Apps That Give Old Words New Life

The Friday before a week-long February Break... deadly for student engagement.

Add to that a Thursday snow day that threw any momentum we had accumulated out the window, and I needed a miracle. Thank goodness for BYOD and mobile devices.

Students were learning about the American Colonization Society to wrap up our unit on Antebellum Slavery.  The racial divide that defined both the social and economic structure of the United States in the early 19th century is hard for my teenage students to comprehend.  Primary source analysis is the best way for them to learn the different perspectives of the era.

Class Set Up

After all students read a short background explanation of what the American Colonization Society was, I divided my class of 24 students in half: 12 read excerpts from James Madison's "Plan for the Emancipation of Slaves" from June 15, 1819 and 12 read excerpts of a letter from Richard Allen, Freedom's Journal, November 2, 1827 (Vol. 1, No. 34). Madison was in favor of removing free blacks from American society, the mission of the American Colonization Society, and Allen was opposed to the idea.  After they read their sources I gave them these instructions:
During the creation process students were engaged: learning the necessary apps, but more importantly, talking about the primary source text.  They were debating about the intentions of the writers, and they were preparing to defend their conclusions to their peers when they would be presenting their final creation during the last 10 minutes of class. I tweeted what I saw as I walked around the classroom monitoring their progress.

My tenth graders used a combination of school-owned iPads and their own devices on our BYOD wifi network.  There were a variety of smartphones, tablets, and laptops at work throughout the classroom.


Chatter Pix is a free app and it does not require students to create accounts for them to use.  The resulting videos can be easily saved to the camera roll of a mobile device and then shared with others via email or social media.  There is also a kids version that allows you to add more restrictions on student use.

Students in Group A for each document had to make the author come to life and explain his perspective.  Their challenge was to distill the main idea of a relatively complex primary source to something that could be read aloud in 30 seconds or less.  Here are their results with both Madison and Allen explaining their opinions on the colonization of free blacks themselves.


Word clouds are a great way to analyze primary sources because words that the author uses most often are enlarged as compared to words that are used less.  It is an interesting way to discover the priorities of that author.  Other word cloud tools require Java or Flash and are therefore impossible to use on iPads.  WordItOut works well on all devices through the web browser.

Students in Group B had to copy and paste their entire document into WordItOut and then write a short analysis of the resulting word cloud.  The captions are the students' words.
Some of the most prominent words that appeared on our word cloud were blacks, fair, society, colonizing, object, and prejudices. This is significant because it shows how much James Madison and the American Colonization Society focused on race and how they believed that white population could never overcome their racial prejudices. 
Key words from Richard Allen's source:
Country - America is now the home country of the people
People - The Africans Americans and the Africans are completely different people
Africans - They are not the same as the native Africans; they have been separated for 200 years
Free - The blacks are free, they deserve to live freely in the nation in which they have toiled for 200 years
Liberia - That is not their home, America is
Slaves - It is unjust that the free must leave and slaves must remain in the U.S.
Education - They lack the education to succeed and prosper among foreign people
Ignorant - Americans are being ignorant, thinking that the free blacks will prosper in Liberia


We have used Skitch a lot this year.  Students have annotated primary source images, artwork, maps, charts and graphs to show what they've learned from them.  Students have gotten quite good at it and have even added their annotated sources to their Evernote paperless notebooks as part of their record of learning for our history class.  We found a new way to use it for this class activity as well.

Group C found a portrait of their author and then surrounded his head with key words they chose from the primary source to demonstrate the main idea. The caption below is the student analysis.
We used the word satisfactory because he wanted to satisfy the slaves in new lives and the master after losing their property. The word oppression is relevant because he wanted to have the whites stop oppressing the black people. We used the word gradual because he believed that the change from slavery to no slavery should be gradual. Danger of collision is referring the possible negative effects free blacks and whites in the same society. Compensation was needed for whites who lost their slaves, and he thought it was good to have the consent of both parties to free the slaves.
Allen's Reasons for Staying in America:
1.) Brought up in ignorance- since most blacks are uneducated, it wouldn't be fair for them to be moved to another country because they are ignorant
2.) First tillers of the land- blacks have worked on this land and are largely responsible of all the profits made in America
3.) Mother country- blacks don't feel like Africans anymore since they have lived in America for so long
4.) Is there not land in America- there's more than enough lands for blacks and whites to live together
5.) Free men of color enjoying liberty- free blacks in America enjoy the rights we have

This was just my own little way of keeping students engaged and learning about history on a day that traditionally would have been a struggle due to a loss of momentum and an impending vacation.  They had spent 50 minutes reading, discussing, and creating.  When the bell rang, they left happy and had learned the conflicting historical perspectives on the American Colonization Society.


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