Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hometown Heros - A Veterans Day Oral History Project

Photos by Lauren Blair - Craig Daily Press

Historical research, interview skills, video recording, and QR code creation are all engaging elements and tools of learning for students of all ages. When combined, those skills can be used for the creation of a real-world product of value that will last forever! Add to that lesson the interaction between the youth and elders of a community and the value becomes priceless.

Veterans Day 2015 is only six weeks away. There is plenty of time to plan a community project. Although a single class can complete this project, it is a wonderful building-wide service project for a school. In the fall of 2014, the students of Sunset Elementary in Craig, Colorado, partnered with the local Wyman Living History Museum to gather and display oral histories from hometown heros. The oral histories were posted to Youtube and displayed in the museum for access with QR codes. In addition, the school held a ceremony to honor the veterans on Veterans Day and an open house at the museum to teach the public how to access the QR code videos on display.

Here are the steps our school used for the project:

  • Contact a local museum to explain the project and arrange for display. We have several wonderful museums in our community, but chose one with a military display already in place.
  • Contact local veterans groups to get a list of people to interview. 
  • Prepare students by learning about Veterans Day and related history as appropriate for each grade level. We are a K-5 school.
  • Provide each classroom teacher with the name and contact information for a local vet. Be sure to have a few alternates ready in case the contact is unavailable. 
  • Depending on the age of the students and possible relationships with the veterans, either the teacher or a student can make contact with the veteran. Explain the project and invite him or her to class. It was helpful to ask beforehand if the guest would prefer to be interviewed or to simply tell his or her story. Some wanted to know the questions that would be asked ahead of time. The idea is to make the invited veteran feel as comfortable as possible. Be sure to let them know ahead of time that the session will be filmed. Ask each to bring a photograph that can be copied on a color copier and any artifacts they would like to share.
  • Prepare and practice interview questions and techniques. Discovery Education has a link to a valuable resource for interviewing veterans.  The tip sheet in the link has a wide variety of questions from which to choose and makes the preparation simple for the class and teacher.
  • On the day of the interview, the classroom is arranged for listening to a guest speaker with a spot designated for a student to film the speaker. We used iPads for filming. One drawback was the need to be close for the sound to be loud enough on the video. It is possible, however, in iMovie to increase the volume of the sound as well as edit the video after filming. That should be possible no matter what technology tool you are using. It is a good idea to try out the filming and sound in a test situation before your guest arrives. 
  • Make arrangements with the building secretary to color copy the photographs supplied by the veterans as they arrive.
  • Each classroom handled their interview in the way that worked best for them. Some of the guests preferred to tell their story and take questions at the end. Others answered questions throughout the visit. The one common thread in all classrooms was the undivided attention of the students. In each case, the veteran connected with the kids and made a lasting impression. We heard talk about the interviews for weeks beyond the project. 
  • There was one veteran who could not come to the school. He was the only World War II veteran on our list and was actually a prisoner of war. He was the great grandfather of some of our students. Rather than skip his participation, we sent a video recording device home with his family. They captured his interview and returned the device for download, capturing priceless candid descriptions of his experiences so long ago. Sadly, he passed away last spring. How very thankful we were to have preserved his story.
  • One staff member was responsible for uploading the edited videos to Youtube. 
  • Once the video was online, a QR code was created linking to the site. If you are not familiar with QR codes, they are quite simple to create! Here is a link to one of many QR Code Generators. Simply copy the Youtube video URL, go to the generator, click on URL at the top and paste it into the box. A QR code will generate instantly. You can save it to your desktop or print it from there. I prefer to save it and then copy and paste it into a document more than one time so I have spare paper copies of the code. You can also make it the specific size you want at that time. 
  • QR codes are accessed using a tablet or cellphone with a QR code reader. Search the app store for one to download. Here is a sample QR code for you to try. It will take you to the QR code generator site:
 This one is for a QR reader:

