Thursday, September 17, 2009

Teaching with Political Cartoons

Political cartoons show up a lot in social studies curricula, including textbooks, worksheets, and now standardized state and national exams. In these cases, students are asked to analyze the cartoon's content or the cartoonist's point of view. In classroom instruction, teachers might try to "diversify" their instruction and have students create their own cartoon related to a historical or current event. The following sources provide some guidance for one way to include political cartoons as an authentic and legitimate part of any social studies teacher's instruction.

As a way to teach critical thinking, the Center for Media Literacy has built a curriculum around five key questions. All of these queries apply to analyzing any source--an advertisement, a newspaper article, or a political cartoon--but an important question is #2, "What creative techniques are used to catch my attention?" To further conceptualize this analysis, the Library of Congress has created a web-based activity, "No Laughing Matter," to help students evaluate cartoons with five basic concepts: Labeling, Irony, Analogy, Exaggeration, and Irony. I point out these concepts because they provide a helpful framework students can apply to any cartoon (or written source, for that matter). For example, "How does this cartoonist use irony to illustrate her point of view?"

Created at Toondoo (click image to enlarge it)

Finally, students need not be a professional artist to create stunning political cartoons. A free online tool, Toondoo Maker, on the Toondoo site allows them to select from hundreds of images to construct their own visual commentary on a historical or current event. Teachers can then require their students to describe how they used irony or analogy to make a visual argument. I've uploaded an example I recently created on the topic of immigration.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Constitution Day is September 17th

Constitution Day is September 17. Here are a few resources that may be of interest. First, the Center for Civic Education is offering several PK-12 Constitution lessons. (All are free pdf downloads.)

There are also a number of other free sample lesson plans for civics education from the Center for Civic Education. A general search for sample lessons will give you several options. Here are some of the highlights from this search:

Another resource for working directly with the pivotal U.S. government document is the Semantic Constitution. This site allows you to sort information in the Constitution by article and topic (e.g., debt, religion, veto).

Finally, a multimedia approach for instruction is available at the Choices site. Here, for example, students can see videos of interviews with scholars Gordon Wood and Michael Vorenberg as they discuss issues related to the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution. In one excerpt, Gordon Wood answers the question, "How was the American Revolution more radical than the founders had intended?"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Economics Concepts and Lesson Plan Ideas

Economics is an often overlooked, yet equally important, discipline in the social sciences. Here are a few helpful links for resources. First, this site provides a nice overview of Economics Concepts, including definitions. Secondly, the Council for Economics Education provides several helpful resources, including a list of lesson plans arranged (or retrievable) by grade level, economics concept, and national economics standard. At last count, the website boasts a total 648 lessons available for your perusal. Finally, The Mint has a lot of helpful online activities to illustrate basic economics concepts.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kate Brigham on Media Literacy

Here, the learner can manipulate the size, color, and "wash"
(in this case red) for the image used to accompany a news article.

Above is the original photograph that accompanied
the article titled, "Why Do They Hate Us?"

It's interesting how the focus for the same "Hate" article is
altered with the selection of another photograph.

An old colleague, Kate Brigham, created this fantastic interactive website for her thesis project concerning media literacy. A great way to teach how advertisers, photographers, and general media editors use creative techniques to sway opinions or catch your attention is to let students manipulate sources. Several activities on Kate's site allow for this exploration. The learner can see firsthand how zoom, color, font size, and image selection, to name a few, present a point of view. These somewhat subtle techniques often go unnoticed but are key to critically evaluating any type of source, text or image.