Tuesday, July 18, 2017

U.S. Artstory: Fusing History & Art

This past year I have had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. twice during the school year. Once for the NCSS annual conference, and another on spring break with 35 of my students and some parents. Both of the visits yielded some different inspirations for
project. When I was there for the NCSS conference I had the remarkable opportunity to hear Representative John Lewis speak. To say I was enamored would be an understatement. His passion for standing up for what he believed is unparalleled, along with his ability to influence others. He has authored the March Trilogy to bring the Civil Rights movement and his story to life for a new generation. These graphic novels enable young students to access the concepts and material from this important period in our country's history. I HIGHLY recommend these books for any classroom. 

It was the story about the development and evolution of the books, however, that gave me a new idea and perspective for a project. I loved how the images and graphics made this content relevant and accessible for younger children. And, as I walked around and visited the monuments and museums of Washington, D.C., including the Newseum, it stuck me. As a Social Studies educator and amateur photographer I believe that paintings, pictures, and art can tell us a great deal about our past. So, I decided that we would do a project that analyzed different events in U.S. History through an artistic lens. 

At the beginning of the U.S. Artstory, I had students participate in a Breakout EDU that I designed which revolved around important events in American history, and their artistic representation of them. Then, students were given an event/image and they had to put themselves in chronological order without talking. This served a couple of purposes, one it builds non-verbal communication skills, teamwork, and it serves a content pre-assessment by showing me how they can interpret an event/image by just looking at it. Once the students put himself in the order that they thought was correct, I had them sit down and conduct some research on their image/event. They were given the title of the image, and that was it. They then had to find the 5 W's of the image. Who created it, what the event was, where did it take place, when did it take place, and why they thought the event took place. They could not talk, and only had twelve minutes to do the research. At the end of the time, they then had to put themselves back in chronological order without talking. 

As we went around the room and learned a bit about the different images and events students started to ask questions which would become the catalyst for the project. We then hung the images up on our wall so that we could reference them throughout U.S. Artstory. Over the next week students had the time to play around on Google Arts and Culture, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and other sites as they looked at different events and how they were portrayed. At the end of the week that had to select an event that would serve as their research topic of the project. 

As we moved forward in the project we analyzed different images using different tools and techniques. This allowed students to see how each way had pros and cons. They then had to choose three (3) different images/representations of their event to analyze and conduct research on their event. This occurred over a couple of weeks with students working at different paces. Since this was our end of year project, I was very hands off as they were demonstrating all of the research, citation, writing, organization, analyzation and other skills we had been working on throughout the year. 

The objective of the final product was for students to synthesize their learning into an artistic interpretation of their event. We then held an art gallery night that was open to the public where students showcased their learning through art. Per usual I was blown away! The students rose to the occasion, just like the always do, and everyone left more educated, more cultured, more confident, and we had fun learning and teaching about history. This is why I LOVE project-based learning. Are there some things I will tweak the next time I this, absolutely. However, this is one project that will definitely stay in my rotation.

Recreation of Norman Rockwell's "The Problem We All Live With" and a modern take on the event.

Dr. King during his "I Have a Dream" speech.

A collection of pencil drawings of images from WWII.

An interpretation of the "Falling Man" complete with flickering L.E.D. lights and dry ice.

A modern interpretation of the "American Progress." 
A clay model of "NEXT!."
The first footprint and moon landing photos made out of cake.

A soldier going into harms way during battle in WWII.

Life size re-creations of "We Can Do It" and "Rosie the Riveter" had audience members dressing up!

Using a green screen and Photoshop to re-create "The Assassination of President Lincoln."

Needlepoint cross stitch of the "Migrant Mother."

An interpretation of life in a Japanese internment camp using pastels.

A colorized representation of the atomic test at Frenchman's Flat.

A collaborative piece to show the different perspective of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

A mixed media piece title, "The Arms Race." 

"The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor," painted with tea.
A Van Gogh inspired version of "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper."

Lego sculptures of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address.

Replica pistols of the Hamilton/Burr duel, and a word cloud made of the insults they used towards each other.

They made a music video for John Lennon's "Imagine," which they played the piano and ukulele, and the 9/11 poster.

Some pencil and mixed media pieces about the Vietnam War.

