer vacation is that if you go back to the woods with a blanket, your brothers and sister, and some suntan lotion, spread that lotion around the blanket to “attract the animals”, and sit quietly, a deer will come right up to you. So close you could touch. And stay there. Until your mom yells for dinner, you don’t answer, and she gets louder.

We need to rethink education in this country. Most of us know that. Some have suggested year round, or at least longer-year, schools. If, by that, they mean to make the kids what they do now the whole damn year, well, I can’t think of a worse idea. Some of the research supports it. Some doesn’t. Most measure “learning” in reading and math anyway, so what the hell do they know what I learned about crayfish and deer on those bubble tests. Not much.

But I’ve seen how cramped the style of learning has become. Teach to the test, get them up to standards. Building time for exploration and inquiry and critical thought is most definitely possible, but it takes work and I’ve seen too many who either don’t have the will to do it or the knowledge to know how.

I’d like to start with summer. Free from standardized tests, curriculum standards, and walls. Almost like we could start from scratch. I don’t want to take away that freedom and joy of summer. But then, not all kids today get that time. They stay inside, playing video games, or watching TV, which both have their place, but have nothing on the woods. Why can’t we create a summer school that provides that? Opportunities for kids to explore their interests and be hands-on and drive learning.

Only let’s not call it school. School’s got a bad rap in kid circles. Call it a club, or a guild, or whatever. Take the involuntary connotation out of it.

Take high school. Kids can sign up for the clubs of their choice during the year. Upper classes get first pick. They can choose from say, Photography Club and Biology Club and the Guild of Naturalists and the Junior Archaeologists and the Music Club [only more types of music, let the kids pick, have a garage band if it suits their fancy], and Art and History and Genealogy and Drama and Anthro and Activism and Business Club and whatever. I could keep going. You get the idea.

Almost every day, either when I’m dropping Jack off at school or on my way to my own, I hear this song. I can’t help but think someone’s trying to tell me something.

*Cross posted at Annals of the Hive.* Image by Flickr User adwriter, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic.

So Far...

Another Wordle creation. 

My thoughts on the class so far.  I love Photoshop and Dreamweaver.  I could easily see myself using both in the classroom regularly for various purposes.  I gave in and bought the Creative Suite for Students.  Great deals for students - got it for something like, "$1800" off.  Saving money going broke...

I love digital storytelling and can see many different uses for that, and I'm having quite a lot of fun putting mine together.  I actually think I may use that in my current field work experience in a literacy/social studies unit I'm working on.  

I think the emphasis on technology as a tool rather than the center of the classroom is essential.  I do wonder if there's any place for traditional skills like keyboarding, which I am hugely grateful for learning.

Copyright is quite the imbroglio.  One, it seems like the laws need updating/clarification as we progress through this technological age.  Two, determining the limits of educational and fair use - not so simple.  Even the seemingly "simple" rule that works published prior to 1923 are in the public domain is not so simple - just discovered yesterday that even for say, photographs originally taken in the 19th century - there can be a current copyright on the digital version.  Thus the need for updated laws and guidelines.

As it happens, I love the blogging, it gives me an excuse to write.  I think for the purposes of the class, however, there might be a better system.  I thought of this after reading Clay Burell's archived posts on blogging (the link just takes you to one of them, but there are many worth reading - tagged blogging, or through the links at the bottom of the post).  I think it would be good for each student in the class to have and write on their own blog, but rather than on pre-assigned articles or questions, just on anything educational-technology related.  There could be a required number of posts per week, or whatever.  As it is now, we're all writing separate blogs on the same topic, quiet posts without discussion (arguably the best part of blogs), and it's really more of another way to turn in assignments.  Instead, I think it might be beneficial to all post, in the comments sections, on a class blog about each article/question - it would encourage discussion and allow more collaboration.  The class blog blogroll could then link to each individual blog.  

I think the experience of blogging is an important one if we plan to use it in the classroom.  I also think seeing how it is used in this course is a good model for how it can be used in the classroom.  Having a central class blog for assigned writing allows a place for discussion while the individual blogs promote a richer discussion and individualized reflection on the central issue of technology in the classroom.  As we are all coming from different fields, it would really create a broad information network and discussion platform.  Just my two cents.

Image of the Day

Image by Janice Harvey Carr, from the CDC's Public Health Image Library, #9994.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Image of the Day

Digitally enhanced photograph of Stalin, Lenin and Mikhail Kalinin.  Originally from the Congress of the CPSU.  Taken in 1919.  

I've never seen them so young.

Baby Podcasting...

...Well, not quite.  But a great site to start young. 

(H/T to Langwitches.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Picture Dictionary

Great site.  I wouldn't recommend using it in the classroom, but it's a good model for something we could create on our own, especially for English Language Learners, the visual component being essential.  You could do this either by designing your own site (or addendum to an existing site), or through a Photograph service like Flickr.  (Here's some examples already being created.)

