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28 Tech Tools to Bring out the Story in History

Below is an article I wrote for theapple.com.  For the full article complete with links, please visit the original article. Kelly Tenkely | TheApple When I was in school, I dreaded history.  I found it completely uninteresting, dry, irrelevant, and quite frankly…boring.  This was unusual for me.  Normally, I really enjoyed school.  Creative writing, language arts, science, and even math were fun.  History was unbearable. I can count on one hand the things I remember learning in history.   I learned that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue,  that there was once a thing called slavery and it was abolished (I saw Roots in school at least 5 times), that there have been several wars and battles, and I remember my freshman history teacher breaking out in “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” (though I can’t say why).   For me history was a lot of dates, strange names, places, and events presented as points on a line.  The goal of history was to memorize all of these facts and dates, recite them on a test, and repeat the process the following week. Sadly, that was about it.  It wasn’t until adulthood, and my introduction to the History Channel, that I realized that history is interesting.  History became engaging when it was presented as a story.  It really isn’t about all of the dates, places, and facts.  History is about people.  History is about story.  Students need more than the loosely connected events, people, and dates that fill history textbooks.  They need narrative. Textbook writers are boring, history is not.  In high school I vividly remember reading a first person account of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the horrors of nuclear war.  Why does this account stay with me? Because it wasn’t about the dates. It was about the emotions, the aftermath, the effects on human life. How can we engage our students with history?  How can we help them make personal connections to the events of the past? Access to history has expanded, students today have learning opportunities that have never been possible before.  Today students have the ability to view and read historical documents first hand, ‘interact’ with historical characters, and observe the events of the past through the eyes of the children who lived it.    Thanks to technology, students can be truly engaged in the stories of history. Primary resources are the actual documents, artifacts, and writings from history.  These resources give students an up-close view of life in the past. Primary Resources: 1.  The World Digital Library is a collection of primary materials from around the world.  Students can explore artifacts that will help them to better understand other cultures.  This incredible collection of resources brings museums from around the world into your classroom for your students to explore. 2. Awesome Stories is a collection of primary source materials separated by category.  Primary sources include images, videos, narration, slideshows, artifacts, manuscripts, and documents.  Awesome Stories is essentially an interactive textbook.  With the interactive textbook model, students are able to delve deeper into topics that interest them. 3. Picturing America takes hold of the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words and applies it to teaching American history.  The National Endowment for the Humanities is providing classrooms and libraries with American art masterpieces. Bringing our Nation’s artistic heritage into the classroom provides students with unique insights into the character, ideals, and aspirations of our country.  The program is free for schools and libraries, providing them with 40 high quality, poster-sized masterpieces, a teacher resource book, and the program website.  Picturing America  brings history into the classroom, helping students create authentic connections to the past. 4.  Primary Access is a web-based tool that offers students and teachers simple access to digital images and materials that provides them the opportunity to create personal narratives.  The idea behind the site is that if students are offered primary source documents, they develop better historical thinking skills.  Students use Primary Access to create digital historical narrative movies that help add to meaningful learning experiences.  The digital movie is 1-3 minutes in length and can contain images, text, movies, and student recorded narration.  Students have a place to write, research, narrate, view, and search within Primary Access. 5. Library of Congress on Flickr is a photostream of historical images on Flickr.  These incredible photographs will bring history to life for your students.  Many of the photographs have no copyright restrictions which makes it a great place for students to find images for projects that they are working on.  These are also great images to use in your classroom presentations, and as printouts for bulletin boards. Videos have the unique ability to make students feel as if they are witnesses to history. Historical Videos: 6. The History Channel has a wealth of resources to teach history in the classroom.  