WWI and the Human Costs of Total War

My Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland recently published a free multi-touch iBook – Exploring History: Vol IV. It features eight engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. For more info on our project and free download of a pdf or multi-touch iBook version click here.

To better publicize student work, I’m featuring each chapter in it’s own blog post.

WWI: The Human Cost of Total War by Anna Harrington
Find Anna at LinkedIn

Image credit: Gas Mask WWI by Paul

How To Teach EdTech to Future Teachers

I’ve been asked to pilot a new edtech class this spring for undergraduate ed majors in University of Portland’s School of Education. I’m still in the brainstorm phase and I thought I’d like to share some of my initial thinking.

First off  – a few things that I don’t want to do:

  • Oversell edtech. Too often educators try to force the latest edtech tool into the classroom because they think it’s cooler. Faster. Shinier.
  • Focus on teaching apps. Oh how I hated being forced to sit in a computer lab and suffer though PowerPoint professional development as a teacher. When I need students to use a specific app, I typically create a YouTube channel of short screencast how-tos. Or students can use the University’s Lynda account for more.
  • Take sides in the platform / device religious wars. These students will end up teaching in different settings, each with it’s own unique edtech landscape. They’ll need to be able to use what ever they find in their placements.

Instead I’d like to first “teach” adaptability – the mindset that’s helped me navigate the ever-changing edtech environment since I began my career in the early ’70s – an era of filmstrip projectors, 16mm movies and ditto machines. I’ve always thought first about my instructional goals, then tried to leverage whatever resources I could find to reach them. That calls for flexibility and a willingness to figure things out on your own. I couldn’t wait around for some school-sponsored PD.

A second, equally important goal would be to teach critical evaluation of the intersection of good instruction and technologies. A good teacher is skeptical, always re-assessing what’s working and what’s not. That’s especially important in the dynamic edtech world.

I envision a problem-based approach where I layout a series instructional challenges (opportunities?) and invite student teams to come back with a plan for achieving the goal using as much or as little technology as they saw fit. They would be expected to find a way to share their work in or out of class (why not flip that as well?) We would then go though a group evaluation, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t. Was the juice worth the squeeze? Move on to the next instuctional challenge. Reflect, rinse, repeat.

Here’s how I thought I might open my first class:  “Good instructional often begins with a pre-assessment. This is an edtech class, so as a starting point we need to get sense of where everyone resides on edtech landscape.”

  • What would be useful to know?
  • How should we gather that info?
  • How do we store and share (represent) what we find out?
  • Would any digital technologies be useful in this task? If so, which ones?
  • How do we set that up so that your peers can be successful participants?

Brainstorm over: Any thoughts on this approach? Anyone else out there teaching an edtech course and care to share?

Image Credit: Civilian Conservation Corps, Third Corps Area, typing class with W.P.A. instructor ca. 1933
National Archives and Records Administration Identifier: 197144

They Lived to Die: the Battle of the Somme

The_Battle_of_the_Somme_film_image1My Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland recently published a free multi-touch iBook – Exploring History: Vol III (free iTunes). It features thirteen engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. For more info on our project and free download of multi-touch iBook and pdf versions click here. To better publicize student work, I’m featuring each chapter in it’s own blog post. (last of 13)

Battle of the Somme by John Hunt
Download as PDF 768 KB

What are the different ways we can construct a narrative of this battle from the perspectives of these unique players?

The Battle of the Somme, or the Somme offensive, was the first major British offensive of WWI. It was also the most bloody, resulting in more than 57,000 British casualties in the first day. This outstripped the total number of casualties the British suffered during the Korean, Crimean, and Boer war combined. These staggering losses occurred, in part, due to a faulty strategy. The joint British-Franco force relied upon an artillery barrage that lasted several days in order to weaken the German line. However, due to the heavily entrenched position of the Germans, the artillery proved largely ineffective. When it came time to order the charge, the British command was so sure the Germans had been decimated, they ordered their men to walk – in orderly lines – across No Man’s Land. The result was pure devastation as the unscathed Germans opened up with the automatic fire of their machine guns and mowed down men line by line

Reflection by John Hunt
The creation of an iBook is fundamentally different from anything I have ever done before. It is a truly strange creature, halfway between the old publishing world and the new world of digital media. This is true in more ways than one. Not only does the power of publication, and dissemination, lie in one’s own hands, the inclusion of digital media upends the traditional book format. Videos, pictures, and interactive widgets replace text. The author becomes more than a writer. Rather, they take on the role of designer and publisher as well. It is truly a democratization of the publishing process, even more so than previous online publishing platforms.

