Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse was the historical fiction novel that the 7th graders were reading. The LA teachers came to the LMC Director, Kay, and I to develop a unit for the students.  The goal was to enhance the students' understanding of the setting and the plight of the characters in the novel through studying the period in history.

We chose to use ed.Voicethread.com for the student's final artifact because the teachers are very familiar with it and thought it best to use something they know well. But, we could have chosen anything really! Students were divided into groups and charged with researching The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of 1929-1939. Each group was provided with an esssential question that guided their research and used EasyBib to collect their research and sources. Each group will view all of the voicethreads (jigsaw style) and answer student generated questions about all the other projects so they familiarize themselves will all the topics studied. 

Students went to The Library of Congress and used the primary sources of the photography and music archives to set the scene for their research. The music and voices of the time really motivated the students to learn more about the topic. 

Too often, students use Voicethread.com to retell the facts on a topic. They read verbatim information they copied from their sources. Voicethread is full of these types of projects. We were interested in creating something new from the research. Students were encouraged to find a point of view to share their learning on the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. To take ownership of their own learning, and create an engaging projects to teach the rest of their class about their topic. 

The final projects ranged from news broadcasts, radio shows, radio plays and hard hitting interviews with FDR.  The presentations were creative, engaging and the students really internalized the period in history for them. 

I had an Aha! moment. I saw that creating something new from the research was what changed the engagement of the students. They got into character, walked in the shoes of the migrant workers and the heard the pain of the time. The students owned the learning! Their Voicethreads are the best we have ever made. 

For the next time:
We would ask the students to come up with their own essential questions. 
We would use something that allows images to flow more smoothly in the background of the audio, while maintaining the global audience that Voicethread provides.
We would allow the students to use background sounds to enhance the mood.

Causes and Effects of the Dust Bowl

Innovations From the Dust Bowl


  1. Not only did you create a worthwhile experience for those students, but you also show what authentic reflection looks like. You examine what worked, tell what you learned from it, and makes notes for what to do differently next time. This is really impressive and inspirational. Thanks. Gary

  2. Gary, thanks for the review of my blog! I hope that the blog will evolve into a place where people watch for great tips and tricks when designing their lessons.!

  3. Jen,
    I know Gary from Twitter!
    Anyway, what I like about this post is two-fold... First, I appreciate the diversity of the projects students were able to create. I love it when they surprise us! Second, I am appreciative of the "For the next time" section. I keep having to change what I do to make it better. It aggravates me to no end that I can't get a lesson or project "right," but I'm aware that the needs change because of the students. I still think... Some day. :-)

    I'm so happy that you began your blog, Jen. Soooo glad! I'm glad I was part of the reason! I absolutely love learning from you. I hope you're at our school some day. Some day... ;-)