Category Archives: Popular Culture

Free Technology for Teachers: Explore the World with the Google Cultural Institute

This is reblogged from my post on Free Technology for Teachers

I am a big fan of the Google Cultural Institute; it’s an amazing repository of Artistic Masterpieces, Wonders of the Natural World, Historical Artifacts, and more. By using it as a repository of digital materials, it’s an easy way to access cultural content from around the world in my classroom. I can pull up a high definition image of Van Gogh’s Starry Night and use its powerful zoom features so that students can see the impasto brush strokes. We can explore the Street Art of Sao Paulo with a Google Street View for a unit on modern art or the Ruins at Angkor Wat

Free Technology for Teachers: Explore the World with the Google Cultural Institute.

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The Stanford University Spatial History Project – a new view of history

This is reblogged from my post at FreeTech4Teachers.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Stanford University’s Spatial History Project is a community that combines humanities research with “spatial, textual and visual analysis.” On their about page, they explain that as scholars, they realize the significance and importance of displaying information…

read the remainder of the story here:

The Stanford University Spatial History Project – a new view of history.

PBS News Hour Launches 2013 Zeitgeist Competition

Zeitgeist Courtesy of PBS

Zeitgeist Courtesy of PBS

PBS Newshour Extra launches its annual Zeitgeist competition for 2013. Looking back at the major events of the 2013 year, students are challenged to create an multimedia experience highlighting the ups and downs of the past year. This year, they partnered with Google and  Meograph to help students create dynamic presentations. You can see an example on their website.

You can view the complete contest rules here and the press release here. The deadline for submission is December 14 (less than a week away) and the first prize winner will receive a Google Nexus 7 Tablet!

John Lennon’s Killer Denied Parole for the 7th Time

Mark David Chapman, the man who shot and killed John Lennon on May 8, 1980, has been denied parole again. Chapman, who now resides in Wende Correctional Facility, plead guilty for the crime and was sentenced to twenty years to life in prison. At each parole hearing, the prison system is inundated with letters and phone calls rallying against his release.

Chapman originally claimed that his motivations stemmed from delusion associated with the book The Catcher in the Rye:

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. – Mark David Chapman

More recently (some claim in an effort to gain his freedom), he has begun to take personal responsibility for the murder and stated that he now recognizes Lennon not as a caricature, but as a human being:

“I feel that I see John Lennon now not as a celebrity. I did then. I saw him as a cardboard cutout on an album cover. I was very young and stupid, and you get caught up in the media and the records and the music. And now I’ve come to grips with the fact that John Lennon was a person. This has nothing to do with being a Beatle or a celebrity or famous.”

Chapman will be up for parole again in 7 years and critics state that it is unlikely that he will ever be granted release.

Six Sites for Primary Source Materials

It is officially August and most educators are beginning to feel the pressure that is the beginning of school. As we start to look at rosters and enrollment, we start to pull out and revamp old lesson plans and search for new material. As a History Teacher (with a background in archaeology) I understand the relevance and importance of primary sources in the classroom. Primary sources are not solely essays or primary works, but art, photographs, and other avenues of popular culture.

Finding primary source documents on the web can sometimes be a bit of a scavenger hunt. I know that I have spent hours scouring the web for good translations, excerpted texts, or relevant materials. Additionally, incorporating primary source texts can be a challenge with high school children. My youngest kids are ninth graders and often, when I distribute an original text, it is the first time they have seen a document of this type. Additionally, as much as we educators do not like to admit, sometimes it is a challenge for us to come up with ideas and activities to effectively incorporate this material into our classrooms. How do we make this interesting? How do we make this comprehensible? How do we make this relevant? Bringing in an original work and simply tossing it into a classroom environment is a sure-fire method for failure – students will often be confused, bored, and overwhelmed. Teaching with primary sources requires preparation and method.

In this article, I am focusing on six websites that focus on providing primary sources for educators and students. These sites are all excellent resources for educators in the Social Studies with a broad range of topics: American History, World History, World Religions, Language, Literature, Art, and Politics. There are many more amazing resources out there and I encourage you to add yours as well! So, here are my favorite five (presented in no particular order):

1. Milestone Documents  (Subscribe to their Facebook and Twitter feeds (all free) for regular highlights of documents in their catalogue as well as lesson plan ideas.)

  • Cost: $106.20 for an annual subscription
  • Grades: High School and College  (the material is too sophisticated for elementary and middle school).
  • Subject(s): History
  • Geographic Focus: Milestone focuses heavily on American History, but includes a solid library of texts for all of World History (Ancient, Western, African, and Asian).
  • Additional Subject Focus: In addition to organizing the material by date and region, Milestone has sections of Social History including politics (heavily focused on American political history), religion, and women.
  • Material Types: Text-based documents
  • Navigation: The content area is easy to navigate and great for “browsing.” The search feature is excellent for when you know exactly what you need.
  • Teacher Resources: lesson plans, rubrics, and assessment material.
  • Web 2.0 Focus: Many of the lesson plans incorporate Web 2.0 elements – Google Maps, Mind Mapping, etc.

