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Annotate This! Inviting Student Commentary and Analysis Ignites Creative Learning

Participate and share

Participate and share : Poster

Wednesday, June 26, 11:00 am–1:00 pm
Location: Posters: Level 4, Terrace Ballroom Lobby, Table 1

Molly Farrow  
Explore a map-making tool that challenges students to answer "how" and "why" questions in a geographic context. Discover annotation tools that help students deconstruct the complex ideas embedded in political cartoons. These personalized annotations enable inquiry-based learning. It is the synergy of technology and creativity that ISTE Standards demand.

Audience: Teachers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Windows, Android, iOS
Laptop: Chromebook, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Personalized learning
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: Special education, Social studies
ISTE Standards: For Students:
Creative Communicator
  • Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
Knowledge Constructor
  • Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
For Educators:
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.
Disclosure: The submitter of this session has been supported by a company whose product is being included in the session

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Increasingly teaching standards focus not only on what students know but also what they can do and make. The “Annotate This!” poster session will give K-12 participants creative, inquiry-based activities using online tools to empower students to add layers of explanation and analysis to two common vehicles for standards-based content - maps and political cartoons.

Maps: Too often even online maps are only used as passive reference tools. Giving students tools to create individualized annotated maps activates their creative and higher-level learning skills. Passively viewed maps can obviously answer "Where" questions. Student-generated, annotated maps can also answer the Who, What, When, and Why questions. Increasingly teaching standards focus not only on what students know but also what they can do and make. By demonstrating the atlas tool features and showcasing content-rich projects created to promote students as map makers, I will introduce participants to technology that enhances student engagement and offers a creative vehicle for personalized learning outcomes. Consider a project for students to research and identify the source (ranging from local to international) of the food they eat and to document these various geographic origins on an annotated map. Creating a visual grid of this information will allow students to investigate and discuss the various economic and social arguments for local food-sourcing. Participants will explore more than 50 inquiry-based, map-making activities. These present higher-level thinking challenges such as creating an annotated map to illustrate the global impact and defining characteristics of the 1918 influenza pandemic. These established lessons provide the model for creating atlas assignments specifically aligned to project-based and inquiry-based learning outcomes. Student -generated maps are a creative and collaborative way to facilitate inquiry-based learning. There is an English language Interactive Atlas - Quick Launch #2000, and a Spanish language version #2100. Participants can explore the Spanish-language versions of the Interactive Atlas and discuss ESL potential for this tool. It is a free resource - with no advertising- created as a philanthropic mission to provide online content-rich resources. See Interactive Atlas (Set up a free account login for access, then click arrow to Launch resource).

Political Cartoons: If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then the layers of nuance and meaning in a political cartoon (often with some strategically placed text) must be worth at least 10,000. Those primary source text documents we love to throw at students are great, but political cartoons can offer a change of scenery while building the same important critical analysis and reasoning skills. It might even provide some humor, or at least a clever angle that provokes further investigation. The symbols and analogies woven into political cartoons are illusive by design. So how can we give students the tools to analyze political cartoons and the confidence to start unleashing some of those 10,000 words of epiphany? Here is just one of the specific cartoons I will share with participants in the session. Consider the complex issues surrounding voting rights for women, for example. (See this Political Cartoon blog for illustrations I will provide in posters at the session.)
The political cartoon summarizes the 19th Amendment’s ratification in one clever image that gets to the heart of the struggle. What is going on here? What complex story is this image telling us? After spending a few minutes considering various elements of the image, this online tool can help students break it down. Next students can start determining what emotions are communicated by the central figure. Does she seem in a hurry, a bit apprehensive? Why? The focus is on those last few buttons. How should students interpret that part of the image? If they need a few clues, this online tool offers enough explanation to set their thinking in the right direction.

In addition to these free online resources already-made for teacher and student use, teachers can introduce their students to political cartoons (and other complex images) using a maker-tool called Crio. It provides a drag-and-drop interface allowing educators to create their own online, student-facing lessons for free. Crio lessons aren’t PDFs of worksheets or lessons plans, they’re interactive, ready-to-use resources that teachers can easily share. See It is also a free resource - with no advertising- created as a philanthropic mission to provide online content-rich resources.

Supporting research

The research supporting this type of active, personalized, online learning is substantial. The creative possibilities of annotation tools represent the ascent up Bloom’s Taxonomy toward higher-level thinking outcomes. Rather than passively consulting maps or political cartoons as mere reference tools, students use the draw and annotation tools to illustrate their investigations of complex historical and demographic issues. They create content-rich maps or annotated political cartoons that reflect their understanding. The outcomes support both the application and synthesis levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. See for Robert Marzano’s argument for “…enhancing students' abilities to process complex content in cognitively sophisticated ways… by infusing knowledge application tasks across the curriculum; and changing the interaction patterns between teachers and students.”
Making a map that expresses your understanding of, for example, the three most popular routes to the Gold Rush (one of the Interactive Atlas tool's suggested research activities) practices this deepening of understanding that active learning promises. It promotes the objectives of doing and creating, rather than simply observing. See
Similarly, the political cartoon presents a complex content using visual imagery. The artist uses caricature, symbolism, and related techniques to convey sharp commentary. As a classroom strategy, annotating political cartoons offer teachers opportunities to: Differentiate instruction; Motivate at-risk students; Build visual literacy; Prepare students for standardized tests; Provide comic relief and classroom humor; Utilize alternative assessments; Satisfy state and national standards; Stimulate writing activities; Promote learning and retention. See

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Molly Farrow, SAS

Molly Farrow taught Social Studies for 11 years In North Carolina (and one year at the Taipei American School) before becoming a Curriculum Specialist for Curriculum Pathways®. She is part of a team of educators providing FREE, content-rich online resources. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University, earning a Masters of Arts in Teaching from the University of North Carolina. She writes edtech blogs

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