(H/T to Steve over at Off On A Tangent.)

Money for Nothing?

So the stimulus plan allocates $650 million to America's public schools for educational technology.  Is it enough?  Is it ever?

This money needs to be spent effectively and intelligently.  I worry it won't be.  (Nothing new in educational spending.)  There's a little over 95,000 public schools in this country.  The funds aren't distributed to states or school districts equally, but let's just pretend they are for a second - that's about $6,800 per school.  Not that it's chump change, but technology and its implementation is expensive.

For one, part of the money is to be spent on "data systems that track student achievement."  

Arne Duncan "said he wants states to use other funds allocated in the stimulus package to adopt accountability-oriented reforms along the lines of some recent New York City initiatives, such as the creation of a comprehensive data system, called ARIS, and the introduction of a program that gives some teachers bonuses based on their students’ test scores. The city Department of Education said in a press release...that it might try to use some of its stimulus money to expand those initiatives."

ARIS, or the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, "gives educators access in one place to critical information about their students – ranging from enrollment history, diagnostic assessment information, credits accumulated towards graduation, and test scores to special education status and family contact information. ARIS combines this information with an online library of instructional resources and with collaboration and social networking tools that allow users to share ideas and successes with other educators in their school and across the City.".

Doesn't sound bad, right?  How about at the bargain price of $80 million dollars for five years?  It's also used to "to give each school a letter grade, A to F, and will show whether principals are meeting their performance targets."  And, no surprise, it's been plagued with many of the problems that always plague the launch of these technological behemoths.  Elizabeth Green has a lot of good stuff on ARIS over at Gotham Schools, if you're interested.

Sigh.  Can someone please just give me the budget and the red pen?  Money doesn't grow on trees.  If it did, I wouldn't care about this "investment."  But $80 million dollars?  In one city?  For data mining?  Are you kidding?  This is precisely why I have a problem with non-educators running the show.  Almost all of the things that ARIS supposedly does could have been done with existing systems - at a much lower cost.  When I think about what that 80 mil could have been spent on...

And now we're stuck with a Secretary of Education who wants to repeat that on a nationwide scale.  Excellent.

I didn't initially plan to write this rant on data collection in schools, but that's where it went.  The part I originally planned to focus on was the computer lab part - I think it's an ineffective and un-integrated way of adding technology to schools.  I think computers and technology should be in the classroom, not down the hall.  Personally, I'd be happier with one or two computers in my room.  I understand, due to budgets and resources, that's not always possible, but I still see it set up that way in the "wealthy" school districts and I think it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the right way to integrate technology.  

Image of the Day

"The Bombing of Dresden."  From Flickr User Stuck in Customs. (Creative Commons Licensed)

Apparently, when they rebuilt this church, the Dresdner Frauenkirche, a few years ago, they reused thousands of stones salvaged from the bombed church in the rebuilding.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Benefits of Online Writing

I've been thinking about online habits of students and as such reflecting on my own, and I had the rather obvious realization that being online, entering the world of blogs and Web 2.0 has once again made me a writer.  Yes, I would write the occasional paper or reflection for school, but I'm actually writing again, thanks to this blog and other online places, in the same way we want to teach and have our students writing.  They write every day, list things they want to write about, and keep practicing.  In the past, outside of the classroom, writing was often something I would do in utter privacy, in the locked pages of a journal or saved in some deep dark folder on my hard drive.  

Something about the casual nature of blogging allows me to just write, less concerned about what people are thinking.  Blogging can be almost like a stream of consciousness, perhaps on one specific field (like educational technology) or on your whole life.  It gives us a sort of freedom that is lost in an endless stream of assigned topics and required papers.  And maybe too, something about the anonymity of the Internet, even when people I know are reading it as well, is freeing.  

But the best thing about blogging, I think, is that it is not just a platform for writing, but one for discussion, with the comment sections often becoming the most interesting aspect of the entire thread.  Personally, I put more thought into written word than in conversation, the slower pace allowing me to check a citation or fact, or even at times going into several layers of research before composing an answer.  Never before in our history has there been a platform for discussion like that (pre-Internet) - handwritten letters are slow, in-person and telephone conversations are quick, leaving less time for reflection and thought.  Even emails are generally between two or a small group of people and generally have a different purpose.

It's nice to write again.  Maybe I'll get to that book someday. ;)

Image of the Day

Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller at Lochland. Geneva, New York.  Circa 1909.  From the the Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911, from the LOC.  I cropped, rotated slightly, and fixed the color on the photograph.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

See What You Can Learn on the Internets?

Try this.

On the Images...

I'm adding a daily feature - Image of the Day.  I have a couple reasons for doing so - one, it's a good doorway into the many imagery resources we have on the web (without having to steal them!), and two, because photography will play a major role in my classroom.

