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Celebrate Freedom Week through Technology!

(Published in the TechEdge 2001-02)

by Wesley A. Fryer
www.wesfryer.com

 

Surveys revealing the historical ignorance of "average" U.S. citizens are well known. According to one, "Only one in two Americans know how many senators there are; Two in five don't know the federal government has three branches, let alone what they are (Executive, Legislative, Judicial)...Twenty percent cannot name any of the First Amendment rights and only 6 percent can name all five (freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances)...Also, 16 percent incorrectly think the Constitution declares Christianity the official U.S. religion....Thirty-five percent incorrectly think the document declares English the premier language." 1 Misconceptions abound about the history of our nation, and our politicians have responded.

In late Spring 2001, the Texas legislature and governor voted and signed House Bill 1776, designating the last full week of classes in September as "Celebrate Freedom Week" in public schools. This act takes effect on September 1, 2001, and affects grades K-12. The goal of this legislation is "To educate students about the sacrifices made for freedom in the founding of this country and the values on which this country was founded." This article describes five different technology infused activities that can be used to meet the requirements of this new educational law, and utilize a wealth of internet content in dynamic and motivational lessons for students. A copy of this article, including links to all referenced lesson ideas, is available on http://www.wtvi.com/teks/freedom.

The Celebrate Freedom Week legislation states "Instruction should include study of:

  • The intent, meaning, and importance of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, in their historical context.
  • The study of the Declaration of Independence should include the relationship of the ideas expressed in that document to subsequent American history, including but not limited to:
  • The relationship of its ideas to the rich diversity of our people as a nation of immigrants,
  • The American Revolution,
  • The formulation of the United States Constitution,
  • The abolitionist movement, which led to the Emancipation Proclamation and the women's suffrage movement."

Additionally, the text of the law provides that "During Celebrate Freedom Week, a school district "MAY REQUIRE" students in grades 3-12 to study the introductory paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.2

These curriculum objectives are certainly ambitious for a single week of instruction, including study of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, the Abolitionist movement, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Women's Suffrage movement. The text of the law requires students learn about "the historical context" of these events, going beyond the simple memorization of events and dates that some people often mistake for "history." Although these topics are wide ranging and may seem intimidating, given the time constraints, the wide variety of topic choices can serve as a motivating factor in student lessons and invigorate classroom learning with concepts and facts novel to students and teachers alike.

To realize these goals, five different technology infused lesson ideas are suggested below for teacher use. These can be modified depending on the grade level and availability of technology within the classroom and school building.

One of the most important things for teachers in the digital age to "get over" is the idea that the teacher can "know it all." This premise of traditional lecture based instruction is a fallacy today: there is simply too much information available on virtually any topic, for anyone (even at the university level) to be an unquestioned expert on all of it. Researchers tell us the quantity of information on the internet is doubling in size (when measured by page content) every 120 days, which conservatively equates to doubling in size three times per year. This means over 80 percent of the websites that will be existing a year from now do not exist today!3 In this environment, our challenge as educators is to embrace educational opportunities using new technologies together with students. By crafting lessons which engage students in collaborative work involving problem solving and creative thinking, we can invigorate the learning process and develop technology literacy skills alongside traditional curricular ones.

 

Lesson Idea #1: Brainstorm with Inspiration

Whenever a teacher starts a new lesson sequence and prepares for whole-class concept development, it is often a good idea to learn what students' current knowledge and perceptions are about the topic of study. This not only helps the teacher identify key concepts students are either ignorant of or have misconceptions about, but also identifies students with deeper levels of knowledge about topics who can serve as mentors during class lessons.

Inspiration software is one of the best tools available for facilitating whole class brainstorming. After downloading and installing a demo version from the web if it is not already installed on the classroom teacher computer (http://www.inspiration.com), launch the program and type one of the main Freedom Week concepts into the Inspiration main idea symbol, like "Declaration of Independence." Before students begin brainstorming, rules should be provided to insure there is a free flow of ideas without students feeling intimidated or put down. The RODENT rules include:

R - Rapid -- Brainstorm and write down as many ideas as rapidly as possible

O - Outrageous Ideas -- Nothing is too far fetched, because a really wild or silly idea may lead to something else realistic.

D - Defer comment or judging -- No positive OR negative comments such as "Good Idea," "We've done that," "Yuck," etc.

E - Exaggerate -- Piggyback on someone else's idea, or exaggerate it in any way. No ownership of ideas.

N - Numerous -- Get as many ideas recorded as possible within the time provided.

T - Time phased -- Use a timer that all can hear, and brainstorm for no more than 2 minutes. If the ideas are still flowing, add one more minute. Then add one more minute if needed. If there aren't very many ideas, then there's likely some agreement on the focus.4

Inspiration is ideal for brainstorming, particularly with the RODENT rules, because they also require that all ideas be written down as they are stated (and not edited by the writer) where everyone can see them. Even if a teacher does not have a large screen TV or LCD projector in his/her classroom all the time for use as a computer projection device, one can sometimes be checked out from the library or the district media office for the occasion.

