At a Glance

  • Early elementary students often struggle with reading and writing. How can they record and reflect on what they learn? First-grade teacher Jennifer Orr asks her students to take pictures on a field trip to Washington, DC, to create a class video on the monuments and memorials they see. Back in the classroom, the students help Orr organize the pictures and decide on and record the narration.

Recording Experiences with First Graders

Recording the Monuments Bringing the Field Trip Back to the Classroom Thinking Back on Experiences Visual Thinkers

Video Transcription

  • Recording the Monuments
  • Bringing the Field Trip Back to the Classroom
  • Thinking Back on Experiences
  • Visual Thinkers

  • 3:08
  • 6:18
  • 5:28
  • 2:39
  • Jennifer Orr: We decided as a team that walking around the Tidal Basin would be a field trip—it’s not a field trip we have ever done before so it was a new experiment. But our students often don’t get into Washington, DC, in spite of the fact that we live 10 miles south of the city. Many of our kids don’t ever cross the Potomac River. So it’s a goal of ours every year to somehow take them into the city and see the monuments and memorials.

    Jennifer Orr: Anthony, what does it say?

    Student: It’s a note.

    Jennifer Orr: It’s explaining about his wheelchair. He didn’t want people to know that he was in a wheelchair so he didn’t want a wheelchair that looked like a regular wheelchair.

    Jennifer Orr: Eddie, this is called braille. For people who are blind and they can’t see, each of these collections of dots shows a letter. So this shows the letter L, this shows the letter I. So they would feel it with their fingers to read it because they’re people who can’t see. Can you imagine reading with your fingers instead of your eyes?

    Student: No.

    Jennifer Orr: So we did a little bit of preparation before we went, looking at a map and making our own map and looking at pictures of the three different memorials we would be visiting to sort of give the kids some background knowledge before we got there. And we spent some time practicing with the cameras. We’ve used the camera all year, but we’ve never taken them off site.

    Jennifer Orr: When FDR was president almost 100 years ago, things in the United States were very rough. A lot of people did not have jobs. People who did have jobs often didn’t have a lot of money. So you see people waiting in line here. They’re waiting for either a job or for food because people were having—when he was president he had a big job of trying to make people’s lives better in the United States.

    Jennifer Orr: They had the mechanics of using the cameras but I wanted them to really be thinking about we’re going to take these pictures back and make a movie with them, you want to take pictures of things that are meaningful and not just random shots of your friends. So we practiced with that before we went. And then on the field trip between digital cameras and Flip video cameras I had enough cameras for about one out of every two students so they had to share them.

    They took mostly pretty meaningful pictures. There are very few pictures of just the other kids in the class. They’re mostly pictures of the monuments. There’s pictures of the Tidal Basin and pictures of the ducks in the Tidal Basin. But for my kids who don’t get to get outside and certainly aren’t just spending time at a park with ducks, that’s actually a pretty memorable piece of the field trip to them.

    Cameras really kept them focused and engaged and made it easier for them not to feel a great urge to jump into any of the fountains at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial or climb on the rocks there. Things that I think would have held their interests more then the actual memorial without the cameras but looking through that lens and trying to think about what was important kept their focus on what they were seeing.

  • Jennifer Orr: One of the challenges with a field trip I think is that it’s easy to just go on the field trip and have that be the whole learning experience. And so building into the field trip and building after the field trip are a real goal of mine so that it has more meaning to these kids and it doesn’t just become something that they sort of remember running around the Tidal Basin.

    Jennifer Orr: And we need to put them in the order that we visited these monuments so that we can talk about them. So can you tell which monument this is? Let’s see. Leia, which one is that?

    Student: The Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    Jennifer Orr: That is. You remember that little puppy?

    Students: Yeah.

    Jennifer Orr: That’s the Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Was that the first one we visited?

    Students: Yeah.

    Jennifer Orr: It was. That’s where we started. So that’s the first, perfect. Is that still from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt?

    Students: No.

    Jennifer Orr: No. Which one is this? Which one is this, Mohamed?

    Student: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

    Jennifer Orr: That’s the Jefferson. Was that the first one we visited?

    Students: No.

    Jennifer Orr: Was that the second?

    Students: Yes.

    Jennifer Orr: Oh, okay. So we have the first one and the second one. What’s that one? Whisper it for me.

    Students: The second.

    Jennifer Orr: It was the second. Which memorial was it?

    Students: The Jefferson.

    Jennifer Orr: It’s the Jefferson. So, we’ve got the Jefferson. What’s that one?

    Students: Washington.

    Jennifer Orr: The Washington. We are going to put it last ‘cause we didn’t actually get to visit it.

