LOY Profile Series(2)

from Technology & Learning

An Indiana teacher uses technology to feel the history.

Leader: Jon D. Carl

Teacher, Francis Joseph Reitz High School, Evansville, IN

School Snapshot: 1,450 students of which 29 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch and 6 percent are minority.

"We must learn how to use [television], make it speak our truths and tell our stories, our histories, in an honorable fashion." This quote from filmmaker Ken Burns is the first thing you would see if you visited the homepage of teacher Jon Carl's historical documentary class, Feel the History. It's an apt quote, as it describes what Carl, who teaches social studies at F.J. Reitz High School in Evansville, Indiana, is all about.

Carl's vision is simple: get students passionate about history by turning them into historians. To accomplish this, he created a class centered on documentary filmmaking. Students choose a topic, conduct research at local libraries, write a script, film video interviews, and create video segments of four to 15 minutes. District technology specialists and members of Evansville's local history community review these "rough cuts" for historical accuracy, technical merit, and storytelling interest. Students use the feedback to re-edit their pieces, which air on WNIN, the local PBS station, and are rebroadcast on the local NBC affiliate.

Given the high-tech nature of Carl's class projects, one might think he came into Feel the History with a technology bent. In fact, he had no experience at all with film production. In almost a year's time, however, Carl mastered Sony DSR-PD170 video cameras, wired and wireless microphones, document and photo scanning via Adobe Photoshop CS2, and video editing using Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0—and he has trained his students to do the same.

Because of Carl, students not only gain the tech skills of a filmmaker, but they also become historians in the community. During Evansville's Preservation Week, Carl's students presented a documentary they made about the city's 1938 vintage Art Moderne Greyhound bus station. Carl's students also crafted 30 interstitials—short video pieces that fill space in between programs—to accompany Burns's WWII documentary, The War. The interstitials were excerpts from interviews students had conducted with local veterans.

"Jon's use of technology has changed the way history is taught at our school," says F.J. Reitz High School principal Christine Settle. The Indiana Department of Education, the Indiana Historical Society, and the Indiana Computer Educators are among those who have also recognized the powerful impact of Carl's work.

Another measure of Feel the History's success has been its reception in the community. Evansville's mayor, other local community leaders, and members of the media attended formal previews of last year's documentaries. The Vanderburgh County Historical Society voted a student from Carl's class to join its board of directors. And the University of Southern Indiana launched a new course using Feel the History as a model.

Carl's colleagues praise his passion for history—and for his profession. "It's rare to find someone with the type of dedication Jon has to his school and his students," says Wendy McNamara, supervisor of social studies for the district. "His day begins well before the first bell and ends much after the last bell."

Learn more: www.feelthehistory.com

Last Byte: "What distinguishes Jon is his willingness to take risks and his unwavering dedication to historical education and preservation."
—Wendy McNamara

We'd like to thank Atomic Learning and netTrekker, sponsors of T&L's 2007 Leader of the Year program.