Tag Archives: US History

Smithsonian Looking for Volunteers to Transcribe Historical Documents Digitally

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 9.32.13 AMIf you’re a history buff and looking to contribute to the world of education and history, then the Smithsonian is looking for your help. They are looking for digital volunteers to help transcribe their repository of historical documents – journals, letters, and more. Visit the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center and sign up as a volunteer. You can contribute to a larger work (transcribing a volume or a book) or work on smaller assignments, such as a letter or a note.

This a great opportunity to contribute to preserving our heritage electronically and helping to provide broader access of this content to the public.

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Student Documentaries in History Class

Every year, I have my students make documentaries (or digital stories) in class. If you would like to see my previous exploration into the realm of digital storytelling, you can check out those posts here.  I regularly revise the assignment and, coming to my new school Ransom Everglades, was excited to try it with a new crop of students in a fresh environment. As always, I was blown away by the work that my students produced!

Whenever I present this lesson for students, I do it in several phases. First, I always do a video that shows them my expectations in terms of presentation and research. This year, I decided it was time to upgrade my video and did a new one about the treacherous general, Benedict Arnold. You can see my sample video below:

While well produced videos are always nice to look at, I emphasize to my students that the primary objective of this project is research, synthesis, and developing a formal argument. The big change that I made this year (after receiving some meaningful input from a colleague) was that instead of allowing students to choose more “Biographic” or “Information Based” topics, I provided them prompts that required more analysis and research. For example, “How did George Washington receive his reputation for honesty?” or “What role did old world conflicts play in the Revolutionary War?” I was hoping that this would encourage students to do more in-depth, critical research.

Framing the Project

Like all projects I give to students, I break this assignment up into chunks. First, I establish the parameters of my project.

  • You must fully address the prompt.
  • Videos are a minimum of 2 minutes and a maximum of 4 minutes (excluding a “works cited” credits page).
  • All citation must be in Chicago Manual of Style (this is the Social Studies Department’s official citation format for research papers, I like consistency).
  • Due dates for each step are firm.

Picking a Topic:

I give my students a list of acceptable topics but I also encourage them to choose a subject on their own that interests them. We do our first day in the library so that students can do some preliminary research on the content before deciding what they want to do. I do not allow them to change topics once they have committed – so I advise them to choose carefully!

Research, Research, Research!

The most important aspect of this project is the research. I do require my students to use a minimum of two books (or sections of books) as well as

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

one academic journal. I also allow and even encourage them to use online resources, however I require that if they do they must apply the CRAAP Test. Not only is it a catchy name (my students never forget it), but it is also a sophisticated tool developed by California State University at Chico to help researchers (students, teachers, professors, lay-individuals) to assess content (with an eye to online material).

Another component in this is finding appropriate images, videos, or music for you overall product. As such, Digital Literacy (how to appropriately incorporate, cite, and use online content – this includes addressing issues of copyright), is a primary component in this assignment. I address this in my article, “How to Find License Free Content for School Projects.”

Outlining the Project

Example of a Storyboard

Example of a Storyboard

Just as you don’t sit right down and write a research paper without first drafting an outline, you should not craft a video without outlining it. As this has an image component, I require students to do a Storyboard. This is simply an image based outline. You can use any tool that you would like to do this. I personally just use PowerPoint.

This step helps them to organize how they will relate their information as well as arrange their images in the overall project. Just as the final research paper should not be identical to the first outline, it’s acceptable (even expected) that students move around, add, or remove images as the product evolves. I require that students turn this in early on, before they start actually building their project.

Writing it Out!

There is an important writing component to this project. Students must write out a “script” of what the narrator or actors will say in their project. This is the second required assignment in the process (after their storyboard has been approved).

I simply have students do this in essay form, but I do know that other educators want them to write it out as a formal script. This is where I emphasize that spelling, grammar, and punctuation do in fact count towards their final grade!

Assembling the Video

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This is a time intensive component of the project and I strongly encourage students to not wait until the night before to do this. Some of them listen, but a few have learned some hard lessons about waiting until the last minute. Remind them that unexpected issues can and do arise, they need time to address them! I’m very available after school the day before the project is due (if they have a problem). I am less available at 3:00 am the morning of…

In terms of video making software, I am very flexible. They can use any platform that they would like, the most popular are: iMovie (for Mac and iOS), MovieMaker, Adobe Premiere, and the YouTube Video Editor. My colleagues often ask if I teach the students how to use the software. The answer is – no. They learn as they use. Video editor software today is highly intuitive and easy to learn. I do offer help if they run into an issue, but I give them a check list to try before they come to see me:

  • Google your problem
  • Search “How To’s” on YouTube
  • Read the instructions of the software that you’re using – they all have a “Help” section or a “How To”
  • Ask a classmate or a parent for help

Creative problem solving is an important skill for students to learn and this project provides numerous opportunities for them to do just that!

