Academic Skills, Geography, Historical Thinking, history, teaching

Backlog Post #1: The Market Revolution, Atlantic Context, and Information Reorganization

While my last post ostensibly was going to open the flood-gates of a number of new posts dealing with what I’ve been working on in my classes, that plan fell through (read: baby + grad school + teaching = neglect in this venue).

Nevertheless, as a way to prompt myself into wrapping up one of this week’s grad school assignments, I thought I’d post a recent assignment I worked through with my U.S. History class.

We’ve been looking at the early nineteenth century and examining some of the traditional narratives about presidents, political parties, and other developments of this era from a variety of historians’ perspectives. Keeping in this trend, we read an article by Seth Rockman about the significance of slavery in the Market Revolution. As the article (link included below) highlighted some of the important transatlantic connections that characterized the Market Revolution and situated the U.S. in a broader context (the leitmotif of my graduate studies at UT-Arlington), I thought I’d challenge my students to explore how Rockman makes these connections in his article by visually representing the phenomena he discusses on a blank map of the Atlantic basin.

Map of the North Atlantic - courtesy of

Not only did this assignment fall into one of my favorite pedagogical strategies of information reorganization, but it also provided an impetus to push the students to read the text more closely before we had our discussion on the reading. Now, before I end up rewriting the assignment in prose, I’ll go ahead and post it below:

Constructing Meaning in the Market Revolution, 1793-1860

Purpose and Learning Objectives:
The goal of this assignment is to get you to practice the skills of identifying arguments, assessing the type of evidence and method a historian uses, and to take that information and reorganize it in a meaningful manner. In particular, this assignment will get you thinking about interconnections and linkages and how those played out in the space of the North Atlantic during the first half of the nineteenth century.


  1. Actively read the Seth Rockman article, “Liberty is Land and Slaves: The Great Contradiction.”
  2. As you read, focus on the author’s a) argument; b) type and use of evidence; and, c) the way in which the author discusses the interconnections and linkages between the different parts of the Atlantic World that developed during the Market Revolution (esp. the years 1793-1860).
  3. Using the included outline map of the North Atlantic world, work to creatively reorganize the information presented in the article onto the map. Use the list of categories below to get yourself thinking about what type of information to include.

Elements/Categories to illustrate visually:

  • Movement of people (slaves, Indians, migrants — internal and external)
  • Movement of goods (manufactured, raw materials, food crops)
  • Transportation networks
  • Important natural features (e.g. rivers, canals, mountains, etc.)
  • Demographic information and links to social hierarchy
  • Important dates marking key developments

CONSIDER: How will you visually distinguish these elements?

There you have it! Fairly short, sweet, and straight-forward. What other strategies or approaches have people used to challenge their students to engage with a text in a more in-depth or different way? What suggestions or ideas do people have about ways to refine or improve an assignment like this?

Geography, Technology

Fun with online image editors!

“There’s no rest for the weary,” or is it “There’s no rest for the wicked”?

I’ve heard the expression both ways, and depending on your self-image (or skill in channeling reflexive guilt, I suppose), I guess either works depending on the situation. Most immediately, I feel the applicability of this phrase as I finished grading my own students’ final exams this morning and am already back in the saddle starting work for my summer-time gig as a mentor teacher at Fort Worth’s Breakthrough Collaborative site.

In particular, I’m presently doing some work on putting together a Geography pre-test for rising ninth grade students to get a baseline understanding of their grasp of geographical facts, writing concepts, and the ability to discern and create arguments. The most straightforward section of the assessment deals with the location and names of continents and oceans. However, in my brief perusal of Google Images, I didn’t find a cleanly labeled outline map of the world, so I set out to make one of my own.

While I don’t own Photoshop on my computer, or have any other exciting/powerful image editors installed, I checked into online image editors, and came across Aviary, a pretty robust (and even better, free!) image editor. My task was pretty simple. Take this image:

Outline Map of World, courtesy of

and add numbers and letters to the continents and oceans.

Porting the image into Aviary was a simple and straight-forward affair. I copied the URL, Aviary downloaded the image and then gave me a variety of tools and editing functionality. My needs were really limited in scope (e.g. use the “Type” tool), so clicking on the various continents, creating new layers, and then moving those layers into the appropriate places was super easy. I’m sure that my approach was more ham-handed and redundant than a more experienced or knowledgeable user, but it ultimately rendered the result I was after.

