Students at the Center of the Learning

Thomas Hawk - Hub and SpokesIn the early part of my high school social studies teaching career, I saw myself at the center of the classroom. I was the focal point of the learning. I played resident historian – reading, crafting lectures and dispensing history to my students. They were on the periphery of the learning – waiting for my instructions, checking back with me for approval, giving me back my lecture on the unit test. Even the whole class discussions “flowed through” the teacher. Students directed their responses to me. I commented after each student with my approval or directing another student to give it a try. Without realizing it, I taught my students the only thing worth knowing was something coming from their teacher.

With time I learned to stop working so hard at being the smartest person in the room. With practice, I honed the skills of an instructional designer – an architect of learning environments – “spaces” where the thinking was done by my students.

I try to model that “architectural approach” in my social studies methods class. Take a look at today’s class, (University of Portland) you’ll see that I’m not the focal point of the lesson. By “flipping” a few instructional components and providing a student-driven evaluation, my students will be at the heart of the lesson. I’ll be floating at the periphery. Here’s a summary:

The students have written drafts for their first authored posts on EdMethods, our class WordPress blog. While I assigned the format of their post – they have selected the content. Before posting they will go through two peer reviews in today’s class and then make revisions based on the feedback. Instead of writing for their teacher they are writing for the web. Rather than being graded by the teacher, the quality of their work will be assessed by their peers before they “turn it in” for publication on the web.

Most of my students are new to WordPress. Rather than force the whole class to sit through my “How to use WordPress” lecture, I used the QuickTime Player to prepare ten brief (under 2 mins) video micro-lessons on posting to WordPress. Students can use that “just-in-time instruction” for exactly what they need to complete the posting process. That frees me to work with students who might want to make major revisions to their posts or need extra help with WordPress.

Next week, our class will focus on historic thinking skills. I want to use our class time to actually dohistorical thinking tasks, so I wanted to flip the content delivery. I used TEDEd’s great lesson builder to annotate an existing YouTube video with questions, student reflections and further readings. See Who is the historian in your classroom?

Interesting in flipping a lesson? Here’s info on my Flipped Classroom Workshop

Who is the historian in your classroom
Image Credit:
Flickr: Thomas Hawk – Hub and Spokes

How to Read Documentary Films

Child waiting to be taken to Manzanar April 1942 LC-DIG-fsa-8a31173

While many are aware that the US government forcibly removed and incarcerated more than 120,000 U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Few people know that the government recruited some of these same people to work at farm labor camps across the west to harvest crops essential to the war effort.

Uprooted from Uprooted Exhibit

Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II is a traveling photography exhibit (and website) that tells this story and provides a treasure trove of resources for historians, teachers and students. Uprooted draws from images of Japanese American farm labor camps taken by Russell Lee in the summer of 1942. Lee worked as a staff photographer for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), a federal agency that between 1935 and 1944 produced approximately 175,000 black-and-white film negatives and 1,600 color photographs.

I worked with the Uprooted team and developed a lesson How reliable are documentary films as a historic source? (Lesson Plan 2) The lesson begins with the teacher telling students that they are about to watch two short videos about the experience of some Japanese Americans during World War II. The first video was made in 1943 by the US government as an informational service to the US public. It features video shot in 1941 and 1942 and narration by a government official. The second video was made in 2014 by documentary filmmakers to accompany the Uprooted Exhibit. It features historic video from World War II as well as oral history interviews with Japanese Americans that the filmmakers shot in 2013 and 2014. The narration is taken from the interviews. Before the videos are shown, the teacher asks the students which video they think will be a more reliable historical source. (Be sure to have them justify their thinking to their peers). Prompts include: 

  • A video made in the era being studied or a video made over seventy years later?
  • A video made by the United States government or a video made by documentary filmmakers?
  • A video narrative by a government official or a video narrated by people who participated in the event?

The lesson then guides students through comparisons of both videos based on close reading strategies – what does the video say? how does it say it? what does it mean to me?

A complete lesson plan, collection of images and historic documents is available at Uprooted. A second lesson plan considers the question:  How reliable are documentary photographs as a historic source? (1.1, 1.2, 1.3) The site even includes a kit for students to curate their own Uprooted museum mini-exhibit.

