Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Using Technology To Turn Historical Photographs Into Animated Wonders

Source: Alexey Zakharov

Educators have always sought to add visual interest to their lessons, to support learning modalities and to provide illustrative examples of the topics under consideration. From postcards to prints, from filmstrips to YouTube, the power of pictures and movies to aid learning is undeniable. Now, various digital tools and editing applications are enlivening "flat" images in thrilling fashion. The animation of historical photos is bringing primary sources to life in ways unimagined by teachers and students a decade ago.

"The Old New World" (Photo-based animation project) from seccovan on Vimeo.

Often called 2.5D, or "the Parallax Effect," the rendering of motion within a still photograph allows the eye to traverse the image in a more fully realized manner. The forced examination of details, as foregrounds and backgrounds snap into focus, invites viewers to explore the entire depth of field. In adding movement to static characters, the past becomes relevant as observers imagine the seconds preceding and succeeding the camera's shutter. A crescendo of action added to a familiar scene places the spectator within the historical moment. Each detail now becomes tangible and palpable. Each setting contains nuance and fluidity.



Even more interesting for educators to consider are the ways these adaptations of primary sources reinforce the critical questions about dealing with pictorial artifacts: What role does the photographer or editor play in staging a photo? What is intentionally included, removed, or modified within a scene? Is any artificial capture of a moment truly "real," and how much scholarly skepticism should students lend to every research source?



Adobe Photoshop, After Effects, and Audition are some of the most common tools to render photographs and paintings from 2D to 3D. The History Channel (and several truck commercials) use these effects regularly in their productions. Some excellent tutorials exist (where else?) on YouTube to practice creating these styles of videos (here and here).

Fukushima - Images by Rebecca Lilith Bathory from chris lavelle on Vimeo.

At their most advanced, these animations ask us to reconsider the historical and the artistic record as changeless constants. At their most basic, however, these videos are just neat. They are inviting and clever. They lure in students and others to enjoy the study of history even more.



For other ideas about creating animations, check out:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Visualizing The 2016 Conventions - Interactive Tools To Learn About Parties & Politics

Source: 2016 DNCC, 2016 Republican National Convention

The quadrennial political conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties offer a mix of serious-minded civics and high-octane pageantry. For students, teachers, and outside observers, the 2016 extravaganzas provide important forums to dissect the details of the delegates and to hear our nation's leaders speak directly to us.

Whether for use now in July or for lessons in the fall, a host of valuable visualizations exist to explain the esoteric proceedings. These interactive infographics and animated videos touch on a range of learning standards. They also let users explore the conventions at their own paces and levels.

History And Civics




Political conventions as currently staged are relatively new phenomena on the historical landscape. The explainer video (above) from The Guardian supplies a helpful tutorial in the germination and the evolution of party gatherings.

Source: Independence Bunting

The "National Conventions 2016" infographic from Independence Bunting also does a good job of summarizing the essential facts for this year's stagings, with an emphasis on the numbers and statistics beneath the process.

Source: The Economist

The Economist goes back to the nineteenth century with a year-by-year pictorial timeline of candidates and events that marked each party choice. The Economist also delves into personal identification by visually outlining the liberal or conservative leanings of current and past voters.

Delegates And Primaries


Source: 270 To Win

The political site 270 To Win aggregates polling and election data to compile data-driven maps and charts. These are excellent tools for both social studies and mathematics education.

Source: 270 To Win

For example, the colorful U.S. map of Democratic delegates combines month-by-month coding with primary and caucus breakdowns. The Interactive Republican Delegate Calculator presents similar information in an enlightening statistical table.

Maps And Geography


Source: DiscoverPHL

On their convention pages, each political party provides engaging information about their host cities. The Democrats link to a multi-layered interactive map of downtown Philadelphia. The Republicans include similar Cleveland maps, but they also include a hoverable floor plan from inside the Quicken Loans arena.

Source: Cleveland.com

Streaming And Social Media


Source: Engage

The official websites of the Republican and Democratic Conventions will be streaming live the gavel-to-gavel coverage. Social media is also in play, with the Engage "Scorecard" tracking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other mentions in real-time. For a comprehensive look at news and opinions, The New Yorker is posting a continuous series of cartoons, histories, and graphics about each convention.