    Jennifer Orr: So I’m going through their pictures and having them look back at their pictures and we started on Friday just thinking about what we remembered and we just brainstormed words that we remembered about each of the memorials so that immediately after the field trip we were tapping into what we already knew and we wouldn’t forget it over the next few days. And then we listened to some biographies and again jotted down words so that today we could take our pictures and see if we remembered what—where did these pictures come from? Did they come from this memorial or that memorial? And just sort of get our head back into thinking about where we were in each of those different points. And then what do we know about that person? What did we learn? Why were they important? What were their contributions to our country? So that the field trip really becomes something that they carry around with them, the meaning of it, rather than just the fun of it.

    Jennifer Orr: So was this one the first one we visited or the second one or the third one?

    Students: First.

    Jennifer Orr: The first. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to drag this picture and move it back over here in the beginning. So that we have the Franklin Delano Roosevelt pictures together and then the Jefferson pictures together and then after that we’ll have the Martin Luther King pictures together and then the Washington Monument pictures together. But I want you all to come move them. So all I’m doing is when I get to a picture I’m going to grab it. What memorial is that?

    Students: Thomas Jefferson.

    Jennifer Orr: Thomas Jefferson. Nicely done. You can’t even see him there. So I’m going to drag it back over here to these Jefferson pictures. I just touch it and drop it right there.

    Jennifer Orr: They study American heroes in first grade. The idea being to understand that there were people whose contributions shape the country. Which these men certainly fit into that idea of their ideals and their actions shaping the country that we live in today.

    Jennifer Orr: Dariana, can you go drag it to the beginning of our movie? All the way past the Jeffersons all the way over to the—yep. And just let go of it. There you go. Leia, what was it?

    Student: The Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    Jennifer Orr: Great, go drag it. All the way back up there to the beginning. Awesome. What was that one? That one is kind of tricky. Veronica, what was that one?

    Student: The Thomas.

    Jennifer Orr: The Thomas Jefferson. Veronica, can you walk up that way to come on up? See if you can drag that back to the Jefferson pictures. Wow! Some of you really recognize these pieces. This is from the Martin Luther King. Okay, let’s see if we’ve got them all in order or if I missed anything. Is that still the FDR?

    Students: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. No.

    Jennifer Orr: Where are we now?

    Students: Thomas Jefferson.

    Jennifer Orr: Alright, so let’s see if these are all Jefferson.

    Students: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. No.

    Jennifer Orr: Oh, what’s now?

    Students: Martin Luther King.

    Jennifer Orr: So far we have everything in the right place.

    Students: Yes.

    Jennifer Orr: You can say MLK if you want.

    Students: MLK. MLK. MLK. MLK. MLK. Oh, wait, no!

    Jennifer Orr: What’s this one?

    Students: Washington Monument.

    Jennifer Orr: The Washington Monument.

    Students: Washington. Washington.

    Jennifer Orr: Look at how great some of these pictures are. Look at it, how you can see it reflected in the water on the Tidal Basin. These were great pictures. So we have them all in the right order.

    Jennifer Orr: I use Photo Story a lot when we have images because it’s an easy way for us to sort our images together and then to record linked to an image and make our own movie from our pictures. Most of the time for first graders we aren’t ready to just take a video camera and make a movie of something. But we can take our still images and put them together into a meaningful whole. So Photo Story allows us to dump the pictures in and I purposely dump them in a random order so that we can take the time to sort them. Sorting and categorizing is a really important skill for first graders and it’s fun when it’s your own pictures. It’s a fun thing to do to sort anyway, but when it’s your own pictures it’s even more interesting.

  • Jennifer Orr: They’ve spent most of the year looking at past and present and understanding the difference between things that happen in the past and things that are happening in the present and how life has changed in terms of family life and transportation and just how it’s different now than it used to be. And then we’ve been looking at maps a lot, which was something that we tied into this trip was to look at kind of mapping out the Tidal Basin and where we would be walking and how that fits into some of the other things that they might recognize in Washington, DC.

    The second piece we needed to do before we can actually start recording anything, is to think back about what we noticed and remembered last week, are you ready? Here’s all of the words that came to mind when we thought about the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial or after we read the biography of FDR, what we learned about him. So here were the words that you came up with. Wheelchair, see if you can keep these in your head, help, big, speech, president, polio, food, New Deal, jobs, little. So what do we know about Franklin Delano Roosevelt that would be important for other people to know about him? Veronica, what was something we know?

    Student: He did the New Deal because the other Americans didn’t have food.

    Jennifer Orr: He made the New Deal because so many Americans didn’t have food? Does that sound about right?

    Students: Yeah.

    Jennifer Orr: Why did they not have enough food?

    Student: ‘Cause they were poor.

