19th

Civil War “Survivorman” Benefits Museum

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Brett Kelley, Curator at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA will be deducting two weeks from his vacation time, and be off from February 6th to the 20th. He’s not, however, really vacationing.

In the interest of raising funds for the education department of the museum, specifically for helping school districts pay for field trips to the museum and to pay for “virtual” electronic field trips for K12 students, Brett will be living the life of a Civil War picket soldier for the duration of his vacation time. He’ll be living in the large (heavily exposed) backyard of the impressive museum, living on rations, wearing the clothes, eating the hardtack, living the life.

In order to duplicate the very challenging schedule and responsibilities of a picket soldier, he’ll be spending several days a week on picket duty (similar to “watch” in the Navy). He’ll also be carrying out several ten mile marches to raise awareness of the Museum, and building a small winter quarters and wooden defenses.

My students and I quickly saw the tremendous social media potential of this event (Survivorman + Man vs. Wild + Prairie House) and organized ourselves, with the help of the Museum, into a social media platoon.

Brett will be keeping a handwritten journal (with sketches) of his experiences, interns at the Museum will be snapping photos, and making videos. All of this will presented to the world through daily updates on a WordPress blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on YouTube. All of these accounts will be linked.

So, through subscribing to our blog:  Civil War Soldier 24/7, teachers and students will be able to follow his experiences from day to day. On Twitter, you can show your support by following @cwsoldier24_7 (we’ll follow you back!). On Facebook, you can friend Brett Kelley, and become a fan of the National Civil War Museum. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel, but all of the media will be aggregated on our blog page. Each account is in the design phase for my students, so each account page should get prettier as we approach Brett’s vacation. Please spread the word!

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Jan 19th by admin Continue Reading
02nd

Students and Original Primary Sources

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I’d like to share with you a great way to get students actively involved in their understanding of basic concepts of historical investigation. We’re all familiar with the irreplaceable position primary sources hold in the expansion of student critical thinking skills. Is it possible to use primary sources that are original, and have never been interpreted before?

I have the advantage of owning quite a few historical pieces, mostly due to the avid collecting of my father-in-law, and my chosen position of family archivist. What you may not be aware of is the number of students whose families are doing the same type of collecting. In fact, many of them may be in possession of items that living family members don’t even understand.

So, i decided to have a look at what’s out there among my students’ families. For the students who had nothing to offer, I simply allowed them to use artifacts or documents in my possession.

I already had a format for how to present the student work- a WordPress MU blog system I installed and administer for my school district. For more info on how that sort of thing is done, see these related WordPress posts: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

The blog is also already used for my History and Technology Club (which I will explain in more detail in a later post), and so includes posts about club projects and tools.

So what sort of things did we come up with? I had students take digital pictures of their artifacts, and usually had them scan any documents. Most of the images and scans were then converted into “zoomable” web images, to allow the user to see the images in great detail without having to wait for large, high res images to load. Many of the documents include transcripts as part of the post written by students.

Here’s a sampling of the varied submissions (anything “old” or “antique” was accepted):

Artifacts

Documents

Red Comet Fire Suppression Globe

1909 Wheat Penny

1800s Telephone

1920s Gas Mask

1845 German Bible

1890 Bangladesh Earring

1930s Iron Cross

Kristallnacht Synagogue Fragment

WWII Cartoon Book Signed By Soldiers (this post was later reviewed at WWII Memories)

1862 Civil War Letter

1799 Spanish New Orleans Passport

1799 Letter of Marque

War of 1812 Letter

WWII Ration Book

1930s Tramp Art Box



So what did students learn? First of all, they were genuinely excited about the fact that they were investigating items that few people had investigated before. Secondly, many of the items prompted very enlightening questions, like “How do I know this is not a fake?” or “How does this connect to a period, person, or place I learned about in history class?” or even “How much might this baby go for on Antiques Roadshow?”

Many of the posts enlightened the owners of the documents themselves, people who had held on to things important to their families, but had forgotten the historical context of the items. Nonetheless, we were all quite happy with the results. The blog itself won the local Regional High School Computer Fair for Curriculum Based Web Design, and the blog was one of the first times students at my school had done work that was actually made public on the internet. I’m sure to add more items to our little online museum next year, when I get new students (and new attics and basements for them to sort through!).

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Jun 02nd by admin Continue Reading
12th

Teaching Immigration with Flash

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Here’s a freebie.. This zip file offers three useful things for American History teachers at the middle or high school level.

After unzipping the folder, you’ll see:

A .fla file for those of you with Flash. You may use or change this file in any way.

A .swf file. Opening this file will open the “Waves of Immigration” interactive file in Flash Player.

An .html file. Opening this file will open the “Waves of Immigration” interactivity in a browser window.

The interactive file is designed to allow students to investigate the four major waves of immigration to the US since 1492. Here’s the correctly finished activity (with room for discussion and/or argument):

These files can be used “as-is, “ or embedded in your own web page. Or, if you’ve read this far and you’re a bit confused, try the interactive activity online here.

