Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Video Chats Break Down Classroom Walls

One of my favorite ways to connect my students with the experts and resources outside of our school is the live video chat. Read my post with Beyond Pencils, the Smarter Schools Project blog, about Google Hangouts they've had with leaders in edtech, museum historians, and teachers and students from other schools.

Click this screenshot to read the post.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Kids as Tour Guides: Integrating Student-Created Video into History Class

I'm so proud of the hard work of my 9th grade 18th century history class on this most recent project.  EdSurge thought it was great too! Read about it and see some examples of student work by clicking the cover shot below.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Black History Month with Tech

I was honored to work with two other great history teachers, Ken Halla and Kevin Zahner, from across the country to author this article on how we use technology in the classroom to intensify our students' learning experience.  We all work with the Smarter Schools Project and were published in an article from SmartBrief.  Click the screenshot below to check it out.

Click this screenshot to read the full article.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The 'Fifty States Project' Book Has Arrived

Snowed in? Looking for some inspiration of the edtech variety?

Click this book cover to buy this awesome book!

EdSurge Associate Editor Mary Jo Madda has been leading an incredible project over the past year.  Her goal was to get educator contributors from all 50 states to write about their inspirational examples of tech integration in schools.  The result is this impressive guide on the EdSurge site.  The list of writers is impressive and includes people I admire quite a bit like Tom Murray and Pam Moran.
The many faces of the 'Fifty States Project'
I'm honored to be one of the faces in the flag and that my article about my students' infographic project last spring is a part of the guide.

If you sometimes like to read real tangible books, EdSurge has brought you one!  Get your copy of From School to Shining School: 52 Stories from Educators Across the U.S. in a full color paperback book.  I ordered mine today.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Give the Words a Face & the Face a Personality

Crafting study of the American system of slavery for my 15 year old sophomores is always daunting.  Slavery is an affront to human dignity.  Teenagers feel little connection to this level of depravity.  I wanted them to experience an emotional reaction to the antebellum slavery debate, rather than to just learn about it as an obligatory part of their studies.

To that end, today we did a document study of three different primary source opinions on the morality of slavery thanks to excerpts compiled by The DBQ Project.

The Sources

We looked at excerpts from:

The Task

  1. I divided the class into small groups of 3-4 students and each group was assigned one of the 3 documents. But they were told they could not read the documents yet.  We have been working all year on analyzing sources using the methodology recommended by the Stanford History Education Group.  Naturally the first step is sourcing so they looked at reliable websites like and for information about their figure's opinion on slavery and any actions they took to spread their beliefs prior to the Civil War.  As small groups they drafted a one paragraph summary.
  2. Next step was to find a portrait of their figure.  It is important for students to see the face of the historical figures they study.  Often it makes events and ideas more personal.  They saved a digital copy of these portraits for later use (see step 4 below).
  3. Finally, they got to read the document.
    • They read it once through.
    • They identified and looked up definitions of unfamiliar words and phrases.
    • They chose the thesis statement from the document and then rewrote it in their own words to show understanding.
  4. Lastly, I asked them to choose key words and phrases that really capture the mood, intent, and message of the document. They used Skitch to annotate the portrait with the words that were either spoken by their figure or were used to describe their figure. 

The Results

That last step really made the words and the people behind them come alive for my students.  One remarked about how Frederick Douglass's eyes in his portrait now looked as if they were accusing his audience of being hypocrites.

A student frustrated with George Fitzhugh's opinion said he looked like an oblivious wealthy blowhard, rather than simply a well-dressed gentleman.

And finally, they suggested that John Brown looked like a slightly deranged but determined man ready to do anything for his principles.

