from Educators' eZine
Last fall, our new middle school principal visited with a number of students about the topic of Veteran's Day. She recalls, "The question on the table was how do we best honor our growing number of veterans in our community while preserving the meaning of what it means to have served our country. The response from the students was overwhelming, and helped guide us to the direction of using a podcast as a way to highlight the great wealth of information available to us in Ozaukee County. Students felt that we should 'tell the story' of local monuments as well as the many stories that interrelate on the topic of military service." Thus began our yearlong journey producing a twelve episode podcast series titled Honoring Veterans.
The project started with a press release that was sent to the local media. We decided to extend this project beyond our immediate community to our entire county where we discovered six American Legion Posts and four Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) Posts. The county administrator of veterans services pointed us in an interesting direction. He told us about an online state database of veteran memorials. A search of this database revealed twelve veteran memorials in Ozaukee County. The focus of our community service project now became clear: we would tell the stories behind these memorials and their connection with the communities and our county.
It was time to enlist the help of staff and students. Staff members contacted the American Legion Posts, historical societies, and anyone else who would have information to share about the veterans memorials. Our librarian contacted her peers in the neighboring communities. Information was gathered and brought to school to help students with their research. Then we assigned tasks to students. These tasks included: project managers, researchers, script writers, photographers, podcast engineers, and podcast narrators.
Through this project, students were engaged with the technology, but more importantly, learned about local history. For example, our community's American Legion Post is on the primary east-west highway through town. Many of us drive past the Legion Post daily without giving a second thought to the memorial or its name: the Howard J. Schroeder Post 427. Who was Howard J. Schroeder? None of us knew when we began this project. Many Legion Posts are named for a veteran. The mystery of these names began to pique our curiosity.
The project expanded beyond podcasts to photographing and mapping the memorials. Before spring break, a group of students visited each site to photograph the memorials as well as do crayon rubbings. Back at school, these crayon rubbings helped up visualize the size of the memorials as well as read the names and inscriptions. Another group of students remained at school that day to research information that had now been gathered through various sources.
Once the researchers were done, the information was organized and shared with the script writers. In this role, these students used a podcast storyboard that included common podcast elements for the entire series. These common podcast elements included a similar intro and outro of all twelve podcasts. In addition, each script writer had to tell the unique story of the assigned memorial as well as a student-created trivia question to make the podcasts even more engaging for listeners.
After completion of the podcast storyboards and scripts it was time to move into the technical production phase. One staff member coached the students on oral communication. Then we recorded and produced the podcasts. We used GarageBand for podcast production and enhanced our podcasts with photos of the veteran memorials as well as Keynote slides to convey text information in the video track of the enhanced podcast. A PTO grant funded external USB Blue Snowball microphones that helped us maintain quality audio levels throughout the podcasts.
The final product was a website produced with iWeb. The site contains a Google Map of the veteran memorials in the county. Embedded within the map are photos of each memorial. The site also has feature photos and a slideshow that was produced for Memorial Day 2008. The twelve enhanced podcasts are the centerpiece of the site. One final piece is still "under construction." That is an identification of each memorial at Waymarking.com that we intend to complete before these students graduate from eighth grade in spring.
Through our research, we became acquainted with brave individuals who long ago served our country, including some who made the ultimate sacrifice:
- Howard J. Schroeder was a well-decorated World War II pilot who perished in the South Pacific,
- Peter Wollner died in France during World War I.
- 34 victims and 170 surviving crew members of the 1967 USS Liberty Incident are honored at the Grafton Public Library, named in memory of this Navy technical research ship: The USS Liberty Memorial Library.
- Six students from Grafton High School who did not return home from World War II are memorialized in front of the old high school.
- The new memorials at the Ozaukee County Justice Center are etched with the names of all veterans of our county who died while serving us by serving their country.
- The oldest memorial in our county was dedicated in 1933 by the Cedarburg Chapter - American War Mothers. They remembered veterans of the Civil, Spanish and World War (I) veterans.
In May 2008, approximately 60 seventh graders toured Washington DC. We saw many sites, but one brought our thoughts back to the veteran memorials of Ozaukee County. That is the marker at the Korean War Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC. There, the words are etched in stone that summarize the experience of producing this podcast series: Freedom is not free. This image of this inscription is the iTunes artwork of the Honoring Veterans podcast project and our lasting memory of these brave veterans.
Hopefully this project will leave a lasting memory for students. Throughout their lives as they work, play and travel throughout Ozaukee County, they will see these memorials. We hope that our students will also remember working on the Honoring Veterans podcast series. The veteran memorials and the enhanced podcasts are a memory of those who gave their lives so we could live in freedom.
Dick Diener is a Technology Integrator-Middle School, Mequon-Thiensville School District, Mequon WI.