After explaining the rules for brainstorming and typing the first topic, the teacher (or computer typing designee) should click the RAPID FIRE button in Inspiration and start the timer. Students should brainstorm all the words or concepts they know or have heard about related to the topic. It often helps to have one person typing and another facilitating the brainstorming, but this certainly isn't mandatory. Yes, words will be misspelled when ideas are rapidly being put on the screen, but that is OK: spelling and syntax can be addressed later. The main idea of this activity is to remember the N of "RODENT:" Numerous ideas on the screen. After each new idea is typed, pressing the return/enter key will create a new idea symbol within Inspiration off the main topic for the typed word or phrase, and create a new empty one for the next idea.

Other words/phrases that could be brainstormed include "U.S. Constitution," "Immigration," "Slavery," "Abolitionists," "Women's Suffrage," and "Bill of Rights." After each brainstorming session, RODENT rules suggest a discussion and clarification period, when people can clarify what they meant or others can ask questions. Some ideas can be combined if appropriate at this point. Inspiration allows idea bubbles to be moved underneath others, by clicking on the linking line and moving one of its end "handles" to another bubble.

After brainstorming and discussing/clarifying, use the ARRANGE button within Inspiration to create a more organized presentation of the classes' ideas. Toggle between the graphical and outline views of the brainstormed material. Copies can be printed for student reference, or the material can be exported as a graphics file for later use within a presentation or on a webpage. Brainstormed ideas can provide a basis for initial student research efforts, either individually or in groups.

This activity can be used effectively again during the evaluation phase of a lesson, when students can compare their post-lesson understanding and knowledge of studied concepts to those they brain stormed at the beginning.

Inspiration is available for both Windows and Macintosh computers, and educational licensing is available.

 

Lesson Idea #2 Curriculum Supplement / Hotlist

Traditional classroom curriculum materials, including textbooks and library books, are usually limited in supply and the number of perspectives they offer to students. The internet, however, can be harvested to provide a rich and wide variety of curricular supplements for Freedom Week studies. An extensive Freedom Week Internet Resource Hotlist is available on http://www.wtvi.com/teks/freedom. Samples of some of the resources included on this hotlist include:

"Charters of Freedom" exhibit by The National Archives and Records Administration, including the Declaration of Independence, The US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Includes high resolution images of each page of these documents, as well as extensive background information and further links of interest. - http://www.nara.gov/exhall/charters/charters.html

"Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery" is presented in four parts on this PBS website. A historical Narrative, a Resource Bank of images, documents, stories, biographies, and commentaries, and a Teacher's Guide for using the content of the website and television series in U.S. history courses is included for each era. - http://web-cr05.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/home.html

"The Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership: History of Women's Suffrage" includes information about Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, biographies of other influential suffragists, the Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY, and suffrage time lines. - http://www.rochester.edu/SBA/history.html

"The American Colonist's Library" lists links to an extensive collection of primary source documents, including many from the American Revolutionary period. Includes works by Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and many others. - http://personal.pitnet.net/primarysources/

"THE FOUNDING FATHERS: Delegates to the Constitutional Convention" includes short biographies of each of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. - http://www.nara.gov/exhall/charters/constitution/confath.html

Resources on the websites included in this hotlist can be utilized as supplements when teaching about different topics during Freedom Week (in direct instruction), or utilized during student projects. If used for direct instruction, consider making "offline copies" of webpages to insure reliable and fast display of web content, and avoid waiting for a slow internet connection with an impatient class! Instructions on how to do this are available in "Webpages to Go: Offline with Internet Explorer" on http://www.wtvi.com/teks/00_01_articles/webpagestogo.html. For tips on locating other educational websites relevant to Celebrate Freedom week, refer to "Tips for Locating Websites" on http://www.wtvi.com/teks/integrate/tcea2001/locatingwebsites.html.

 

Lesson Idea #3: Student Center Activities

Although computer prices have come down considerably (with corresponding increases in processing power following Moore's law), students in most classrooms still face access issues: there are usually not enough computers to go around. Because of this, teachers must be creative in devising lessons students can complete at the computer individually or with a small group on a rotational basis.

Of the many free educational resources proliferating online over, one of the best is Quia.com (www.quia.com). Quia allows teachers to create customized web based activities for students, including matching, flashcard, concentration, and word search lessons. Quizzes and class homepages can also be made using a web browser interface: no webpage creating skills, coding, or otherwise technical skills are needed! Other activity options include challenge board, hangman, jumbled words, mini quiz, ordered list, picture perfect, popups, rags to riches, and scavenger hunt.

