My Heritage

We may fear artificial intelligence with all of its potential harmful uses, but as with all technology it brings benefits as well. One of those is being employed by a website called My Heritage. A site for tracing and keeping records of your ancestry, it has recently added a new tool called, “Deep Nostalgia.” You can apply it to your photographs in order to animate them, and it can be quite enchanting. Of course the intent is to help you to imagine relatives from the past as they might have been when alive. But I played around with it to see how historical figures could be brought to life.

Since it is Women’s History Month, I looked for a website that listed past women who have made an impact on the world. I came across Bessie Coleman, the first Native American (she was part Cherokee) to get a pilot’s license. I was drawn to Bessie’s smiling image because it reminded me of some of the teenagers I taught in the past, and I immediately wanted to know her. I downloaded the following photo from Wikipedia.

I then went to My Heritage, where I had already created a free account, and uploaded the photo to my album. When you open a photo in your collection, you see an option to animate it in the top right corner. It takes a few moments to “apply its magic,” and then your video appears. There are several different ways to animate the image, so you can play around with trying different movements that seem to fit the personality of the portrait. When finished, it is saved to your album, and you can share it multiple ways, including downloading it.

Don’t you wish you could meet this young lady?

Of course, my curiosity is never quenched, so my next attempt was to find an image of someone from history before photography existed. I found a drawing of Boudica, legendary warrior queen, uploaded it to the site, and waited with skepticism. However, this also produced amazing results. I haven’t tried rudimentary drawings, like stick figures, but I have a feeling there are probably limits to this artificial intelligence tool.

My Heritage also has an app, so you can use pretty much any device to animate the images. The videos are short, but just long enough to make you feel like you are glimpsing through a window into the past. If I was a history teacher, I would definitely use My Heritage to help my students connect to people who may seem irrelevant and unreal (if they are even mentioned) in the pages of a textbook.

Historic Tale Construction Kit

I was in an admittedly unwarranted foul mood this morning while I wracked my brains for a blog post. I have plenty of ideas, but none of them felt “right” for today. Then I ran across this Twitter thread I had saved, originated by Professor Annie Oakley Rides Again (@ProfAnnieOakley) and couldn’t stop laughing at all of the replies. The professor let her art history students use the “Historic Tale Construction Kit,” and once she shared the link with her Twitter followers to this tool hilarity ensued. Click on the image below to see some of the responses in the thread. (Warning: some images are not suitable for children.)

I know you’ll want to try it, too. To add text, click on the background. (May not work on mobile phones.) A few of the images are a bit gruesome, but I know my high school students would have had a blast with this. Some teachers have their students use memes to make rules for the classroom, and this would be a fun alternative. Retelling a modern tale or current event in this setting could also result in some creative products. As you can see in the example below, Margaret McLarty (@MagsMcLarty) designed a Queen-inspired tapestry.

designed by @MagsMcLarty using Historic Tale Construction Kit

Tag me if you or your students design something clever with this tool!

Merge Mercy with Might

UPDATE 1/25/2021: Here is a collection of resources to use if your class is studying Amanda Gorman or Inauguration poetry.

If you couldn’t tell from Monday’s post, I had already fallen in love with the poetry of Amanda Gorman. When our nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate read “The Hill We Climb” at the Inauguration today, I was moved to tears. Her words acknowledge the weight we carry while simultaneously lifting us almost effortlessly to a peak where we can look all around and see new hope. The poem declares that we can be strong as we admit our faults, and move on to correct them in a way that will both heal and empower us.

I added the link to the PBS New Hour lesson that was posted almost immediately following Gorman’s recitation to my list of Inauguration resources, but I wanted to give it a separate place here. For teaching ideas and a transcript of the poem, follow this link. Introduce this incredibly gifted young woman to your students because they are sure to hear more from her in the future.

Make Your Own Time Capsule

If you have not discovered the Smithsonian Learning Lab yet, you are in for a great surprised. Here are some of the previous posts that I’ve written about the quality educational programming SLL provides. One of their latest projects is to offer a monthly challenge. For this month, it is to “Make Your Own Time Capsule.” I think that most of us would agree that this is definitely a year for the history books, and that describing it to future generations would be a lot more helpful with artifacts. Whether you endeavor to do this at home or at school, the Learning Lab gives you the resources to do it.

You can begin by using the Learning Lab Collection that explains what a time capsule is, and the history of them. Then you can look at a carefully curated sample collection from the National Postal Museum for the year of 1918 – when airmail began (the same year the Armistice was signed, ending World War I, which was the impetus behind our celebration of Veterans Day in the United States). Finally, you can watch a video that shows a unique way to make your very own time capsule. (You may need to be logged in to view these resources. Registration is free.)

With historical and scientific connections, you could easily bring in math and language arts to make this an interdisciplinary unit that would be engaging and relevant for your students – perhaps during those challenging weeks between the end of November and the winter holidays?

If you do something that you would like to share with the world during the challenge period (November 10 – December 8, 2020) , be sure to tag it #SmithsonianEdu.

© Copyright Oliver Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Smithsonian Summer Road Trip

The Smithsonian and USA Today have joined forces to produce a free, 40-page packet of activities, “Summer Road Trip.”  To read more about what is included, and to download the free PDF, visit this article by Darren Milligan for the Smithsonian Learning Lab. The Learning Lab is one of my favorite places to find quality educational materials, including lesson plans, videos, and professional development.  Click here to see some other posts that I’ve done on this blog about specific Smithsonian Learning Lab resources.

Map with Toy Car
Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay

A Woman’s Place

Anne Showalter, who works at the Smithsonian American Art Museum has created this resource for educators, “A Woman’s Place is in the Curriculum: Teaching Women’s History Through American Art and Portraiture,” a wonderful compilation to use for Women’s History Month from the Smithsonian Learning Lab.  There are three Learning Lab Collections that are free to use: “Persisting and Resisting: Exploring Women as Activists,” “Who Tells Your Story: Exploring Women and Identity,” and “Remaking the Rules: Exploring Women Who Broke Barriers.”

(You can find out more about Smithsonian’s Learning Lab here.)

Each collection contains images and artwork for the theme, as well as a webinar for each topic.  The webinars were done live late last year, but you can watch the archived videos to get ideas for discussion and background information about the assets provided in the collection.  “Exploring Women Who Broke Barriers” has a Powerpoint Presentation from the Webinar here.  “Persisting and Resisting’s” Powerpoint can be found here. I might have missed it, but I do not see one for “Who Tells Your Story.”

I like how the presentations give ideas for using Visible Thinking Routines from Project Zero in to develop deep discussions about the artwork.  (You can see some other posts I’ve done about using a couple of these routines here and here.)

Since it’s Women’s History Month in the United States, you may want to consider adding at least portions of these to your curriculum for March.  But I think you will see that there are enough resources to make for enriched learning throughout the year!

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Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution. “Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Sun Mad.” Smithsonian Learning Lab, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, 2 Nov. 2015. learninglab.si.edu/q/r/166274. Accessed 5 Mar. 2020.