Photographs say so much.  They really can be worth a thousand words, and sometimes go beyond the power of words.  The visual imagery is a great force for understanding and insight.  Photography books (a.k.a. "Coffee Table Books") litter my tables, countertops and bookshelves.  They can take you around the world and through time and can spark imagination and emotion in a way unique to photography.  The realness of it, the truth of it, seems like history caught in time, without the filters of secondary sources or media or opinion. (Photoshop and its ilk change that, but nonetheless.)

I would use photographs on a daily basis in my classroom.  As a potential writing prompt, a doorway into the next history investigation, the next science inquiry.  I would encourage my students to be both consumers and producers of quality photography.

Teach your passions, I guess.

Pretty Funny.

Not exactly tech-related, but a good laugh...

List of the "worst" analogies teachers have gotten over the years.  I think they're pretty damn funny.  And not in a haha-look-how-bad-these-are kinda way, but actually funny.  Teachers really need to stop stamping out creativity and humor and irony.  Or we'll be left with no chance for another Twain or Vonnegut.  

My Top Ten (in no particular order): 
10. Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.
9. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30. 
8. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something. 
7.Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
6. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at asolar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it. 
5.Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph. 
4.Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like “Second Tall Man.” 
3. The sardines were packed as tight as the coach section of a 747. 
2. The baseball player stepped out of the box and spit like a fountain statue of a Greek god that scratches itself a lot and spits brown, rusty tobacco water and refuses to sign autographs for all the little Greek kids unless they pay him lots of drachmas. 
1. I felt a nameless dread. Well, there probably is a long German name for it, like Geschpooklichkeit or something, but I don’t speak German. Anyway, it’s a dread that nobody knows the name for, like those little square plastic gizmos that close your bread bags. I don’t know the name for those either. 

Image of the Day

Richard Kobayashi, farmer with cabbages.  From the LOC's Ansel Adam's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar.

Boy, Are We Stupid.

Dumping on the next generation has become a time-honored tradition in this country. Every few years, a study comes out showing how woeful these kids are in history. And I do mean every few years – I looked into this once, and found articles on it going all the way back to about 1935. Really. I’ll write it up sometime.

Same goes for innovation. There’s always someone out there claiming the latest technology is going to lead to social and moral decay, to the dumbing down of society. And so Susan Greenfield joins their ranks, another “voice in the wilderness” warning us of the technological dysptopia to come. Only she doesn’t really seem to understand.

There are two things I always love about these arguments. One, the “accuser” in this story always picks one of the biggest websites to head their dire warnings. But it’s never actually about those specific sites. Facebook. MySpace. Google.

Two, that we were once a nation of endless geniuses. Thus, technology has changed that all, and we are all fast becoming morons. Nevermind that say, Alan Greenspan, Henry Paulson, Phil Gramm, Bernie Madoff, George W. Bush, and Dick Fuld all attended school and grew up in a pre-Google, pre-Facebook world. So what’s their excuse?

“Facebook is rewiring our brain.” Oh no! Sounds horrible! Obviously, as a neuroscientist, Susan Greenwood is well versed in the idea of neuroplasticity, which is what she bases her “theory” on. Of course the Internet rewires our brain. Essentially, according to the idea of neuroplasticity, everything does. Walking down the street. Gardening. Reading. Watching TV. Sewing. Driving. And so on and so on.

What kills me most about all of this is that she’s making an argument from authority here. “Top neuroscientist.” Well, I can’t find any scholarly research mentioned anywhere in these articles.

Ok. So I went to the databases to see what she’s published recently. The most recent was an article in New Scientist, from May of 2008, which is essentially the boiled down version of the book she’s promoting and doesn’t offer much different than the news articles. Theory of evil technology based on theory of neuroplasticity. No studies whatsoever. Ok. So Moving on.

Back a little further. April 2006, from The Guardian.
“Now imagine there is no robust conceptual framework. You are sitting in front of a multimedia presentation where you are unable, because you have not had the experience of many different intellectual journeys, to evaluate what is flashing up on the screen. The most immediate reaction would be to place a premium on the most obvious feature, the immediate sensory content, the "yuk" and "wow" factor.
You would be having an experience rather than learning. The sounds and sights of a fast-moving multimedia presentation displace any time for reflection, or any idiosyncratic or imaginative connections we might make as we turn the pages, and then stare at a wall to reflect upon them.”
I really can’t get past the fact that she doesn’t seem to display any understanding of just how various the ways are that people use the Internet and technology.