A laser etched and painted map of the California gold rush and mining locations.

A wood burning interpretation of "American Progress."

A pixelated art piece of Fort Vancouver of the Hudson's Bay Company.

A pixelated representation of the "Pile of Bison Skulls."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

PBL & Inquiry with National History Day: Year 1

National History Day. When I first heard about it, I was thinking it was a day where the government decided to recognize History teachers, or our country's history. Little did I know that not only was I wrong, but I had come across a program that inspired and influenced what I do in the classroom.

In the 2015-2016 school year we were working on IMPACT!, our project on Mount St. Helens and how it has impacted our local community in Southwest Washington, the state, and the world. I knew I wanted to try and do NHD, so I designed a project that would incorporate one of the products for the program. Students made documentaries about the the many different impacts it had on science, including how it changed what we now about how life restarts, how glaciers work, and of course how volcanoes erupt. There are many other threads that can be pulled as well, like how it personally impacted the people who lived around the mountain and how they lost everything, but gained new perspective. The students got to choose what the focus of their film would be, as they told one of these perspectives. To launch the project we took all of our 7th and 8th graders to Mount St. Helens so that they could experience first hand themselves.

As we went through IMPACT!, we partnered
with @MtStHelensNVM, @MSHInstituteand @USGS to bring in geologists, hydrologists, biologists, authors, and forest rangers. We also had parents, and other community members come in to share how they had experienced Mount St. Helens in different ways. That year the theme for National History Day was Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange in History. I wasn't sure exactly how to implement this, so I just kept it posted in the classroom as we researched, inquired, and worked. Some of my students. Some documentary teams focused on one of these ideas, such as how we have shared what we now know about predicting volcanoes with others around the world to help prevent loss of human life. Some looked at how we have explored the mountain to see how life begins, or how some people explore and climb it to learn about perseverance and themselves.

One team, however, took on all three of the topics and we decided to take their film to the Southwest Washington Regional event. I was not exactly sure what to expect at our first NHD competition, but myself along with all of my students and parents had an absolute "blast!" The girls presented their film, and then answered questions from the judges. At the break, we found out that they had qualified for the finals for that day, and that they would present again in the afternoon. They presented again, and we waited... Finally, the awards ceremony took place. In our category, group/team documentary, the top four (4) teams would move on to the state competition to represent Southwest Washington. Low and behold, the girls placed fourth at regionals, and it was on to state!

This is where the girls really took to heart all of the skills they had learned throughout our year and, with their perseverance, put everything together yet again. The judges left the team some really nice feedback, which the girls were able to absorb and break down into usable pieces. (We work on teacher and peer feedback all the time using the Glows and Grows technique) The re-worked different sections, removed and added captions. They re-recorded with new pacing, switched out images, and really strengthened their overall product. 

The last step in our process was heading to the state competition in Auburn, Washington. The team was ecstatic and in that perfect place between nervous and confident. We decided that we would make sure to support all of the other teams that were competing in our room, so we camped out and watched all of them. And while I have  bias, I believe they knocked the presentation out of the park. When we left to wait for the finals results we were very confident that they had a top three (3) film from our room. 

While we waited for the results, we explored some of the other categories. The one that impressed us the like no other were the exhibits. As we meandered through them all, and saw the excitement and curiosity that they generated from our students and parents, I know that we would have to create some of our own for the next competition. This would become Get Up, Stand Up!, which I will detail in an upcoming post.

Unfortunately, only the top two (2) from each room move onto the state finals. The girls were grinning ear to ear after their experience and I marveled at not only what they had done, but what ALL of the students there had done. As we left that day, the parents and students thanked me for a tremendous experience. From that point on, I knew that I would not only be participating in National History Day, but I would also be advocating for it to be done in as many schools as possible.

Here is their film, Beyond the Blast!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Teaching Civics/Government Through Project-based Learning

For a long time, even in my own schooling, learning about how our government and the civic process works has been a process of memorization and not very engaging. I firmly believe that because of this, our society has become apathetic towards civic responsibility and civic engagement. I have seen firsthand people trying to get out of jury duty, people not voting, and in general not wanting to get involved for they do not understand / see the value in our civics processes. This is a problem. In order for our country to fully function we need our citizens to know and understand what is going on in their local, state, and national political arena. So how can we create an engaging way to learn about our government and how it works? Enter project-based learning and design thinking.

