Historypin – Make DBQs with a Digital Time Machine That Layers Image, Story and Location

While planning for my next document based question (DBQ) workshop, I discovered Historypin. It’s a great mashup of digital photos with stories layered over Google maps. Users can search images by geography / time and post historic photos with stories to maps. It’s fascinating to view historic photographs set against the backdrop of current Google map street view.


Here’s a circa 1894 photo I uploaded to Historypin showing a bridge crossing the Erie Canal in downtown Rochester NY. It’s layered over a functioning “street view” in Google maps.

In Historypin’s story section, I provide a brief history of the canal’s impact on the growth of the city.

Then I pose a question. “I wonder if the people in the old photograph still appreciated the canal’s role in creating the city of Rochester, or if they had come to see it as outmoded nuisance which divided the city in half?”

For more ideas for classroom see:  image guide | story guide | teachers’ notes

What I like most about Historypin is that it adds a new dimension to the DBQ approach to instruction – students don’t simply learn from historic documents – they get to document their world for future generations.

More from Historypin:

Historypin was created as part of our current campaign to get people from different generations spending more time together. From a lot testing, we found old photos are a great way of getting people talking about how their street used to look, what their grandparents were like and what’s changed (or not) over time. 

We decided to create a website where people everywhere could share their old photos and the stories behind them, pinning them to a map of the world. We also thought it would be neat if you could compare these old photos with how the world looks today, making the site a bit like a digital time machine. So we asked Google if they’d help. They let us use their map and Street View functionality and helped us build the site. 

The great thing about Historypin is that when they’re using the site, loads of people are spending time with someone from a different generation. Older people have attics full of old photos, younger people know when to click and when to double click.

How Does A School Foster Hope?

One of the best aspects of my work is that I get to meet many talented educators. I’m on the road this week, and I invited two of them to do guest posts. This second post is by James Steckart, Director of Northwest Passage High School. I met Jamie this past summer at the Project Foundry unConference.


“Hope… which whispered from Pandora’s box after all the other plagues and sorrows had escaped, is the best and last of all things.”
 Ian Cadwell (The Rule of Four)

Portage We can disagree whether hope is the best of all things, but let us suppose for a moment that Cadwell speaks the truth. What does hope give the student, the teacher, the parent, the community? Most parents wake up and hope that the lives of their children are better than theirs, whether they live in poverty or in opulence. The community hopes that its members contribute in some positive way to the better of the whole. Most children when they grow have real meaningful dreams of hope. Finally, most teachers hope that their work contributes to the healthy development of the students in their charge.

This concept of hope is common sense, yet most schools do not understand how they can produce hopeful students. In fact for a majority of students working their way through the a conventional school system, I would argue and data we have would suggest that their overall hope disposition decreases with the more time spent in school. Why would anyone stay in a place where their dreams, questions, and hope are called into question and disparaged?

Let’s look at a school where the concept of hope is front and center. At Northwest Passage High School (NWPHS) the mission of the school is simple: Rekindling our hope, exploring our world, seeking our path, while building our community. Embedding hope into our mission statement, we sought a way to measure this concept to see if we were fulfilling our mission.

NWPHS is a small progressive charter school where half of the day students work with their advisor designing projects that meet state standards, and the other half of the day they are in small seminar classes focused on an interdisciplinary topic involving field research and working with community experts. In addition, the school schedules between 30-45 extended field expeditions to further enhance learning. In a typical year the students travel and conduct research in a variety of urban and wilderness areas throughout the United States and 2-3 select international sites.

Each fall new students to our school complete the Hope Survey for new students, and each spring every student completes the ongoing Hope Survey. The survey measures student engagement, academic press, goal orientation, belongingness, and autonomy and is administered through an internet browser.

This allows us to get a sense of how much and whether hope is being grown. For us the longitudinal data confirmed what we knew in our hearts about our philosophy and methodology of working with high school students. Our ongoing students last year had a high hope score of 50.74 out of 64 possible. What lessons has this given us to share with others?

  • First, hope is built when you give students choice and autonomy. At NWPHS, project based learning gives students real choice while they meet Minnesota graduation standards. We track their learning with a sophisticated project management tool called Project Foundry.  
  • Second, we focus on building positive relationships with youth. We do this through intensive field studies, advisories, and service learning.
  • Third, we have faith that students will learn when you help them develop short and long-range goals through the use of continual learning plans and student run conferences which include the student, their advisor and at least one parent. These conferences last 30-45 minutes, and the student leads the discussion on their progress using their continual learning plan as the guide.
  • A student devoid of hope is a shell of a human being. They walk around listlessly living each day by the seat of their pants. Our job as educators, parents and community members it to instill a respect of these students and provide opportunities for hope to flourish.

Image: James Steckart

Public School Teachers – Problem Or Solution?

Susan Szachowicz
Susan Szachowicz

A few years ago, after giving a workshop at a Chicago-area conference, I relaxed over a deep-dish pizza dinner (what else?) with a few of the other presenters. I never forgot the no-nonsense approach of  Susan Szachowicz, principal of Brockton High School. I was pleased to see her school profiled in today’s New York Times – “4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong” 9/27/2010.

While Arne Duncan, Oprah, and NBC’s “Education Nation” are busy blaming public school teachers, it was refreshing to see the NY Times highlight the turn around at Massachusetts’ Brockton High School that flies in the face of current ”educational reform du jour.” 

A decade ago, Brockton High School was a case study in failure. Teachers and administrators often voiced the unofficial school motto in hallway chitchat: students have a right to fail if they want. And many of them did — only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams. One in three dropped out.

Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.

Note that this reform was led by dedicated public school teachers (including Susan, who later became principal) advocating a return to basics – reading, writing, speaking, reasoning. It wasn’t a top-down mandate, restructuring or charter school take over. It was a (unionized) teacher-led initiative, supported by thoughtful administrators. It took place at one of the largest high school in the country – so much for Bill and Melinda’s “small is beautiful” approach. 

Are public school teachers the problem or are they part of the solution? It depends on whether their unions put job security ahead of student performance. Teachers are responsible for results. But educational leaders, parents and the community are also responsible to support them. Accountability is reciprocal.

Kudos to the entire Brockton High School community. Their collaborative focus on instruction has resulted in dramatic improvements in student performance. It’s a lesson for parents, school leadership teams, teacher unions and education policy makers. Maybe Brockton can star in a sequel to “Waiting for Superman.” 

Image credit: Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick

Ninth Grade Academy Planner: Skills + Motivation = Success

I'm proud to have been part of the creation of two small learning communities – a Ninth Grade Academy and a Summer Prep School for at-risk learners. In each case, we first assembled a team of educators to forge a common vision of teaching and learning. Then schools were organized to accomplish this vision.

As a consultant, I've had the opportunity to share my practical experience with educators from across the country. See my website Small Learning Communities that Work for more info.

Last week, I had the opportunity to work with a talented group of teachers and administrators from Helena-West Helena School District in Arkansas. We put the finishing touches on plans for a new ninth grade academy. Their development began earlier this school year with strategic planning and site visits. To get our work started, I sent them this NGA-planning-guide (40KB pdf) in advance.  Their responses were a great starting point for our two-day session. By the time we concluded, we had produced a detailed implementation plan as well as mission, "mantra" and key features. As I reminded the team, you need a concise response to the question you'll get in the grocery store, "So what's this new ninth grade academy?"

Judging from the session evaluations, participants felt ready for the academy launch. 

"This workshop helped us catch the "ah-ha's" that we never thought of."

"The best part was the collaborative efforts, insights and involvement."

"Thank you for increasing the momentum."

"Our roles and goals are now clearly defined."

Mission Statement – Our mission is to create a safe and supportive environment to enable students to make a successful academic and personal transition to high school. The NGA will provide students with the skills and motivation necessary to take increasing responsibility for reaching their college and career aspirations.

NGA Mantra:  Skills + Motivation = Success 

Ninth Grade Academy Key Features

1. Dedicated Space: Located in the 9/10 building on the first hall. Each room in the NGA contains a SmartBoard that will be utilized during classroom instructions. The space will provide a safe and supportive environment to assist students in transition to the high school. 

2. Team of Teachers/Administrators: The ninth grade academy will be led by the principal, Mrs. Davis along with the team of teachers. This staff will be trained and dedicated to working specifically with the incoming ninth grade class. The goal is that each teacher will become familiar with all students academically and personally. This will support the familial environment of the NGA. 

3. Student-Centered Approach to Learning: Teachers will be trained in instructional strategies that support students taking increasing responsibility for their learning. 

4. High Expectations: The NGA administration and teachers will hold students to a clearly defined set of high expectations, both academically and behaviorally. 

5. Curriculum Designed to Support Skills and Motivation: In addition to the state mandated curriculum, a new course designed specifically for freshmen will be instituted. This course will focus on skill development, life-long learning, and career exploration. 

6. Timely Communication to Parents and Community: Online Engrade updates will be available to parents and students. In addition, parents will receive regularly individualized student reports. Via the district website and other district communications, the community will be updated on the progress of the Ninth Grade Academy. 

Photo credit: Flickr: Leeroy09481

How to Use Web 2.0 to Create On-line Professional Development

As a former assistant superintendent for instruction one of my responsibilities was organizing the district workshop days. It was valuable time – the entire faculty and staff was available – but also a challenge to develop programs that delivered meaningful PD that were also easy to manage and cost effective. Recently I received an email that introduced me to how one district is leveraging free technology to move their PD day to an online environment.

The email said … “I’m @steelepierce on Twitter, following you, and also following your Copy/Paste blog.  Would you be available and willing to have a telephone conversation, preferably Skype, with our Teaching & Learning Department?  Topics: 1) our using your ideas on summarizing and notetaking for a professional learning online “workshop” we’re creating for our staff (550 teachers!) and 2) your coming to work with our teachers in August 2010. Thanks for your consideration. Looking forward to hearing from you”

It sounded interesting, so I Skyped with the TLC at West Clermont Local Schools – M.E. Steele-Pierce, Cheryl Turner and Tanny McGregor. They developed a PD module based, in part, on my blog post, “How to Teach Summarizing Skills.” I shared my input via Skype and also by recording comments into the training module. They built the lesson using Voicethread and delivered it online to faculty across the district during their recent Professional Learning Day. In addition they used Wallwisher (at end of this post) to gather teacher reflections.

 Click to view the training module. Advance or return using arrows. Click thumbnails to see all slides. Use mouse to zoom in / out of slides.

These are challenging times for school districts – and relentless budget cuts add to the challenges. The team at West Clermont shows us how the innovative use of free tech tools can provide PD that is cost effective, builds local capacity, and models the instructional practice we want to see in the classroom.

For more ideas on how to develop quality PD, see my post “15 Essential Questions for the Successful Staff Developer.” For information on learning strategies for the classroom, see my post “18 Literacy Strategies for Struggling Readers – Defining, Summarizing and Comparing