My husband said,”That is the worst photoshop ever!” as he walked past my computer. He was referring to my first attempt at manipulating an image I got from the internet. I did this for my Technology and Computers in the Classroom course. The purpose of the assignment was to become familiar with pixlr and to think of ways we could use it in the classroom. The professor suggested we have students make a postcard from an image about the period in history we were studying. He also encouraged us to do a fast and sloppy job, in part to help students realize that they don’t have to be perfect. I found a picture of Roman soldiers in full battle regalia, added my head to one of them, and put in a speech bubble saying, “I’d rather be playing Angry Birds.” I noticed that working with the image made me think about it more than if I just copy/pasted it into a power point. It also made me feel much more invested in it, like it was my own creation rather than an impersonal image I chose from the web.The part that interested me was that our professor said we should basically never have students pull images from the web and use them without manipulating them in some way.
Every year, to introduce Virginia history in fourth grade, all the fourth graders at my school make a promotional travel brochure for a region of Virginia. They have text telling about the highlights of their region and the kids add photos of the beach, mountains, stone bridge, etc. The small pixlr assignment in my tech. class got me to thinking how uncreative and superficial it is to have kids use images without processing them in some way.
A few days after completing the “worst photoshop ever”, I read a blog by Shelley Wright called The Nuts and Bolts of 21st Century Teaching. Ms. Wright is a 10th grade teacher who has taught about the Holocaust for several years. She realized that in pulling together lectures and material to teach, she always does a lot more research, and consequently learns a lot more, than her students. She decided to teach the Holocaust using project based learning. She gave the students the framework of creating a museum about the Holocaust, but then she became a facilitator instead of a lecturer. At points, the students became stuck; they knew how to research, but they didn’t know how organize the material and how to initiate the creation of the museum. With Ms. Wright facilitating conversations, the class decided to show three faces of the Nazis: The propaganda face, the reality, which is the face of the Jewish people and other people who were persecuted by the Nazis, and the Nuremburg Trials and aftermath of the Holocaust. Ms. Wright found that students were incredibly empowered by the experience of creating a museum which they conceptualized from start to finish.
An important aspect of this type of learning, whether it involves manipulating a video or image from the web, or processing information about a period in history to make a museum, is that each group of students will come up with a different approach and will create a completely different result, but will engage with history in a way that is important to them. I’m willing to bet that students who conceptualize and build a museum together will remember more about the Holocaust than students who listen passively to lectures and take a test.
I’m excited about approaching teaching in a new way: as a facilitator coaching students to do meaningful projects and to incorporate images or videos that they create or process in an active, personal way.