Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Using Technology to Explore Anne Frank Website

As a middle school teacher, I find myself very reluctant to let me kids loose on the internet to research the Holocaust.  There are just too many unreliable sources, or sources that are too graphic for this age of students.  However, I don’t like to limit them either; I like for them to self-generate questions and look for the answers on the internet.  This year, our school district is getting all of our students Google accounts.  I can share documents with my students and they can add their own information to make a working document for a whole class.  

This year, I created a document that gave my students the link to the Anne Frank website where they could go on a virtual tour of the annex, learn more about what happened to the actual people in hiding, learn more about their background, and/or explore the annex and hear the way Anne described it in her diary.  In the document, I provided a place for each student to add one comment about what they were learning and one question that they had as they were learning.  

Once the kids were all logged in and had the document open, I had them use headphones (there is some excellent audio on the website) and start exploring.  As they were typing their questions and comments, I was able to comment on their comments and answer their questions.  This group didn’t get to the point where they were commenting on each other yet; I think that will come with practice.  But they were all able to comment without having to raise their hand, wait their turn, or speak in front of the class.  While I don’t want this to ever replace conversation and learning those skills, I do think you can do quite a lot when you allow students to give their comments in writing.

In the end, the kids were able to go to any part of the website they wanted, but they still had to stay within the confines of that one website.  And we also ended up with an actual document with comments and questions that we can add to and address as we work on this unit.

The actual assignment is below, with my students’ comments.  Keep in mind, many of these kids are ELL and/or very low readers.  I didn’t grade them on their quality of writing, just that they added to the document.

Anne Frank Website Activity
Today you are going to explore the Anne Frank website and record your observations and questions in this Google document.  You will also be able to see each other’s observations and questions in this document as they type them.  Feel free to comment on their observations and questions as well!

  1. Plug in your headphones.  There is a lot of narration on the website.  
  2.  Go to the website 
  3.  There are several areas for you to explore:
    • You can go on a virtual tour of the actual hiding space 
    • You can see more information about what happened to them after they were discovered.
    • You can see the inside of the hiding place and see how Anne described it all. 
    • You can learn more about the actual people in the story.
  4.  As you are exploring, you will need to add to this document, next to your name, at least one comment about something you find interesting, and at least one new question you have 
  5.  Feel free to read each other’s comments and questions and add comments to them as well.
  6. By the time we are done, we should have a full document, with at least one question and comment next to each person’s name!
Comments: They fit a lot of furniture in the small spaces.
It's amazing that they had that much furniture!  I think they moved things in before they actually moved in themselves.


Comments: They had a lot more space than I thought. Every room was pretty well sized except for Peter’s, but I would be fine with that size of a room.


Noah B.
Comments: the hiding place is like a whole other house.Compared to others who hid in holes in the ground or in sewers, their hiding place was pretty homey.


Comments: i imagine the place more smaller


Comments: It must suck having to use your room as a kitchen and dining room because it has a sink and oven.

Questions: Why wouldn’t Anne ask Margot questions about growing up and having changes?
In the movie, she does a little.  I think back then that it wasn't appropriate to talk about those things. We have come a long way!

Comments:the video of the annex was really good at showing everything.

Questions: how do the people of the website know the exact month and year and place that all of them all died at and how?

Comments: not as small as i thought it was. Pretty spacious, but lots of people!

Questions: Is that all the actual stuff that was in there?

Comments: It all looks so authentic. It’s great :)

Questions: is that their actual furniture? What kind of movie stars were popular then? Was that what her diary actually look like? No.  When the Nazis came and got them they took almost everything in there.  This was put in just for pictures so we can see what it was like.  But that's why it's empty when you go visit, since the actual furniture is gone.

Comments: Peter’s room was super small.

Questions: was the furniture actually arranged like that?
I don't know how exact it was.  Miep and Mr. Frank were still alive when they staged it, so they may have told people where to put things.

Camryn H.

Questions:Why does the book and the movie over exaggerate more than the accually things that happened?

Camryn K
Comments: i didn't know they had a daily time slot to be in the bathroom  

Questions: If they always had to be silent all day long how did anne run up and down the staircase to drown out the bombs and the gunfire? That was mostly at night.

Comments: why was peter room so small. if you look at peter room it is so small why would they put him get to see where the bank office is. you get to go outside in the 3-d .

In the play, they talk about hirs oom having rats, nd that they thought he could hanlde it.  I always thouhgt that Anne oshuld have had atht asmll room andaPeter could have sharedi wth Dussel.

Comments: The franks had a place in their room where they checked Anne and Margot hight over time. Miep stayed in touch with Mr. Frank.

Questions: Why did the guy in the warehouse tell the gestapo that the Jews were hiding.
He may have been paid for it, otm ay have gotten caughtf or a crime and gave them information so HE woulnd't go to jail.

Comments: I didn’t know there were times when Mr.Pfeffer did dental work in the hideout.
You will see it in the movie. :)

Questions: In the intro video they said Jews couldn’t own stores but Mr. Frank’s company was owned by Jews, wasn’t it?

