Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More interesting than morbid: Find A Grave

The past few months have been stressful: new job, holidays, and fighting all the germs kids bring with them to the library.  So I wanted to find something fun and different to feature for January.  Well, I found something unique and addictive in a disquieting way: Find A Grave (www.findagrave.com).  Images of the memorials and headstones of the rich, famous and infamous are of course included on the site, but biographies of the individuals are also shared.  While I can't speak to the accuracy of the biographical information, it would at least provide interesting tidbits to encourage further research.

My searches included one celebrity whose grave I wanted to confirm and one infamous federal agent buried in the same cemetery as John D. Rockefeller and President Garfield.  While driving back roads through central Ohio years ago, my husband and I saw a gravestone that marked the resting place of Paul Lynde.  Could it be true?!?  Is "Uncle Arthur" from the television show Bewitched actually buried near Mount Vernon, Ohio?  Well, according to the good folks at Find A Grave, it is, indeed, the final resting place of the comedian.

I also searched for Eliot Ness, a T-Man whose Untouchables brought down Al Capone.  I've visited Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery many times (President Garfield is buried here: the only President of the United States whose coffin is displayed for the public to see; Wade Chapel is a must-see: Interior designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany).  I'd heard that Ness is buried here, but was blocked from viewing his grave by road crews.  Well, here it is!  Of course, I'll visit again as soon as I can.

Aside from the graves of the rich and famous at Lake View, walking through the cemetery is like walking through Cleveland's history.  I bet you can find similar spots in a city near you that provide an opportunity to discuss local history in a unique way.  If you can't leave home, or if the folks you'd like to visit are too far away, I recommend a virtual visit through Find A Grave.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Did Wonderstruck make anyone else curious?

I just finished reading Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck.  Once again, I find his ability to tell a story in words and images remarkable.  Yet I also discovered that he and I may be kindred spirits.  Museums, even going all the way back to "curiosity cabinets," fascinate me.  Like the children in this book feel, I think I could run away to a museum to live happily ever after.  Anyway, finishing the book made me realize that many people are not familiar with the world's first museums, which were curated by average people sharing their collections in a box or in a whole room in their homes.  These earliest museums were called "cabinets of curiosities" or "cabinets of wonder."  Hmmm, I know most children collect something, maybe they can be encouraged to be curators and share their interests, their knowledge, with others?

I found several resources online that could make interesting lesson plans, or just interesting projects to break the boredom of Winter Break.  First, I found a lesson plan developed at Union City High School (PA): http://www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/lessons/middle/Kris-curio.htm.  Students learn what a curiosity cabinet is and then, using PhotoShop software, create virtual cabinets of their own.  Very high tech!  The students learned to use images with permission (hooray for an information literacy/copyright lesson imbedded in a fun project).  Then the students "collected" curios using images on eBay and added them to their cabinets.  Sounds like fun!

Then I discovered that the J. Paul Getty Museum has an online exhibit with lesson plan called "A Curious Cabinet."  From this page students can launch an exploration of an actual cabinet from the Getty collection.  The lesson is recommended for students in grades 6-12.  A teacher guide and a student guide, both in PDF format, are downloadable from the same Web page.  I can imagine spending hours exploring the drawers and shelves of this piece!

My last stop was to the Webexhibits.org page.  From the "What's an exhibit?" link, the history of cabinets of wonder is explained and then put in context of this websites determination to continue the tradition through Web exhibits.  The site includes a handful of exhibits currently accessible (the plan is to continue adding collections) as well as explanations on developing your own collection.  Their goal is to be a primary resource "to take multidisciplinary approach that provides something for everyone."  I enjoyed browsing their "curiosity cabinets" and plan to refer to them for future projects.

After learning about early museums and collection, I think we can all encourage our kids to be curators of their own collections.  Just pass 'em a cigar box or the empty carton the new TV came in and let 'em figure out how they want to display their own unique collections.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What are you learning this month, Pilgrim?

Seems like November always means Thanksgiving to me.  In 2009, my November post (actually posted at the end of October for November) included a visit to Plimoth Plantation.  In somewhat of a revisit, I checked for other Pilgrim museum resources and discovered the Pilgrim Hall Museum.  On their home page (http://www.pilgrimhall.org/plgrmhll.htm), their mission statement and a brief history of the museum is included.  The most important resources for teachers, students and families are the links located in the left-hand menu.  From this list you can discover The Pilgrim Story and Beyond the Pilgrim Story.  Both pages include overview information and then links to more specific information.  My short time spent exploring yielded a great deal of information that was easily accessible and well organized.  The "New Exhibit" link provided images and background information about items in the collection.  The "Learning" link included resources for learning online and learning from books.  I found this a really informative and easy to use website.

If you're worried that the museum exhibits and resources are only about the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock, you will be pleasantly surprised.  There is information about Native Americans and African Americans at the Plymouth Colony.  I was impressed by the inclusion of primary sources, like the Mayflower Compact, provisions lists and texts of letters and treaties.

Before you settle in to craft some turkeys and cornucopias, be sure to check out the historical resources here!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Are you ready for Day of the Dead?

Why not get in the spirit of Halloween and learn a little something about Latino culture?  Thanks to several opportunities on the Web, you have choices for just how immersed you get in Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

I know, I know, you're probably expecting Smithsonian museum resources.  And I've got 'em, a whole variety of opportunities to either scratch the surface or dive right into the holiday.  First, I started by visiting the Smithsonian Latino Center's Dia de lost Muertos/Day of the Dead Festival home page (http://latino.si.edu/education/LVMDayoftheDeadFestival.htm).  There are so very many ways to learn about the celebration.  A lesson plan by Nancy Green, called "Calaveras on Wheels, " explores the Day of the Dead through the art of Jose Guadalupe Posada.  Take a look here: http://latino.si.edu/PDF/LVM_D%C3%ADa_de_los_Muertos_Lesson_1.pdf.

