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.

Student Consultants Design Museum Curriculum and Mobile App

Portrait of Seki Hiromura-Ace's mother and one of the Hiromura boys

If you follow my blog, you’re well aware of my advocacy for project-based learning. So when I was asked to teach a social studies methods class at the University of Portland, I naturally looked for a way to integrate a community-based project that would give my graduate and undergraduate pre-service teachers experience in PBL, the chance to work along side professional historians and an opportunity to make a difference in the community. For more on our course approach, see our class blog.

I live in downtown Portland on the edge of what is known as Old Town / Chinatown. Its a very diverse and historic neighborhood and once the center of a thriving Nihonmachi or “Japantown.” It’s now the home of the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, a small museum dedicated to “Sharing and preserving Japanese-American history and culture in Portland’s Old Town neighborhood, where Japantown once thrived.”

I approached the museum with a simple question – “What could you do with a dozen unpaid curriculum consultants?”

While planning my course, I approached the museum with a simple question – “What could you do with a dozen unpaid curriculum consultants?” And so our partnership began – my pre-service history teachers working with professionals at the museum to develop educational material to support their collection. I wanted my student so experience project-based learning from the perspective of the learner in the hopes that they would someday incorporate that approach into their teaching. I also wanted them to recognize that effective teachers are entrepreneurs, actively fostering external partnerships to support learning in their classrooms.

mobile-app-image

After a number of meetings we decided on three projects – an online lesson using curated videos detailing Japanese incarceration, a series of lessons to support an artifact-filled Museum in a Suitcase for circulation to Portland area schools and a iPhone app “Walking Tour of Japantown PDX.” All three projects would extend the reach of the museum and celebrate a once vibrant community that had fallen victim to wartime hysteria.

The app was going to take some technical assistance, so I reached out the Portland’s app community and was able to partner with GammaPoint LLC, PDX-based mobile app developer. We are worked with them to develop Japantown PDX, a native iPhone app walking tour of the historic Japantown in Portland. It features geo-fenced text, photos, audio and tools for sharing user reaction to the content via social media. We are also working with GammaPoint to make this project replicable in the k-20 space.

gallery-1912 Portrait

More on PDX Japantown: During the 1890s Portland was a hub from which Japanese laborers were sent to work in the railroads, canneries, lumber companies and farms throughout the Pacific Northwest. By the 1920s, a steady stream of Japanese “picture brides” had transformed a rough and tumble twelve-block section north of W Burnside between 2nd and 6th Ave into a more respectable Nihonmachi with over 100 Japanese managed businesses and professional office. Portland’s Japantown thrived until the WWII when Issei and Nisei were rounded up by federal officials and incarnated in inland camps. Portland’s Japantown was decimated. After the war a few returned to the old neighborhood, but many took up new residence in Portland’s postwar single family housing boom. The neighborhood had long been home to African-Americans and various immigrant groups. As Chinese-Americans began to predominate in the neighborhood, it gradually became known as Chinatown. Today, even most Portlanders are unaware of it’s heritage as Japantown.

Text to Text: A Strategy for Common Core Close Reading

The-Scarlet-Letter-1917The NY Times Learning Network has just launched a new series of lesson plans called “Text to Text.” It’s a simple approach that pairs two written texts that “speak to each other.” I think it’s a Common Core close reading strategy that could be easily replicated by teachers across the curriculum – great way to blend nonfiction with fiction and incorporate a variety of media with written text.

Each lesson includes a key question, extension activities and additional resources to expand the basic lesson. Here’s two graphic organizers to help student organize their “Text to Text” thinking. (free PFD downloads)
Comparing Two or More Texts
Double-Entry Chart for Close Reading

The NY TImes plans to continue the series at the Learning Network – tagged Text to Text
To date they have created three sample lessons:

“The Scarlet Letter” and “Sexism and the Single Murderess”
Key Question: To what extent is there still a sexual double standard, and how does that double standard play out in contemporary culture?
It pairs a passage from “The Scarlet Letter” with a recent Op-Ed article that, together, invite discussion on societal attitudes toward female sexuality.

