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Posts tagged ‘historytech’

Your brain is a bucket full of holes. Sam Wineburg can help

I get the chance to work with all sorts of teachers, across the state and around the country. We’re all different. But when the conversation turns to teaching and learning social studies, I often hear the same thing:

“I have to lecture (or have students read their textbooks out loud, create outlines from the chapter, complete fill-in-the-blank worksheet packets, or watch a 30 year old video converted from 16 mm film) because the kids have to know their facts. It’s not fair asking them to think historically without the basic facts.”

I get it. And I don’t disagree. Kids do need the facts. But I think for too long we’ve just assumed that acquiring foundational knowledge and historical thinking are two distinct and different activities. We fill up their heads with facts and then, if we have time in the school year and after the state assessments are over, then . . . we can try some of that historical thinking stuff.

We need to stop doing that.

The brain is not a basket that we can just fill up with stuff. The brain is a bucket full of holes. The brain works very hard to find ways to forget things and if something is not important enough to be useful, it’s gonna find its way out one of the holes.

Our task is not to fill brains with facts. Our job is Read more

FakeBook – The next step in Facebook templates

Facebook was once the small, sheltered territory of a couple of techie college students and some high school kids who found ways to sneak past the filter. At the time, it was all about Friendster and MySpace.

And now?

Parents, middle school kids, corporations, advertisers are all over Facebook. Even teachers are using it.

A couple of years ago, I published a quick post about using Facebook as a teaching tool with a Lincoln profile as an example. A tip on how to create an Eisenhower Facebook template followed and we followed that with more ideas on how to use a variety of Facebook and Twitter online tools in the classroom. Others were also thinking about how to use social media as part of instruction. More templates and tools like My Fake Wall sprung up everywhere.

(At this point, if you’re a teacher and not using social media templates as part of your unit design . . . well, it is the 21st century. It’s okay to jump on board.)

The part I like about using Facebook as a historical teaching tool is that it allows kids to bring in a variety of perspectives, primary sources and photos. The exercise forces kids to think in layers rather than simply memorizing data. Likes and comments by other historical characters, profiles and photo albums can be used to create a rich picture of people and events.

So what’s next?

Fakebook.

Created by the people at ClassTools, Fakebook is similar to the old My Fake Wall. It’s a quick and easy way for you and your kids to generate historical Facebook profiles and walls. You start with a profile and add other Facebook elements step by step. Kids can complete their profiles and than send you the finished URL. ClassTools also has a nice portfolio of examples that you and your kids could use as inspiration or discussion starters.

ClassTools wants you to create a premium account so there are ads on the completed profile. If that bugs you, just have kids take a screenshot of their finished work and send it to you as an image or pdf file. They could also print it out and turn in as a hard copy.

Some nice stuff here. Give a try and let me know what works!

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Aggregating, filtering and connecting is so old-fashioned

It was some time ago that I wrote about The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson. I was impressed with Johnson’s account of Joseph Priestly, a British minister, scientist and political thinker who was also a friend and contemporary of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
And I had buried much of that stuff deep in the brain until I ran across a recent post on the Innovation Leadership Network. In Networks and the Information Glut, Tim Kastelle and John Steen write about the idea that social networks have always been around and how researchers have used those networks to gather and share information.

When we talk about ’social networks’ we don’t just mean facebook and twitter. People have always functioned within networks, and these have always been important in the development and spread of ideas.

It’s an interesting idea that I tried to articulate back in February 2009. My post was a bit all over the place and wasn’t really laser focused on the idea of social networks. Kastelle and Steen do a much better job of discussing how social networks of all kinds encourage creative thought.

The fundamentals of innovative thought haven’t changed since the 18th Century – it’s always been aggregate, filter and connect. The great thinkers of earlier times corresponded extensively because it helped them aggregate information from a wide variety of disciplines and sources.

I like their wording:

it’s always been aggregate, filter and connect

And they’re right.

Priestly used his connections with Franklin and Jefferson to gather, expand and share his research. We need to find ways to do the same as professionals and as classroom instructors.

If you are not currently part of some sort of Personal Learning Network, you need to be. It’s hard for me to imagine how a history teacher can continue to be effective if they are not connected with like professionals to ask questions, share information and discuss current research. Delicious, Plurk, Twitter, Ning, uStream, SlideShare, LinkedIn and other similar tools can (separately or together) all be pieces of that network.