More than all of this though, it is a unique way to present history. We all know that history is dry. Although we might imagine science or even math using interactives, history has a special place in the realm of books. It is something we have always read. Part of history’s mythos, its identity as a scholarly pursuit, is sitting down with a dusty tome and discovering facts line by line. That is no longer the case. There is nothing particularly more or less intellectual or factual about reading. People listen, people appreciate art, and people watch movies. These are all valid sources of information and deserve the place in history afforded by platforms such as the book.

Despite this, the actual creation of my chapter – a reflection on the different experiences during the Battle of Somme – was fraught with a return to tradition. I am very used to writing. In middle school, I made longer and more complex sentences just to get a higher Flesch-Kinkaid grading level. Although I have come a long way since then, it is still the medium I am most comfortable communicating with. The comments I received on the rough draft of my chapter reflected this. They all revolved around the same themes: less text, break things into chunks, make the questions easier, and more. Obviously, I will have some difficulty thinking of a book as more than just a medium for words.

Even so, I was very happy with the eventual outcome of my chapter. It is minimal. There are no fancy widgets, less pictures, and more text. Yet I believe I have struck a good balance. It is a balance between the old and the new, the traditional format and the possibilities of a digital one. However, it is also a balance between two more simple concepts. Words still have a fundamental ability to communicate the human experience like no other medium. To close, let me reflect on the quintessential saying a picture is worth a thousand words. Although the basic premise holds true, it is far from being the case in all instances. In today’s media saturated social spheres, the power of the image is incredibly diminished. We are used to images representing the shallow, crass demands of a consumer marketplace that demands our constant attention. In this new world, the power of words to speak to our innermost emotions, remains un-belied – and perhaps even more powerful.

Image credit: Scene of British troops advancing, staged for the film “”The Battle of the Somme” Wikipedia

American Popular Music Responds to Pearl Harbor

Remember Pearl HarborMy Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland recently published a free multi-touch iBook – Exploring History: Vol III (free iTunes). It features thirteen engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. For more info on our project and free download of multi-touch iBook and pdf versions click here. To better publicize student work, I’m featuring each chapter in it’s own blog post. (Seventh of 13)

A date of Infamy by Mollie Carter
Download lesson as 1.4MB pdf

It’s Dec 10, 1941 you are listening to the radio and hear a song about Pearl Harbor.

Imagine that you were in Hawaii at the time of the attack. Hawaii is not yet a state but America is dazzled by its island beauty; you might even think of it as part of America, your home.

Now picture that you are seeing these images in person, maybe you even saw and heard the planes flying overhead as the attack commenced.

What about the images sticks out to you that might leave a lasting impression? What are you feeling as you see the smoke billowing over the battleships? As the bomb explodes when it hits the ship? You know there is a war going on in Europe and in Asia, but now it’s come to you. What might your thoughts be about the people who attacked you? What ideas or values lead you to these thoughts?   

 

Reflection by Mollie Carter

I have rather enjoyed creating this lesson. The idea was something I became interested in while in college and have not had the space to develop since then. When this project was introduced to me I knew immediately what I would do.

It became more interesting, unfortunately, in the middle of November as Paris was attacked and hateful rhetoric began to come from the republican presidential candidates. It reminded me of some of the rhetoric after the attacks on the twin towers, which as a 12 year old then I clearly remember. As I started my venture into teaching, I realized that many of my students would be born near or after this day that so scarred my memory. I was reminded of my own age as well as my place in the greater timeline of history. It is this realization that directed me to think of another generations “day of infamy” and the ways we teach it to students who have little context for it.

I also find myself wanting to emphasize on historical empathy, or perspective taking. Often times when looking at history, we may look at it with our modern day perspectives and judge the people of the past without seeing things through their eyes. The purpose of this is not to justify their actions but realize that it could still happen to us; that if we forget the past or believe we are above it, we are bound to repeat it.