“Where Do Your Genes Come From?” and “DNA Double Take”
Key Question: How are recent advances in science changing our understanding of the genome, and how might this affect fields like forensic science or genetic counseling?
It matches a Times article with often-taught scientific, historic, cultural or literary material. This edition is about new findings in genetics.

“Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg”
Key Question | Is Snowden a Hero, a Traitor or Something Else?
It pairs two Times articles that capture parallel moments in history: Daniel Ellsberg’s surrender to the police in 1971 after leaking the Pentagon Papers, and Edward Snowden’s public admission in June that he leaked classified documents about United States surveillance programs.

Image credit: 1917 Film version of ”The Scarlet Letter” – publicity still (cropped)
L. to R Stuart Holmes, Kittens Reichert & Mary Martin Date

Teaching Big History

Big historyI just registered with the Big History Project – an online course that weaves scientific and historical disciplines across 13.7 billion years into a single, cohesive, science-based origin story. I always was a big picture guy. Here’s a link to the course guide and more about about the Common Core aligned program from the projects FAQ

What is big history?
Big history weaves evidence and insights from many scientific and historical disciplines across 13.7 billion years into a single, cohesive story. The course highlights common themes and patterns that can help us better understand people, civilizations, and the world we live in. The concept arose from a desire to go beyond specialized and self-contained fields of study to grasp history as a whole. Big history explores how we are connected to everything around us. It provides a foundation for thinking about the future and the changes that are reshaping our world.

What is the Big History Project?
The Big History Project LLC (BHP) is an organization focused on bringing big history to life for high school students…. BHP is sponsored by Bill Gates, separately from his work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For more on the Big History approach watch “David Christian: The history of our world in 18 minutes”

How is the course delivered?
All of the content is available online. A completely web-based model ensures the content is up-to-date, relieves schools of the need for costly textbooks, and also helps teachers engage students by providing approachable, media-rich materials that can be used in different ways. Pilot participants and anyone who requests a username and password is able to access the course. Students and teachers are issued a personal login to gain access to a specialized site that houses all courseware and content. It is up to each individual teacher to determine optimal approach to using the site. For example, in-class time may focus on group projects or discussion, with students absorbing online content for homework, or the site may be used as a core element of the in-class experience.

How is my school supported and what does it cost? 
Our goal is to ensure that big history is taught effectively with no cost to schools. We provide, free of
charge:

  • All content and courseware
  • Free PD/teacher training program
  • Access to core project team for support, assistance and feedback
  • A teacher and school subsidy to cover any direct expense and provide support for teachers

Most importantly, a spirit of partnership imbues everything we do. Our singular goal is to get big history in the hands of educators and students, we promise to listen and collaborate accordingly.  In return, we expect schools to collaborate and communicate with us to improve the program. Specifically, this means: incorporating BHP courseware, content and assessments into the lesson plan, participating in professional development activities, and regularly updating the project team about what is happening in the classroom.

How is the course organized?
Big history is broken down into 2 sections and a total of 10 units spanning 13.7 billion years. Within each unit there are between 20 – 30 specific content modules covering specific issues, topics, projects and assessments.
Section 1: Formations and early life: Theories and evidence of origins of the Universe, planet formation, elements, and life.
Unit 1: What is big history?
Unit 2: The Big Bang?
Unit 3: Stars & Elements
Unit 4: Our Solar System & Earth
Unit 5: Life

Section 2: Humans: The development of humans, civilizations, and key milestones in our progress.
Unit 6: Early Humans
Unit 7: Agriculture & Civilization
Unit 8: Expansion and Interconnection
Unit 9: Acceleration
Unit 10: The Future

DBQ Lesson Plan: Shopping with Historic Documents

Upchurch Family 1896While exploring my Twitter feed I came across a very inventive 8th grade history lesson created by John Fladd ~ twitter@woodenmask

At the core of this lesson are some rich historic source material – the 1900 federal census, 1897 Sears Catalogue historic portraits and biographies.  John agreed to this cross post from his his blog Teacher Toys: Christmas Shopping Without a Flux Capacitor. I urge to visit his blog – he’s a great writer with many ideas to share. Readers should access his site to see additional resources for this lesson and correlation with standards. Note: John gathers student feedback via his GoogleVoice account, though students could submit their choices using other means.