It’s also hard for me to imagine trying to prepare students for the 21st century without training them to aggregate, filter and connect appropriately. And while the Priestly, Franklin and Jefferson versions of those tools still exist (US postal snail mail, for example), we also need to work to find 21st century tools that students can use.

A couple of suggestions:

  • Low prep?
    Use Delicious to gather and share resources with your kids and train them to do the same.
  • Higher prep?
    Use iPod Touches in the classroom as a relatively cheap way to aggregate data and connect with others.

The basic idea? Use time-tested methods of gathering and sharing information but with 21st century tools. In my earlier post, I said that

maybe all it will take is to become more old-fashioned in our thinking.

Can it be that simple?

Intersection Consulting. “5 Ways to Cultivate an Active Social Network.” 9 July 2009. 25 January 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/intersectionconsulting/3704908885

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Google Earth and Rumsey Historical Maps

Google Earth is a no-brainer for geography and history teachers but it’s also a handy-dandy tool for teachers of all grades and content.

But one of its strengths can also be a weakness.

There’s just so much stuff.

With hundreds of layers with thousands of maps, images, 3D buildings, live traffic data, news, earthquakes and a partridge in a pear tree, it can sometimes get a bit overwhelming.

I’m starting to discover that many teachers are getting lost in there. And people are missing some pretty cool stuff. One of the coolest that you may not be aware of is the Rumsey Historical Map layer.  These maps live in the Gallery section in the Layers area of Google Earth.

The Rumsey layer is just a small sampling of over 150,000 maps that David Rumsey has collected over the years. On his site, he’s posted more than 20,000 of his maps. And Google Earth has around 120 of those on six continents from different time periods.

All the maps contain rich information about the past and represent a sampling of time periods (1680 to 1930), scales, and cartographic art, resulting in visual history stories that only old maps can tell. Each map has been georeferenced, thus creating unique digital map images that allow the old maps to appear in their correct places on the modern globe.

Some of the maps fit perfectly in their modern spaces, while others (generally earlier period maps) reveal interesting geographical misconceptions of their time and therefore have to be more distorted to fit properly in Google Maps and Earth. Cultural features on the maps can be compared to the modern satellite views using the slider bars to adjust transparency.

When you turn the Rumsey layer on, compass rose icons will appear around the world. Clicking on an icon will open a window with specific information about that map. Clicking directly on the map thumbnail will load the map overlay.

Each map window in Google Earth also has a link back to David’s site with more information about that particular map. Another incredibly cool thing about the images is that David has posted them under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike Creative Commons license. This basically allows teachers to “to copy, distribute and transmit the work” as long as they cite the Rumsey source and use the image for non-commercial purposes.

Other fun and useful layers exist deep in GE. Ya just gotta take some time to dig ‘em out.

You might also subscribe to Google’s Long/Lat Google Earth blog, an independent Google Earth blog and maybe even Google Maps Mania. Both give helpful updates and links to Google Earth resources.

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Change is hard

Change is hard.

And especially in education, being an early adopter can also be a scary thing. But eventually, if the idea is a good one, everyone is doing it.

Lincoln’s pockets

Donated to the Library of Congress in 1937 and labeled “Do Not Open,” the box sat in the office of the Librarian of Congress for almost 40 years. Finally, in 1975, Librarian Daniel Boorstein untied the string and pulled off the brown wrapping paper.

abes pocketInside?

Twelve items – including several pairs of glasses, newspaper clippings, a pocketknife and a handkerchief.

On April 15, 1865, the day Abraham Lincoln died, someone went through his pockets and placed the contents into a box and tied it with string. The box found its way Robert Lincoln and eventually to Robert’s daughter, Mary Lincoln Isham. She never opened the box and in 1937, dropped it off at the Library of Congress. This was the box Boorstein opened.

Yeah . . . so?

So . . . the contents of Lincoln’s pockets gives us a engaging tool for teaching kids about the historical process. Use a great lesson plan like this one from the Library of Congress to hook kids into asking questions and solving problems. Watch a short video of an archivist describing the contents or simply lead your kids in a discussion of how what we carry help define who we are.

Whichever activity you use, lessons like this give kids a chance to actually mess with the stuff of history, not just the facts.

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