Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Guardians of Freedom

In each teacher's career there is the time when you say "this is the best thing I will ever do as a teacher". That happened to me in 2000. My co teacher, Judy, mentioned in the middle of August that she thought it would be neat for students in our gifted program to interview WWII veterans. This was the year of the Library of Congress Veterans Project and I agreed but we immediately realized there would be some stumbling blocks. We figured it would be hard, if not impossible, to interview veterans without knowing anything about the time period or the war.

So we embarked on a world wind saturation curriculum. Since we only saw our students (3 different classes) one day a week we knew we were going to have to cram. Through the fall and winter I gave a series of lectures on the time period between 1915 and 1945. Sometimes the lectures would last would last several hours and it still amazes me that our fifty 5th and 6th graders would sit and listen intently. We supplemented the curriculum with guest speakers, videos, web activities and field trips.

As the year progressed I asked my mom who she knew that had fought "in the war". She suggested I contact the seniors group at a local college and ask all my friends and students about their parents and grandparents. The rest, as they say, is history. Hoping to get about 20 veterans we ended up with 54!!

Even though our students are in a program for academically gifted students, we knew interviewing would be hard. Asking the questions, listening and recording would be hard for anybody, so we "hired" 40 adult secretaries (parents, teachers, friends, children) to record the interviews. The veterans came, some in uniform with boxes of memorabilia, to tell stories they had never told before. Each student and adult secretary spent an hour with their veteran to record the history of that man or woman. Six adults, including one of my sons, proofread all of the stories and we published a book and posted a website, Guardians of Freedom. We had a reception for the veterans and gave them a copy of the book, over 400 people came and we enjoyed showing the veterans how to use the computer so they could see their webpage.

This project changed the lives of everyone involved; the students, the adults, the veterans. We will never be the same having met those wonderful men and women. Since the project ended, six of the veterans have died, but the project lives on. I receive 3-4 emails a month from people trying to connect with one of our veterans. People from all over the country are trying to find someone who knew their grandfather, uncle, or brother. Taking the oral histories of men and women from the "Greatest Generation" gives us an invaluable resource from which to draw strength and an understanding of times past. Even if you don't do oral histories in your classes, be sure to take the oral histories of your own mom and dad. They won't be around for ever to tell those stories.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


What a find. If you are interested in using primary source documents and Web 2.0 technologies you will love Footnote. Here's what they have to say:

At you will find millions of images of original source documents, many of which have never been available online before. But at Footnote, finding an image is just the beginning. We have created powerful tools that let you interact with and enhance what you find. Annotate important information on the image, easily organize and share your findings or collaborate with people who have similar interests. If you have original source images of your own that you want to share with your colleagues, classmates, friends and family, simply upload them to Footnote and use our tools to make your images searchable and available to others. Footnote also gives you an opportunity to share your story, ideas or research with others by creating your own "Member Pages". A Member Page is a place on the Footnote site where you can share your knowledge and research with others. You can write what you know, attach original sources that support your story and invite others to share their insights.
Footnote has something for everyone, from individual history buffs to groups and societies looking for a smart way to make their collections available to millions of people.

2/10/07 OK, this is a good lesson on why you should look over a site before recommending it--I was just looking at Footnote and even though they have some free documents to play with most of the site is fee based. I guess I'm not that surprised.

Here is a recent comment I posted at NCS-Tech

February 5th, 2007 at 7:03 pm
I have always loved those “wow” things (thanks for pointing them out) that show up on the web. I remember when I first started presenting at NECC (1995 ish) my three hour workshops would be filled with “things that make you go hmmm” and we would all “ow” and “ah”. Some of those things seem almost archane now…things like online citation machines, rubric makers, photo manipulators, eboards, create a graph, etc. BUT back then they were way cool.
I look at the Web 2.0 stuff and I’m saying “wow” again. This time the stuff is even cooler!! I also remember a lot of stuff that used to be free that now costs money like Big Chalk, RiverDeep, Noodletools etc. Won’t all these neat applications like Ourstory, Letterpop, and Scrapblog, and Footnotes et al, eventually be subscription sites? I retire in 3-4 years so I bet I’ll get to use all the Web 2.0 before I retire, and hopefully they’ll be free.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Focus Activities