Publication and Presentation

The last component of this project is that the students publish their work in order for us to view it as a class. Your publication methods will vary based on age group, school policies, and student access to material. At my school, students cannot access YouTube. However, we do have Google Apps for Education. I have my students upload their final videos to Google Drive and then embed the link on our class blog. However, you may have students play it from their own device or share on a class youtube channel. This is an important step as peer review is key in academic inquiry.

My students’ final projects were amazing. Here is a very small selection:

As you can see, they did some excellent work here! If you would like, you can download my Documentary Instructions and my Documentary Rubric. Just please provide proper citation if you use it!

Potential Pitfalls

While this is an excellent projects, there are a few potential pitfalls to keep in mind.

  • Students do not have equal access to resources and equipment. To compensate for this, I like to provide ample in class time to build the project.
  • Do not grade the bells and whistles, focus on content. It’s easy to be blown away by a flashy project even if the content is mediocre. This is where I find a rubric handy.
  • You may want to reach out to parents to avoid concern about a “tech” project (especially in a Social Studies or English Class). I wrote an article, “How to Gain Parent Buy-In for Classroom Technology Integration.”

Overall, have fun and learn as you go!

Free Online Course: The Kennedy Half Century

The University of Virginia is offering a free online course via iTunes U on the Kennedy Half Century. Larry Sabato, Director of UVA’s Center for Politics, will be exploring the impact of Kennedy Politics on America. The class discussion will be hosted on twitter @JFKClass. The book for the course can be purchased on the iBooks store. The course description is as follows:

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 8.36.15 AMWhen John F. Kennedy entered the presidential limousine at Love Field in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, he began his ride into history. That journey continues even today and we call it the Kennedy legacy. In the weeks leading up to the 50th anniversary of the assassination, this course will explore the Presidency, assassination, and lasting legacy of President John F. Kennedy. Students will learn how JFK’s life, administration, and tragic death have influenced the general public, the media, and each of the nine U.S. presidents who followed.

Identifying John F. Kennedy’s legacy and influence helps understand many of the vexing problems that developed over the last half century as well as many of the challenges that confront us even today. November 22, 1963 was so powerful a moment that in the fifty years since the assassination, every U.S. President that followed JFK has used Kennedy’s words and actions in an effort to craft their own political image. Why does Kennedy’s influence persist, and will it continue? What are the effects? We’ll address these questions and more as we explore The Kennedy Half Century.

Follow @LarrySabato on Twitter.  He frequently tweets about JFK and other political subjects.

Participate in the Class Discussion Board on Twitter @JFKclass

Take the free course, participate in class discussions, and learn something new!

Gettysburg: Insights & Perspectives

Thure de Thulstrup, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Thure de Thulstrup, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On July 1, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg began in Pennsylvania. It is one of the most important battles of the American Civil War. The Fall edition of History Now, the quarterly online journal published by the Gilder Lehrman Institute, highlights and explores and the battle from leadership, urban impact, and the pivotal speech by President Abraham Lincoln.

The publication is free to students and teachers. In addition to scholarly articles, it provides numerous educational resources. If you are interested in American History, it’s a great publication.

Smithsonian Researchers Play Alexander Graham Bell’s “Unplayable” Records

Alexander_Graham_BellAlexander Graham Bell is one of America’s most important scientists and inventors. Moved by the experiences of his mother and wife (both deaf), Bell heavily investigated the realm of sound and recording. He made several early recordings that, until now, were unplayable. Researchers at the Smithsonian have finally mastered the technology necessary to play these “unplayable records.”

Check out their research and listen to Bell’s actual voice in the article here.

Smithsonian Online Exhibit: On the Water

Thanks to my colleague Greg Cooper for letting me know about this great exhibit. The Smithsonian Museum has an amazing online exhibit: On the Water. The exhibit, divided by era and theme, explores physical artifacts, maps, narratives and accounts, as well as songs and stories all connected to man’s relationship with the Ocean. The exhibit, primarily focused on United States history, explores whaling, piracy, travel, and more.

In addition to content and material, the exhibit also provides numerous learning resources for educators, including lesson plans and activities.

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 2.13.44 PM

America’s Great Cities, Before and After – Interactive Maps via Smithsonian Magazine

San Francisco Peninsula, c/o Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco Peninsula, c/o Wikimedia Commons

Smithsonian Magazine has recently uploaded a series of interactive maps that help Americans to explore the topography of various cities – comparing the way they once looked to the present day. Check out all of their maps here: America’s Great Cities, Before and After. A couple of my personal favorites:

What Did San Francisco look like in the mid 1800s? – The interactive map allows you to compare the mid 19th century city to the modern, sprawling urban center. Explore the expansion of the city by the bay!

Compare New York City 1836 to Today – This interactive map compares New York City of 1836 to the megalopolis of today. You can explore the evolution of city neighborhoods, the park system, and more.

Other maps include Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Denver. All of the maps are very cool, interactive, and allow an overlapping comparison of urban development in these regions.