Going Beyond the Classroom

Going Beyond the Classroom

A Different Kind of Class

My iPad rests soundly upon the wood table-top. A pad of legal notebook paper and a lonely Pilot G2 pen wait patiently, ready to  jump into action.  I lean back in the surprisingly comfortable swivel chair. My mind briefly wanders from the lecturing  professor and the colorful PowerPoint presentation. The slides are big and clear, and the professor has a smooth voice, but just how many lectures can one sit through during the day. I think to myself how much coffee is left in my green HydroFlask–the answer is, not enough!

Lectures, notes, readings, papers, tests, grades, and repeat. This is often the rhythm of higher education. It’s a lock-step progression that all of us graduate students at the University of Portland have been trained in, and have been trained well.

However, this semester’s social studies methods class has shaken the bee hive and injected a little innovation and creativity into the dull plod of traditional education. It’s called project-based-learning (PBL), which according to the Buck Institute, “is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.”

Instead of writing carefully structured papers and sitting for exceptionally routine multiple choice/short answer tests, the six of us graduate students, lead by our instructor Peter Pappas, designed a website for the Oregon Holocaust Memorial, located in Washington Park, Portland, OR.  The project required us to familiarize ourselves with the non-profit company that oversees the Memorial–Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education (OJMCHE)–and compile a variety of data and information to present on the website.

The Product

With lots of help from April at OJMCHE and our wise course facilitator, Mr. Pappas, our diverse group of wannabe social studies teachers, managed to produce a comprehensive Oregon Holocaust Memorial companion site. It includes information about the memorial, the impact of the Holocaust on Portland, a timeline of the Holocaust, and information for teaching about the Holocaust. I took the lead on developing the “Visit” page. Check out the site here.

What separates project-based-learning (PBL) from other instructional techniques, is that at the end of the day, after grades, and feedback, and anxiety filled finals week, students (that’s us) are left with a product that extends beyond the classroom. In this case, the product is the Oregon Holocaust Memorial website. But just imagine, if most classes were project driven, how many meaningful and authentic contributions could students produce? The possibilities are endless.

Take It Outside

A common complaint of higher education is that it exists in a vacuum. A protected environment insulated from the demands of the real world. Professors and students fill their time with hypothetical musings, idyllic aspirations for the future, and lots and lots of alcohol. PBL bridges the gap between academia and “real life” by giving students the opportunity to create products that will be used outside of school, outside of the university bubble. This makes the school work both meaningful and productive, qualities that every student should strive for–from pre-schoolers to Ph.D’s.

Don’t forget to check out the Oregon Holocaust Memorial website here!

Featured image credit


Holocaust Memorial Reflection

This semester, we were fortunate enough to collaborate on a project with the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. As part of Ed Methods 533E at the University of Portland, we created a site dedicated to the Oregon Holocaust Memorial located in Washington Park, Portland, Oregon.

This project was designed for teachers and students to experience the Oregon Holocaust Memorial from the perspective of instructors and learners. Other visitors can also use the tools and resources this site provides to enhance their experience.

For my contribution, I helped design a timeline using knightlab that describes the events leading up to the Holocaust to the end of WWII. The timeline was corroborated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and correlates with the events found on the memorial wall. All events were placed into two categories: the rise and fall of Hitler and the targeting of groups. This timeline can be used as a pre-visit tool for teachers to explain to students the events surrounding the Holocaust. I also put together a lesson that is compatible with the timeline (can be found on the time page).




Holocaust Memorial Project Maps

This semester, our class created a website for the Oregon Holocaust Memorial. This project, in conjunction with the Oregon Jewish Museum, was designed for use by teachers wanting to take their students on field trips to the memorial. Other visitors could also use the website to gain further background knowledge of the Holocaust and some of the survivors memorialized. For my contribution, I created maps to illustrate the location and death information of concentration and extermination camps in Europe, and the expansion of Nazi Germany throughout World War II.

I used ArcGIS Story Maps to create this map of concentration camps throughout Europe. I used data provided by the Oregon Jewish Museum to input location and death data for each camp, and found photos from each camp online. The embedded version does not look as nice as the original; click here for a direct link.

The map of German expansion during WWII was created with Knight Lab’s Juxtapose program. I found blank maps of Europe online and color coded the countries to represent German states and allies, as well as Ally associated states and countries.

These maps were intended to provide visuals that give a sense of place and scale of the locations and events of the Holocaust.
Featured image: Adobe Spark

A Survivor’s Journey Storymap

Link to Oregon Holocaust Memorial site

Direct link to StoryMap

In order to learn how to implement project-based learning into our instruction, we have been engaged in some project-based learning of our own. The memorial project has been incredibly motivational. It has compelled me with a powerful intrinsic drive that I am eager to pass onto my own students. For my part, I chose to work on generating a timeline based on the story of a survivor that calls Portland home. As someone that was raised Jewish I felt that I might have more of an understanding of some of the cultural references, and so sifting through stories could be a natural strength of mine as a contribution.

Before I could begin to work on a timeline I first had to select a story to portray. With dozens of survivor stories to choose from, I read as many as I could stand. It was an emotionally draining task, but also an important part of the learning process. Having an educational goal that required me to do this type of research made learning feel like discovery. In order to create a storymap that would be visually appealing and compelling, my main criteria were that the survivor had to have moved around a lot and had to be directly involved. I didn’t want to base the project off of an interview with someone describing what it was like for their family if they didn’t experience it directly, and I wasn’t looking for the story of someone who had bee-lined straight from Europe to Portland either. When I stumbled onto Manny’s story I knew that I had struck gold.

After reading through his account more than once, I picked out what I thought to be the most pertinent details as well as a list of everywhere he had lived on his exodus across the world. I used a free tool for creating interactive timelines on the website knightlab to bring all the pieces together.

I downloaded pictures from websites like Wikicommons and Flickr. These sites have photos that are within the public domain and have usage rights that permit them being re-published. Even though they are public domain, I made sure to cite them if the author requested it. I picked points on a world map that approximated stops on Manny’s journey, and in each location I added an image and blurb containing excerpts and paraphrased info from his interview. After editing the final product, the project was ready to be added to the website. If I had more time I would have liked to add two or three more. Maybe this could be a project for one of the classes that comes to visit the memorial.