The Learning Page, part of American Memory at the Library of Congress suggests the use of primary sources as a focus activity to introduce a topic or re-engage students. This what what the Learning Page has to say about choosing focus activities. Choose activities that:

  • present a puzzle;
  • challenge a stereotype or conventional wisdom
  • present a contradiction;
  • offer an insight (or aha! experience);
  • promote empathy (through a human interest story);
  • present a generalization or explanation against which different generalizations or explanations can be compared later.

I've used a focus activity dozens of times with both adults and kids using the following images and questions:
General store interior, Moundville, Alabama What year is it? What could you buy in this store that you can't buy at Wal-mart? What could you buy at Wal-mart that you can't buy at this store?

A member of the Wilkins family…Tallyho, Granville County, North Carolina How does this woman's life differ from your mother's life? How does this woman's life differ from your grandmother's life? What do you notice about this woman's kitchen that is different from your kitchen? When I use this photo with adults I always get great responses; "I never wear a hat or apron when I cook", "Where's the carry-out?" "Does the scale mean she's on Weight Watchers?"

Why The American Child is Not Welcome in Apartment Buildings? What did President Roosevelt say about children living in apartments? Does the author of the article think that the fault lies with the child or with the apartment?

Japanese Internment Camps-- After introducing the topic, have students take a look at the picture. Students work with partners to come up with a list of questions they have about this family.
"Members of the Mochida family awaiting evacuation bus. Identification tags were used to aid in keeping a family unit intact during all phases of evacuation. Mochida operated a nursery and five greenhouses on a two-acre site in Eden Township." In 1942 Executive Order 9066 ordered the removal of 110,000 civilians of Japanese descent, including 71,000 American citizens, from the western United States, placing them in internment camps. By Dorothea Lange, Hayward, California, May 8, 1942 From National Archives

Hopefully, you can find uses for this great strategy using primary source documents as focus activities to intrigue and inspire kids.

Why Use Primary Sources?

If you are wondering why you should take a look at using primary sources in your classroom read what Library of Congress has to say:

  • Primary sources expose students to multiple perspectives on great issues of the past and present.
  • Interpretations of the past are furiously debated among historians, policy makers, politicians, and ordinary citizens. By working with primary sources, students can become involved in these debates.
  • Primary sources help students develop knowledge, skills, and analytical abilities.
  • By dealing directly with primary sources, students engage in asking questions, thinking critically, making intelligent inferences, and developing reasoned explanations and interpretations of events and issues in the past and present.
  • Primary resources help students begin to understand that all history is local and helps them accept empathy for the human condition.
  • Hopefully students will begin to understand the continuum of historyby studying with primary source materials.

Can you think of other reasons, it all boils down to giving kids the opportunity to think.

First Thoughts

I had a brainstorm the other day for a new blog so I thought I'd try it out. I think this is an original idea, if not let me know and I'll cease and desist! About seven years ago I went to my first NECC conference. I went to a session, I can't even remember what the topic was, the presenter used primary sources to inspire student thinking and group discussion. I was hooked. Since then I have presented a workshop called "Using Primary Sources in the Classroom" at two NECC conferences and numerous times at other conferences. You can log into the workshop site using the username "necc" and password "student". I've also presented "The Marvelous Library of Congress" at NECC a couple of years ago and got rave reviews. I think that workshop got me a "Top Presenter" recognition. Since I spent so much time researching primary sources I thought I'd blog about it. I'm going to focus on the "WOW this is so cool" documents, online applications, websites and more. Check back often so you can say "wow", too.