1897 Christmas Shopping Project

  1. Each student chooses a photograph of an American taken in (or around) 1897 and reads a small secondary source statement about him or her.
  2. The student transcribes information from that person’s 1900 Federal Census form.
  3. The student chooses three Christmas presents from the 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalog – one for $1.00, one for $3.00 and one for $5.00.
  4. The student takes a picture of each of his or her choices, then calls my voicemail and records a message, describing one of his or her items.

 

Tom Tate,

Step 1 – The Photos

After trying several different approaches, I discovered that the easiest way to find photographs of Americans in 1897, was to type “1897” in Google Images and Flicker. As it turns out, there are a lot of people out there who like to share their antique photographs.

Almost every antique photo I found included some background information – “This is my Great Uncle Cyrus, who lived in Possum Flats, Arizona, who later went on to invent the electric pogo-stick…”

It is this secondary source information that allowed me to find census data for some of these people. I included a copy of this information to students in their document packets.

1900 United States Federal Census

Step 2 – Census Information

As it turns out, finding photos of people in 1897 isn’t as hard as finding information about them. I was able to find a 1900 Census form for about one picture in three using Ancestry.com. I downloaded the highest quality image of each that I could.

I had students transcribe the original forms onto a blank census form, provided by Ancestry. The idea behind this was to get students used to dealing with primary source information – reading the handwriting, thinking historically, etc… Having them copy the information also made it more likely that they would actually read it.

I discovered that the best way for them to read the original census forms was on a computer screen, so they could magnify sections as necessary. (As students chose their people, I downloaded all relevant documents onto their individual USB drives, for use at school or home.) We did the transcriptions in the Computer Lab.

One interesting lesson for the students was that bigger magnification doesn’t necessarily mean more legibility. Students invariably magnified difficult-to-read sections as much as possible, which tended to pixilate the writing and actually make it harder to read. I had to remind them several times to back off on their magnification to read entries better. They were deeply suspicious at first – this seems counter-intuitive – but eventually MOST of them decided I might know what I was talking about.

sears bikes 1897

Step 3 – Shopping

This step was probably the most fun for my students. By the time they had read primary and secondary source material about their particular person, they knew enough about them to do some thoughtful shopping.

In most cases. (Fourteen year-old boys, though, given a choice, will buy anybody a gun, under any pretext whatsoever.) I had them fill out this worksheet, which kept them organized and gave them a script for when they needed to make their recording.

 

Step 4 – Photographing and Recording

On the advice of a much-smarter and experienced colleague, I bought several goose-neck lamps to provide enough light for students to take pictures of their entries. (The students complained about a burning-insulation smell. I later discovered that there was a plastic warning-label inside each lamp that needed to be removed.)

I tried to come up with a graceful and elegant way for students to submit their photographs electronically, but in the end, the easiest solution was to have students bring the camera to me as they finished taking their pictures and I downloaded the images directly from the memory card in the camera. I borrowed digital cameras from two other classrooms and set up three stations. This worked pretty well.

At this point, my students had turned in two other projects via messages on my GoogleVoice account, so they had the mechanics of that down pretty well.

The End Product:

Christmas Shopping for 1897 from John Fladd on Vimeo.

Image Credits:
Upchurch Family 1896 flickr/Pioneer Library System

1900 Federal Census showing Harry Truman as 16 year old Ancestry.com

Tom Tate, son of Captain Tate’s half-brother Daniel Tate, posing with a drum fish in front of 1900 Wright glider Library of Congress  LC-W851-86

Sears Bike 1897 flicker/Slowe

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