Sunday, May 17, 2015

Take Student Notes to the Next Level

I typically don't write tool-based blog posts since I prefer to focus more on the philosophy and pedagogy behind teaching with technology.  On the other hand, sometimes there is a tool that is just awesome and worth writing about.  In my classroom, one of those tools we always come back to is Skitch.

Skitch is an image annotation and creation tool.  If you are interested in giving it a try yourself after reading this post, here are some tutorials:


My students and I have found many uses for it.  Here's a list of some of them, with examples from my student Katie, who gave me permission to post her great work.  If you'd like to see more you can visit her blog at Using History to Make History.

Creating and Labeling Charts & Graphs

My students have access to all class notes and resources on our website.  As we work through an analyze the information during a lesson, they like to add their learning to the notes.  Skitch is a great way to do this.
Katie added detail to this racial class pyramid showing
the Spanish colonial order in the Americas.
Katie could have done this pie chart on paper, but she wanted
it saved in her Evernote, where she keeps all of her notes. She
decided to use the data to complete it digitally instead.
After reading about the Mexican Revolution, Katie
decided her notes would make more sense in the form
of a timeline.  Skitch was the quickest way to put it together.

Color-Coding Documents

When students have primary or secondary sources to read and analyze, they often like to mark them up and color code them.  While they could do this on paper with highlighters, the digital version is more long lasting and won't get lost in a messy binder.  Also, the digital version can be saved and embedded in a blog post or other project later to show learning.  Here are some of Katie's examples from a lesson on Napoleon.


Add Images to Notes

Primary sources are note limited to text like the documents from the Napoleon lesson.  A great deal can be learned from historical images.  Sadly, most school copy machines only print in black and white.  Much of the color and resolution of the images is lost.  While the original image could be projected on a screen by the teacher, that doesn't give each student in the room a personal up-close experience with that piece of history.  When combined with Evernote, Skitch can help students illustrate their notes with color images of all kinds.  Here are a few examples of how including the images with her notes made the difference for Katie.

This was an activator for our lesson on the
Luddites in England.
When we studied the Protestant Revival, images
of gatherings helped students understand the ferver
around the movement

Deep Image Analysis

You probably noticed that Katie circled a few elements in the images above.  Most of her notes were alongside them, though.  On occasion we have done real deep image analysis where students have added quite a bit of annotation to historical images.  Here are some of Katie's.

This shows the expectations on women in the early 19th
century. We analyzed it as part of our early women's
movement lesson.

This is propaganda from the Temperance Movement.

This image shows a young girl leaving her family to go
work in the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Once students have done this annotation, they can record their voices explaining their notations.  Apps like Explain Everything make this process simple.  It is a great alternative to a quiz or essay to get students to talk about the history in their own words.

All of these examples are from just one student in my class, but all 120 of my students have been using Skitch to add color and analysis to their Evernote digital notebooks all year.  It has definitely allowed students to add personal colorful touches to their notes, get an up close look at historical images, and add these personalized elements to their multimedia blog posts and projects.  If you want to give it a shot, remember to check out the tutorials at the top of the blog post to get started.