Monday, November 7, 2011

The Salem Witch Trials: A Google Search Story

Creating activities and units that effectively place students “in the shoes” of key characters in the past is what sets the best history teachers apart from the good history teachers.  Most people can describe events from the past to their students.  Many of them can even explain these events in a way that is meaningful and memorable.  Some teachers take it to the next level by introducing primary sources to their students, allowing them to see artifacts of the actual events so they can form a connection to the material they are learning.  The best teachers strive to create a bond between their students and the characters they are studying. 

Joann featured resources this week that do a good job of bringing the history of the Salem Witch Trials to life, and she will post more throughout the week on the Gateway Facebook and Twitter pages.  These lessons present the events in a meaningful and memorable way.  Even with well-planned lessons like these, it is nice to be able to modify certain parts for the particular learning styles and interests of your students.  One simple modification is to change or enhance the evaluation or summary activity at the end of the lesson.

A perfect concluding activity would “cement” the learning from the lessons, evaluate what learning has taken place, and form a lasting connection between the students and the historical characters they are studying.  This is a pretty tall order, and no single activity will be the best for every class, every year.  I have been researching some neat tools and ideas that I will share over the next few months as I try them out on my own and with students.

For a historical event such as the Salem Witch Trials, it might be hard for students to really empathize and connect with both the women being accused and the accusers. 
The mass hysteria that took place is almost unparalleled, especially in the timeframe of students’ personal experience.  Writing some type of a story involving the characters and events to share with the class is a good way to conclude a unit on these events.  A traditional story created by students on paper is always a valuable use of time.  It’s a creative outlet for your students and a good way to assess what they learned and can explain about the theme. 

If you are looking to bring some more technology into your classroom, you can probably find a good online digital storytelling tool to use with your students.  This will add variety to your classroom while still testing the same basic skills.  There are plenty of free online tools to help your students create stories in new ways.  These tools are are useful for other projects and demonstrations as well.  One very unique tool is the Google Search Stories Video Creator.  Until I tried it out, I had no idea how fun and educational it can be for students.  A Google Search Story basically tells the main ideas of a story by showing Google searches and results on topics within the story.  You will probably need to see one to really understand how it works.  The first time I saw a Google Search Story was during a 2010 Super Bowl commercial.  Do you remember this one

With the Google Search Stories Video Creator, students choose seven events to tell a story of what they learned.  This will help them think about the important parts of what they are studying and summarize their learning.  I attempted to create a Google Search Story from the viewpoint of an accused woman in Salem (if only she could have accessed Google!)  I am sure your students will be able to create even better stories when given the chance. I included my process so you can see how it works.  When you go the link, scroll down to the section titled “Make your own search story” to get started.

First I chose 7 search topics:
1.     Seventeenth Century Puritan beliefs
2.     Salem, Massachusetts devil possession
3.     Witchcraft
4.     Salem Witch Trials
5.     Proof of Salem witchcraft
6.     Salem Witch Trials Punishment
7.     Salem Witch Trials new findings

After seeing the results weren;t quite what I wanted, I changed my list to:

1.     puritan supernatural beliefs
2.     1692 salem girls fits
3.     17th century devil possession
4.     salem witchcraft proof
5.     salem witch trials
6.     salem witchcraft punishment
7.     1692 girls affliction new evidence

I used the “tips” section to improve my search results.  This will lead to some good learning about Google searches.  I also made my video more interesting by changing if I was searching the web, images, or news.  The only caution I have is to monitor this so students aren’t accessing any inappropriate content.  Your school’s internet settings should probably keep it pretty safe. 

Here is my final product.  

I was happy with how it turned out, although I don’t think it demonstrates as deep of an understanding as writing a paper and pencil story from the perspective of a person involved in the events in Salem.  It would be really cool if students could select and highlight certain search results, too.  I do think it is a great tool, though, and might go well with some type of a longer presentation. 

Do you us any digital storytelling tools in your classroom?  Which ones do you like best?  Let’s talk about it all week on Facebook and Twitter.  I will be researching more tools, so please let us know what you want to know.  

~ Peggy's Corner - October 27, 2011 ~

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