A picture tells a thousand words

Example of student work

My goodness, how time flies. Sadly, no March posts, but we'll start April off right with a new idea for using iPads in the classroom.

The Spanish Civil War is one of my favorite topics, but I find it hard to teach to my Spanish 4 students, who are mostly sophomores and do not have a lot of the content background to understand the historical context or significance of that time period in Spain. I've struggled with this for years, but this year I think I finally found a good way for students to get the general idea while staying in the target language.

Propaganda is a great way to teach history (see last year's post on the topic). This year, instead of crowdsourcing, I chose four typical propaganda posters--two from the Republican side and two from the Nationalist side--and beamed them out to my students as JPEG image files via Showbie. Their task was to identify what was in the picture and explain the message. Then they were to group like images together and give each group a name. They used Skitch to write on the images and PicCollage or PicStitch to create a "collage" of the images, which they then saved to their camera roll and uploaded to Showbie.

This was one of the better results. If you know the Spanish Civil War, you can see that the student correctly identified the Republican/Communist side ("Promot[ing] people to fight in the war") and the Nationalist/Fascist side ("Spain is unstoppable"). The student did this with little to no background information about the political atmosphere in 1930s Spain, but she was able to interpret the iconography of each image accurately and draw logical conclusions about their purpose. 

In my traditional, non-iPad class, I made black-and-white photocopies of each image and had students do the same activity on a worksheet. While I think they did just as well as the iPad class, I think the students who could manipulate the images had a better learning experience. In the iPad class, the images were in color, and students were able to zoom in and out as well as actually make a product with their own creative stamp on it. The activity took a little longer in the iPad class (it's that layering of complexity that's to blame) but, like I said, I think the kids were more engaged and stimulated. I would definitely do this type of activity again--I think it could work as a prelearning activity, or a comprehension check, or even a formal quiz, for lessons about history, art, literature, geography, architecture, cultural practices... anything where a picture might communicate ideas more efficiently than a reading.

How do you use images to help students understand complex ideas?