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A Unique Way to Bring History to Life for your Students

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March 17, 2017

Imagine this scenario as if you were a student:

Documents that are over two hundred years old are sitting in front of you.  Great.  More fancy “old English” words that you just don’t understand.  From what you can gather, the person that wrote it isn’t like you at all.  Your teacher says that you need to summarize the document by the end of class but don’t even know where to begin nor do you have any motivation to do so.

Now, imagine this:

A journal or poem from a soldier and war statistics are laying on your desk. Once again, your teacher asks you to summarize the documents. You perk up a little, just enough to complete the summary and get on your way to your next class.

And now, this:

You are watching a movie.  Forrest Gump. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Shawshank Redemption. Or binge watching The Wonder Years.  You can’t turn it off.  You want to see what happens to the struggling man from Alabama, or the high school troublemaker, or the criminal Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, or even the young boy, Kevin Arnold.  You are hooked by the story of somebody that is completely unlike yourself. You can see qualities in people with whom you thought you had very few similarities, if any.

Finding Personal Connections

What’s the difference?  Visuals? Maybe. A catchy theme song? Okay, maybe. A great soundtrack?  Alright, that makes sense, too. But the biggest thing?  A personal connection to the story. You can see yourself as that person. You are rooting for them. You can insert yourself into their experience.

Hollywood does a fantastic job of doing this for us when we lose ourselves in a character. Lin Manuel Miranda did it when he turned his reading of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (available on PBS LearningMedia) into a personalized, energetic reading, hip-hop/rap song and hit Broadway musical.

But, how do we do this for our students? 

I hope that you’ll join me on March 22nd as I share how I have done this in my classroom. By employing quality (and free!) primary resources, my students are able to interpret and think critically about a story through their own lens using a simple, yet effective technique: stop motion animation. (Think Rudolph!) 

As Lin Manuel Miranda brought American History and hip-hop together, you and your students can bring together two things that may not immediately “jive” together in your mind: Primary Sources and Stop Motion.  In doing so, you will see a level of personal connection, creativity, and interest that you may not have experienced in your social studies, ELA, elementary, and/or library classes, as students latch on to tell a story through their own eyes.  What’s even neater is that students will start to express stories while displaying their own interests, just as my students did, while answering the larger question of, “Why did Jamestown struggle to survive?"



Disney?  No.  Pixar? Not quite.  Authentic learning for a real audience? Absolutely. Join me on March 22 for basic tips and techniques, so you can get started interpreting primary sources with digital storytelling tools such as stop motion on multiple platforms.

Looking for more information on how to incorporate digital storytelling and stop motion animation into your classroom? View Joe Welch's webinar (recorded on March 22, 2017) here. 

Joe Welch, as National Board Certified Teacher, is in his 10th year of teaching 8th Grade American History at North Hills Middle School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Named as an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2015 and 2016 Lead PBS Digital Innovator, Joe also serves as a instructional technology trainer for his district.  He has presented across the region and nationally on topics including developing multi-touch digital books for students, integrating primary sources at the secondary level, formative assessment and engagement tools, and digital storytelling.  He can be found on Twitter @nhsdwelch.

Joe Welch

Joe Welch American History Teacher

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