From cave art to social media…

It’s that time of year again – time for the Research PowerPoint assignment. Each year I tweak it a bit, but the idea is to have kids connect to how their today technology came into being.

Try this: challenge your kids to think for five minutes about spending a weekend – a day – without using any technology. If you think you can get away with it, make the challenge real and see if they want to try it.

Now take them back 10-40,000 years…to a simpler time. A time when man was just learning to stand erect and communicated with grunts. Whoa! Early language. Look at those cave walls – early art. Early audio visual communication!

As I explain the topics, I try to connect them to today’s descendants.

1. Cave art to Egyptian Hieroglyphs
2. Johannes Gutenberg & the printing press (remember, very few people could read until reading material become common)
3. Camera Obscura to pinhole camera/Photography – from seeing the image to making the image permanent
4. Guglielmo Marconi and the telegraph – had to drag cables hundreds and thousands of miles to send a signal consisting of noise
5. Samuel B. Morse and the wireless telegraph – the equivalent of today’s cell phones; freedom to send a morse code signal without any wires
6. William R. Hearst and early newspapers – how news went from the Town Crier to print
7. Thomas Edison and movies – moving images were so startling that people would pay to watch a short of a woman riding a bicycle/how have our filmmaking expectations changed since then
8. Alexander G. Bell and the telephone – everyone say thank you Mr. Bell for my mobile device
9. Frank Conrad and KDKA vs. KCBS – as proof that history is constantly being rewritten, this past year the title bearer for first radio station with regularly scheduled programming may have shifted from Frank Conrad (in all the history books as first) to KCBS in San Francisco…which went on the air in 20042009.
10. Philo Farnsworth and TV – legend has it he came up with the concept that made television possible as a 14 year old watching the sun run over a field of newly dug-up potatoes on his family farm.
11. Edward R. Murrow and broadcast news – he helped shape the news we see today
12. Recording media (from film to videotape to digital) – if ya can’t save the information, there would be no re-runs.
13. Computers and the Internet – a revolution that is still ongoing
14. eBay and craigslist – have contributed to the demise of newspapers
15. Social media – we used to talk with each other/what happened?
16. Journalism and Ethics – how journalism ethics gives credibility to the news media
17. First Amendment and the Media – what freedoms do you as a student have and what freedoms do the media have under the First Amendment

The kiddos (in teams of three) choose topics from the above list, have three weeks to research and create a 14 slide PowerPoint (including title slide and works cited slide) with four images and either music throughout or appropriate sound FX (think Morse code). Oh – and extra credit for an inserted video that contributes to student understanding of the topic.

Of course I review the entire assignment in class and then over the three week period review each segment of the assignment and check on their progress.

Now for the beautiful part – when I hand this out, I tell the students I have a choice of either doing five days of lecture on history or making them do all the work. I always choose the latter.

After they hand in the completed PPTs, I check them over and for five or six days students lecture the class on the history of communications. Everyone takes notes – even me. I then assemble what I call “The Mother of All PowerPoints” using their presentations (and adding anything I feel they missed), which is followed two days later by the “Mother of All Tests.” My standard is, if you take notes, you can use them. If you don’t, you get to hang and dry.

Ah…life is sweet.

Addendum: Regarding content of the presentations; students must include information on the person or company’s origins and how they grew (or grew up), what they did that was a contribution to mass communication and why the contribution was important. If an invention – who invented it, when was it invented, how does the invention work and why is it important to mass com.

Addendum 9/2/09
For your teachers out there: the mini deadlines are to choose a topic, list the roles of each student on the team (researcher, PowerPoint creator, presenter or some other combination), list the print/internet resources (names of books, magazines, URLs of web sites), and finally list the graphics/art/photographs (URLS if downloaded), music (title/artist), sound FX, and videos (self-created/URL if downloaded).

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