When this past school year began our U.S. iHistory class hit the ground running. I had the students participate in a government themed Breakout EDU event that I created as part of our project launch. Our first project, How It Works, was going to have our students learn about the branches of government by engaging them with the Constitution, having them write an explanatory essay, and then working together to create a game (board, video, or other kind) that will teach others about a governmental process. When the students figured out all of the clues and got into the Breakout box, they got a URL to our project sheet, and their very own pocket Constitution that I even covered in some faux leather to make it more appealing and lasting. These are middle schoolers, after all...

Using the DEEPdt process as my springboard I posted the following question on our whiteboard. 
"What do we need to know about _______ in order to create a _____game that teaches about ________?" 
This served as our guide throughout the project. By posing this question to the students, we were better able to focus our work and understand why we were working on certain content, criteria, and pieces during the project. When a student asked why do we need to know about the Electoral College? I pointed to the question. When they asked about Judicial Review, I pointed to the board. 

Now all of the content and concepts weren't integrated into every game, but they weren't intended to be that way either. What it did allow is for students who choose to have a game that talked about checks and balances to know how each branch of government worked with one another, and how they provide balance so that no one branch becomes too powerful. It allowed students to dive into the election process and create a portion of their game that dealt with the primaries as well as the national election. It allowed students to see how members of a jury (and local community) play a role in determining the outcome of a case that may have national implications.

I've been made into a game piece... life goal accomplished.

When it came time to design the games, we spent several days playing different board games, online games like iCivics, and card games. Now some may see this a waste of time, but in reality it was an integral part of our process. If we were to create a game of our own the students needed to understand different design element and how different parts of games did things well, or poorly for that matter. 

In the end, every team had a game that they showcased and presented to one 
another. We took turns playing them and had blast learning for them and giving feedback to the creators. I watched as the students learned from one another not only about governmental process, but also how to use the 3D printer, and laser engraver. A couple of the games will be tweaked and possibly turned into actual products that could be put up as kickstarters for other classrooms to use. 

Not only do the students have a deeper understanding of our Constitution, the branches of government, and civic/governmental processes, but they also engaged with their own learning, grew their communication skills, and had fun. 

Monday, September 5, 2016


About a month ago I attended a Digital Bug Washington Summit featuring Google for Education.  This was not my first time at this event as I attended one earlier in the year up in Seattle the day before NCCE's yearly conference.  This time around, however, it was right in my backyard of Vancouver, Washington.  I was asked to present at both, which is flattering, but the best part of these conferences are the connections that one makes.  I wasn't presenting at this summit until the last session, so I got to really sit back and soak in the other presenters and their amazing information.

Along with me this time, was my teaching colleague, Brad Lehman.  He and I were there to chat, have some fun, and learn some new things.  Sometimes at conferences it becomes very easy to become joined at the hip with the few people you may know.  This can be both good and bad.  It gives you a sense of security, but it also may keep you and your collegue(s) from branching out.  Brad and I did branch out on our own for a couple of the sessions, which was beneficial to us both.  However, we started the day at the same one.  He saw the name of the the session and found it intriguing.  I wasn't sure what it was about, but I had met the presenter, Brandi Snow, on a couple of other occasions and was excited to see her again.

Little did Brad and I know what Brandi had in store for us....

Brandi's session was entitled BreakoutEDU, and this is what the description said. "Have you heard of an Escape Room? This bring that experience into the classroom!! In this session we will beta test a Breakout game! Breakout is a game where a small group of educators will have 45 minutes to complete a series of challenges, reveal clues, and unlock mysteries in order to "win" the game. This can be used with all ages and all content areas!"

As we entered the room I saw some familiar faces.  We said our hellos, chatted about our summers, and talked about some of the things we were working on for this next school year.  Then, Brandi put a single box with several differnt locks on the table at the head of the room.  She said that we had 45 minutes to work together, find all of the clues, and open the locks and eventually the box.  She gave us a couple of "hint," cards and started the timer.