And further back, an article from the New Statesmen, June 2005.
If this current generation is living in an avalanche of answer-rich, question-poor inputs, and if we dons are faced with everyone being "above average", faultless, yet lacking curiosity, then we are heading towards a rather bizarre disconnect between what is taught and what we need and value.
Surely we should be determining how we are going to bring back a scenario where young people have the confidence to risk being wrong. They should be taught in an environment where there is no problem in seeming stupid, and asking endless questions, and where they have time to venture down intellectual cul-de-sacs, to explore unlikely possibilities, to weigh up alternatives and, above all, to work out for themselves a framework within which they view the world.
I think what’s most fascinating about this is that she completely misses that the Internet and technology helps open up that second scenario.

I have not read any of her books, not the latest on this issue nor the first.  I’ll watch out for them though, even though I'm not expecting much substance. She's been banging this drum for some time, it seems

I actually do think that there should be extensive research into the effects of technology on our brains.  But this type of sensational fear-mongering drives me up a wall.  It's about selling books and getting site hits.  But I wonder about it as well.

Sometimes, I think of it in the grand scheme of things.  The idea of neuroplasticity as it relates to evolution.  It's actually incredible to think about - but the history of humankind is the story of an evolving brain, to the use of tools and the evolution of language, and our increased reliance on abstract thought.  The Great Leap Forward - Behavioral modernity.  Even with serious research, perhaps only time will tell if our brains are once again adapting to our environment.  

Well.  I'll leave you with this.


***Cross posted at TPM Cafe.***


Well, I can't say this is one of the ways I expected technologies to change schools.  Very cool. 

...Not just for the kids...

I've been meaning to write on this for awhile.  Professional development (aside from the massive learning opportunities the Internet provides) for teachers now abounds on the web.  Sometimes I wonder if this type of digital learning is given the same respect as traditional learning, but that's fodder for another post.  

I'm still not really getting around to writing all of this up, but I stumbled across this today, and thought I'd share.  Three free professional development workshops that look at digital storytelling across the curriculum, making the math/literature connection, and Internet literacy for education.  

Mostly, I'm fascinated with the platform of this type of p.d.  

(H/T to Barry Bachenheimer over at A Plethora of Technology.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Into the Great Unknown...

Image of the Day

Hoei Maru Shipwreck.  
Hoei Maru shipwreck at Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. Photo by Claire Fackler, National Marine Sanctuaries Media Library.

Got Some time?

Get lost in the digital vault.  

Sunday, February 22, 2009


              "Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech."

So, in addition to Creative Commons being a great resource for finding images (whose creators have waived certain copyright rights for other uses), today I stumbled into Wikimedia Commons.  Launched about 3 years after Creative Commons, it's somewhat similar, though the rules for entering an image (or other media file) are slightly different.  

   Taken by Mila Zinkova

In any event, it's got links to some remarkable photos.  

From the Detroit Publishing Company Collection at LOC. (Though this copy may be digitally enhanced.)

  From the Edward S. Curtis Collection at LOC. 

Value Added

When we talk about the integration of technology into the classroom, we are often assessing the “value added.”

What is the value of all of these technologies? Does it make learning more accessible to all learners? Does it help us work closer toward a classroom based on Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

I think it depends. It depends on the classroom, the technology and support for that technology, how it is used, and each individual student.

My teaching philosophy is heavily influenced by the idea of multiple learning modalities, in particular, Gardiner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

Which fits nicely with the concept of UDL, the foundation of which is multiple means of representation (visually, auditorily, tactilely, etc.); multiple means of action and expression (different ways for students to express themselves and show what they know); and multiple means of engagement (different ways of motivating and challenging students). It is a way of meeting the needs of a diverse group of learners. I should add that while UDL was designed as a way of creating full access to students with special needs, I really believe that it applies to all learners with and without special needs – as well all learn and succeed differently. UDL uses individual students’ strengths to create a richer classroom experience.

Considering this, one of the greatest values added by technology is the ease with which teachers can now create such an environment. It is now easier than ever before to actually individualize the curriculum to each learner. The flexibility of digital media, and online applications allows both the teachers and the students to have a wide range of “means of representation and expression.”

However, I think the value of this has to be assessed on a classroom-by-classroom basis. The age and abilities of the students, the knowledge of the teacher – all variables in this complex equation.

Teddy Bears Go Blogging was a great way of integrating technology into the primary grades. It is simple and focused and allows students communication with the broader world. I could foresee some instances, however, where technology may even become a hindrance to education – the danger of which seems particularly high the younger the students. Many of the applications and technologies we’ve looked at seem better suited to the upper elementary grades. This is to be expected, as the majority of the curriculum becomes more complex as students go through school – technology isn’t different, in that sense.

But all of these technologies – blogging and other Web 2.0 websites, Photoshop, digital imagery, and Inspiration – can all add value to the primary grades if used in a simple, focused, and “small” manner. As the students mature through the grades, elementary teachers can continue giving more digital freedom to maintain the benefits of the technologies.

