Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Using Voicethread for your Holocaust unit

Sometimes it is difficult to find time in class to have students give presentations, but you might still want to hear their thoughts and opinions about a topic such as the Holocaust.  I have used Voicethread as a way to “hear” from the students without having to use class time.  This is a website where students can create a presentation and use a microphone to record their voice. 

Here are some ideas for your class:
  • Have students create a timeline of important events from the Holocaust and have students describe the significance of each event. 
  •  Have students analyze a piece of Holocaust poetry or art. 
  •  Have students choose a topic on the Holocaust that they find interesting and share their research through Voicethread.

Here are the directions for Voicethread.
  1. Go to the Voicethread website at 
  2. Go to Sign in or register at the top right hand of website.  Create an account using your email address and create a username that is something other than your first and last name. 
  3. Watch the “What is a Voice Thread” video for an explanation of how you will create the voice thread. 
  4. Upload your images into Voicethread and add a label to each image. 
  5. Explain each image with audio comments.  There are several ways to record your voice for each image.  If you have a microphone on your computer you may use that to record your voice.  All Macs have built-in microphones.  Voice Thread also gives you the option to put in your cell phone number and it will call your phone and you can record it that way.  You can only do this for free 3 times total in your account.   Whichever way you choose, you need to prepare in advance what you will say for each image.  Create an outline for what you will say, but don’t read from a script. 
  6. After completing the Voice Thread you should give it a title. 
  7. Now go to ‘Publishing Option’ and select ‘Allow anyone to view’ – this will allow the teacher  to view your Voicethread once you share it with them or email it to them. 
  8. When you have completed the Voicethread, share it with your teacher by copying/pasting the URL into an email and send it to the teacher.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rwandan Genocide in novel form

The Bellwether Prize is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. I first became aware of the prize when I stumbled upon the 2006 winner, Hilary Jordan’s Mudbound which tells the story of two families– one white and one black – in rural, racist Mississippi just after the end of WWII. I highly recommend Mudbound to you. When I saw a new novel recently with the Bellwether Prize sticker on its cover, I bought the book without a moment’s hesitation because of my experience with Mudbound. I was not disappointed.

The most recent winner of the Bellwether Prize is Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron (Algonquin Books, 2012). The setting of this story is Rwanda from 1984 until 1998. The main character is Jean Patrick Nkuba, a Tutsi who dreams of being the first Rwandan to win an Olympic track medal. As you might guess, Jean Patrick must use his ability as a runner to save his own life once the genocide begins. Benaron begins her tale while Jean Patrick is a young schoolboy. She pulls the reader into the beauty of the Rwandan hills; the richness of the culture – the music, the folk wisdom, the food; and the complexity of the people and their politics. Benaron helped me to understand that the Rwandan genocide was much more complicated than Hutu versus Tutsi, and it did not just erupt suddenly in 1994. The characters in the novel are complex, as real people are; even minor characters are more fully developed than is typical.

Although she writes about genocide, Benaron has crafted a love story. The novel is suffused with Jean Patrick’s love for his family and friends, his love for Rwanda, and his love for Bea. The novel has many deaths, but it is very much about life and what makes it worth living. I encourage you to read it!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wall of Remembrance Quilt

One of my (and I think my students’) favorite culminating activities when we learn about the Holocaust is our Holocaust Remembrance Quilt. This is a collage of the kids’ artwork reflecting on what they have learned. Unavoidably, this is a tough, heavy and depressing topic for 8th graders. It’s nice to have something at the end that allows them to get their feelings out and be positive, if they want to. I give them all a handout with the directions, and a 4”x4” square drawn on it. In the square they simply have to draw, and write, if they wish, something that symbolizes the Holocaust to them. I give them the following guidelines:

  • Choose something that stuck with you during your study of the Holocaust.
  • It can be a design which commemorates an event or person.
  • It can be a hopeful design, looking toward the future.
  • It does not have to be sad. However, it should be reverent. It should in no way mock or make light of the Holocaust.
  • Please put some thought into it and make it personal to you.
  • You may draw or use a collage technique. However, it should not simply be a printout of a picture from the internet or clip art.
  • You will not be graded on how well you draw. Instead, you will be graded on the thoughtfulness and insight you put into the square.
  • This will be a culmination of the unit, so it should reflect your learning in the 3 weeks of study.
  • It may be in color or black and white, whatever you feel appropriate.
  • It may contain words as well as pictures, or be just a picture.
After they turn them in, I cut them all out. It’s important that they are as close to the exact same size as possible. Then I figure out how big to make the quilt. If I need more squares, I will put some of my favorite Holocaust quotes in. I also include a square with the year on it.

To assemble, I try to space them out so there is a good mix of color and black and white. I tape them on the back with Scotch tape to form the horizontal sections. Then I tape the horizontal sections together to form the quilt. I have found that it’s best to back it with construction paper. It holds up much better! Finally, I have it laminated and hang it in my room.

The kids find this very satisfying – to put what they learn and feel into a picture. The pictures run the gambit from amazingly detailed to simple. As with anything, there are kids who don’t do a stellar job, but when put together, they all look nice. I have all of the previous year’s hanging in my room, so the kids see the project all year and look forward to it. They also feel a sense of pride and legacy knowing I will keep theirs up for years to come as well.

"Mrs. Cobden, what does the word 'swindle' mean?"

Well, it is that time of year again! This history teacher is starting her WWII unit. This week I started teaching about the Weimar Republic. I always try to convey to students the struggles of the Republic that helped open the door for Hitler to come to power.

You know the highlights. This new government was blamed for signing the Treaty of Versailles. The struggles faced by a developing democracy. Don't forget hyperinflation. I always show the picture. You know the one...the kiddos stacking the worthless German marks.

I was looking for something to add to the mix. I stumbled across some interesting primary sources courtesy of Facing History and Ourselves. Sources include music, paintings, sculpture, film, etc. I found one of the Cabaret songs of particular interest.

"It's All a Swindle" is a song from 1931 and presents an interesting view of society and the government during the Weimar years. Lyrics include:

Nowadays the world is rotten
honesty has been forgotten
fall in love but after kissing --
check your purse to see what's missing


are magicians
who make swindles disappear
The bribes they are taking
the deals they are making
never reach the public's ear.

It is important for students to understand that the depression had started and support for the government continued to dwindle.

This song has lyrics in German and in English. There is a performance of the song for students to listen to in German, but an English performance is available on YouTube.

The goal, overall, of course, is to give students a bit of insight into the struggles of the Weimar Republic and what conditions helped make it possible for Adolf Hitler to come to power. This song helps give an interesting glimpse into German society at a very volatile period in history.