After some brief introduction and some stumbling around, we started to hit our stride.  We found most of the clues, and even got one of the four locks off pretty quick.  We were feeling good...  Then we got stuck.  We eventually found the last clue, and we were able to solve the puzzles to unlock the box.  We were all thoroughly impressed with the thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork that went into this event.  Brad and I immediately began thinking of how we might be able to use this in our classrooms.  Brandi showed us the menu of pre-made BreakoutEDU games and we were blown away.

To me though, my mind went to adapting the ideas to fit our school, Vancouver iTech Prep, and our project-based S.T.E.M. approach.  Needless to say, I have already created two of my own that I will be using for our project lunches for my different classes.  The first one, How It Works for U.S. History, gave clues to students that had to do with the branches of government, the Constitution, and map reading skills.  The students were engaged, collaborative, thoughtful, inquisitive, and did I mention energetic?  The best part of having it be a part of our project launch was that they were dealing with concepts and content that I want them to learn during the project.  As the "prize" for completing the event, each student got a pocket Constitution, that I made for them, and a link to our project launch sheet.

To say that I am a fan of BreakoutEDU is an understatement.

On to the next one!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Google Geo Teacher Institute #CAGTI16

Made it #CAGTI16!
Initial Thoughts

Back on April 30th, I was still beaming from our big iTechFVvr.org website and #VRTour launch.  I was so proud of what our students did, as I shared their project #FVvr on a Ricoh Theta group on Facebook.  Kim Randall, commented on how she loved to see an educational purpose and project that uses the Theta S camera.  She suggested that I apply to the Google Geo Institute, even though there were only a couple of hours left to apply.  I sat down, focused, and typed out my application.  I hit the submit button, and waited...

A couple of weeks later I found out that I was accepted, and I began to plan out my trip after I watched The Internship, of course.

It has now been a week since the wonderful madness has ended, and as I reflect I think about how many Googley individuals I met, how many incredible things I learned, how many Twitter friends I got to finally meet in person, and how many extraordinary ideas that came to mind.  I find myself in refreshed and in complete awe from these two plus days.  I mean where else can you learn about the newest Geo tools, meet like minded people, and become Pegman?

When we began I ended up at the #TeamHEREoes table with the brilliant Jerome Burg who is the godfather of Google Lit Trips.  Also at my table were Richard Anderson, Jordan O'Donnell, Sharon Mumm, Leslie Fagin, and Brooke Whitlow.  We chatted and shared about ourselves, and I quickly became an enormous fan of everyone in attendance.  The differnt things that each of these colleagues, and everyone else, are doing are truly amazing and innovative.  I am extremely humbled and honored to be a part of this cohort as I represent Vancouver iTech Preparatory and Vancouver Public Schools.  I look forward to continuing my relationships with everyone as we learn and share from one another.

Day 1:  

Google Arts & Culture formerly Google Cultural Institute


Visit it online HERE!

Get the iOS app HERE!

Get the Android app HERE!

I have been a big fan of the Google Cultural Institute for awhile now.  I have used it from time to time in my class, including this past year.  This past year we used it as a jumping off point for our project on the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.  Our goal was to create a an interactive tour of the site that can be used to tour the site and learn about its history through its artifacts.  The Google Arts & Culture program helped our students see what is out there already along with conducting some research.  It was an extremely valuable tool.

During the session, we learned about the gigapixel technology so that users can zoom in on many artworks with extreme detail.  We also explored a couple of differnt art galleries using virtual reality and Google Cardboard.  Part of the session we explored the user interface and talked about how to navigate through the site so that we can show our students.  There are so many possibilities with the site that every teacher should be able to go on there and find something to use and tie in with.  I like the World Wonder Project, and will be trying to integrate it into my World Studies class this next year.  Using the app and a Google Cardboard device you can now virtually tour some of these amazing museums right in your classroom.  The new app is truly exciting and I believe transformational for education.

An Hour(ish) of KML Coding

I was very excited for my second session on the first day.  With Google Earth Pro being free, it opens the door to many new possibilities for many educators around the globe.  KML coding is something that I know a little bit about, and something that I really wanted to dive into to better understand some more intense applications.  This session was fantastic as we learned how to edit some placemarks to change the image along with the size.  I can definitely see myself teaching this to my students so that they can create and edit their own maps and Google Earth tours.