Outline Map of World with Labels for Oceans and Continents

So, for an easy, straight-forward, functional, and (perhaps best of all) free image editor, definitely check out Aviary. Though, as you can see in the image, that “free” nature comes with an (admittedly unobtrusive) tag for the company. The images are available in a variety of formats — HTML embed code, image URL, or forums embed code (something with which I’m not familiar).

I’m sure that I’ll be able to find more future functionality for customizing map quizzes or pieces of artwork (e.g. having students identify particular artistic techniques or features by annotating the images) for this program. Alternatively (and the reason I’m burying the lead, [or lede if I’m to honor my high school journalism pedigree], is because the thought just struck me), you could also use Skitch; however, that program requires a download and install, and is also only for the Mac. In any event, Aviary seems like a good choice for working on cloud-based machines, or machines where you can’t install your own software. It also seems that Aviary has other editing tools for audio and CAD-like programs.

Alright…now that summer’s begun, let’s get back to work!

Geography, history, teaching, Technology

iPad Apps for the Classroom — Video Edition!

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how I’d just acquired an iPad and had begun thinking of various ways in which it could be useful in my classroom. In the time since then I’ve been able to experiment with it more extensively and have also found some other resources, particularly iPad Curriculum, that focus exclusively on integrating the iPad into the classroom.

As a way to make my experiences with the iPad thus far accessible to my colleagues (and archived for future reference, as I’m sure these musings will play a major role in my Presidential Library), I thought I’d shoot some brief FlipCam videos describing these useful apps and how I see integrating them in my own teaching.

From the outset, let me apologize for the poor quality. I shot the video in a low-light condition, and I also think my camera had a fair amount of difficulty focusing on the screen. So, if after watching these videos you’re concerned that you need an optometrist appointment immediately, you can rest easy — it’s just the crappy quality of my camera. In the future when I shoot these I’ll try to borrow something a little more powerful and full-featured.

Now, without further ado, I present my findings!

1) This video talks about tools for communicating with students, parents, colleagues, advisors, etc. — Simplenote and Dragon Dictation.

2) This video discusses tools that are more pertinent to a history or geography classroom — Google Earth and History: Maps of the World.

NB: Elisabeth Grant writing for The American Historical Association recently posted about a wide variety of history related apps for the iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch. It’s certainly worth a read.

Geography, Social Media

Google Earth Historical Tours

After one quarter of various social media-based tasks that stress various historical skills I’ve decided that my task of breaking down and discussing the way to tackle critical questions was not paying dividends, so it was time to scrap it. Instead, (and I’ve since garnered empirical evidence to prove this), the students could benefit from more geographic exposure and experience working with maps, which will help them more fully consider geography in the course of their thinking about various historical developments and how those are attached to the landscape.

So, my new task in the group rotation is to make a Google Earth-based geographical tour of at least ten significant locations in the chapter. At each location, which should be designated with an arrow, pin, or polygon, students will explain why that particular location is important in terms of its connection to the chapter. In the course of this explanation they’ll discuss key individuals, events, climatic features, etc. that make the geography of that location, or the location itself, particularly noteworthy. In essence, I see this task as yet another way for students to synthesize information in new, and hopefully meaningful ways — in this case merging geographic information with more traditional ID term type information drawn from the text.

I’m planning to illustrate this feature tomorrow and do some brief explanations about how to use the software. While fairly intuitive, Google Earth does have some quirky features, such as knowing to just click for the points of your polygon rather than holding down the cursor, which leaves a heinous trail of dots that are impossible to clean up into any semblance of order. I still have lots to learn myself about using the program effectively, and I’m interested in the potential for the recorded tours, but in the meantime, I think the placemarks feature will serve our purposes well and will get students more exposure to the geography that is so essential to fully grasping the subject matter.

As a way to demonstrate I created a brief Google Earth based tour of the educational institutions I’ve attended and/or otherwise been associated. Feel free to go on the tour yourself. The file is the first link here.

As for using the software, I found the tutorial PDFs at Google Lit Trips to be extremely clear and helpful. Additionally, this brief explanation guide about how to make Google Earth tour also seems good (though it may push the bounds of good taste in terms of clip art use. On second thought, is there any occasion where “clip are use” and “good taste” should be merged in the same sentence or otherwise considered compatible? Probably not.)