Have fun!

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Mar 12th by admin Continue Reading
11th

WordPress in Education- Intermediate

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OK, so you’ve decided to take on blogging with your students and/or colleagues and you think WordPress might be the answer… How do you actually get your own blog?

Here are your options:

1. Use WordPress’s free blog hosting site. You can set up a free blog, accessible by anyone anywhere, and can customize the blog to a certain extent.

2. Contact a tech person in your district. See if district server resources meet WordPress’s requirement of PHP and MySQL. If your resources match, most tech persons can set up WordPress with minimal hassle. Many techie types can also set up a server just to be used by a WordPress installation. If you or your district is interested in offering a large number of teachers (or even students) their own blogs based on a single installation of WordPress on the district serve, the WordPress MU (“multi-user”) is the way to go.

3. Host your own WordPress blog or blogs on an external hosting site. This web page is hosted on a site external to my district. I don’t use it with students, only to share info with other teachers. Although this site is hosted by BlueHost, there are many web hosting companies that offer easy WordPress installations.

4. Trickiest of all, you can set up a server on a computer in your classroom. Depending upon how your district manages it’s servers, you could run a WordPress blog or blogs from a computer connected to the district’s network. Only people within your district (or possibly just within your school) can access the blog. I’ve done this several times (a few times with Moodle and Drupal), and in each case I used XAMPP to set up the server, and then set up a WordPress installation on that server. Some people like the privacy of a school or district-only server.

For more information, see Installing WordPressMu – The E-Book and my district’s strategies for getting multiple teachers and students involved through WordPressMU.

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Mar 11th by admin Continue Reading
11th

WordPress in Education- Advanced

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So, you have a few weeks, months, or years of WordPress in education experience, and you’re interested in extending the application’s abilities, or are interested in offering students a chance at web development and design.

WordPress is infinitely extendable. As an open source application, web experts around the globe are constantly tweaking and upgrading its capabilities, and even generating and testing “plugins” that allow a WordPress admin to change the function of his or her blog.

Furthermore, WordPress themes, which “skin” the WordPress engine to allow for a more distinct or customized look, can be further customized or even made from scratch by crafty teachers and/or students. An incredible number of themes are available for free, and can be customized for personal use.

Let’s tackle the plugins first. The best place to find and browse them is at the WordPress plugins directory. Be sure to check the requirements of a particular plugin in which you may be interested, and see if there are any special instructions for installation in your blog. In most cases, you download the plugin, unzip it into the wp-content>plugins folder, and then activate the plugin in the dashboard of your blog. Should your blog behave erratically after activating a plugin, simply disable the plugin and search for another of similar function (plugins are rated on the WordPress site, generally avoid a plugin if has a low rating).

For a bit more help with plugins, see Install WordPress Plugins From Dashboard and WordPress MU plugin list for school install.

What about themes? How can I give my blog a truly personal touch? As an example of how radically a theme can be customized, allow me to give an example..

A year or so ago, I was unfamiliar with WordPress theming, but was interested in helping Dickinson College’s House Divided Project to create and administer a blog with the correct historical “feel.” After becoming a bit downhearted about available themes, I decided to use some CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and image editing experience to take an existing theme and make it into something more fitting.

I chose the basic layout of Wired Studio’s Corvette Theme. What do Corvettes have

to do with the House Divided Era in American History? Bubkus. But I liked the layout, and got down to seeing how WordPress read the CSS file that made the theme look like it did, and investigated the theme’s images folder.

After a great deal of hard work, I ended up with this.

Indistinguishable, right? That’s not my genius, it’s really the work of Wired Studios in creating an easily customizable theme. I gave them credit at the footer of the blog, and I would recommend leaving a theme’s original craftsperson in place on your customized blog, too (check the footer of this page!).

It is entirely possible to customize a them without any knowledge of CSS. All you need is image editing software like Photoshop, Fireworks, or even open source (free!) applications like Gimp.

If you download a them for use, it just gets unzipped into the wp-content>themes folder. You can then preview and/or choose the theme in your blog’s dashboard. If you look more closely at your theme’s file structure, you’ll find an images folder. If you use an image editor to change any file in this folder, and are sure to keep the image’s filename the same, it will instantly change the image on every page in your site.

Originally, this site’s theme looked like this. Apart from lots of CSS work, I changed

this site to it’s present look by editing and importing my own and other public domain images. For more information on plugins and themes, see WordPress Plugins and Using WordPress Themes.

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Mar 11th by admin Continue Reading
03rd

CoverItLive

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At present, I think that CoveritLive is my favorite Web 2.0 application. Through setting up a free “live blog” on the website, a teacher can run a live chat room, with complete control over what the students can see and do during the activity. A teacher can pose a question, decide which student answers to display, and even conduct live polls, show images, and videos. Once you set up a live blog, it must be embedded in a web page, or, as I most often use it, in Moodle.

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Mar 03rd by admin Continue Reading