But I was most interested in the opportunity to actually visit a Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead Festival thanks to Smithsonian's efforts in Second Life.  This virtual world application allows visitors to explore 3-D worlds.  I took some time exploring the Virtual Museum.  Wow!  I can just imagine pulling this up on a SmartBoard and exploring the art, music, culture and festivities in this Virtual Museum.  A link to the Second Life festival is available from the Smithsonian Latino Center page noted above.  You have to have a Second Life account and avatar to participate, but it's a free account.  The festival activities take place October 31-November 2, 2011.  You can download a PDF map of the festival to plan your participation.

Not able to use Second Life at school or don't have enough time to fully participate?  Then you can use an interactive application on the website to learn more about Dia de los Muertos and even build a virtual ofrenda (altar) here: http://latino.si.edu/DayoftheDead/.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September is Disaster Preparedness Month by Presidential Proclamation

On August 31, the White House issued a Presidential Proclamation that September 2011 will be Disaster Preparedness Month.  The first paragraph reads:
Whenever our Nation has been challenged, the American people have responded with faith, courage, and strength.  This year, natural disasters have tested our response ability across all levels of government.  Our thoughts and prayers are with those whose lives have been impacted by recent storms, and we will continue to stand with them in their time of need.  This September also marks the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, which united our country both in our shared grief and in our determination to prevent future generations from experiencing similar devastation.  Our Nation has weathered many hardships, but we have always pulled together as one Nation to help our neighbors prepare for, respond to, and recover from these extraordinary challenges.
It's funny because as I contemplated what to focus on in this blog for September, I reflected on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and the spate of natural disasters the United States faced throughout the summer.  When I read about the Presidential Proclamation, I figured my decision had been made for me!

Disaster Preparedness Resources for Children
In my children's book and resources blog, KidsRead, I reviewed the FEMA for Kids website (http://www.fema.gov/kids/).  The Federal Emergency Management Agency sponsors a page full of materials to help children prepare for and learn about disasters of all kinds through activities, games, and downloads (including checklists to print).  If knowledge is power, children are sure to feel empowered by the resources on this website.  And with an attractive layout, engaging cartoon characters, and materials appropriate for a range of age groups, getting kids to use the site regularly should be no problem.  Use it in a classroom, as a family, or just assign a project to an upper elementary student and emergency preparedness won't seem so scary.

FEMA also sponsors a website called Citizen Corps.  On their Youth Preparedness page (http://www.citizencorps.gov/ready/kids.shtm), there are lists of links for parents and educators as well as a list of links to websites with activities.  Some links include PDF files to download.  Links in the box on the right side of the page include links to independent study courses, safety for kids, and other resources by topic (such as a flu epidemic).

For information about specific emergencies, or what to do in certain disaster scenarios, the American Red Cross has a page with information to download in a variety of languages at Preparedness Fast Facts (http://rdcrss.org/RGrQo). There is a General Preparedness guide and specific guides for disasters including earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, and fire.  Guides are even available for what to do after the disaster, when returning home.  Links in the menu in the left margin provide information online about various disaster scenarios.  Other resources are also listed in this menu.

Finally, for a quick download, visit http://1.usa.gov/ozL2bx for a coloring book.  Sponsored by California's Emergency Management Agency, the coloring book covers topics from when to call 9-1-1 to what to do in specific disasters and emergencies.  Download the whole thing or just pages that your class is working on.

Remembering 9/11
Perhaps the greatest reason to declare September Disaster Preparedness is the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on U.S. soil 10 years ago.  High school students in particular will remember the event with the eyes of preschoolers, the age they were when the attacks occurred.  For all of us, finding a way to remember, discuss and look to the future will help us feel more secure.

One way to remember is to visit an archive of news.  The Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org/details/911) has a page full of links to actual television footage on 9/11 and the days that followed.  Also included are links to perspectives on the news coverage of the event.  This website is rich with resources that would facilitate a discussion of the history of the event along with how the media covered the tragedies.

For another portal to historical references, the Newseum has an online exhibit called 9/11: How It Changed US (http://www.newseum.org/exhibits-and-theaters/online-exhibits/9-11/).  Their exhibit includes links to the Newseum's YouTube channel and USA Today coverage of the terrorist attacks.

The previous two sites offer historical background which not only helps students remember 9/11, but also to discuss the event.  What happened?  Why did it happen?  How has our country changed to prevent another terrorist attack?  The Department of Homeland Security has links for information about what they do and how things have changed in the department in the past 10 years.  An interesting page that lends itself to this discussion is the National Terrorism Advisory System (http://www.dhs.gov/files/programs/ntas.shtm).  Links and downloads include information about the current advisory level, a public guide, and a FAQ page.

When we look to the future, it's hard to imagine what the 9/11 Memorial will look like at Ground Zero.  The National September 11 Memorial & Museum (which currently only exists online) has a page that provides virtual tours through a live webcam and an animations.  You can view it all from here: http://www.911memorial.org/take-virtual-visit1 (be sure to scroll to the bottom for the link to the animations).

And last, but not least, President Obama and the First Lady are urging Americans to visit Serve.gov (http://www.serve.gov/), a portal to volunteer opportunities across the country.  On September 11, the First Family hopes that all Americans will remember the day by offering their time in a volunteer effort.  Through Serve.gov, volunteer opportunities can be matched by location and interest.  There's even a toolkit for creating your own service project or event.