What sets Milestone apart from the free resources listed below is that each document is predicated with a succinct contextual/historical statement. Students and educators are provided with a solid background for the text. Most works are also followed up with a critical analysis essay as well as provocative questions. Milestone is an excellent investment for teachers and students alike.

2. EDSITEment – Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities,

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: K-12
  • Subject(s): Art & Culture, Foreign Language, History & Social Studies, as well as Literature & Language Arts.
  • Geographic Focus: World
  • Additional Subjects: Current event topics, social history, politics, religion, popular culture, and more. There are many sub-categories that merit exploration.
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, maps, etc.
  • Navigation: Easy to browse and explore content areas.
  • Teacher Resources: Educator’s using this resource can readily access a multitude of innovative lesson plans, activities, assessment materials, alignment with Common Core Standards, worksheets, and listings for additional materials and resources.
  • Web 2.0: Many lesson plans incorporate Web 2.0 elements

3. Smithsonian Education – Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: K-12
  • Subject(s): Art & Design, Science & Technology, History & Culture, Language Arts
  • Geographic Focus: World (US History most thorough)
  • Additional Subjects: Current event topics, social history, art history
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, audio recordings, maps, etc.
  • Navigation: Easy to browse and explore content areas.
  • Teacher Resources: Educator’s using this resource can readily access a multitude of innovative lesson plans, activities, assessment materials, alignment with Common Core Standards, worksheets, and listings for additional materials and resources.
  • Web 2.0: Many lesson plans incorporate Web 2.0 elements

4. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

  • Cost: Free for Educators and Students (private citizens pay per use), must register for access to materials. Gilder Lehrman encourages schools to register as Affiliated Schools (numerous benefits and access to more resources)
  • Grades: K-12, College, Graduate
  • Subjects: American History
  • Geographic Focus: The United States of America
  • Additional Subjects: Social History, Politics, Civil Rights
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, audio recordings, maps, video, interviews, etc.
  • Navigation: Easy to browse and explore content
  • Teacher Resources: some lesson plans and ideas, collaborative weblog, sponsored Teacher Seminars
  • Web 2.0: very little web 2.0 focus.

5. The Library of Congress

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: K-12, College, Graduate
  • Subjects: History
  • Geographic Focus: Heavily focused on the Americas (national and regional histories), limited resources for World History
  • Additional Subjects: Folklore, local histories, veteran history, literature
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, audio recordings, maps, video, interviews, etc.
  • Navigation: Tricky to browse and search, requires adaptability
  • Teacher Resources: Some sections have extensive teachers resources in the form of lesson plans and activities, others are more spartan in their construct. LOC offers grants for professional development.
  • Web 2.0: Some sections readily incorporate web 2.0 activities, others are more limited and traditional.

6. Perseus Digital Library – Sponsored by Tufts University

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: 9-12, College, Graduate
  • Subject: History, Art History, Archaeology
  • Geographic Focus: Heavily focused on Greco-Roman (founded as a Classical Library it contains all Latin & Greek works), Arabic, Germanic, 19th century America, Renaissance Europe, Egyptian Papyri
  • Additional Subjects: Humanism, Literature
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material; the Art & Archaeology Artifact Browser provides High Definition images of thousands of artifacts.
  • Navigation: Tricky to browse, excellent search capabilities. This is an fabulous tool so long as you know what you are looking for.
  • Teacher Resources: No lesson plans or activities, purely material resources.
  • Web 2.0: No web 2.0 incorporation.

As you can see, there are numerous and extensive resources readily available to educators. The six that I highlighted are a good start, but hardly an all encompassing list. If you have suggestions or additions, please add them here! In the meantime, get browsing for some great material and lesson plan ideas!

The Problem With Kids These Days… It’s Their Music

The other day, I had a few students hanging out in my office (I am a floating teacher, I have no room to call home, so I have a small office in the library). They were sharing with me their music and I was horrified. “Why?” You ask? “Was it loud? Obnoxious? Laced with profanities? Encouraging violence? Complaining about the world around them? Promoted a message against ‘the man’?” No! It was none of that! In fact, I would say that it was wholesome, unobtrusive, inoffensive, easy to follow, melodic… in short, drivel.

Call me old fashioned, but part of being a teenager is being rebellious, bucking the ‘status quo,’ annoying your parents and everyone else over 21. The music of today’s youth represents none of that. I think they even use it to bond with their parents as opposed to rebel. A few of my student even gleefully told me stories of how they went to concerts with their parents. Horrifying. Of course, that may also be because going to a concert these days costs a small fortune.

When I was a teenager, half of my music tastes were solely to annoy my parents. I poured my babysitting money into cassettes as my mother continuously destroyed them believing that they were literally satanic. Kids these days have never even heard of a cassette or an 8-track… I listened to angry rockstars sing about love, the establishment, warfare, dropping out of school, fighting for your right to party, or any myriad of things that angered the older generation (the only requirement). I remember when I purchased Ice T’s iconic classic “Cop Killer.” Did I mention that my father had worked his way through Law School as a police officer? That went over well…

So, what is wrong with the world today? I propose that it is the music of ‘the kids these days.’ It’s their music. It has no marker of rebellion, anger, or discontent that marked the youth of my generation. Buck it up children!