You can find Uprooted on Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | Instagram

The museum exhibit open at The Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, OR on September 12, 2014 and runs through December 12, 2014. It then travels to Minidoka County (ID) Historical Society and the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland Ore. More exhibit info and updates

I’d like to close this post by crediting the talented team behind Uprooted. Curator – Morgen Young, Web and Graphics Designer –Melissa Delzio, Videographers – Courtney Hermann and Kerribeth Elliott. Uprooted is a project of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission.

Image credit:  Child waiting to be taken to Manzanar, April 1942, Los Angeles, California. Photographer Russell Lee. Library of Congress (Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF33-013290-M4)

How to Read Documentary Photographs

Russell Lee Los Angeles 1942. LC-USF33-013296-M4

While many are aware that the US government forcibly removed and incarcerated more than 120,000 U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Few people know that the government recruited some of these same people to work at farm labor camps across the west to harvest crops essential to the war effort.

Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II is a traveling photography exhibit (and website) that tells this story and provides a treasure trove of resources for historians, teachers and students. Uprooted draws from images of Japanese American farm labor camps taken by Russell Lee in the summer of 1942. Lee worked as a staff photographer for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), a federal agency that between 1935 and 1944 produced approximately 175,000 black-and-white film negatives and 1,600 color photographs.

Many are familiar with the work of Lee’s colleague Dorothea Lange, who worked for the War Relocation Authority in 1942. Lee also made significant contributions to the photographic record of the Nikkei wartime experience. Between April and August of 1942, he took some six hundred images of Japanese Americans in California, Oregon, and Idaho, including rare documentation of farm labor camps. To explore all of Lee’s FSA photographs, visit the Library of Congress website.

Farm Labor ad from the Minidoka Irrigator (camp newspaper)

Uprooted also features video interviews with Japanese Americans who lived and worked in these seasonal farm labor camps as well as an archive of engaging historic documents from the era. Lee’s photographs depict smiling Japanese Americans cheerfully making the best of  farm work and living in tents. But the interviews and historic documents tell a different story – harsh fieldwork, substandard living conditions and local townspeople suspicious of these intruders and their “questionable loyalty.” Even the incarcerated Japanese Americans were divided about working in the farm labor camps. Some saw it as an better alternative than the barbed wire of camps like Manzanar or Minidoka. But others resisted after hearing stories of grueling “stoop” labor, primitive housing and hostile locals.  

While Uprooted focuses on a what some might consider a “footnote” of the US WWII homefront experience, I recognized that this rich collection could provide students with the material to develop historical thinking skills in sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating and close reading.

How does this collection of video interviews and historic documents help shed light on Lee’s intent? Was he trying to gloss over the harsh living and working conditions to help recruit more farm laborers? Was he trying to depict the noble and patriotic sacrifice of Japanese Americans forcibly stripped of their homes and livelihoods following the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese warplanes? Or did Lee simply shoot what he saw while on a photo assignment for the FSA? 

I worked with the Uprooted team and developed a lesson How reliable are documentary photographs as a historic source? (1.1 Teachers Guide, 1.2 Photographs, 1.3 Documents) Students begin by reflecting on the photographs they take and often share on social media. What do you see in the photographs? What stories do they tell? Next they are taken through scaffolded activities to closely examine Lee’s photographs and compare them to the often conflicting depictions of the farm labor camps found in the other historic documents. Finally they are asked to reconsider their contemporary social media photographs and how they might be interpreted by future historian studying “the life of a teenager in 2010s.” A complete lesson plan, collection of images and historic documents is available at Uprooted. The site even includes a kit for students to curate their own Uprooted museum mini-exhibit. A second lesson plan is also available. How reliable are documentary films as a historic source? Lesson plan 2. 