  • As the interviews are completed, the QR code. along with the veteran's name, and photograph are placed in a frame for display at the museum. There is a picture at the top of this blog. We displayed them as they were completed in the lobby of the school until the day prior to Veterans Day.
  • All of the frames were then moved to the museum along with a poster explaining the project and directions for viewing the videos.
  • Invitations were sent to all of the participating veterans inviting them to an outdoor flag ceremony and assembly at the school on Veterans Day. They led the outdoor ceremony and were then honored at the assembly. We showed a video that included a few moments from many of the interviews and gave our hometown heros a standing ovation. It was an emotional moment for all.
  • In addition, they were all invited to the museum for an unveiling of the display and a lesson in using QR codes! The public was also invited to the museum. One child from each classroom was on hand equipped with an iPad and ready to demonstrate the technology needed to view the videos. The kids helped people download the app needed on their cell phones as well.
Veterans Day 2014 was one for our students and hometown heros alike to remember! A bit of planning a few weeks in advance resulted in a valuable community project! Here is the sample video shown at our assembly. The videos displayed at the museum are available in their entirety on the same Youtube channel:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Interdisciplinary + Hands-on = Learning

Although common core and state standards are neatly organized by content area and skill, the real world and life are not so simply segmented. When children are taught skills in isolation, it is not always easy for them to see the relevance. Such lessons are the "work" in schoolwork for many kids. Interdisciplinary lessons, however, are often more connected to a child's experiences and, therefore, more likely to lead to mastery of skills and transfer of learning in new situations. Add creative hands-on elements and the lesson will not only be met with enthusiasm, but may result in a memory to be recalled many years in the future! The idea of "work" can be replaced with "play" and be more productive and engaging for many students with more productive learning outcomes as a result!

There are many ways to make lessons interdisciplinary and hands-on. I want to share one example that is based on a lesson from Math Excursions 2, by Donna Burk, Allyn Snider, and Paula Symonds. I have used both the first and second grade books from this series published in the early 90's with great success! The books are available on Amazon as used books. (I left my copies behind for my teaching partners when I retired!)

The lesson I will be sharing is based on the story The Gingerbread Man. With obvious connections to literacy standards, the project provides opportunities to read multiple versions of the same story, discuss point of view, setting, and characters. The entire lesson is based on creating a new ending for the story in which the Gingerbread Man is not eaten by the fox, but instead escapes across the river only to find other gingerbread people who have created a new community! The concept of community has strong ties to social studies standards as well! The lessons in the project take children through the roles of individual, group, and community members as they learn to think beyond their own needs to the collaboration necessary for a successful community. Collaboration leads to additional literacy standards as children practice skills of speaking, listening, and teamwork. If all of that is not enough, this is actually a math lesson! Measurement, money, geometry, and other critical thinking skills fill the lessons. The authors of these amazing books seamlessly weave math into a hands-on project that captivates children! Over the years, I had many parents tell me they were saving boxes and materials for their children to create villages in their own homes after the project ended. 

As with many teaching idea books and experiences, over the years, I modified the lesson to meet the learning needs of my students. The video at the end of this blog was created in a year we made some changes to the lesson. Whether or not you teach it exactly as designed in the book is not really the point. I did that, as well, with tremendous success! I actually can imagine this same lesson being carried out on computers with students using Minecraft to collaboratively create a virtual town! I have watched my grandchildren work together from multiple devices to create communities while sitting on couches in my living room! There is a time and purpose for that as well. One of the strengths of this idea for seven year old children, however, is the hands-on use of materials. When children are allowed time to create, they grow in ways we can only imagine! The class in the video was allowed to direct the creation in their own way. They opted to elect government and had great debates about what was and was not needed in their community. They learned to take a stand, defend their position, and compromise. They did all of that while I observed and resisted the temptation to interfere. The resulting Gingerbread Village occupied a large area of our floor space. As a result, we spent a great deal of time on the floor and out of our seats during the project. There were times actually designated as "time to just play" in the village. It was immediately obvious that they were so passionate about their play that it still had purpose and "play" time was actually a continuation of the learning. 

