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. 

Voices Not Forgotten

This past spring our students were studying several different themes throughout our school. To help students with their understanding of the...