From online historical videos, to a daily dose of history with “This Day in History”, the History Channel brings history to life. 7. American History in Video has more than 5,000 free, digital, on-demand videos in its collection.  The videos allow students to analyze historical events, look at events over time through commercial and governmental newsreels, archival footage, public affairs footage, and important documentaries.  These videos will make students feel as if they were a part of history. 8.  Watch Know is another educational video site.  All videos are offered digitally for free.  Watch Know brings together the best education videos online into one convenient-to-search, safe site.  Students can interact and think critically about the videos by rating them and leaving comments.  There are more than 2,500 history related videos on Watch Know. There are many websites that let students interact with history.  Whether they are playing a game or exploring a virtual world, these websites help students understand history in new ways. Interacting with History: 9. Secret Builders Students ages 6-14 can live and play among fictional and historical characters in this virtual world.  Students interact with characters such as Shakespeare, Galileo, Motzart, Oliver Twist, Plato, Van Gough, and Amelia Earhart.  Students take quests, publish artwork and writings, play games, enter contests, and participate in a virtual economy and social life.  Students are given all the tools needed to build out the virtual world with their own ideas, activities and actions.  This virtual world has the added benefit of allowing students to interact with historical figures in ways that are meaningful to them. 10. Scholastic has an email sign up where teachers and students can receive fictional emails from historical figures.  These emails are written as letters from children who live in the past.  Get email letters from a young girl traveling on the Mayflower and a young Native American boy.  This is a fantastic way to give your class a glimpse of history through the eyes of two school-age children. 11. Scholastic’s “Our America” takes students on a journey through American history from the Colonial period to World War II.  Students learn about major events in the American story by reading journal entries from the people who lived them.  Students can complete their own journal entries about what they have learned.  Activities accompany each time period such as arts and crafts from that time period or designing a period home interior. 12. The Oregon Trail game is one of the memories I should have listed above.  I remember playing Oregon Trail in small groups on our classroom computer in fifth grade.  Through the game we learned about the hardships of being a wagon leader, how to build a team, and purchase supplies that would help us make the journey from Independence, Missouri to Oregon by way of the covered wagon circa 1848. This role playing game helps students connect to events of the past through play. 13. BBC Primary History has an extensive collection of activities, short readings, and a kids point of view on the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Vikings, Anglo Saxons, World War II, and Victorian Britain.  Students can explore interactive timelines, stories, primary source images, and much more.  Students gain a sense of what life was like during each time period. 14. Picturing the Thirties is a virtual web activity from the Smithsonian.  This virtual museum exhibit teaches students about the 1930’s through eight exhibitions.  Students will get an up close look at the Great Depression, the New Deal, the country, industry, labor, city, leisure, and the American people in the 1930’s.  The virtual museum is full of primary sources such as photographs, newsreels, and artist memorabilia.  Virtual video museum guides explain each exhibit to students. 15. The Secret in the Cellar is an interactive web comic that is based on an actual forensic case of a 17th century person that was recently discovered.  Through graphics, photos, and activities, students begin to unravel a mystery of historical and scientific importance.  Students learn how to analyze artifacts, and examine the skeleton to determine a cause of death.  As students act as historians, they will gain a wealth of information about Colonial life in America. 16.  Kids Past is a history website created for kids that covers topics including: prehistoric humans, the rise of civilization, Middle Eastern civilization, the Ancient Greeks, Romans, African civilizations, civilizations of India, civilizations of China, Byzantine empire, the Slavs, Islam, medieval Europe, Asia in the middle ages, ancient Americans, the Renaissance, the Reformation, exploration and expansion, Asia following the middle ages, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution.  All reading on Kids Past is kid friendly and age appropriate.  There are several history games based on the reading.  Students can also find historical quotes and songs about history that they can listen to online. 17. Historical Tweets- Students can follow history on Twitter.  With Historical Tweets, history’s most amazing men and women can be more fully understood 140 characters at a time.  These historical tweets can act as motivation for students to learn more about historical events.  