“Picturing the 1930s,” a new educational web site created by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in collaboration with the University of Virginia, allows teachers and students to explore the 1930s through paintings, artist memorabilia, historical documents, newsreels, period photographs, music, and video. Using PrimaryAccess, a web-based teaching tool developed at the university’s Curry Center for Technology and Teacher Education, visitors can select images, write text, and record narration in the style of a documentary filmmaker. They can then screen their video in a virtual theater. PrimaryAccess is the first online tool that allows students to combine their own text, historical images from primary sources, and audio narration to create short online documentary films linked to social studies standards of learning, said Glen Bull, co-director of the Curry Center. Since the first version was developed in collaboration with U.Va.’s Center for Digital History and piloted in a local elementary school in 2005, more than 9,000 users worldwide have created more than 20,000 short movies. In creating digital documentaries, students embed facts and events in a narrative context that can enhance their retention and understanding of the material, said Curry research scientist Bill Ferster, who developed the application with Bull. Besides increasing their knowledge about the period, “Picturing the 1930s” enhances students’ visual literacy skills, Ferster noted, adding that PrimaryAccess “offers teachers another tool to bring history alive.” http://americanart.si.edu/education/picturing_the_1930s/

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