Bottom line – determining the benefits of technology requires teachers to be constantly reassessing, evaluating the technologies and students on a classroom-by-classroom basis, and for each technology use and curricular unit.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What Type of IT User Are You?

Take the test.

They tell me I'm an omnivore.  

Why We Need to Think Carefully About Technology in the Classroom

The New York Times has an article up about the latest push for technology in education: the cell phone industry is pushing to put cell phones in classroom, citing research (paid for by Qualcomm) that showed improved learning outcomes in math with the addition of cell phones into the classroom.   The study followed kids in 9th and 10th grade in four N.C. schools in low income neighborhoods.  They were given high-end cell phones with Windows Mobile and "special programs meant to help them with their algebra studies."  

The students also were allowed 900 minutes of talk time and 300 text messages a month to use outside of class. Teachers monitored the messages and reprimanded students if any of the activity violated the school’s standards.

And then from the teacher who administered the program: 
But Ms. Kliewer also said that she spent much of her own time at night, and during weekends and holidays, monitoring the students’ phone use and occasionally disconnecting phones remotely when students broke the rules.
Let me just say that I have serious doubts about the benefits of putting cell phones in the classroom, and think this is a good story that represents the difference between adding technology to classrooms and integrating it.  And, I don't think my own personal time is best spent monitoring text messages and phone use.  When I'm spending personal time outside the classroom working on school-related things, I think it should be about curriculum planning, reading, thinking, learning more, and so on.  

I also don't think research funded by a company that has a vested interest in its outcome is all that convincing.  Certainly, additional research is needed in this, looking at the other variables in the situation (such as teacher knowledge on how to best use them in the classroom), and so on.  

It's unfortunate how politicized education is, from the powerful influence of the textbook lobby and standardized testing companies (Happy coincidence that the big four test producers also happen to be - you guessed it - textbook publishers.) to the influence of the pharmaceutical companies on medical schools.  I hope we can hold off on adding another industry to that list.  At least until there's some more convincing evidence.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Earth As Art

   "Image courtesy of USGS National Center for EROS and NASA Landsat Project Science Office"

This is definitely one of the coolest sites I've ever seen.  The Earth as Art.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Games for Change

Video and computer games have a bad rep.  Yes, there are some strangely violent games out there, but there's some pretty good ones too.  And there have been some positive effects of video games found, such as improved problem-solving skills, and enhanced perceptual and cognitive skills.  (Having watched my brother, Master Gamer, for years, I quite believe this to be true.)

But I wanted to highlight another type of computer game, a movement toward using them for social change.  I say, if they are the hook that draw the kids in, that's fantastic.  

Here's the Games for Change site.  It's got quite a few on there.  The list grows every time I check back.  Free Rice is strangely addicting, Against All Odds can actually be pretty tricky.  

Excellent News

Youtube is working on allowing an option for contributors to add a Creative Commons license to their uploads.  Which means you can download videos to your computer and use them offline.  Which means a wider range of educational applications.  

What does literature say about the era in which it was written?

More on Historical Inquiry

Some recommended websites:
Great information for teachers and students on evaluating propaganda.

Offers a case study for the process of historical inquiry through the story of Martha Ballard.

Nice site for teachers seeking to incorporate historical inquiry into their classrooms.

Cool sites.  Some frivolous stuff, but also some good stuff for ideas for classroom inquiry. 

And, the best for last:

...And another word on textbooks

So this link includes a defense of textbooks in the history classroom as a major part of the article.  
Most textbook critics concede that textbooks are a necessary tool in history education. Arguments for textbook-based curricula point out that history teachers require resources to support the broad scope of topics covered in the typical history classroom. Well-designed textbooks can provide a foundation on which enterprising educators can build other classroom activities.
Sam Wineburg, a professor history and education at Stamford, has written on historical thinking.  In Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, he writes, "Textbooks dominate history classrooms, and, as Peter Schrag has noted, history textbooks are often written "as if their authors did not exist at all, as if they were simply the instruments of a heavenly intelligence transcribing official truths.""  

So I can't buy the argument either that textbooks are needed to supplement the teacher's knowledge of history.  For one, there are massive amounts of information online, much of it available for free, the use of which frees up a lot of resources that could be better spent in the classroom.  As I see it, one of the responsibilities of teachers is to be continuous learners themselves.  So that means constantly expanding their own knowledge base, learning about that which they seek to teach.  There are many ways to do this, and using textbooks as the "foundation" is not the only way, nor do I think it's the best way.

I'm not arguing to abolish textbooks either.  I'm arguing for the marginalization of them.  They should have a place in the classroom, as yet another reference.  Perhaps as a springboard for discussion on how history is "decided upon," or how biases color historical representations, or the nature of truth in history.  And so on.  

I have a history textbook from my last college survey course on early American history.  Called Give Me Liberty! An American History, it was published in 2005, authored by Eric Foner, and covers U.S. history "up to 1877."  Let's look at an example within this book.

