Cross-Curricular Project: National History Day

Posted on July 24, 2008

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Last year, Mrs. Gillmore suggested we (as two of the English 11 teachers at BHS) work with the history department to have students create projects for National History Day. Since then, we’ve tossed around ideas and all agree a cross-curricular collaboration would be beneficial to our students. How can we bring all the history and English teachers together to forge a cohesive plan? Digital tools, of course.

We have two needs:

  1. We need to connect our teachers so we can plan together, not just in face-to-face
    meetings—though, I think, if we could carve out even an hour of one of our curriculum
    days (maybe lunch together?), we could get the project rolling.
  2. We need to equip students with tools that will allow them to research, discuss,
    collaborate throughout the year to create their projects.

As I told teachers in a workshop yesterday, educational technology is not about the tools: it’s about creating a culture and curriculum that encourages students to communicate, collaborate, think creatively and critically, research, create. The trick is to understand and to teach our students to select the tools that will allow them to complete tasks more efficiently and effectively, not simply use a tool for the sake of using a tool. As Chris Lehmann said in a session at NECC 2008, the tools should become invisible.

As we tackle this project, then, the question is what digital tools are the best ones to help us—both the teachers as we plan and create a learning environment and resources to scaffold students and students as they research, collaborate, and create? Lehman, in that same NECC 2008 session, said the best tool is the one we all agree to use.

What if, before school begins, we create blogs for all the juniors (minus my AP English students who have one already)? We could use the simple process Sue Waters outlined in a recent post, using Gmail + feature to set up student accounts with one e-mail. This would save valuable class time. We could then create a wiki devoted entirely to this project:

  • We can create a tutorial page for students (and teachers) to help them with the technology part.
  • We could also give an overview of the project (once we agree on the details) with links to get them started.
  • We could create a page for teams where students decide whether to work alone or in small teams. On this page, as students form, they can add their names and link to their blogs.
  • We could create a discussion forum where kids/parents/teachers can post questions about the project, tools, resources.
  • As we create together, we could post project checklists, rubrics, assignment details…

With two tools—blogs and wikis—we could empower teachers and students with an interconnected network, readying us all to tackle the National History Day Project, ultimately growing as readers, writers, thinkers, researchers, communicators, collaborators, critical and creative thinkers. This is good stuff!

I’d love to hear your reactions, suggestions, especially from Gillmore and Qualls; of course, suggestions from around the globe are always welcome.

P.S.
My tool of choice would actually be a ning, but the ning is currently blocked at our school, and our teachers haven’t used it—yet—so for now, I think it best to stick with blogs and wikis.

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Posted in: Projects/Lessons