After a lot of angst and near-heartbreak, the final projects for the Car Unit are done! (Well, as done as they are going to be; as always, there are a few students who did not complete the project, but overall this one is in the bag.)

Ultimately, in spite of a lot of mid-project frustration, the final product was pretty satisfying. Many of the students put some real work into these interviews and we got some great stories.

A brief overview:

This was the final project for a new interdisciplinary unit my team tried out with this year's 8th grade. The topic of the unit was "Cars" and the theme was "Responsibility". In each of the four core curriculum areas, we used automobiles as a platform to address certain core ideas. In my class (Social Studies), we looked at the history of horse manure in America and how cars were seen as a giant leap forward in social responsibility early in the 20th Century. We looked at Henry Ford and how he changed the face of American Labor and we looked at some of the social changes brought about by car culture.

For their final project in Social Studies, students were told to interview someone over the age of 35 about a lesson that they had learned in Responsibility from cars or driving. Students were given bonus points for each year over the age of 65 their interviewees were. [The goal was to encourage them to go out into the community and learn something from the older residents. Most interviewed their parents, though.]

When they had recorded their interviews the students edited them to around two minutes in length and made a one-slide PowerPoint presentation identifying who the interviewee was, what the essential lesson of Responsibility they took away from the interview was and including a relavent picture (with sources cited).

I took the individual slides and sound files and combined them into longer PowerPoint presentations that we watched in class. We went over each project according to the rubric the class had been given at the beginning of the project and the students participated in my grading of the project.

Once I had four complete PowerPoint presentations (one for each class), I tried to publish them online, so parents and a larger audience could view them. I did this in two ways:

I downloaded a freeware application called iSpring Converter that adds a tab to your PowerPoint menu bar that allows you to more-or-less instantly convert a PowerPoint slideshow into a flash animation movie that you can post on your website. This turned out to be really easy. It will allow us to post the projects directly on the DCS website and the quality of each movie is really good.

The next step was a little trickier.

I used another freeware program called AutoScreenRecorder to record each PowerPoint as it ran in real time, then used Windows Movie Maker to edit it and add the students' soundfiles to it. (I'll go into this in greater detail in a later post.)

This is not a big deal - I learned how to do all this last year on another student project. The bigger problem surfaced when I tried to post these movies online.

In the past, I've published videos of student work to TeacherTube, basically a school-safe version of YouTube. Unfortunately, this time around, there was some sort of glitch in the system. I uploaded one of the videos at school and the website said to hold on, this might take a few minutes, etc..., and after an hour or so, SOMETHING got uploaded to my TeacherTube account, but it wouldn't play and I kept getting odd error messages. I assumed this was a problem of our school's filter or of TeacherTube itself, so after trying again at home, I decided to upload the student movies to YouTube. I figured that it would carry a little more prestige with the students anyway.

My videos uploaded pretty well, but somehow were never ready to play. Finally, this morning, I looked at my YouTube account more closely and realized that - duh - the videos were way too long for YouTube, which does, after all, specialize in short video clips of beer commercials and waterskiing squirrels. (I say this with all the affection in the world. You know at this point the special place YouTube holds in my heart.)

Finally, I ended up uploading the videos to Vimeo, a different online video service, which seems to suit our needs for this particular project better.

Anyway, without any further ado, here are the 2009 student Car Projects:


Overall, I would classify this project as a qualified success. I will definitely try it again with next year's class.

Click here to view the New Hampshire State Department of Education Social Studies Frameworks standards adressed by the Car Unit.