140 characters is just enough to leave your students wanting to learn more. Static timelines are a thing of the past, today’s timelines are interactive, informative, and fun to explore. Interactive Timelines: 18. Franklin’s Interactive Timeline is an engaging look into the life of Benjamin Franklin.  Students can play, listen, watch, observe, and have fun learning about Benjamin Franklin’s legacy.  Students can explore Franklin’s life through themes such as Franklin’s character, Franklin as printer, at home, doing good, and on the world stage. This site breaks Franklin’s life down into manageable pieces for students and provides a well rounded view of Franklin. 19. Capzles is an interactive timeline creator.  Students can add photos, video, audio and text to their timeline.  Themes, colors, backgrounds, and background music can be added to the timeline making it unique and personalized.  Capzles brings the timeline to life and allows students to add story to the dates. 20. Dipity makes it simple for your students to create and share interactive timelines.  Students can embed YouTube videos, Twitter, RSS feeds, Blogger, Flickr, Picasa, Last FM, and more right into their timelines.  Dipity makes timelines relevant and fun for students.  Best of all, students are creating and viewing timelines in “their language” of Digital Native. 21. Time Tube is the perfect website for your YouTube addicted students.  Students can type in a historical event and Time Tube will create a timeline of related videos.  Students will be able to explore historical events through related videos. Research papers leave much to be desired in the history classroom.  There are ways for students to show what they know in history without the dreaded research report. Creating with History: 22. Domonation is an animation website where students can create cartoon animations with characters, dialogue, props, music, and special effects.  Instead of presenting knowledge about history through the traditional report, diorama, or poster, students can create a cartoon of an interview with a historical figure or an eye-witness account of a historical event. 23. Xtranormal is a site where students can create and direct their own animated movies.  Students can recreate historical events, or create cartoons about a historical figure.  Hold a historical movie day to showcase all of the animations that students have created. 24. The National Archives Experience: Digital Vaults is a site put together by the National Archives.  Students can create their own digital content mashups using primary resources.  Students are able to search photographs, documents, and other records collecting them to create a digital poster or movie.  Students can also create a Pathway Challenge.  In a challenge, students create a series of clues that show relationships between photographs, documents, and other records.  Other students can attempt to solve these challenges.  This is an incredible way for students to interact with history. 25. Creaza is a suite of web-based creativity tools.  There are four tools in the Creaza toolbox that will help your students organize knowledge and tell stories in new creative ways.  Students can arrange events in history with Mindomo the mind mapping tool.  Using Cartoonist, students can create comic strips and digital narratives about historical events or characters.  Movie Editor makes it possible for students to create movies with thematic universes, video, images, and sound clips.  Movie Editor can import historical film clips, sound clips, and images to tell a story.  Audio editor is the final tool in Creaza’s creative suite.  Students can splice together their own newscasts or radio commercials that display their knowledge of any historical event. 26. Animoto for Education is a site where students can create compelling and impressive digital content quickly and easily.  Teachers can use Animoto to teach complex concepts in history.  Students can showcase their understanding of history through pictures, music, and text. 27. Blogging- Assign each of your students a historical character to play.  They can research and learn about the time period, events, and people.  Students can then blog as if they were the historical character.  Other students can read and comment on the historical posts. 28. Museum Box is a website based on the work of Thomas Clarkson who collected items in a box to help him in his argument for the abolition of slavery.  Students can use the Museum Box website to collect information and arguments in a virtual  box of their own.  They can collect items to provide a description or add to an argument of a historical event, place, or time period.  Students can add images, text, sounds, videos, and external links to help them form their own virtual museum.  The finished box can be shared with other students, saved, or printed.  Students can view and comment on boxes created by other students.  This is a fun medium for students to learn and collect information about a historical event, person, or time period. History shouldn’t be dry, boring, or irrelevant to students.  Technology makes it possible for students to interact with history in new and interesting ways.  Use these resources to take your students beyond facts and help them to realize the stories that make up their past.