The portraits gave the documents identity, but the words from the documents transformed the portraits into real people.  They interacted with the men responsible for the words on the page and developed a relationship with them.  My hope is that my students did not merely learn history, they experienced history.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Guest Post: Inspired by the Favorite Poem Project

By Kate Crosby

"Poetry connects us with our deep roots, our evolution as an animal that created rhythmic language as a means of transmitting vital information across the generations. We need to communicate not only with our peers but our ancestors and descendants, and the arts of poetry, writing, print, and digital media serve that communication.”
—Robert Pinsky

I first learned about The Favorite Poem Project ( at the 2013 NCTE Conference in Boston. Sitting in the back of a very crowded conference room, I listened to Robert Pinsky speak of poetry as a uniquely intimate art form. He emphasized the importance of participation. A poem does not live on the page. It lives in the body, through the voices that give it breath and sound. As his words reached across the wide space, insisting on engagement, I was reminded of Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry.” In this poem, a speaker laments his students’ inclination to beat meaning from a poem, to “tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it.” He encourages a more visceral response, telling his students to “press an ear against its hive,” to “walk inside the poem’s room / and feel the walls for a light switch.”

Recently I had been groping for such a switch. I longed to make the study of poetry less of an academic exercise and more of an authentic experience. I wanted students to understand the poems that moved them, and I wanted them to understand why they were moved.  I wanted them to equate analysis, not with dissection, but with illumination and life.  As I watched the 5-minute videos on the Favorite Poem Project website, I realized I had found that switch. My students would create videos, like these, that conveyed a chosen poem's importance to them.  I knew the project would require a shift in my approach to teaching poetry - I would have to employ tools beyond the text and page - but perhaps that shift was not unlike the one I was asking my students to make. Together, we would reenter the world of poetry with fresh eyes.

Step 1: Getting Familiar with Tech Tools

I began by consulting my tech-saavy colleagues like Kerry for advice on how to facilitate this project with students in my Grade 12 class. I saw how digital technology could enhance students’ expression, and I needed some direction when it came to choosing the right tools. I did not want the emphasis on technology to detract from the project’s goal of authentic and intimate interaction with a poem. I wanted the technology be the tool, not the focus.

We determined that the project could be done using iMovie, and we spent several days watching tutorials and getting acquainted with the program. Students worked together, filming short video clips with iPads and iPhones and importing them into iMovie, familiarizing themselves with its editing features. Once we had a handle on the software, we turned our attention to choosing poems.

Step 2: The Assignment

For one full week, students immersed themselves in poetry. I told them to read, read, read without preconception and without agenda. They returned to the works of poets they had read before, and they explored new ones. They rediscovered Ozymandias. They found Prufrock. They began each class by sharing phrases and lines and images that impacted them.
“And indeed there will be time
To wonder “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” 
They handwrote lines they liked.  They committed them to memory. I saw them pressing their ears to the hive. I watched them run their fingers along passages, searching for a switch. 

Step 3: The Writing Response and the Storyboard

Once students chose their poems, they wrote a 400-600 word response about why the poem resonated with them. This was a chance to reflect upon the poem's significance and articulate why it mattered.  The reflection would inform the choices they made in the video - choices that involved the inclusion of sound, visual imagery, narration and sequence of clips. From here, students plotted the video’s narrative on a storyboard. This storyboard became a rough template for the direction of the video; however they were free to revise as reroute as their videos came to life, as they began to take their own serendipitous shapes.

Step 4: Publication

Students published their videos on YouTube and shared them with the class. I was overwhelmed by their candor and by the quality of the final product. With the students’ permission, I have included two of the many worthy submissions. 

Julia chose e.e. cummings’ “[i carry your heart with me (i carry it in]” 

Kiera chose Billy Collins' "The Parade." 

I'd say they found the switch.

About the Author

Kate Crosby is a high school English teacher, cross country coach, and director of The New Currency, the literary arts magazine at Reading Memorial High School. She shares her passion for language and literature by seeking and creating educational experiences that foster students' connection to texts. She writes and publishes short fiction. Recently, her short stories have appeared in Pleiades, The Journal and Beecher's Magazine.