Creating this document based lesson allowed me to combine both of these ideas of mine into one, ideally powerful, lesson. I am not a Mac person so learning to use the book design software was a bit of a learning curve but in the end I found it worth it to create this easy to access lesson. I hope that whoever may find this will have some deep discussions both about our history and the nature of humans themselves.

Image credit: ”Remember Pearl Harbor
Words by Don Reid. Music by Don Reid and Sammy Kaye. Republic Music Corp., NYC, 1941.
From the Popular American Sheet Music Collection, Department of Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library.

Leo Frank: Anti-Semitism, Class Warfare, Media Hysteria

Leo-frank-police-have-the-strangler-headlineMy Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland recently published a free multi-touch iBook – Exploring History: Vol III (free iTunes). It features thirteen engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. For more info on our project and free download of multi-touch iBook and pdf versions click here. To better publicize student work, I’m featuring each chapter in it’s own blog post. (Sixth of 13)

The Lynching of Leo Frank by Jeff Smith 
Download at 3MB pdf

My great-grandfather, William Smith, was one of the lawyers involved in the trial of Leo Frank.

In the early morning of April 27th, 1913, the body of Mary Phagan was found strangled to death in the basement of an Atlanta, GA pencil factory. Next to her body the police discovered two semiliterate notes that seemed at first to have been written by her (“i wright while play with me,” read one) but were plainly the work of someone else.

The investigation focused on two suspects: Jim Conley, the factory’s black janitor who was arrested after he was seen washing out a bloody shirt a few days after the murder, and Leo M. Frank, the factory’s Jewish supervisor and the last man to admit to seeing Mary Phagan alive.

After intensive interrogation, Conley claimed Frank committed the murder when the girl rejected his sexual advances. Conley added that Frank dictated the notes to him in an effort to pin the crime on another black employee.

Frank and Conley were both arrested, and the ensuing trial captivated the entire city of Atlanta. The case also brought to the forefront the ugly realities of bigotry, prejudice, and hatred in the South.

 

Reflection by Jeff Smith

As I began thinking of topics for our document-based lessons, my mind immediately went to a topic with a strong family connection.  My great-grandfather, William Smith, was one of the lawyers involved in the trial of Leo Frank. (representing Jim Conley).

However, this dark chapter in the history of Atlanta, Georgia and the Jim Crow South is heavy material, dealing with racism, bigotry, prejudice and lynching.  All are certainly important issues worthy of a lesson, but the incident is not the most light-hearted affair.  I thought I might prefer to investigate in-depth a more approachable topic, but my family ties made the subject too attractive to ignore.

I was indeed correct in the difficulty of the material, and, as I dug deeper, ugliness after ugliness bubbled to the surface.  The topic also began to touch on a broad range of issues in the South, and focusing my lesson on specific documents and skills became an problem.  I decided to focus on media coverage of the event, comparing the coverage of competing local papers and the unseemly journalism that was practiced.

The most frustrating part of my research experience stemmed from the controversial nature of the topic.  As I google-searched various people and incidents, I noticed odd websites popping up.  I learned a bit more about these websites, and apparently the lynching of Leo Frank continues to be a linchpin topic for hate groups to this day.  There are several phony educational sites, published by hate groups, detailing “evidence” of Frank’s guilt and the conspiracies working to have him pardoned.  Unfortunately, these sites seemed to have hi-definition copies of famous photographs from the case, and it proved difficult sifting through the fake sights to obtain quality documents from reputable sources.

Overall, I felt the iBooks DBQ project was the most meaningful piece of work I produced in the MAT program this semester.  Not only did I learn more about my own family’s history, but I also obtained a useful new tech skill.  

In fact, in my spring placement I’ve decided to have my students use iBooks author to do a project of their own, presenting a story from a revolutionary period in the form of a children’s book.  The kids will create iBook chapters, assemble them into a collection, and present their stories to an elementary school class.  Their work will then be made available for the whole school to peruse, and for next year’s 7th graders to refer to when making their own book.

Image credit: Wikimedia: The Atlanta Georgian, April 29, 1913

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