Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Work Flow - Getting Traditional with Google Scan Feature

One of the topics that I find interesting, and I think many actually find interesting but don't really talk a ton about, is work flow.  I find I have so many tools and apps at my disposal but the real question is which one will work best for how I work.  There needs to be an added value to any tool that I decide to adopt.  Some may give me increased efficiency and some may give me additional features like making it easier to find in a search.

When I am in a workshop, taking notes at a lecture or jotting down ideas I often find myself more comfortable using a pen and paper rather than an I-pad or my laptop.  I have always had a soft spot for a notebook or a journal.  I find it easy to carry a Moleskine cashier notebook , a Field Notes memo book , or a PaperBlanks journal because they fit in my pocket and yet provide enough space to write.  For me the notebook is a little faster than starting up a device and typing away.  I can also add little drawings and sketches on the pages of my notebook with ease.
As a history teacher I often want to take notes at a presentation or out in the field. Last summer I spent an amazing week at Monticello working with their education staff on new resources for teachers and in addition to listening to speakers we also did work on grounds of Monticello and took field trips to locations like James Madison's Montpelier.  It was much easier for me to take out my little notebook and capture an idea or note.
Of course as a tech loving history geek I also realize the limitations of not using technology to keep my notes and having a digital record.  The most important drawback being the risk of losing my notebook and thus all the information.  So recently I have started to combine my desire to keep handwritten notes and the advantages of having a digital copy.

My personal workflow solution is using the SCAN feature in Google Drive to create a digital copy.  At the end of a day writing notes in my Moleskine, I take out my phone (or I-Pad) and open Google Drive.  I select the “+" feature to add an item and then “SCAN”.  I than take a picture of my notebook page.  I can select to scan it in color or black and white.  I can also crop the scan to just include certain parts of the picture. It is then uploaded to my Drive where I can add it to a specific folder and give it a title to make it easy to tag and search.

An nice additional benefit of scanning a document into Drive is Google's Optical Character Recognition feature. This is especially helpful when scanning any document that is typed - for example a receipt.  This makes all the text of the scanned item - not just the title - available for search.  You can also select to scan it in color or black / white and choose the crop option to select exactly what you want in your final scan.

Scan to Google Drive has become a major part of my daily workflow and allows me to have the benefits of living a digital life while still using my trusty little field notebook.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Connecting the Story - Honoring Elmer D Lauck, Vietnam Veteran

Last week I was in Washington DC for the Mission Possible workshop conducted by Model Classroom and the Pearson Foundation.  It was a thought provoking and emotional experience, including a day at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial listening to veterans share their stories.  

I don’t have a family connection to a name on The Wall but in the past have visited with others who do have a family member honored.  As we were preparing to visit The Wall last week, one of the teachers in our group mentioned that her first cousin's name is listed.  Leann shared an emotional story about her personal connection to her cousin.  She also mentioned that he is buried in Torrington, Wyoming.  This created a connection for me since my wife’s family is from Torrington and in fact I was flying back after the workshop to Torrington to rejoin my family who is currently visiting family.  

I asked Leann about her cousin and she had already located his name on The Wall using the app from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.  The app allows you to search for names on the wall by name, hometown, state, etc.  Her cousin’s name is Elmer D Lauck.  I took a picture of her screen showing the location of his name and later on our tour I took a picture of his name on The Wall.

After the conference I met my family in Torrington and today I decided to find Mr. Lauck’s grave in the Torrington cemetery.  I entered the cemetery and found the directory showing the location of the marker.  I drove up to the military portion of the cemetery and quickly located the grave of Mr. Lauck. His white marble military marker is located on top of a hill overlooking beautiful Wyoming pastures and in the shade of a large Cottonwood tree.  I placed a red carnation and a small American flag at the grove and paused for a few minutes before taking a few pictures.  

Last week at the Mission Possible workshop we focused on the importance of stories.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the names on The Wall are just names if not attached to a story. Last week I touched his name on The Wall and today - over 1,600 miles away - I knelt by his grave and thanked him for his service to our country.  

These pictures are for Leann and her family.  Today as I visited it was peaceful.  There was a light breeze and in the shade of the Cottonwood the only sound was a slight rustling of leaves from above. Let them know that he is remembered and honored.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mission Possible - Day Three at the U.S. Holocaust Museum

Note : This week I am participating in the Mission Possible Teacher Workshop in Washington D.C. The week is hosted by Model Classroom and Pearson.  The focus for the week is project based learning centered around learning opportunities in Washington D.C.  Projects will take place at NPR, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the United States Holocaust Museum.

Today our workshop spent the day at the United States Holocaust Museum.  we have discussed some pretty emotional topics already this week - race in American society and the Vietnam War - and today would be emotional as well.