GOOD QUESTION!  Once Hitler came to power hhad the company put in Miep's husband's name so it woulbn't technically be Jewish anymore.

Comments: i wonder what it would be like if i was the one hiding from hitler. it would probably be scary:(


Comments:The bathroom are smaller than i thought they would be. Anne and Margot grow really fast.

Questions:Why were they giving 30 minutes the bathroom. Why did hitler take the Jews to training camps?
Hitler didn't think Jews deserved to live. They were of no use to him at all, except using them for labor.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Superman is Jewish? The intersection of history, religion, and popular culture in comics

I have blogged previously about Art Spiegelman’s Maus.  The books were an eye opener for me, seeing the powerful emotions, a storyline that personalizes history while not minimizing it, and a format that invites in reluctant readers.  Graphic novels (books in comic book format, with illustrations, and often dealing with topics that align more with adult themes) are a great entry point for both strong readers and reluctant readers.  The art form of comics allows two media to be conjoined and to deepen the experience of the audience.  Comic books have traditionally been in the realm of pre-teen and teenage boys.  The simplicity of the illustration can fool many in to believing that there is little worth between the covers.  Surprisingly - thankfully - there is so much more going on inside of these books.  Seemingly because of their innocuous nature, they are able to convey adult themes, open doors to history, and deal with current events in a way that can be both profound and easily overlooked at the same time.
In 1941, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created the character Captain America.  On the cover, Cap has infiltrated a Nazi bunker, and is punching Adolf Hitler.  A great image from today’s standard, and nothing less than we would expect from the stories we are taught in our textbooks.  But, the comic came out in March 1941, before the US was committed to the war.  The war was "over there," and Americans wanted nothing to do with it.  Kirby and Simon were young Jewish artists and decided to turn current events into their story.  Their work did not start the war, or increase patriotism.  It took current events and pushed them to the forefront.  It demanded attention and erased ignorance.  It piqued interest and awoke a younger generation.  (Very much in the same vein as Comedy Central’s Daily Show and Colbert Report, today.)

The Holocaust would come up again in popular culture in the 1950s.  Several different stories would deal with the history in different ways.  Stories would continue, ideas would be shared.  And in the 1960s, Stan Lee would create the story of the X-Men, a group of humans that are different, and therefore feared.  I began reading the series in the 1980s, and was immediately drawn to the storyline of exclusion.  While not overtly mentioning antisemitism, it would be hard to deny, even as a boy, the historical basis.  Seeing America’s transformations throughout the 90s - the cultural acceptance of interracial dating, homosexuality, and other minority communities - the X-Men storylines reflected society, and built empathy. 

At some point, I stumbled upon the graphic novel, X-Men:  God Loves, Man Kills.  My eyes were opened.  A part of the story deals with violence aimed at those considered different, and therefore, considered unworthy of life by some (an arching theme in the X-Men universe).  Two young children are hung from a swing set.  They are found by the arch-enemy Magneto (created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, both Jews).  This sets up the backstory.  Magneto will become a complex character that several writers will work to flush out.  Ultimately, in Magneto: Testament, published in 2008, we discover that Magneto is raised Jewish in a German home. His family flees the Nazis and are caught in Poland.  Long story short, his past helps shape his views, and quite possibly reflects the nature of the creators. Magneto’s complexity will be reflected in the movie series, but will not be as effective at generating the empathy and complexity of the character.  The films, though, do provide a decent entry in to the comic world. 

Most recently, Disney has paired up with several creators to develop a film and online graphic novel set entitled, “They Spoke Up:  American Voices Against the Holocaust.This is an interesting series, and I am just breaking in to it as I write this, but looks to be a promising resource.   I will blog about that in the coming weeks.  There are other great works available out there including a great story entitled 2nd Generation: Things I Never Told My Father, in graphic novel form, dealing with the complexity of the Holocaust that allows entry and absorption at multiple levels.  They just aren’t available in the United States. 

As I was researching for this post, I came across a recently published book (2012) entitled Superman is Jewish? that relates similarities in Jewish culture with the comic book storylines.  The author makes a wonderful comparison of the alien that would become Clark Kent being rocketed to safety by his parents before their destruction:  An interstellar “Kindertransport.”  Comic books are much more complex than we can even imagine. 

Sadly, there has been little new in the way of Holocaust graphic literature.  The stories of the 1950s provided shock and awe at a time when it was still fairly new in the cultural psyche.  The Holocaust is rarely invoked as a teaching tool in modern mainstream culture.  It has been moved to the shelf of distant history.  We must be careful to not lose the lessons learned in such a hard fashion.  We must follow the lead of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, use the media of comics and graphic novels to shape the future generations in a less blunt fashion.  Truly, it is often those that need the lesson the most that will be most likely to pick up this form of literature.  Rather than just re-illustrating Anne Frank, let us seek to build on the exploration of humanity by find new avenues and new stories to tell in different formats.