For other teaching ideas about the 2016 election, check out:

Monday, July 18, 2016

10 Ways Pokémon Go Augments Real-World Education & Student Learning

Source: Pokemon Go iTunes

In just ten days, the cultural sensation of Pokémon Go has attracted over 20 million players. It is the most popular U.S. mobile game ever, surpassing Twitter in daily active users and crashing its Niantic host server.

For those who are over the age of 30, or who have been been in a self-imposed digital blackout, or who did not luck into an 11-year-old at a Sunday BBQ to explain the intricacies, here is a one-sentence description of Pokémon Go: the goal is to explore one's neighborhood, using virtual GPS map data, to catch as many animated creatures as possible, building up their strength to defeat other players in head-to-head duels. For a more complete (and accurate) rundown, here is a better explanation, as well as a helpful video.

Source: Pokemon Go

With little marketing or publicity, the enormous success of Pokémon Go speaks to an obvious and inherent appeal. The game combines popular culture, virtual reality, physical movement, problem-solving, and person-to-person competition. Teachers, for their part, are breathing a sigh of relief that this app debuted in July, so children (and adults) can spend the summer getting it out of their systems. But educators also appreciate the many learning opportunities that exist within the Pokémon Go app.



As with all sudden fads, a host of important caveats have emerged this past week, including safeguarding private information, respecting hallowed locations, and ensuring personal safety. Also, as with most fads, this one game will not revolutionize education. That being said, here are 10 ways that Pokémon Go can support the skills of contemporary learning:
  1. Visual Literacy - The essential premise of the game is to interpret a virtual world. Users must recognize symbols and signifiers, which are the building blocks of visual literacy. Students must decode the augmented reality (AR) by "reading" images and internalizing pictorial stimuli. This fundamental skill is known as graphicacy.

  2. Map Decoding - The only way to succeed in the game is by following a colorful map, which by definition necessitates a proficiency with direction, navigation, and geography. Much like the geocaching craze, Pokémon Go draws from the Google Maps API to turn everyday sites into Gyms and Stops.

  3. Problem Solving - This Poké-distraction employs the best of gamification. It requires critical thinking, advanced planning, strategic puzzling, and dealing with uncertainty to keep all of the animated balls in the air.

  4. STEM & Big Data - Educators have been wrestling with the world of Big Data for years. Here, the foundation resides in math and numbers; how much combat power does each creature have, how much candy and/or stardust is on hand, and how long until an incubation period ends?

  5. Collaborative Learning - The app offers a mild distraction for a single user, but the expanded components come alive when a player engages with other combatants. In face-offs and in personal conversations at community sites, the game subtly draws students into cooperative play.

  6. Financial Literacy - Perhaps one of the most under-heralded benefits of the game is the tutelage in budgeting, saving, and allocation of resources. Players accumulate Poké Coins and consider micro-transactions, as they earmark incense, lures, and other commodities. The game is already hitting the FinTech world by storm.

  7. Physical Education - It's no secret that Pokémon Go promotes activity to walk and engage. Users must progress a certain number of kilometers before they can hatch an incubated egg. The app relies on the phone's sensors to distinguish between physical and automobile movement.

  8. Social Media In The Classroom - This app furthers the benefits of social media in learning. It encourages the emerging discipline of the Digital Humanities, as it also promotes crowdsourcing, sharing, teaming, and student avatars.

  9. History & Civics - A blessing of the game is that most Poké Stops are local landmarks. The designers have placed an emphasis on points of historical interest. In order to move up in the challenge, users must acknowledge the civic value of nearby, consequential events.

  10. Language & Lexicons - The superimposition of an animated Pikachu atop a real-world venue inspires countless prompts for creative writing. Also, the Pokémon creature world embodies an encyclopedia of names, abilities, and vocabulary that together accomplishes what all good reading does: it builds a facility with language and meaning.
Full disclosure: we are Pokémon novices, and for years we have never understood what our seventh graders were talking about at the lunch table. But admittedly, we are excited by the potential. For other ideas about apps and augmented reality in learning, check out:

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Digital Media, Human Rights, And The Writing Process

Source: Right To An Education
We teach social studies, not history. We don’t want our students to think that learning about the past has little bearing on today. It is quite the opposite. Many of the major conflicts around the world stem from deeply rooted hatred from long-ago. We chronicle events to put things in context, but we see history as part of the study of human society. Social interactions determine how people-related issues affect history, government, economics, etc., both past and present. Social studies and the humanities are inextricably linked, and we want our students to make those same connections.