You can find Uprooted on Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | Instagram

The museum exhibit open at The Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, OR on September 12, 2014 and runs through December 12, 2014. It then travels to Minidoka County (ID) Historical Society and the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland Ore. More exhibit info and updates

I’d like to close this post by crediting the talented team behind Uprooted. Curator – Morgen Young, Web and Graphics Designer – Melissa Delzio, Videographers - Courtney Hermann and Kerribeth Elliott. Uprooted is a project of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission

Top Image credit: Library of Congress
Title: Los Angeles, California. The evacuation of Japanese-Americans from West Coast areas under U.S. Army war emergency order. Japanese-American family waiting for train to take them to Owens Valley
Creator(s): Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer
Date Created/Published: 1942 Apr.
Medium: 1 negative : nitrate ; 35 mm.
Reproduction Number: LC-USF33-013296-M4

Newspaper Ad “You don’t need to wait any longer to get out.” From the Minidoka Irrigator.
Sugar companies posted recruitment notices and advertisements in public spaces throughout the camps, as well as in camp newspapers. Such advertisements emphasized seasonal labor as an opportunity to leave confines of camp, but also marketed the work as the patriotic duty of Japanese Americans, ignoring that they had been incarcerated and denied their civil liberties.
National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., Record Group 210, War Relocation Authority.

How To Use Social Media to Network Your PLN

 LandscapeI’m getting ready for the fall semester at University of Portland School of Education where I teach grad and undergrad social studies methods class. Our class blog EdMethods.

This year I’ve decided to become much more purposeful in training my students on how to use social media for their own professional growth. As a proof of concept, I thought I’d crowdsource for some ideas that I might incorporate into my social media course strand. If it’s such a useful tool, time for some “dogfooding.”

I posted the following tweet

Social media tweet

With more than 140 characters to work with, I posted the following to a number of my Google+ communities and LinkedIn groups.

LinkedIn queryWithin hours the replies started to come in. In less than 48 hours I had received enough feedback to collect them in Storify. View directly here or embedded below.

(Storify won’t collect G+ discussion threads or anything from LinkedIn. So I did my best with text only.)

How would you teach aspiring teachers how to effectively use social media to network and for their own professional growth? Add your ideas in the comment below.

Image credit: Vocational training for S.A.T.C. in University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Class in Pole-Climbing in the course for telephone electricians, with some of their instructors. University of Michigan., ca. 1918 U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier:165-WW-119A(1)

A Satiric Lesson in Media Literacy

This Is a Generic Brand Video

First the backstory. Start with a clever essay satirizing the clichéd corporate message ad - This is a Generic Brand Video by Kendra Eash published in McSweeneys. It begins:

We think first
Of vague words that are synonyms for progress
And pair them with footage of a high-speed train.

Science
Is doing lots of stuff
That may or may not have anything to do with us.

See how this guy in a lab coat holds up a beaker?
That means we do research.
Here’s a picture of DNA. More

Next, a stock video footage company – Dissolve uses some of its clips to turn Eash’s piece into a meaningless montage of grandiloquent pablum.

Here’s the lesson:

  1. Ask students to read the full text version of Eash’s original, focusing on word choice, imagery and intent. What is Eash’s “video” selling? You might ask them sketch a rough storyboard to illustrate the text.
  2. Show the video with the sound off and let students list its visual details. Have someone read Eash’s piece while watching the video without sound. (Does the timing matter?)
  3. Discuss the artistic choices made by the video’s creators to illustrate the piece? How does the music and narrator’s voice impact the message?
  4. Compare the impact and effectiveness of text, audio and visual.

Care to extend the lesson?


Use YouTube to find political ads from current or past elections. How to they exemplify the themes raised by Eash?

Dissolve has a gallery of all the video clips used in the video. (Hover over them to activate.) Ask student to select the clips that they feel have the greatest visual impact. Ask them to explain how they might use these clips to tell a story. 

Show students this actual corporate video and ask them decide if it uses themes noted by Eash. How does the Suncor video compare to the Dissolve satire? Hat tip to Jeff Beer. More of his recommend corporate videos here. Students could re-edit corporate videos to “sell” their own message.

BTW – you’ve been exploring Common Core:

Reading Standards for Literature, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Standard 7, Grade 7. Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (for example, lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).

Reading Standards for Informational Text, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Standard 7, Grades 11–12. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (for example, print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.

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