The return of the poster…

There is one thing that has remained constant over the last three years in my class….we have used less and less technology.  Or maybe a better way to say it is fewer technologies? And we have been bringing back some older “technologies.”

One product that was eliminated in my classroom about 8 years ago was “the poster.”  You know the poster project right?  The kid goes home and writes an essay, cuts out the paragraphs, places them under pictures printed from the computer, stands up in front of the class and reads the paragraphs while holding the poster up to the class that can’t see a single thing.  Then when the kid is done they get shared to a larger audience by hanging them on walls where they stay until the backpacks tear them down one staple at a time.  

I have started to slowly bring the poster back into my class.  Why?  Because no matter what I say the kids always ask to make them.  I don’t know why, but there has got to be something valuable about an assignment that nearly no kid complains about.  So I set out to figure out how to make them more meaningful, more thoughtful, and how to let the rest of the class actually see what is on the poster when it is being presented.  Here is one example from this year:

We were doing the philosophical foundations of the United States and discussing John Locke.  It’s just one of those things that I can explain, we can discuss, but I have always had trouble making it stick.  After reading about John Lock I gave the kids the following task:

After reading about John Locke’s philosophy, draw a picture of him as he would look today.  Include things like clothes, house, books, movies, music, profession, places he would shop, what would he eat, etc, etc, etc.  You should have between 10-15 things in your image that connect to John Locke’s philosophy.

Make a “Wanted Poster” with your information.

Explain your choices and connect them to his beliefs that were used to influence the the birth of the United States government.

When the kids came in to present the walked up to the front of the room and grabbed a web cam.  As they talked about the connections between John Locke and the objects on the poster they simply moved the web cam and focused in on what they were talking about.  What the web cam was seeing, was projected up on the screen large enough for everyone to follow along with what was being said.  The pictures don;t exactly show it, but as they talked about each detail they zoomed in so that the detail was large and clear on the screen.

John Locke Wanted PostersJohn Locke Wanted Posters

We were simultaneously recording so one student came up and held up a microphone..obviously not totally necessary but I never miss the opportunity to hook up more wires 🙂  

Here is the video and audio from a few of the presentations:



This is another one of those assignments that I will use for different units.  I can see the same thing being done for Harriet Tubman or Andrew Jackson.  When I first thought of it I thought I was totally unsure of how it would go, until I worked on mine.  As I have said many times on this blog, assignments that you give the kids that you have never done you must do with them.  I literally sat at a desk in the class and did it alongside them.  One thing that popped out immediately while doing this was that 15 items were simply not needed.  We shortened it to ten, and could have gone fewer.  The second thing was that we originally talked about writing the explanation right onto the poster, and that was deemed not necessary as long as they could explain it when they presented. They other thing I figured out when doing this was that probably for the first time I actually understood John Locke’s philosophy in a way that wasn’t just the “facts.” The poster was basically a big analogy, and analogies are powerful.  Here are a few more examples:

John Locke PostersJohn Locke PostersJohn Locke Posters
And before someone suggest Glogster.  Maybe I am just old school, but I am not hooked on Glogster as an online poster worth doing.  After having kids mess with it, I have messed with it, it just doesn’t offer the same learning experience as crafting something yourself from scratch. I am more than happy to see examples that will open my mind!

Instagramification of history…

Another experiment from this year..

I have been trying to figure out how to mess around with Instagram in class.  I experimented by giving the kids the following two images with Paul Revere and a picture taken after the “Shot Heard Round the World:”

Paul Revere InstagramShot Heard Round the World Instagram

They simply had to fill out the bottoms and include hastags. I left the directions wide open to see where they would go.  There were some that were so incredibly witty and wise, and others that just wrote factual summary comments.

Shot Heard Round the world

It was a fun quick assignment that in the future I think I will use again…I am just not sure why…yet.  There is something here.  Before they write they have to brainstorm the key vocab words that they will use.  I think this can be used as an aid where they can write their key words as hastags..just not yet sure how to make it valuable…maybe it is not?

Link to Paul Revere file.

And I did ask permission from the photographer to use his image in the instagram above 🙂


Earlier in the year we used a relatively new program called Powtoon.  The students LOVED it.  We added it as an app to Chrome and went from there.  As I have written before, if you have never done what you are asking your kids to do, then you should do it first or along with them.  After just messing around with Powtoon I wrote directions assumed it would last three days…six days later we finished.  Since I was doing it with them I kept extending the deadline simply because i needed it!  There is somewhat of a big learning curve if you want your Powtoon to me more than text, and I think if we use it again the students’ videos would be more reliant on animation and less reliant on text. While we were using it I was thinking I would write a very descriptive post and highly recommend using it in the classroom, but we had way too many problems.  Too many kids walked in after days of work and could not log-in, drafts disappeared, and the Powtoon folks must not be in the US.  A pleas for help would not answered until the wee hours of the morning…although I must say that every plea for help was answered, but when a kid can’t long in and it takes a few emails to figure out why, three days have passed.  We also found it impossible to upload them to youtube and after multiple emails back and forth gave up.  The site was in Beta, so I am sure some kinks have been worked out, but since I was one of the people whose worked was lost I felt the sting first hand and it would make me question whether or not to use the site again for a full class project.