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Do you-want to form an alliance-with me?

Posted by admin | Posted in professional development, Teacher Resources, Web2.0 | Posted on 03-01-2010

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52

Happy new year!  2009 proved to be a productive year of learning, sharing, and conversing.  I thank you all for being a part of that and look forward to doing it again in 2010!

Picture 5(iLearn Technology’s blog graph)

A few days ago I came across a blog post on Problogger titled “Let me Show You Inside a Secret Blogging Alliance.” The idea of an alliance between bloggers intrigued me.  To fully understand why I was so intrigued by the idea of an alliance, let me give you a little background about the slow beginning of iLearn Technology, and an article that made me angry enough to long for change.

The Beginning…

My degree is not in educational technology.  I started my teaching career as a second grade teacher.  I had two old computers (circa 1997) in my classroom and had stumbled on Starfall, Book Adventure, and Read Write Think.org.  We had no computer lab in our building, so I used these sites as center activities during my literacy block.  My students asked to use these sites constantly, loving when it was their day for the computer centers.

It was completely by accident that I became a computer teacher the following year.  I was looking for a change in schools and had applied to CHC for one of their classroom teacher positions.  I got a call from our office assistant informing me that both classroom teacher positions had been filled quickly.  She followed with, “I know this is a long shot, but we need a computer teacher to teach kindergarten through second grade. I noticed that you have used computers with students and wondered if you might be interested?”  My first thought was “no way, I can’t do it. I’m not qualified.”  What I told her was that I would think about it and get back to her.  I called my husband to tell him about this ridiculous job I had just been offered. He didn’t seem to think it was so ridiculous.   We were newly married and could use the money, even if it was only part time.  It was getting late in the year to be hired as a classroom teacher.  I wasn’t looking forward to the subbing circuit.  My attitude about the ridiculous job offer began to change.  “Maybe I can do this. It is only part time, I can used my days off to do research, surely I know more about computers than a second grader.”  I called the office assistant the next day to tell her I would take the job.

My hunt for lesson plans and websites was on.   I started a notebook (the paper kind) where I would jot down site addresses that I found, along with a few sentences about the site and ideas I had for using it in the classroom.  I barely made it through that first year, always staying just two steps ahead of my students.  It was in my second year that I started my first website.  I used FrontPage to create pages of links that were easily organized for students to access.  (I was tired of adding every new site I found to the bookmark bar of each computer.)  My notebook of web addresses had turned into three and I started using iKeepBookmarks to organize all of the sites I had found.  At the beginning of my computer lab teaching career, it was nearly impossible to hunt down a list of good educational links.  I was finding amazing websites but couldn’t find any one person who had collected, organized, and shared them all in one place.

I woke up one morning with an email from my husband (@jtenkely) in my inbox.  A single sentence stared back at me, “You should start a blog about technology in education.” Attached was a link to Tasty Blog Snack by @ijustine (not an education blog).  Although what @ijustine does is not easy, she made it look easy, it was just the push I needed to start blogging.  I would be the one to collect, organize, and share education links in one place.  But I didn’t want it to just be a list of links…I had found pages of links with no explanation as to what they were.  Teachers need it to be easier, they need to be able to see, at a glance, if a site will meet the needs of their students.  They also need an idea of what using the site would actually look like in the classroom setting.  This would be my blog.   I anticipated it being useful for the teachers that I taught alongside, they were my target audience. In my mind, even if they never read it, it would still be a useful way for me to organize my ideas about the websites I was finding.

I had no idea what I was doing.  I would type up a blog post, publish it, and hope that someone, somewhere, was reading it.  I had no way of tracking or finding out if anyone was actually viewing any of my ideas.  I needed some direction and decided to find out if there were any other educators who were blogging (I was naive enough to think I might be the first one!).  I found TechnoSpud (now Jenuine Tech) by @jenwagner and 2Cents Worth by @davidwarlick.  They were big.  They were well known.  I was nobody.  I started finding other educators who blogged through the blog rolls on TechnoSpud and 2Cents Worth.  I have never felt so small.  Here were a group of educators who “knew” each other and had debates and conversations about education on a regular basis.  I tried to join in the conversation but got discouraged when my comments weren’t responded to.

iLearn Technology exists today for one reason: I am stubborn.  I believed that I was doing something worthwhile and decided that I didn’t care if no one seemed to notice.  Blogging did something else for me, it made me a better teacher.  I understood the learning process better because I was engaged in it on a daily basis.  Even though I didn’t consider myself “one of them” I started reading other education blogs religiously.  I would occasionally engage in the conversation but for the most part I was happy to sit on the sidelines and watch.

It was around this time that I started Tweeting (@ijustine was Tweeting, I should too).  I had NO idea that educators were Twittering.  I was there to keep up with @jtenkely‘s funny observations, keep track of @iJustine, and keep a watch out for new Apple products that were coming.   I started following @davidwarlick and @jenwagner and a few other edubloggers that I was reading.  I can’t pinpoint when it happened, but suddenly I was getting comments on iLearn Technology, I had regular readers, I was getting emails asking for advice, I was involved in the conversation.  I was a real blogger.