My last visit to the Holocaust Museum was nearly 15 years ago when I brought a group of high school students to DC.  I remembered my previous experiences and knew that the museum would make me once again consider terrible and unspeakable acts of human behavior.
We started our day at the museum with an introduction by Jesse Nickelson, Director of Youth and Community Initiatives for the United States Holocaust Museum - https://twitter.com/JesseNickelson

He said that we were not allowed to take pictures in the museum but he did encourage us to tweet as we walked through the exhibits and hoped we would use the hashtag #ushmm. It was refreshing to have a museum openly encourage you to use social media while visiting their exhibits.  Jesse later commented how much he enjoyed "following" our tweets as we took our tour and learned a lot about both what we as teachers found interesting, questions we had along the way and ideas for future lessons in our classrooms.Our theme all week has been stories.  On Monday we explored the art of interviewing and asking others to share their stories with you.  Tuesday we learned about the Vietnam War and memorial by listening to the stories of veterans who experienced the war first hand.  Today we were learning about the holocaust through the stories of the victims, the liberators and the bystanders.

The first image we saw as we started our tour was a photo taken at one of the concentration camps as it was being liberated.  It showed a group of burnt human remains with US soldiers staying in the background shortly after liberating the camp. It included a quote by Eisenhower and it really set the tone for the next two hours.  As I looked at that photo I asked myself how different this museum would be without photos.  What if the Holocaust had occurred in a time without any photographic evidence?  Would the story be the same with only text and sketches?  Would it have the same impact?  I could not help but think about the particular role that photos have in telling this story.  As I thought about more later, I think that part of the reason this story needs photographs is the sheer fact that some of these acts were so terrible it is hard to believe without any type of photographic evidence.

As I walked through the exhibits this time I also noticed that the some of the stories were even harder for me to read and hear, the stories of the children.  Fifteen years ago I was unmarried and had no children.  Today I walked through the museum and learned of these very personal stories through the lens of a husband and father.  What would happen if I was separated from my wife?  How could I have protected my children? 

A theme for the day was compliant.  Would we have made choices - sometimes risking a career, money or family - to save someone who was being subjected to a terrible fate?

The day was powerful and gave me a lot to think about, especially the importance of using visual resources whenever we can in telling stories.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mission Possible - Day Two at Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Note : This week I am participating in the Mission Possible Teacher Workshop in Washington D.C. The week is hosted by Model Classroom and Pearson.  The focus for the week is project based learning centered around learning opportunities in Washington D.C.  Projects will take place at NPR, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the United States Holocaust Museum.

Day two of the workshop featured a different venue but a similar thread from yesterday - the power of story.  Yesterday we visited NPR and learned about the skills of interviewing.  Today we visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington.  Here the power of story will make a monument to the struggle of war speak.

I have visited the wall on previous visits to DC.  My first visit to the wall was as a high school student on vacation with my family.  I remember it was an emotional experience for my dad who was drafted to fight in the war but did not pass the pass the physical due to an injury.  He felt the guilt of not participating in a conflict which took the lives of so many of his peers. Almost 20 years ago I brought high school juniors to DC and we always made a point to visit the wall. The design of the monument is simple, almost demanding that emotion take center stage.

Prior to visiting the wall we were organized into small groups and assigned a Vietnam veteran who would speak with us and give us a tour at the wall.  My group was matched with Jerry Martin, a Marine who was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.  Mr. Martin spoke of his comrades and friends that he knew in Vietnam and now are names on the wall.  After spending an hour with Mr.  , who is a retired history teacher, I felt that I knew much more about the Vietnam War than I had ever experienced through a textbook.  The difference was the stories.  The stories behind the names.

Our various groups did some activities after our time with the veterans and one group asked people at the wall if they had any emotions in visiting the wall.  To everyone’s surprise, almost every person asked said they didn't have any emotions about visiting the wall.  For many people it appeared that visiting the wall was a just something to check off a list of things to do when visiting DC.  But here is the key - none of the people who said they really didn't have an emotional connection to visiting the wall had had a tour guide.  The difference again was the stories.  Without the stories the wall is just a list of names.

But as I reflect back on the experience at the wall today there is a bright hope for the future.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is currently in the planning and fundraising stages of a future education center.  This educational center will be a facility located next to the wall.  A place where people can go to build a connection to those names, through stories and experiences.  I can’t wait to come back in the future when more people walk away from the wall with a similar experience to the one I experienced today.  It was an emotional day and one that I will think of in the future every time I discuss the Vietnam War with students.