The cost of doing an interdisciplinary hands-on project for me involved writing notes home in advance asking for milk cartons, boxes, etc. Gathering literacy materials based on the story. Giving up traditional time at desks to work on the floor. Modifying lesson plans to combine the necessary content areas to meet the needs of the project. The willingness to assess in a nontraditional way and to sit back and observe as the students took charge of their learning. In fact, I enjoyed the project as much as the children, and from a teacher point of view, learned as much as they did! I'm quite certain the custodian was grateful when the village was finally removed from our classroom, but the children were sorry to see it go! I'm quite certain many still remember it even after years have passed!

The books presented here are simply one example of a way to initiate interdisciplinary hands-on learning. They are now only available as used books! I'm certain there are new materials available as well. The best ideas, however, may be hiding in your imagination, or in that of your students. Ask yourself, "How can I teach this material in an authentic way that engages children in a real-world scenario? How can I involve them in creating or experiencing learning without a text book or worksheet? How can I make this learning a part of their memory for life? What content skills and concepts can I connect? How can we make this fun?" I hope this blog inspires many teachers to try a project in their classroom! Listen to the children in the video as they reflect on their work:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

No Technology Required!

Imagine a day at school with no books, no technology, and no traditional instruction! Imagine all the children engaged in creative imagination with cardboard, scissors, tape, and markers! Imagine collaboration, invention, and laughter galore! Imagine a day of inspiration your students will never forget!

The idea for this week has everything to do with technology, yet requires no technology to complete! If you spend anytime at all on social media, this idea is probably not new to you, yet I find teachers wherever I present that have not yet heard the story behind this wonderful learning opportunity...

Just a few years ago, a little boy created an arcade out of cardboard at his father's business. By chance, a filmmaker visited the business, played the cardboard games, recognized the brilliance of the child's creations, and made a documentary! Thanks to the internet and social media, the film traveled around the world inspiring people everywhere! You can see the heartwarming story of Caine's Arcade for yourself:
The idea was embraced by the world and a foundation was created to encourage innovation and problem solving in children. The Imagination Foundation is currently sponsoring the 4th Annual Cardboard Challenge. The event lasts throughout September, ending with a global day of play on Saturday, October 10. There is more about the event in this video "Caine's Arcade 2: From a Movie to a Movement":
Our district high school Homecoming events take place on a Friday in October each year, resulting in a half day of school for all the elementary students. We made plans for that half day to be used for the Cardboard Challenge to see what would happen. 

We put out the word that we needed cardboard... lots of cardboard. Parents and staff members visited local furniture and appliance stores. Carpet stores supplied large cardboard tubes. Egg cartons, cereal boxes, wrapping paper tubes, and an assortment of miscellaneous treasures were donated, gathered, and organized for the day. The school purchased extra box cutters and packaging tape for the event. Although the creations would come from the children, cutting would need to be done by adults, so volunteer parents and high school groups were arranged as well. 

Our challenge to the students was to create an arcade for the student body to enjoy! Each classroom was responsible for at least one game. One year we had all materials ready the morning of the event and each classroom gathered materials from the lobby that day. Another year, the materials were available throughout the week and classes gathered things prior to the day of the event. Regardless of how you plan to organize an event, the Cardboard Challenge creates an amazing opportunity to put your students' teamwork and creativity to work! In my class, second graders formed small teams to think of a game, write the rules, create a diagram, and generate a materials list. What we could not find in the supplies gathered by the school, kids brought from home. 

The night before, teachers used tape to mark off areas in the gym and lunchroom. Each class had one large space. The kids went to work immediately following morning attendance, working for about an hour on creating their games. Once everything was in place and tidied up for play, the entire school went out for a short recess before opening the arcade to the school. Each class had divided themselves into two groups. One would run the game while the other group played. Halfway through the playtime, a bell rang signaling the students to trade places. 