How the Stair Master Made me Socially Awkward – or was it Facebook?

I have never been a runner…. ever. However, I realize the importance of exercise and make an effort to stay in shape… most of the time. Two ACL surgeries have firmly put me in the ‘low impact’ category of exercise and I have found my cardio main-stay on elliptical machines and stair masters. I get a solid workout without my knee swelling up like a cantaloup. I have used a stair master regularly for at least 15 years… maybe more… at least since my formative teenager years. These many years of using simulated stair-machines have now rendered me helpless in the face of physical steps. I stare at them confused, uncertain of my next move – how do they work? Why don’t they move? I will sometimes stand helpless for hours as I wait for a light to turn on and let me know whether I will be moving up them in “cross-country” or “random” mode while recording my caloric output.

I now fear that my decade long use of the elliptical machine is beginning to affect my gait and my casual amblings down the street will be the next victim in this long stretch of simulated activity machine incapacity. It won’t be long until free-weights make me unable to lift objects around the house – oh wait, I already have that ailment (or so I tell my husband).

This hyperbolic string is part of an exchange I have continued with my friend and colleague Dan, carried out almost entirely via text message. Dan and I share a passion for education and technology – in a lot of ways, he is more techy than I (and in some ways not). In spite of the fact that Dan and I regularly exchange jibes and jokes and basic communiques via text message we also chat on the phone and, when we find ourselves in the same town (as we live in other states), even get together for a meal or a drink – a real, in life social interaction.

Why am I making this ridiculous point? Well, one of my greatest annoyances about the complaints I hear bout the rise of technological communication is that it hinders and even stunts real-life, social interaction. I hear this remark from my colleagues, friends, families, and online (irony highlighted) all the time – Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, and email have turned us all into socially awkward troglodytes incapable of basic niceties beyond grunts and crude gestures.

Studies and assessments on the topic are often inconclusive or even contradictory. All that I can highlight is my own observations (as a consumer of electronic media for most of my life) and as a teacher of both the socially advanced and hindered. So, let me tell you a little about myself – I Facebook, I tweet, I email, I text, I blog, I play World of Warcraft (yep, that game), I list serve, I message board, I instant message, I Skype, I iChat, I LOL and if it’s really funny I’ll even RFLMAO. I also go out to wine tastings with my husband, have dinner with old friends, travel to Europe with colleagues, go on Southern California Adventures with friends. I have friends (in “real life”) that I’ve known for a year, and those that I’ve known for 20 (and a multitude in between). Other than my crippling social awkwardness around celebrities (sorry Eddie Izzard and Dr. Drew), I am actually a pretty social person. Texting hasn’t rendered me incapable of visiting my friend Michelle in San Francisco – in fact, it helps to keep our relationship on the front-burner as I can send her quick quips when they jump into mind. And when I see her in person, we catch up where we left off.

The world we are in today (for better or worse) is much different than the way it was in the past. We live far away from friends and family; our peripatetic lifestyles make it virtually impossible for us to keep up with all of the important people in our lives, spread out across the globe, using ‘traditional’ methods. However, with new media (like Facebook) I have been able to see my cousin’s (who lives 1,500 miles away) baby bump photos grow every week  with a smile on my face. I get to see my niece’s growth in between visits – her Easter Dress and Halloween Costume. They live 1,000 away from me, so I miss many events. Facebook, pictures and video messages have helped me to stay involved in those important moments in her life.

Now, I am not saying that I have not seen “socially awkward” children dive into Facebook or Twitter as a sanctuary from the frightening world around them. That is true. In a way, “online” provides them a safe outlet within which they may develop their own persona and thought out responses outside of the physical realm. Not ideal, by any means, but not the first time that this has happened. Before Facebook and Twitter, these were the kids who played Dungeons and Dragons without end or buried themselves in their parents basement with the ham radio. Children with social awkwardness do need special attention and often must be gently pushed into uncomfortable situations to help improve their abilities to get along with other human beings. This isn’t a new problem.

I propose that the idea that social awkward/technology promote social ineptitude is all wrong. Technology doesn’t cause social awkwardness in teenagers. Kids aren’t ‘forgetting how to write’ because of texting’ or unable to communicate face to face because they send emails. The reality is that technology and social media are tools – tools that can be used in many way. You can use a hammer to bash in somebody’s brain, but it also works really well for hammering in nails. I have witnessed social butterflies become monarch social butterflies using Facebook and Twitter. I have personally experienced an expansion of my own professional learning network (PLN) using social networking sites (not at the expense of my personal interaction).

In my experience, social media becomes a problem for those who already have a problem – it further exacerbates an existing issue. However, for the mainstay it’s another tool – an expansion of our already social nature.