Source: Freedom To Marry

One important aspect of our curriculum that we keep upfront and center is human rights. We’ve long been advocates for promoting human rights awareness in our classroom. Whether it’s talking about modern slavery or having conversations about peace, we continually try to find new ways to empower students so they can make a difference.



This year all of our fifth and sixth graders entered the elementary video competition called "Everyone Has Rights," sponsored by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Speak Truth To Power program and the New York State United Teachers. For this contest, students needed to create a public service announcement (PSA) to address any aspect of human rights in videos that were under two minutes long. This eye-opening project made them painfully aware of just how many people around the world lack the basic rights that they take for granted every day.



The students started their research with the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in a modified format that was age appropriate. They also used the Youth For Human Rights website and app to read and watch short videos about each of the 30 rights in the UDHR before beginning their own PSA.

Our students' winning video on "The Freedom To Marry," which is Article 16 of the UDHR, could not have been timelier. The announcement came the day of the terror attack in Orlando, Florida. We were extremely proud of all the work of our students, but perhaps this PSA by two fifth graders hit home in celebrating diversity and tolerance on a sad day in the United States.



The writing process played a central role in constructing the PSA, including developing a question and thesis statement to home in on a point of view before the students digitally designed their media message. This key point was essential, and it needed to be targeted. They used Google Docs to write, edit, and finalize their scripts. They chose their own topics, depending on their comfort level. The practice of making digital media helped them understand social issues. It provided a context for content. Using an adaptable and flexible framework for the creation process allowed for their voices to come through, and the end result excelled beyond our expectations.

All of the PSA videos in this post were submitted to the Everyone Has Rights competition. To see others, please click here.



We fold in current events as a routine part of teaching social studies. We don’t ask students to do a weekly “current events” report. The news matters, and we tackle questions as they arise, because middle schoolers need answers.

Friday, May 27, 2016

1st Grade Entrepreneurs Master Media And Marketing Techniques

Source: ASIDE 2016
Our Nifty Notes first grade entrepreneur project is in its fifth year, and so is our push to educate the young learners about media literacy. This collaborative project brings together their study of economics, including wants and needs, supply and demand, and scarcity and abundance, with an understanding of the art of persuasion, marketing, and hype.

Source: ASIDE 2016
This year the goal to produce 1500 Nifty Notes was ambitious, but the first graders stepped up to the challenge, because they understood that they were raising money for charity.

It was extraordinary to watch them during their library classes grasp how marketing techniques help sell products. The media influence is so pervasive that they easily adapted commercial slogans and jingles to their product. They looked at contemporary media messages and discussed how phrases such as "limited editions," "one-of-a-kind," and "handmade" help persuade consumers to buy products.

Source: ASIDE 2016


Their ideas were so electric that they started generating their own teaser advertising techniques to sell Nifty Notes. One student came up with the idea just to put images around the school of the ladybug and bumblebee, the two new designs for 2016.

A few of days later, they added hot pink notes that began with, “Wanna know what the buzz is all about?” It goes to show how when educators empowered learners, they take ownership of their ideas. It also demonstrates just how much they see in the media.

Source: ASIDE 2016
Their promotion of the Nifty Notes sale did not stop there. Another first grader designed fliers advertising, “Nifty Notes Coming Soon.” We can only imagine what this Tuesday will bring to help promote the sale.

These first grade entrepreneurs got the point, big time!

Source: ASIDE 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Born Digitals Love To Make Things – Vintage Matters!

Source: ASIDE 2016

Born digitals deftly use technology; for them, it just is. Yet we constantly see discussions, blog posts, and articles about where and whether we should integrate technology, how it should be done, does it motivate learners, etc. We are decades past this discussion. Of course technology feeds motivation. What else would — filling in worksheets, taking linear notes, or sitting through text-laden PowerPoint presentations?

Education seems to view technology as something separate. It’s not for us, nor is it for our students. We use our devices all the time, and so do they. In fact, they approach technology fearlessly and can find workarounds with little trouble. Internet down? No problem. They set up hot spots using their phones to work on their iPads. Looking for contact information? No problem. They conduct a Google image search to connect to a LinkedIn profile. Need to send a direct message? No problem.  They do it through social media. We've witnessed all of these scenarios with our middle schoolers.

So why do we now see a surge in kids regarding making things with their hands as so exciting? Simple. They rarely enjoy opportunities to do this type of work anymore in most classrooms across the country. Few students experience “free play.” They live in a play date world of scheduled activities and rarely take risks without a helmet and harness.