I could never even come close to watching all the videos before they posted them, so on the day before they posted the videos each student left their draft open on their desk, and kids rotated through 4-5 Powtoons, watched them, and left comments for the creator.  

class of 2013-14

The Powtoons we did were just simple summaries of the Boston Tea Party or Boston Massacre. Here are two examples…enjoy!


Playing with blocks…

Tuesday we played with blocks. 

Monday I was out and left sub plans which had the kids take notes on the Articles of Confederation.  Quick review for folks…the Articles had major weaknesses such: 

  • Each state only has one vote

  • Congress did not have the power to regulate foreign and interstate commerce.

  • There was no executive branch to enforce any acts passed by Congress.

  • Amendments to the Articles of Confederation required a unanimous vote.

  • Laws required a 9/13 majority to pass in Congress.

The kids had no idea why I brought in huge bags of blocks.  When the kids walked in I had them sit in a group of 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1.  Depending on the size of the class the middle groups fluctuated, but the largest and smallest stayed the same. Each group represented a state, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Delaware. Each student who was Delaware appeared to be picked at random.  But after sitting I let them know what was happening and when needed they helped me guide the class by proposing certain laws and voting yea or nay based on my finger position. After each group received the blocks I handed out different money to each group and then told them they have five minutes to build a fort with their blocks.




Of course Delaware was finished first.


The kids were told that the object of the game was to have the last fort standing, and I somewhat revved up the competitiveness and each group became very invested in their fort…except Delaware.  


I told the kids that there would be several stages to the game so that they would have the opportunity to increase the size of their fort.  I also established two rules. That each state gets one vote regardless of size, and any state can propose a new rule as long as four out of the five groups agree to it.  From there I was hoping the kids would take over because I really did not have any “stages.”  Delaware immediately proposed a rule that all blocks should be evenly distributed.  It didn’t pass.  Many other rules were proposed in attempt to gain power and everyone was voted down.  As the voting continued, each state became more and more interested in it’s own individual survival. Eventually Delaware offered to buy blocks from another group.  There were some offers, but England (me) came in and undercut everyone.  Immediately the other states started to make laws in an attempt to control foreign commerce, but all votes failed and Delaware continued to grow stronger.  When Connecticut saw this they formed an alliance and went to combined forts.  Unfortunately a group of angry farmers rose up and took over the state.  Connecticut tried to pass a law requiring other states to help, but none came to Connecticut’s aid.

Seeing chaos building, England sailed battleships off the shore of New York.  A law was proposed to build a Navy, and it passed.  The Navy had to be built from the supplies they had.  No one wanted to give any blocks to New York.  New York complained that it was a law, but as Virginia said, “whose gonna make us!.” Eventually England took over New York, already allied with Delaware, and then attacked the other states that voted against them trading with the states.  In the end Virginia had no chance.

The above is a combination of what basically happened in all the classes, but in the end in every class kids in Virginia mentioned that if they weren’t so greedy, selfish, and cared more about the other states they would still be in power.  I wrote greed, selfishness, and apathy on the board and asked what they could do so that those feelings don’t ruin it for them if we played again.  Of course they said make stronger rules, allow for someone to be in charge of enforcing them, and make sure that rules were in place to more equally distribute the resources.  “We need rules to protect ourselves from ourselves.”  Light bulb moment to John Locke from two days earlier.  It played out slightly different in each class.  In one someone stole a block from another group.  Immediately a law was passed that you could not steal, but of course there was no one to enforce it so each state hovered above their blocks creating further divisions among the groups. 

If you are a social studies teacher, you can probably see where the post activity discussion went.  Connections to the states under the Articles of Confederation kept popping up.

An example of a student’s reflection is below:

I think that we did this little mini-activity so we would learn how difficult it was in the colonies due to the Articles of  Confederation. The Articles of  Confederation caused the states to issue their own paper money which made trading with other states difficult. Every state had it’s own form of money that other states would not accept; The values of the currency could range from ⅙ of a dollar to $80. The Confederation Congress was powerless in the situation because they had no right to induce tariffs. Due to the weakness in the country,because of the interstate commerce,  trade countries like Spain and Great Britain took advantage. To make matters worse, they had no executive or national court system. One result of this weakness was Shays’s Revolution, lead by Daniel Shays.

Many places to tighten up and change, but over all I think the point was made.