Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Now They're Animated!

Why would 14 year old freshmen care about 17th century American colonial geography and culture?

Well... they wouldn't, really.

But with an opportunity to created something animated and set to music, they just might perk up.

After learning about how my colleague, Annemarie Cory has been using Animoto to teach MacBeth...
...I was inspired. I could make a dry lesson really engaging if students had an opportunity to make tourism commercials for one of the first 13 American colonies!

(Disclaimer: Yes, I know a television-style commercial for a time and place in 17th century is anachronistic, but my students know that too.  They know the colonists didn't have TV, but they also now know why each of them was founded and how people lived day-to-day if they settled there.)

What Does a Good Tourism Commercial Look Like?

First, students watch a couple of recent commercials from YouTube.  One for Massachusetts and one for California.  I asked them to jot down a list of strategies used in the commercials to make the locations look like a place the viewer would like to go.  Answers included:

  • exciting music
  • celebrities
  • fun activities
  • colorful
  • fast moving
Soon enough they figured out they would be making tourism commercials too, but when I revealed they would be doing it for parts of America as they were 300 years ago, they were intrigued.

Setting Up the Assignment - History First

For their advertisements, it wasn't just about enticing people to visit.  They needed to convince their target audience to come and settle permanently.  They needed to research their assigned colonies.  I provided them with some general summaries from U.S. History.org about the 13 colonies when they were first settled by the English.  They had to find out and take notes on:

  • reasons for settlement
  • leaders
  • attitudes and laws regarding religion, slavery, and women
  • economy (agriculture, imports and exports, sources of labor)

Creating the Animoto - Demonstrating Learning With Technology


Students had to find images that represented the information they discovered about their assigned colony.  They had to plan how they might use the information to make it look like a great place to settle if an Englishmen were looking for a new opportunity.  After finding and citing their images and crafting their persuasive approach, they watched a tutorial on how to use Animoto. Animoto is available via free mobile app or on any computer web browser.
Click here to see the tutorial on YouTube.
Then they got to creating!  It took most groups about 3 class periods to learn the history, organize their images and their marketing approach, and create their commercial in Animoto.

Sharing Their Success

They tried to use the strategies we discussed at the beginning of the lesson.  Founders like James Oglethorpe and William Penn were cast as celebrities.  They chose fitting music and engaging images with minimal text.  Viewers were enticed by growing economies, job opportunities, and a beautiful countryside.  They seemed to understand the importance of offering travelers choices and options.  

Students showed their commercials to one another.  Then they asked their audience what the commercial reveals about the 17th century American colonies.  Here are a few samples:
Click here to see the commercial for New York.
Click here to see a commercial for Pennsylvania.
Click here to see a commercial for Georgia.
Of course, sharing with one another in the classroom is great, but sharing with the world online is better.  Students reported about what they learned from one another on their blogs.  First we mapped out what should be included in their posts.  This way they had some ownership in how they would demonstrate their learning.

Here are some sample posts that resulted:

Megan explained what she learned about colonial New York.

Adam wrote about colonial Delaware.

Shannon's post explained what she liked about the process and some information about New Jersey.

Animoto was easy to learn.  My students were reading, researching, and citing.  All the while they were engaged and excited about the goal they were working toward and they were proud to share their results.  The technology made it fun, but the learning was focused on the history.