It isn’t easy to become a blogger, there is a habit that needs to be formed, a commitment to stick with. It is really hard when you are the newb, the nobody.  It is hard to keep that commitment when you are painfully aware that you are the sole reader of your writing.  @janwebb21 reminded me of this as she told me about her own blog.  She has been at it for about a month, has had a few visitors and a comment or two. But it is a slow process. I would have given anything for the PLN, ideas, and resources I have now when I started teaching.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

Since joining Twitter, I have enjoyed conversations with people from all walks of life.  I have been introduced to new ideas, resources, and have been forced to think in new ways.  I have developed a PLN (Personal Learning Network) and have engaged in numerous discussions about education, technology, and learning.  I have been surrounded by greatness and others who are passionate about learning and teaching others to do the same.  I have become convinced that those educators that I connect with virtually are among the smartest, most innovative people on the planet.

On Friday I clicked on a link that someone shared on Twitter, it was a story about the use of iPods in Education (I always want to read more when Apple products are mentioned in the same sentence as education, my inner geek comes pouring out.)  The article was okay, basically just a short story about how a school is using the iPod Touch in education.  What stopped me in my tracks were the comments left in response to the article.  Most were negative comments about the state of education and what a waste of money iPods are for the classroom.  The comment that really made my blood boil was, “Teachers get to press the learn button, kick back, and think about their next week long vacation.”  It became increasingly clear to me that the general public has NO idea what we as educators do.  We are not seen as professionals.  We are viewed as babysitters with a cushy job.  My knee jerk reaction was to respond to each and every one of these misinformed individuals and inform them.  Instead I posted the following on Twitter, knowing that you all would be equally enraged by the comments: “Getting all fired up reading the comments after this article http://bit.ly/51RJsk general public doesn’t understand education even a little.” The comments regarding education made me want to stand up and shout about the brilliance that is my PLN.  I wanted the misinformed to understand just how misinformed they are.  I kept thinking of how different education could look if we were louder.

The Alliance…

After reading the alliance article an idea began to take shape.  What if we, educational bloggers, were to form an alliance.  No need for the secrecy.  This alliance would be a group of educational bloggers who are committed to working together for the mutual benefit of all the members in the alliance.  We all have something valuable to add to the conversation of education and learning.  Each of us has a unique voice, outlook, approach, skills, strengths, and focuses.

The goal of the alliance is two fold:

1. To encourage educators in their blogging endeavors whether they be new, established, or otherwise.  There are so many valuable additions to the conversation that are being overlooked.

2. To create a united network of educators working toward the larger goal of being heard by those not in education.  It is time for the general public to see us for the highly qualified professionals that we are.

How the Alliance could work…

1. Commenting on each others blogs- in the Problogger article, those in the alliance committed to commenting on each others blogs at least once every week day.  The comments should stimulate interesting discussions, and encourage those involved that someone, is indeed, reading their blog.

2. Linking to One Another- This could be linking to related posts on another educational bloggers website, adding them to your blog roll, or naturally as a result of subscribing to one another’s blogs.

3. Social Bookmarking and Tweeting- This is my personal favorite suggestion, Twitter has done wonders for iLearn Technology as my PLN passes on my posts to others.  Promoting  posts on Twitter, Digg, Delicious, and StumbleUpon increases awareness of what educators around the world are doing that works.  It also connects those new to educational blogging.

4. Guest Posts- Guest posting could be an opt-in option for the alliance.  I know that it isn’t always possible to find time to write a blog post for your blog, let alone polish it enough for someone else’s blog.

5.  Thank You Page Promotions- When someone signs up to receive your RSS feed, they are generally taken to a page thanking them for subscribing.  This Thank You Page could also be used to promote other education blogs.  For example: “If you like iLearn Technology, you should also be sure to check out blog A, B, C, and D.”

Do you-want to form an alliance- with me?

So the question stands, do you want to form an alliance?  If you are interested, leave a comment linking to your blog with your first name (or Twitter username), and a short description of your blog.  Please also fill out this short form so that I can be in contact with you.  Lets make our voices louder through a shared vision and mission, lets encourage each other in our blogging and teaching endeavors, lets make this year a year of real change.

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