One of the aspects of my responsibilities at North Shore that I enjoy the most is rethinking curriculum units or projects. Sometimes that they fall somewhat flat, but usually the projects are successful and push students into new modes of thinking. In my mind, the success of these projects is centered around the asking of an open-ended question that challenges students to become active learners.
Four years ago, our History Department Chair and United States History teacher, Kevin Randolph, and I began to reconstruct his United States History curriculum to incorporate more elements of visual literacy into the curriculum. Students today are immersed in a sea of visual imagery, from pictures to videos to film. At the time, we acknowledged that at no point did we teach students how to decode the visual sources, that the focus was on text based resources. With my help, Kevin built a curriculum that started from a known, a PowerPoint personal narrative and history to one which built in projects which asked the students to create video, audio, and incorporated other non-text based artifacts to show the student’s learning and discovery.
But as the years have past, the students have come into the class with a greater skill set. At the same time, there have been many advances in software which make these tools more accessible to students. We realized that this curriculum was still important, as even though students have greater skills, they have not had the chance to learn how to best craft their stories. As a result, we committed to rethink each of the projects for this academic year.
We have just finished the audio based project, Trial by Fire (http://trailbyfire.posterous.com). As Kevin notes in the the project background, during the study of the Civil War, student’s are asked to read A Soldier’s Book by Joanna Higgins. As we looked at the project, which is the creation of an audio podcast around the book, we were brainstorming about what essential question we would construct that would get at the heart of this book.
I asked Kevin, “Why should students today read an account of a POW during the Civil War? Why should this book be required reading?” These questions became the basis for the students investigation for this project. Here are the complete set of guidelines for the project.
Students were asked to create a 4-6 minute podcast answering this question. You can find their projects on the Trial by Fire website that we created. We provided instruction to the students on how to edit audio using Aviary, part of our Google Applications for Education suite on campus. To create an easy way for them to share their work, we create a Posterous.com site and invited them as contributors. This allowed them to email their final projects, so that they could transfer known skills (use of email and attachments) without having to learn how to post in a blog (a different skill to be learned in a different day).
As with any student project, some are better and some didn’t go as deep as we would have liked. My favorites are on the first page of the site.