Teaching and Learning Resources by Peter Pappas

Teaching with Historic Photographs: The Google LIFE Photo Archive

Google has posted ten million photographs from the LIFE photo archive on their online gallery of images. It's a great source of material for teachers and students who support a document-based approach to teaching history. 

While I wish that Google had done more to curate the collection with robust search tools and more specific categories, I think that teachers will find it to be an invaluable resource to enable students to "be the historian."

I've put together this quick guide to help you get started.

1.  If you are unfamiliar with the document-based approach to teaching history, you might want to start with a quick visit to my web site Teaching With Documents. There you find many resources including Document-Based Questions (DBQ) for  students grade 2 – high school. Of particular interest are these Student Analysis Guides and for more detailed analysis – my Reading a Visual Document: Guiding Questions. (55KB pdf)

2.  If you are interested in how historic documents can be used to support literacy and critical thinking, visit my sample:  Homefront America in WW II.  It shows how to improve content reading comprehension with source documents framed around essential questions that link the past and present. 

3.  Now that you have some instructional background in using historic photos – it's time to visit the LIFE photo archive hosted by Google. It's organizes images by era and subject. Once you click on an image you get a brief description and some labels (tags) that allow you to find similarly tagged images. 

Lange For example here's one of the archive photos taken by Dorothea Lange in the Migrant Mother Series. It makes a great contrast to the iconic photo she took that day that is more commonly reproduced in textbooks. (You might ask your students which of the five photos they would choose, and why?)

The LIFE archive includes this description with the photograph: Migrant mother Florence Thompson & children photographed by Dorothea Lange.
Location: Nipomo, CA, US
Date taken: 1936
Photographer: Dorothea Lange

And LIFE archive uses these labels for this photo: Lange, Dorothea, Mothers, Fsa Photographers, Us, Tension Or Worrying, American, Poverty, Florence Thompson, Photography By, Migratory, Farmers, California, Expressions, Agriculture, 1930s
4.  If you don't already use Cooliris, I suggest you download this free browser plug in. It presents the photos in a broad panorama that  allows you to scroll through many images.  I've embedded a short clip below of Cooliris in action, so you can see how it can transform your browser when searching for images and videos on Cooliris supported websites.

5.  And remember that all Google image searches allows you to specify image size with this drop down box in the upper left of the screen. 

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How to Embed a Prezi Presentation in Your Blog


Please note that Prezi’s embed options have changed.
I updated this post on July 16, 2011.


Prezi is a great presentation software that replaces the lineal PowerPoint style with the ability to present text, videos and images in a unique zooming style. Here are samples of how I use Prezi in a variety of settings.

Here’s How to Embed

1. Open your online Prezi presentation and look for the Share tab (lower right in this screen shot.) Click share.

prezi embed 1

 2. You will get the dialog box below. When you choose “</> Embed” tab the dialog box expands and reveal your embed settings. You may want to adjust the pixel size to fit into your blog columns. Copy and paste the html code into your blog.

prezi embed 3

Wiimote Interactive IR Pen Whiteboard Solution

It's only been just over a year since Johnny Chung Lee's first posted his creative solution for turning a Wii remote into an cheap interactive whiteboard system. Watch Johnny Lee's original IWB video.   

Last week, Stan Merrell and Adam Wilcox - two of my Rochester NY tech buddies, met fellow Rochestarian – Tino Agnitti. Tino has developed a great Wii mounting bracket and IR pen that makes assembling Lee's Wii creation a snap. Tino calls his IR pen "The Groove" it's a sleekly designed, 2nd-generation IR pen that features – Hybrid Activation Tip Switch and Button, Treated LED for better tracking, Vishay TSAL6400. It runs on AAA batteries and it works great. I was especially impressed with its very intuitive interaction with writing applications. Tino also created "The Spot," a mount to connect your Wii remote to a standard tripod with a 1/4" – 20 thread.

Tino sells his Groove/Spot combo for only $39. Spend another $39 for a Wii remote (no need to use the rest of the Wii system) and you have an interactive whiteboard on any flat surface you choose to aim your  LCD. Tino showed me how to  aim the Wii at my monitor and we turned my MacBook into a tablet! 