    Jennifer Orr: Why were they poor? Why were so many people poor then?

    Student: Because they didn’t have money.

    Jennifer Orr: Why did they not have money? How do you get money?

    Student: You have to get a job.

    Jennifer Orr: Right, so, Veronica he made the New Deal because so many Americans didn’t have jobs. And because they didn’t have jobs, they didn’t have enough food. Alright, so let’s see. Let’s record that with this one. We’re going to say he made the New Deal because so many Americans didn’t have jobs. Can we say that?

    Students: He made the New Deal because so many Americans didn’t have jobs.

    Jennifer Orr: Sometimes when I make a movie and we’re trying to get something that’s a bigger chunk, I’ll do it in small groups because 20 children saying the same thing at the same time becomes very hard to understand. And I think I may go back in this video and actually add the subtitles in so that people could read as well what’s being said because it may be hard to understand all of them. But I wanted them all to be involved in it, everybody to have a chance to share what they know and everybody to be a part of saying, oh, so we know he did this, we know this is what he contributed to our country.

    Alright, let’s think about what we know about Thomas Jefferson. We wrote here huge, Monticello, lawyer, cool, statue, reading, big, Louisiana Territory, tall, writing, words, hard, third president. So what do we know about Thomas Jefferson that we might want to include in our movie? Jonathan, what is something we know?

    Student: He’s tall.

    Jennifer Orr: He’s tall. He was actually. Not only is his statue tall, he was tall.

    Student: Like that?

    Jennifer Orr: Not that tall. But he was much taller than most men of that time.

    Student: He was taller then you?

    Jennifer Orr: Yes. So we are going to say he was tall. Practice it.

    Students: He was tall.

    Jennifer Orr: What else do we know about Thomas Jefferson? Abdul, what else do we know?

    Student: He was the third president.

    Jennifer Orr: He was the third president. Say it.

    Students: He was the third president.

    Jennifer Orr: Here we go.

    Students: He was the third president.

    Jennifer Orr: Primary sources are a challenge in first grade and something I really struggled with when I came down from the upper grades down to first grade because so many primary sources involve texts and often texts in a language that—while it’s English isn’t really accessible to young children. So images are the most powerful primary source I know of for these kids, which is why I offer them as many images as I can. But the memorials partly because of their scale, just their shear size, makes it something that they have to really take in in a different way. But also I think for a six- or seven-year-old, the chance to touch it is really meaningful to them. To walk up to that statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and lean on it and put their hands on it or to walk up and run their fingers over the words, even if they don’t understand what those words mean, they’re having a real powerful sense of how important this person was and what they offered us and of the opportunities that are available to them when they think about, well, look this person did it, who knows what I can do. This is a real thing. It’s much more tangible to them.

  • Jennifer Orr: I try to start using technology from the very beginning of the school year. And a lot of kids, partly because they’re first graders, haven’t had a lot of experience with it. So we make a movie within the first two weeks about our student rights and responsibilities. So we take each of those rights and responsibilities and we break it down and talk about what it means and they plan a picture to model that.

    Students: Be honest and trustworthy.

    Jennifer Orr: And at that point I take the pictures. But we dump them into Photo Story and we record our understanding of these things and we have a video then that we’ve made that we can watch. And as the year goes on, we continue to do that and I turn more and more of the responsibility over to the students.

    So when they first hand the cameras to them it’s within our classroom in a pretty comfortable constrained setting and they’ll take pictures of things they’ve counted in math or they’ll take pictures of something that they’ve built so that if I don’t get over to see it there’s a memory of it that I can look at later. They’ve used the Flips to record each other’s number stories in math or to record what they understood about something else.

    So starting within the room in a small group using the cameras gets them comfortable with it and by this point in the year I’ll send a small group of kids with a camera out into the building to do something. Go take pictures of shapes, go take pictures—go record people talking about how—they’ll go to the office or to other teachers to record about past versus present. What was it like when you were a kid? How did you go to school? What did you do—how did you do your homework? You know things that are different.

    But we’ve taken a long time to scaffold them to have that comfort level that they can do it more independently. I work really hard with first graders to have a lot of images for them because they are not strong readers and writers, certainly at the beginning of the year, they are just emerging in their skills in reading and writing. And they can’t begin to share—they can’t begin to take in knowledge in that way in really meaningful ways and they can’t share everything they understand in that way and so giving them a camera and allowing them to record or giving them a video camera and allowing them to tell orally what they understand has opened up their ability to share.

    Looking at images, they’re so much more observant than we are. The things that they notice in pictures, so to have them look at images that they’ve—pictures their friends have taken or that they’ve taken or that I have provided them with offers them a chance to really dig deeply into something that they couldn’t do if it were text.