I also wanted to share an app that also helped me today as we visited the wall.  If you want to locate the name of a soldier on the wall there have always been books available in which you can look up the soldier via their last name.  The book then tells you the panel and line on which you can find that name.  But what if you don’t know the name of a soldier and instead want to see if anyone from your hometown is located on the wall? I used an app from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund which allowed me to search not only by name but also by state and/or city.  This app allowed me to quickly identify the five soldiers from my home community of Liberty, Missouri who are listed on the wall.  A great example of how an app can provide real time information as you visit a location and how it can enhance your experience. Check out the app on the Google Play Store.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mission Possible Workshop - Day One at NPR

Note : This week I am participating in the Mission Possible Teacher Workshop in Washington D.C. The week is hosted by Model Classroom and Pearson.  The focus for the week is project based learning centered around learning opportunities in Washington D.C.  Projects will take place at NPR, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the United States Holocaust Museum.

Today was Day 1 of the Mission Possible Workshop hosted by Model Classroom and Pearson.  As I met the other participating teachers and facilitators I knew I was in for a great week of learning.  I think it is always a good sign when you sit down for breakfast at a conference and you see QR codes on the table along with the official hashtag for the week!  (The hashtag by the way if you wish to follow us around this week is #Mpossible - we will be tweeting as much as possible.)

We started off the day with some exercises to get to know each other - sketching the person next to you to break down the awkwardness of getting to know someone new and interviewing a person for the first time using only questions. We also created a six word story to introduce a new friend.  All of these activities had a purpose which would later be used in our mission later in the day.

We headed out to our next classroom for the day - the newly constructed NPR offices in Washington DC.  Once at NPR we listened to Michele Norris - host of All Things Considered and originator of the Race Card Project and the Back Seat Book Club.  Prior to Michele Norris visit with us we listened to several audio examples of her interviews.  

I had not heard of the Race Card Project prior to last week’s preparation for the conference.  If you are not familiar with the project I encourage you to check out the website. The project asks people to write down an experience they have had with race or cultural identity in just six words.  Initially some might ask what can be accomplished in six words but reading a few examples demonstrates the power of just those six words.

I started following Michele Norris on Twitter ( @Michele_Norris ) roughly a week ago in advance of the conference.  During our visit today I asked her about the impact that social media has had on the Race Card Project.  She responded that it has made a huge difference because it has given the project more visibility and allowed it to grow globally.

As Michele Norris talked about how she interviews individuals for her show, she said something that I have been thinking about the rest of the day.  She said that her most important skill as an interviewer is not speaking or asking questions, it is listening to the person she is interviewing.  She also wondered if listening should be a skill taught in schools.  That was a great point.  How much time do we spend in our classroom to truly teach students how to listen?  And how can we as teachers improve the way in which we listen to our students?  This will be something I think about a lot before the school year starts.

We finished our day at NPR with a tour of their relatively new facility.  As a self proclaimed geek it was fascinating to see the inner workings of such an iconic news agency.  I have had a podcast since 2005 and enjoy the process of editing and producing audio.  The control rooms and the studios had the latest technology.

Before we finished the day we had a final challenge to accomplish as a group : select a question centered on civic engagement and interview individuals on the street recording their responses with audio or video.  Our group selected to ask people about the recent Zimmerman trial and if there is something they hope changes as a result of the verdict.  As we split into pairs and asked people on the streets of DC we needed to thoughtfully think about how we would introduce ourselves, ask for their permission to record their response and then listen as they responded to our initial question. 

The activity was interesting because of the responses we received from five different groups of people but it was also about the process.  We had to move a little outside our comfort zone - something we ask our students to do everything and probably don’t think enough about when we do as teachers.  

Day one was a great experience of learning.  I look forward to another day of experiential learning tomorrow as we visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

U.S. Capitol Photos with Historic Quotes by Lincoln and Jefferson

I recently participated in the 2013 C-SPAN Educators' Conference and was fortunate enough to stay at a hotel just a couple of blocks from the U.S. Capitol.  I took a couple of pictures of the Capitol that came out pretty well and wanted to share them here in case anyone else would like to use them. If you would like larger copies of the photos shown below you can access them as a Flickr set here.

The first photo I took in the early morning just after sunrise.  On this particular morning there was a little bit of weather moving into the DC area, just a little rain but not enough to ruin my walk.  It was early enough that there were very few people around the Capitol except for some Capitol policemen.  I then added a quote from Lincoln that I thought fit the theme of the C-SPAN conference I was attending.  I did bring the photo up in Snapseed on my i-Pad and tuned the lighting to make the clouds a little more dramatic than they appeared in the original photo.

The second photo I would like to share was taken of the Capitol at night.  The Capitol dome at night has such an amazing glow.  I took this picture with some open night time sky to the side with the thought that I would add some text later.  I added a quote from Jefferson that again I thought fit the theme of the C-SPAN conference.