Physically designing, building, prototyping, and testing things they construct is the novelty, not the technology. Most of them have grown up using tech since infancy. It’s a no-brainer to search to find information or watch a YouTube video for ideas, tutorials, and entertainment. But to actually make something is the memorable part. It’s what John Spencer describes in his video entitled "Kids Need Vintage Tools."



Vintage does not mean old; instead, it refers to something of high quality and lasting value about a particular object from the past. We see the lasting value in balancing high tech with high touch in our curricula, and we make room every chance we can to incorporate it. This includes hand-drawing maps, constructing early farming settlements outside, or planning community villages. Our students may use technology in the process to document their work, but what they remember most is making it. They use vintage tools all right, including pencils, paint, and glue. They love it.

So while we applaud, integrate, and depend on technology using any device, in the end what we find is using tactile materials changes the way students feel about their creations. We don’t slight tech at all; in fact, we love it. We would argue that today's heightened interest in robotics is not in using the technology to program, but instead in actually watching the robots come alive. This applies to creating stop-motion movies, designing apps, and creating computer games. Each of these endeavors turns out a product in the end. The process in making any one of these, however, is the addictive part and the one that is most remembered. Making matters.

Our high tech born digitals may just thrive on high touch even more!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Can Maps Save The Planet? The Interactive Geography Of Crisis

Source: Loveland

Most famous maps capture a snapshot in time. Mercator’s Projection, Blaue’s Atlas Maior, John Smith’s Virginia — they all signal the cartography of an era. These geographies trumpet discovery and location. They welcome ornamentation. But they do not invite interaction. And they never change.

The blessings of technology today mean that maps now breathe in constant updates. The ability to track global changes and inform visual displays in real-time turns children and adults into earth monitors. Interactive geography provides unprecedented access to world data streams, such that humanitarian and ecological crises can be pinpointed in exact, colorful, dynamic degree.

The following resources have been painstakingly and brilliantly assembled by dedicated activists and educators. Each visual tool allows teachers, students, and viewers to explore past, present, and future conditions based on a host of critical criteria.

Flint Water Map


Source: Loveland

The Flint Water Map, by Loveland Technologies, provides a searchable database of 6000 residential lead samples from this hard-hit Michigan town. The relevant, valuable interface combines a color-coded visual field with a detailed, house-by-house catalog of lead testing results. The tool is easy to use for both Flint residents and interested students who are concerned about the state of localized health. It is a model of geographic action for public purpose.

Draining California


Source: National Geographic

National Geographic has once again produced a stellar interactive about history and geography. This scrolling motion graphic traces the idiosyncrasies of California's water supply. It pinpoints the causes of the state's current drought, and it highlights the importance of groundwater, snowmelt, reserves, and cultivation in managing the pipeline to the people.

Global Forest Watch


Source: Global Forest Watch

The highly customizable map by Global Forest Watch melds multiple data sources into one terrifically educational (and at times terrifying) survey of tree cover, land use, conservation, and population. The options are too many to list here, but they include Google Earth resolutions, specific country statistics, timeline progressions, and zoomable analyses. This is a great first landing site for teachers and students interested in displaying how the world's forests are changing over time.

World Air Quality Index


Source: World Air Quality

This index by World Air Quality employs an understated map of colored tags to let data be the star. Every flag reveals vital statistics for a global locale: the air quality index (AQI), air pollution level, health risks, and cautionary statements. Together, these figures furnish a revealing look at how atmospheric pollution can have concrete effects on the well-being of cities and citizens.

Unnatural Coastal Floods


Source: Climate Central

"The Human Fingerprints On Coastal Floods," by Climate Central, is a compelling article that includes a clear interactive graphic about the flooding of American cities. The clickable map projects graphs of year-over-year increases in sea levels. For example, since 1950, parts of the Chesapeake Bay have seen water levels rise by a foot, directly due to human influence.

Climate Time Machine


Source: NASA

The Climate Time Machine from NASA is beguilingly simple at first glance. Upon deeper digging, though, the different interactives prove their complexity. The high-octane maps reveal historic transformations in sea ice, water levels, carbon emissions, and global temperatures. The site is a data gold mine of evidence to rebut those who claim that climate change is just unproven fear-mongering, rather than an immediate cause for concerted global action.
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