One year we played without prizes, another year most classes had candy or small trinkets to hand out. The children were delighted either way. The true reward was in the creation!

At the end of our time, each class took apart their games, sorting cardboard and other recyclable materials. Our oldest students cleaned up, making a large pile of cardboard that a parent had agreed to deliver to the recycle bins in our town. 

Sack lunches outside, or hotdogs on a grill organized by our Parent Advisory, completed a magical day for the kids that left them wanting more! Here is a video memory of one of our Cardboard Challenge days"
I think we expect our children to grow up too fast. We constantly "raise the bar" for their learning and academic achievement. As a mother, grandmother, and teacher, I have seen firsthand how quickly children grow and leave childhood behind. I had a poster hanging in my classroom for years that said, "Childhood is a journey, not a race". If I had one wish for education today, it would be that we allow children to slow down and enjoy the journey. They are only little for a short time...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bringing the Outside In: Skype in the Classroom

Have you ever been on a vacation and visited a place that immediately made you think of your students back home?  That happened to me at Plimoth Plantation, the Newseum, the Smithsonian, whale watching, and many other places. I live in a rural area where field trip experiences are limited. The internet helps overcome that limitation with the possibility of virtual field trips. One of the very best tools I have found for that purpose is Skype in the Classroom.

This incredible resource is free, requiring only a Skype account to register. Once you sign in, you can access a large variety of Skype field trips, experts for class projects, storytellers, games, and global friends. The resources are searchable by subject and age. Last year my second graders traveled to museums, exchanged holiday greetings with new friends in Turkey, listened to a storyteller, and played Mystery Skype with students in another school.

One of our second grade life science standards involved learning how organisms depend on their habitat. We found a Skype Lesson with the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, called Amazing Animal Adaptations. We had a large interactive whiteboard screen in our classroom to project the Skype session. I set up our computer so the children were facing the large screen and the computer. The guest speakers from the museum first took the students on a tour of Yellowstone with slides and narration. They then switched to a tablet for an actual tour of their museum. The tour was completely interactive as they visited the animal displays and talked with the kids. My students were able to raise their hands to be called on to ask and answer questions as they learned from the museum staff. We visited the museum again later in the year during a social studies unit to learn about the stories and culture of plains indians and buffalo. The speakers showed my students many museum artifacts and engaged in wonderful discussions with the kids as they took them on a tour of their exhibits. We are too far away from the museum to actually visit, but Skype in the Classroom was equally inspiring. One of my students was so engaged by the sessions that he talked his family into a trip to Yellowstone and a visit to the Cody museum!

Another absolutely amazing part of Skype in the Classroom is the Mystery Skype game. There are classes from all over the world registered and waiting to play. The idea is for two classes to meet via Skype without either group of students knowing the location of the other. The kids have to work together to determine the locations using maps and questions. Here is an example:
My second graders tried a Mystery Skype with another class in Colorado. We had pen pals and friends all around the world, so it was possible that the classroom could be anywhere. Using map skills from our standards, the class practiced first with me as the other class. Once they had come up with a plan for narrowing down the location, they were ready to try it with a real class. They were absolutely delighted when they successfully solved the mystery!

Another valuable part of Skype in the Classroom is the ability to create your own Skype lesson to interact with others. Amy Jones, a kindergarten teacher in my school, created a lesson called Skype Play for her class. She asked for other kindergarten classes to join her class for play time, interacting via Skype. She had plenty of responses and was able to connect her students to others around the country and in Canada. 
Field trip opportunities for students are often limited by location and budgets. Real world experiences and experts add so much to learning, however, that they must not be left out of education. If you have not visited the Skype in the Classroom site, be sure to take a look this year. Plan ahead for upcoming lessons. There are possibilities for almost any topic you can think of. It is free. It is wonderful. Your students will thank you for bringing the outside into the classroom!