Roanoke Colony: One blurb, one page:
"...Raleigh dispatched a fleet of five ships with some 100 colonists (many of them his personal servants) to set up a base on Roanoke Island, off the North Carolina coast, party to facilitate continuing raids on Spanish shipping.  But the colonists, mostly young men under military leadership, abandoned the venture in 1586 and returned to England.  A second group of 100 settlers, composed of families who hoped to establish a permanent colony, was dispatched that year.  Their fate remains a mystery.  When a ship bearing supplies arrived in 1590, the sailors found the colony abandoned, with the inhabitants evidently having moved to live among the Indians.  The word "Croaton," the Indian name for a nearby island or tribe, had been carved on a tree." (p.32)

That's it??  A history mystery?  What's cooler than that?  

First of all, Croatoan (the correct spelling) wasn't carved on a tree, it was carved on a fence post, on the tree appeared "Cro."  No bones, no corpses.  The boats and cannons were missing.  The book makes no mention of Manteo, raises no questions.  Well, did anybody go check out the island back then?  (John White tried to.  A hurricane hit the Outer Banks and damaged the fleet sufficiently.  They decided to return to England.)  There are great maps, images, and documents that could be used to explore this mystery.  Why not look at John Lawson's book and Hamilton MacMillan's pamphlet on this?  

Maybe my biggest beef here is semantic in nature.
"Their fate remains a mystery. When a ship bearing supplies arrived in 1590, the sailors found the colony abandoned, with the inhabitants evidently having moved to live among the Indians."
1 : in an evident manner : clearly , obviously
2 : on the basis of available evidence
Really?  Actually, no.  Nothing has been firmly established on the basis of evidence.  There are, however, multiple hypotheses.  And again, with the finite representation of history.  You'd never know people are still trying to figure this out.
There is an ongoing DNA project to try to determine lineage of the colonists (which I'll grant the author, project started the year the book was published.).  There have been remote sensing projects to try to locate the remnants of the colony.  Only fairly recently have there archaeological examinations of the region.  And I would definitely talk about the controversy over the Eleanor Dare stones. 

...historical thinking and inquiry learning...

Historical thinking is inquiry based. Historians work by asking questions, seeking answers, researching, examining, finding discrepancies, looking for patterns, making connections, developing interpretations, debating, and so on.

This was never my own experience in the history classroom. “Learning” was to take place by reading the assigned chapters and answering the often inane questions at the close of the chapter. Memorizing dates, names, places. And no, I do not remember the dates of all the battles of the Civil War, as I was tested on one day in history during high school. Not one primary document crossed my line of sight until years after I finished college.

I had to take a U.S. history survey course about a year ago, as a prerequisite for certification. Much to my disappointment, I found myself once again in a classroom curriculum chained to the textbook. No primary documents. No questions. No real discussion.

I had finally become interested in history on my own, through genealogy research and luck in who I met and worked with. Certain pieces of history, sometimes lost in the cracks, tended to interest me the most. The hunt of family research, the frustration of the brick wall (What in the world possessed the Irish to burn their records?), the looking for answers and finding them, and sometimes NOT finding them. The digging through census records and military files and old photographs and immigration records.  What finally drew me in to a subject I had long abhorred? The inquiry, of course. The process, the discovery, the joy in finding some hidden tidbit and the ever-growing list of questions that accompanied each discovery. This is of course, how history learning should look.

I’m still working out how this will look in my classroom, and don’t expect to ever have a definite answer. It’s hard to decide what works best before being in the classroom, of course, but even once there I suspect I will be tweaking my methods for years to come. The plan, as it stands now, is to have an integrated classroom that teaches across disciplines using social studies as the anchor. A big part of this means making resources available to my students to explore, and I’ve actually started doing that already: compiling my own resources, book lists, websites, primary documents, articles, lesson ideas, lists of good digital archives, and so on. The materials of exploration.

All of this requires our expectations for our students to be high.  Sometimes, out of a desire to protect our society's children, as parents and teachers, our expectations are much to low, in the name of "protecting them," or based on a too stringent view of "developmental appropriateness."  I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "They're not ready for that," "That was an exceptional group of students that did that, wouldn't work with most kids," "They can't handle it."  Simple self-fulfilling prophecy at work here.  And yet we lament the lack of critical thought or reflection.  How will they develop those skills with no practice?  It's as foolish as waiting till your kid is 10 before putting him on a bike. Surely, he's "ready" now, yes?  And then being surprised when he can't just pick up and ride off.  