Rather than creating customized activities at first, try searching activities that have already been created and posted online by other educators. Clicking on the HISTORY category from the Quia.com homepage reveals the following activity:

US History - Colonial Challenge! Try to reach $1,000,000! Answer a range of easy to difficult questions and test your knowledge of early US history! - http://www.quia.com/rr/4049.html

It took approximately 30 minutes to create a new 20 question activity on Quia.com about the Declaration of Independence, using the "Jumbled Words" activity structure. Access it on:

http://www.quia.com/jw/20823.html

Students are asked to read a phrase and decipher missing words in this activity. Some phrases are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, and others are trivia facts relating to the Declaration or the Continental Congress which composed and signed it. As students answer questions, a progress bar is displayed on the left side of the screen indicating how many questions have been answered and how many remain. After completing the activity, a results page is displayed which can be printed if desired.

Quia.com is certainly not the only web source for good student center computer activities. Another superb resource is Trackstar (http://trackstar.hprtec.org/). It is searchable by keyword and allows teachers to submit their own lessons. Projects tend to be more involved than those on Quia.com, but are generally not as interactive:

Examples of web based activities from Trackstar include:

 

Lesson Idea #4: Scavenger Hunt

An internet scavenger hunt is a good way to introduce students to a topic using internet content, but by itself can encourage rather superficial interaction with curriculum content rather than thoughtful, original thinking. Still, scavenger hunts have value and can be fun as well as motivational for students.

Scavenger hunts come in many varieties, but the general idea is for students to answer questions using content found on internet websites. An example of a scavenger hunt allowing students to directly type answers onto an internet webpage, and later print the page with completed answers, is "Searching Through Our Historical Documents," available on http://scavengerhunt.lee.k12.nc.us/historicaldocs/index.htm. This scavenger hunt includes fifteen questions about the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Emancipation Proclamation, and Gettysburg Address.

Another scavenger hunt example is "Hunt for our African American Legacy: an Internet Treasure Hunt on The Legacy of Slavery" available on http://www.kn.pacbell.com/wired/fil/pages/huntlegacyomr.html. Questions from this hunt can be copied and pasted into a word processing document by individual students or student groups, and answers inserted after referring to provided websites.

Rather than having students complete a scavenger hunt, teachers may consider having students create an original scavenger hunt for others. This was the task given to students at Albemarle High School (Virginia), and the result (Albemarle High School's Government Scavenger Hunt) is available on http://k12.albemarle.org/ss/ahsgov/scavenger.htm. This activity can be a collaborative venture including multiple classes or just one. Each class could be assigned a different topic from Celebrate Freedom Week. After creating scavenger hunts, students could be required to complete those created by other classes or students.

 

Lesson Idea #5: Brochure or Multimedia Presentation

If time and available computer resources permit, students can create different products to demonstrate their understanding of Freedom Week curriculum. Biographical sketches are an ideal assignment, since students can research different people and then report back to the class with their results. Use of primary sources (actual diaries, letters, and other first person accounts) is one of the most effective ways to help students "connect" with a historical era. A school-wide Freedom Week Media Fair could be the culminating event of student research and writing, with brochures, multimedia slide shows, and websites showcased for parents and other students to view and enjoy.

When structuring these assignments, it is helpful to give students guidelines that encourage them to research and write the textual content of their product FIRST, and focus on the fonts, colors, sounds, transitions, animations, etc. SECOND. Without proper guidelines, students will often attend to these tasks in the reverse order. Having students take notes first on paper, and then compose sentences / paragraphs from those notes (and not directly from copied/pasted internet information) can encourage students to process information and also reduce temptations/opportunities for plagiarism.

For multimedia slide shows, provide students with worksheets to "storyboard" their presentation first, making a visual diagram of their slides including planned content and presentation order. Students should focus on chunking their ideas into digestible pieces. After text is keyboarded in, students should begin locating photos and other graphics to complement their included text. Teach students at the start of the project how to properly document bibliographic sources, and insist this documentation take place continually as students perform research and find multimedia elements to include in their product. Suggested formats for proper citation are available on "Internet Citation Guides" from the University of Wisconsin-Madison on http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/Memorial/citing.htm.

 

Celebrate Freedom!

As citizens of the United States, we have a unique heritage of which we should be knowledgeable and proud. By using some of the lesson ideas presented here, hopefully students can not only become better informed about the values underlying many of the important historical documents of the United States, but also become motivated to learn more about those events and people and share that knowledge with others!

 

Works Cited

1. "Pop Quiz." http://www.teleport.com/~garski/popquiz.htm. Accessed June 29, 2001.

2. 77(R) HB1776 Enrolled - Bill Text. http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/. Accessed June 29, 2001.

3. "Living on the Future Edge" by Ian Jukes and Ted McCain. http://www.ianjukes.com/handouts/lfe.pdf. Accessed November 1, 2000. For more on this topic, see "If You Don't Have the Vision, You Can't See the Picture" on http://www.wtvi.com/teks/vision/.

4. RODENT rules for brainstorming were taught during Kansas School Team Training in 1987, a program focused on preventing teenage self-destructive behaviors including alcohol/drug abuse.

 

Wesley Fryer is the Director of Distance Learning for the College of Education at Texas Tech University. Email him your Freedom Week links and lesson ideas at wesfryer@yahoo.com!


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