The second part of the session revolved around collecting images and information from GIS data.  We were shown how to take images from different months and then put them together to create a timelapse using the time slider.  This is so valuable for the classroom.  As a teacher you can create some to show in your classroom, or you can teach your students how to do it.  This is what I view as powerful, because we can show students where and how to get the data then they can make their own animations to run and then explain.  As a teacher I plan on using this with water rights and access, climate change data, and census data.

The other tool that we learned about is Josh Williams' site geteach.com.  This site allows you to place different map data onto two differnt maps so that you and your students can compare the same area under differnt conditions.  It is super easy to use and as I see it very valuable to use in the classroom.  Being able to have students analyze population density data to a topographic of physical map allows students to see where people live which then opens up the larger discussion of why and how.  You can then look at climate change data to show how the earth and its population is changing.

Day 2:  


As day two began I was a bit overwhelmed from all of the incredible things that I experienced on the first day.  I wasn't sure what Timelapse was going to be about, but I was intrigued so I decided to attend.  This is definitely a tool that I was not aware of that I will be integrating into my classrooms.  What I love about this is the ease of use.  The data is already there from satellite imagery, the only downside is that it only runs from 1984 - 2012.  While this is limiting, there are still so many applications that can be done with this tool.  There is a built in editor right from the bottom of the home page.  You can zoom in and out easily and then add in the differnt views, change the speed of the timelapse, and even get embed code for your timelapse "recording."  Learn more about how to use it here.

One of the other exciting things we discussed is how we could have students use the tool to show change in a science class to showing economic growth and environmental changes made by humans and nature.  There are so many different applications for this, that any classroom should be able to find a use for this tool.

Oh the Places We'll Go with Google Street View

 Visit Street View online HERE!

 Get the Street View iOS app HERE!

 Get the Street View Android app HERE!

  Visit Cardboard online HERE!   

  Get the Cardboard iOS app HERE!   

  Get the Cardboard Android app HERE!   


To say that I am a fan of Google Street View would be an understatement.  I believe that this is one of the most important tools to come out of Google.  Street view allows the student to go and visit any place in the world, both above and below the oceans.  I have used this app many times in my class.  You don't have to have the phones with viewers to use Street View either.  I am a big proponent of using it on a student laptop or on an iPad.  For a bit more on my thoughts on this visit my earlier post on using 360º cameras and VR in the classroom.

The other tool that is now out for teachers to leverage is Google Expeditions.  If this program is unfamiliar to you you, you should really check it out.  Expeditions allows the teacher to take their students on a virtual field trip to many differnt and far off places across the globe.  The nice part of Expeditions is that the teacher has control over the image/scene that the students look at, and the teacher device has extra info and questions built into it to help guide the lesson.  Right now, the app is only available for Android devices, but we were told that an iOS app is on the way.   Google has also partnered with Best Buy to offer Expedition classroom kits for schools to purchase.  I am also excited to see some of the other enhancements coming soon.  Teachers and students should be able to begin to create their own Expeditions to share with one another.  This is the thing I am most excited about.

My partner David Midkiff and I had our students at iTech Prep worked on creating their own Street View Tour / Expedition with the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site this past year.  The process of creating an Expedition is extremely educational, informative, and promotes higher order thinking.  We called it #FVvr for Fort Vancouver Virtual Reality.  It allows users from all over the world to visit the fort and learn and differnt artifacts throughout the park.  Check out our finished project here at iTechFVvr.org.  Soon you, or your students, will be able to create your own Expedition tours, and THAT is something to get excited about!

Final Thoughts

These two plus days were truly extraordinary.  I left so energized with so many new ideas and thoughts.  Sometimes this can be a bad thing though, since I might not be able to pick a place to start.  You may be feeling the same way after reading this, but don't fret.  The biggest and best thing you can do is to pick ONE thing to try.  If you have questions of how to implement any of these things in your class, feel free to email me or check out Twitter with some of the other amazing educators like Beth Still, Jackie WhitingSylvia Duckworth, or my friends listed above.

Geography can be taught and integrated into any classroom, and doesn't have to be relegated to the social studies class.

U.S. Artstory: Fusing History & Art

This past year I have had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. twice during the school year. Once for the NCSS annual conference, and ...