Take a look at this site, CUNY's "Investigating U.S. History."  It's a series of lesson modules into American history designed for college level students.  Take a look at some of the objectives under each section.  Why couldn't these objectives be the same for elementary students?  In the lesson on labor unrest during the Depression, for example, the objectives include: 

"To stimulate an analysis of issues and events from a variety of perspectives."
"To provide an opportunity to investigate the rise of organized labor and spread of industrial democracy as both a response and a spur to Roosevelt's New Deal."
"To offer a structured way to interrogate and utilize primary sources."

Sounds good to me.  The results will be different (hopefully!) between a college level lesson and a fifth grade lesson on it, but there's no real reason why elementary students can't engage in this higher level of thinking.  

As I see it, this is one of the most important skills we can give our kids.  You'd never know it by looking at how students and schools are held accountable, or by observing the all-too-common sidelining of social studies in elementary classrooms. lays out pretty well why this is so important.  (Click link on that page for pop-up video introduction.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

More on Web 2.0

Classroom 2.0:
Social networking for teachers interested in using Web 2.0 technologies in their classrooms.
Make your own social networking group, allows for a "private" option making it useful for creating a community around the students (and possibly their families).  Blogs for each user, photos, discussion forums, and events calendar.  Pretty cool.
Allows for collaboration on one word document, password protected.  Great for shared writing projects.
Really, really, really easy way to create a quick website.  Definitely helpful if you're crunched for time.
Add photos, notes, videos, and more to a map.  Good for documenting local history projects, field trips, walking tours...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dust off those Manuscripts...

You walk down the stairs and greet the librarian. She hands you the sign in sheet, where you list just about every detail of your life. You lock up your belongings. She hands you gloves, and shows you to a table. The room is strangely lit, and rather airless. Up come the boxes. The archival material.

Papers. Photographs. Books. So old it seems they just might crumble at times. But how exciting! To be right in the thick of history, instantly transported back to the moment when the letter was written or the photograph shot. No longer a passive consumer of history, but a new kind of participant, someone who has touched and seen it with their own eyes.

That’s the beauty of primary sources, of course, something we often talk about using in education, but rarely do. It used to be difficult. Field trips to the archives wouldn’t exactly be tittilating for students, and the archivists might have an MI.

The beauty of the Internet today is that those dusty old papers, photographs, and books can come to you. To the classroom. To the students. Through the Internet.

Archives across the world are digitizing their holdings. The ramifications of this trend on education are enormous. Students living in Oregon can “travel” to the National Archives without going to D.C. Students living in Florida can discover the history of the Pacific Northwest without leaving the sunshine state.

From a pedagogical standpoint, we speak a lot about inquiry driven education, of guiding students to find answers rather than simply giving them answers. Digital archives allows us to take this pedagogy into historical education in a whole new way.

Students can read one of FDR’s fireside chats from 1933. They can explore documents and photographs regarding the internment of Japanese Americans. They can examine propaganda from World War II. They can compare maps of Indian Territory over the years. Students can remember 9/11. They can investigate the Venona papers and explore indigenous Alaskan culture. They can read the death warrant for John J. Kehoe and find information on the Pennsylvania canal system.  They can listen to the voices of civil rights in Mississippi or read the journal of a Freedom School teacher.  

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

Universal Design for Learning

Created on Inspiration 8, a concept map of Universal Design for Learning *(UDL).

Inspiration is a great program. The templates alone provide a wonderful variety of graphic organizers, and I like in particular that you can go from an outline to the diagram and back again, and I would have students who had difficulty outlining use this program themselves. It's a little bit difficult to fit everything in and have it still make visual sense when there's a lot of material to cover, as in UDL.

Universal design for learning is one of those ideas that really seems so obvious, but actually takes a good deal of creativity and innovation to implement successfully. One of the thinks I was continually struck by when I was taking special education was just how much technology was used to bridge the learning gap. It's truly remarkable to think of the things we can do today that we unthinkable not all that long ago. But what I consistently thought, as we went through all the methods for adapting and accommodating the curriculum to a variety of learners is, this can help everyone. For example, for students who have speech and language disorders, classrooms and curriculum should be heavily visual, with tons of visual reinforcement for language, and should employ different learning modalities. But of course, this is good for all students! That's really the most basic idea behind UDL.

Seeing the Big Picture: Looking at the 60s Visually

One way of looking at the 60s.  Brings in literature, people, music, art, science...

Focus on Social Studies: What That Means

Just a few of the things "social studies" can mean, created in Wordle.

I'm going to use social studies as my curricular focus for the course, and in this blog.  In particular, the first content standard as described in the Connecticut Curriculum Framework for Social Studies: Students will develop historical thinking, including chronological thinking and recognizing change over time; contextualizing, comprehending and analyzing
historical literature; researching historical sources; understanding the concept of historical causation understanding competing narratives and interpretation; and constructing narratives and interpretations.