Software? For PC, Tino recommends Smoothboard produced by Boon Jin Goh, a friend who lives in Singapore.   Tino set me up with the Mac version – Wiimote Whiteboard that I'm running. It comes out of Germany from Uwe Schmidt, a master's student at Darmstadt Technical University.  It was a quick install and it's especially easy to calibrate. For more on the growing wiimote community check out The Wiimote Project Forum  

I'm working on integrating the wiimote system into a portable whiteboard that I can use in my presentations. I'm very excited about pairing it with Prezi – its zooming capabilities will allow me to do exciting nonlinear presentations. 

My buddy Stan Merrell shot our meeting Tino

Prezi – Engage Your Audience with a Zooming, Non-Lineal Presentation

I’ve been having great fun with Prezi a new web-based presentation software currently in private beta mode. (You can submit a request to be included in the beta.) Prezi allows you to easily create maps of texts, images, videos, PDFs, drawings and present them in a nonlinear way. The menu for adding elements has a very unique navigational approach. (Easier to experience than describe.) Once you’ve added your text and graphics you can define a path through the material. But you can also click on any element in the presentation and zoom until it fits the whole screen. Likewise you can zoom out to reveal the larger presentation canvas. Here’s a link to the Prezi online manual

Once completed the presentations can be saved on the Prezi server or downloaded to your computer as a fully functional file set for presentation. (Once downloaded to your computer the presentation is no longer editable.) Prezi will host your presentation to share with others via the web. You can set permissions open up or limit viewers. You can even collaborate by allowing group editing. 

I’ve been working on a brainstorming Prezi (embedded below -click arrow to play). You can click on any element to fully enlarge. For example, click on the image of Ben Stein and the video clip will play. Click on any of the bracket or circle frames and the defined area will fill the screen. Hold down the “R” key on your keyboard and the left mouse will rotate the screen. Use your mouse wheel to zoom in or out. You can explore the presentation using your mouse to pan and zoom or use the path I defined by using the arrows in the lower right. There you will also find a fill screen icon. Here’s a direct link to the presentation

Build Literacy Skills with Wordle

I've always been interested in quantitative displays of information. I've been having lots of fun with Wordle – a free website that creates "word clouds" (or "tag clouds") for text analysis. Simply copy/paste text and in seconds Wordle gives you a visual representation of word frequency. The example below was created by analyzing all the words used in my blog in 2008. Click the screen shots below to enlarge.
Picture 1

While you can directly type into the Wordle text box, I would recommend you copy and past text into it. That allows you to get text directly from online sources or your own text document. Student can either work on their individual Wordles or collaborate together on one. In the later case, it's probably most efficient to gather all their writing into one text document before copy/pasting it into a Wordle. Use tilde sign to create phrases. Example: learning~strategies. Another tip: After you create a Wordle, right click a term to remove it from the Wordle results. 

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The site allows you to modify the color scheme, font, alignment and even set the maximum number of words to include in the analysis (example top 100 words, top 50 words, etc) For inspiration on layout see these Wordle samples at Flickr

Wordle output – If you PDF generating software, you can "print" a Wordle to a PDF file. Or you can do a screen capture of the Wordle. Do live Wordles on your smartboard. For a how-to on screenshots click here.

So how could your students use Wordle?
Defining  skills – Before the dictionary comes out, give your students a new vocabulary word and ask them to brainstorm all the word they associate with it. Gather up all the brainstormed words for a Wordle. After the term has been formally defined, repeat the process and compare to the "pre-dictionary" Wordle.

Summarizing skills – As a pre-reading exercise – copy/paste text of reading into  a Wordle and ask students to predict what the main ideas of the reading will be. Another pre-reading option – give them a Wordle of a non-fiction reading and ask them to use the Wordle to generate a title or headline before they see the real article. Post reading – ask them to reflect on the reading based on a prompt (examples – main idea, what you've learned, funniest element, etc). Then collect all their reflections into a Wordle.

Comparison skills – Give them two different accounts / essays on the same theme / event – let them compare the Wordles generated by each. Or you could generate Wordles for two different reading – then let student see if they can match the Wordle to it's corresponding reading.

I've been collaborating with fellow educators on a Google Doc guide to using Wordle in the classroom

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