Franklin Remixed: Learners Creating Knowledge

To honor Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday, these four Philadelphia organizations: The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary The Rosenbach Museum and Library The University of The Arts NightKitchen Interactive joined together with a group of middle school students to develop an original and inventive
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To honor Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday, these four Philadelphia organizations:

joined together with a group of middle school students to develop an original and inventive online exhibition with a big difference – as it was designed by middle school students for middle school students.

Students visited two museum exhibitions— the Tercentenary’sBenjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World and the Rosenbach’s Poor Richards: Anatomy of an Almanac, and then participated in a three-week mini-course comprised of a mix of teacher-facilitated discussions, small group activities, and hands-on multimedia design work. The fruits of their effort can be found at Franklin Remixed: Ben – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Franklin Remixed effectively blended three specific learning objectives: deepening students’ knowledge of a topic (in this case, Benjamin Franklin); instructing students on the basic skills and strategies needed to design an exhibition; and providing students with a chance to ‘create knowledge’ (their own narrative of Franklin). Even better, all of this was done using inexpensive, user-friendly Web 2.0 services. The program’s end product—a Website created by the students using graphics, blogging and podcast tools—has been very well received, but the course’s success was predicated not on outcome, but on process. The course genuinely immersed students in a collaborative journey that necessitated learning more deeply about a subject matter so that they could more fully express that subject in their online design work.

The project's next great strength rests on its ability to be replicated in a wide variety of subject disciplines, and with students of varying ages and learning styles. And while we employed a large faculty staff because the project was conceived as an inter-institutional project, it is readily scaleable and can be conducted by one teacher in one classroom, or a team of teachers in one school, with the assistance of one computer specialist.

The inter-institutional team (comprised of three museum educators and one multi-media designer) conceptualized and developed the basic course curriculum. 1 Our goal was to create a model museum education program designed for cross-discipline learning which would provide students with a creative, engaging way to learn about Benjamin Franklin and his shaping of the American character. We piloted the course with a group of middle school students from The Philadelphia School (TPS), an independent school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and had generous classroom assistance from two experienced educators. 2

First Steps — Visits to Exhibition and Setting Up Mini-Course

The first step was to visit the two Franklin exhibitions. We had a total of 90 TPS students (grades six through eight) visit both the Tercentenary and Rosenbach exhibitions. 3 Shortly after their visits, TPS offered to all 90 students a selection of mini-courses, each a series of ten 80-minute classes conducted over a three-week period, including one on Franklin. Fifteen of those 90 students signed up for the Franklin multi-media course, understanding that the project would focus on creating an online exhibition.

Prior to our first meeting with the students, the teaching team met to flesh out the curriculum for the entire course. Using the free photo-sharing Website Flickr, we assembled a database of artifact images culled from the two exhibitions.

Curriculum

Because class time was 80-minutes, most classes featured a mix of instruction, discussion and hands-on activities. Content usually spanned the three learning goals and covered the substantive teaching of Franklin, basic principles of exhibition design, and work with the various multimedia tools. Of course the “curriculum” began with the official visits to the two exhibitions.

The sections designed to foster learning about Franklin derived from lesson plans contained in the Tercentenary’s Ben Across the Curriculum materials and the Teachers Guide to the Exhibition, both available on the Tercentenary Website. The goal of this more traditional class work was to deepen students’ knowledge of Franklin and his role in the founding period.

The exhibition design portion of the classes began with object interpretation exercises and then, building on students’ growing knowledge of the subject matter, shifted to students’ identifying the exhibit’s “big idea” and the central themes to support that idea. Following the identification of the “big idea” and the five supporting themes, we divided students into five groups, three students per group, and assigned each one of the five themes to further develop. The students’ first task was to visit the image databaseset up before the course began to select five or six images that illustrated their themes. Once they picked images, students had to compose label copy for each image. The purpose of the label copy was not only to describe what the image was but, even more importantly, to explain how that image related to the theme it was intended to illustrate.

This phase of the mini-course,—identifying central themes, populating those themes with images, and writing explanatory text for those images—was probably the most valuable exercise for inculcating in the students a more in-depth understanding of Franklin and the founding era.

The technology portion of the curriculum appeared in the first class but grew in time and importance once the substantive content work of the course had been completed. The first class centered on introducing students to the suite of tools they would use to create their online exhibition. Each succeeding class had students working with one or more of these tools in an effort to have them both master the technology and create something meaningful with their increased understanding of the subject matter.

Those faculty members comfortable with the basic Web 2.0 tools used for blogging, for image software, and for podcasting helped facilitate the multimedia design portion of the classes.

Documentation and Evaluation of Franklin Remixed

A more complete documentation of this course is available at “About the Project” on the Franklin Remixed Website. There you can find the results of a course-long assessment that strove to measure its cognitive and affective impact on the participating students. The 75 students who visited the two exhibitions but did not partake in the mini-course served as the control group for this evaluation. Overall, this evaluation demonstrated that combining subject matter learning with creating an online exhibition using digital media tools, both deepened these middle schoolers knowledge of Franklin and engendered great pride in their ability to share that knowledge with other students across the country.

Footnotes:

1 The team consisted of Dana Devon, Director of Educational Programming, Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary; Bill Adair, Director of Education, Rosenbach Museum and Library; Beth Twiss-Garrity, Director of Museum Education, University of the Arts; Matthew Fisher, President and Lead Programmer, NightKitchen Interactive.

2 The Philadelphia School faculty members included Emily Marston, co-principal, and Rick Jacobsen, art teacher and technology assistant.

3 The Tercentenary’s exhibition, Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, is an 8000-square-foot international traveling exhibition comprised of immersive environments, hands-on interactives and a rich array of rare documents, artifacts and original works of art. This exhibition launched in Philadelphia in December 2005, and will tour in St. Louis, Houston, Denver and Atlanta before closing in Paris in 2008. The Rosenbach Museum and Library exhibition, Poor Richards’: Anatomy of an Almanac,” featured a selection of Poor Richard almanacs (1737–1758), many annotated by statesman Isaac Norris. This exhibition ran from December 15, 2005 - April 30, 2006.

Email:Dana Devon

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