But first, I have to explain my philosophy of education a bit more, and my views of pedagogy and curriculum.  Even though that standard is my stated focus, few lessons and units can, in my view, be taught with such a narrow focus.  Learning, and the world, is by nature interdisciplinary.  Social studies units and lessons will draw on many of the things mentioned in the word cloud above.  We use reading, writing, art, music, and science to understand various aspects of history and culture and people.  

The division of awareness and understanding and learning into specialized disciplines is a development characteristic of the modern world.  In ancient times, they were looked at as parts of a whole.  Look to the Renaissance Man, the embodiment of Renaissance humanism, or the ideal of universal learning.  Today, we see a renewed push toward integrated curriculum, as a more complete way of teaching and learning.  Interdisciplinary learning is an essential tenet of my educational philosophy, so while I will focus on social studies and historical thinking, to accomplish those objectives means to draw from many other fields.  

There are so many ways that technology, including Inspiration, Photoshop, and others, can support learning in this area.  Here, here, here, and here are just some of the ways we can use digital imagery.  One of the great things about these technologies are that they can help us to bridge the gap that's created by the division of disciplines: integrating art with history, using the music of Woody Guthrie to understand music as an agent for social change, mapping out the connections of a central theme across disciplines, breaking down broad historical themes visually to see connecting threads through time...

We can use these things to support historical learning, but in a way that encourages deep, critical historical thinking - recognizing not just change over time but similarities throughout history, not just interpreting history but understanding it and its lessons.

Integrating Art with Social Studies

 "Art is the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in." - Amy Lowell

Some really incredible pieces of art have been created through the recent development of digital art. Digital art can allow us to go places we couldn't previously, and makes art accessible to all of us (even the most artistically challenged of us).

Art speaks to us in ways words and photographs cannot, and provides another doorway for students seeking to understand an idea or concept from all sides.  "The work generates itself and ideas and progress and learning come out of doing the work in a particular way. Creative art is a learning process for the artist and not a description of what is already known."  -Gertrude Stein

 I would let students explore creating digital art from historical or current photographs that document whatever our current topic was. All of the photographs in this post have been altered in some way, using Photoshop Elements. They are all photographs I would use in a unit on migrant workers, and each tells a different story.

"Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students. What better books can there be than the book of humanity?" -Cesar Chavez

Where in the World Is...

Adobe Photoshop can let us bring a little of the Carmen San Diego popularity into our own classrooms. Students can ask questions, get clues, and add pieces of the photo to try to guess where in the world they are, ultimately finding the location on a map. Combining photographs and maps is a good way to make the places on a map come alive, and it's a fun, low-pressure way for kids to learn about their world.

Have pre-saved layers of students, either individually or as a group, can allow you to quickly place your class in many places across the world. Photos can then be printed out or projected as a slide show as you progress through clues and questions. This is one of the easiest activities to do on Photoshop, once you've created and saved your layers for each of the students (or, to make life easier, the whole class).  Erasing parts of the scene doesn't require any precision, it takes only a few seconds.  

A quick, easy way to "travel" the world.

What's Wrong with This Picture? Evaluating Historical Documents...

We teach the scientific method in school.  We teach how to read.  We teach how to write.  We teach how to do math.  In all of those disciplines, we merge content with method, so that students may learn not just the what, but the how, in the hopes that their learning will continue long past when they leave our classroom.

But not in social studies.  Social studies has long been so content-focused to the point of excluding the how of it.  Did you ever learn the historical method in schools?  I didn't.  The textbooks treat history as if it were a solitary, static thing.  

The history of the world is pretty long.  It's simply not possible to cover everything in 13 years of school.  Better to give our students the tools that they may learn the history we don't get to on their own.  Evaluating historical documents, distinguishing between primary and secondary sources, and establishing the veracity and reliability of these historical documents.

Technology is a great way for us to do that.  Take a look at this picture.  It's a women's suffrage parade in 1912. What's wrong with it?   

Let the students explore it.  This is a photograph I'd use when they were accustomed to doing this, starting with more obvious errors first.  But through the evaluation of this photograph, students can explore women's suffrage, life in the early 1900s, and the invention of the car.  

Photoshop Elements makes this relatively easy.  There's a host of historical photographs available online, through the Library of Congress's American Memory, and hundreds of digital archives.  We can teach historical skills while also teaching content, and putting historical events within a context: Students learning about women's suffrage will, through evaluating this photograph, learn a little bit about life in the early 1900s: cars were just becoming widely available (like Model Ts, not Mustangs!) , the dress typical of the era, and so on.  This is important, particularly in the elementary grades, because often pieces of history are taught in such a disjointed manner that few connections are made: the invention of the car would rarely be taught near women's suffrage, despite the fact that they were occurring largely within the same time period.  

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  And who wouldn't want to hear their ten-year-old students pointing out, "Hey!  That's ridiculous - they were just starting to drive Model Ts back then!  Ford developed his assembly line only four years before that!"