It’s been a while. I haven’t written a post in a coon’s age, so forgive me if I forget how to do this.
Currently in my 8th grade U.S. history class, I’m teaching students about the Oregon Trail. To tell the story of the Oregon trail, I have found that it works best to tell it as a story (and for that matter, history is always best conveyed as a story, but I digress). In the past (ironic) we’ve taken turns reading journal entries from people who were actually on the OR Trail. True story accounts of the hardships people faced as they made the long and arduous journey west in search of land and opportunity and, yes, guided by the tenants of Manifest Destiny. While we read through the journal entries, I show pictures from the trail from that time period. The goal is to make students understand the experiences pioneers went through while on their journey. A sound objective, but one that has been feeling a bit stale. Typically, a few students love to read the stories while others students zone out. The engagement level can drop.
So, in an effort to regain my student’s attention and focus, place a higher priority on individual participation, and be more efficient with the overall lesson, I decided to change the way I do this lesson and make audible recordings of the journal entries and have students listen to them on our classroom iTouches. This grabs their attention a lot more (especially when Mr. Freeburg does his “voices” of road weary travelers). I used Gold Wave to record the twelve or so different journal entries and then transferred the MP3 files to iTunes. When students finish listening to the stories from the trail and they take some notes, I had students pretend as if they were actually on the OR Trail themselves and create a digital postcard they would send back east. To do this, I used the Bill Atkinson PhotoCard Lite App, which allows you to make digital postcards on an iTouch. I preloaded the iTouches with about 34 pictures from the OR Trail. Students self selected which photo they wanted to use, filled out requisite information using a rubric I had given them. These were then posted to Picasa (using our district’s Google Apps account), and I linked a Picasa album onto my Moodle page.
The end result? Students were far more engaged with this particular assignment then they had ever been in the past. The product they created for me to assess their understanding of the trail was more dynamic and richer than what we had done in the past as well. Student’s loved it, and I had a blast grading their postcards.
To take the to another level, I wish I was able to find an 8th grade U.S. History teacher in Oregon who I could connect with and have their students comment on the postcards my students made and vice versa. Oh well, maybe next time…..
Commenter Nathan makes a great point. I should have allowed them to play The Oregon Trail game. Well….I did, I totally forgot about that part of the day. And, unsurprisingly, the students loved playing it. There’s not enough time to play it in it’s entirety during one class period, but they still love it. What’s more, there is an astonishing amount of real historical facts in the iTouch game.
Thanks for the reminder Nathan!