Project Members

Sue Anderson, MSLS and Rhona Campbell, MLS


With this unit, we address learning goals in the areas of social studies and information/media literacy for 5th graders at Fictional Elementary School (FES) in Montgomery County, Maryland. The lessons present a guided inquiry-based learning process for students to learn about the lives of signers of the Declaration of Independence (DoI). Students will research and write a short (30-60 seconds) online oral report on one DoI signer in the form of a “Blabber.” A “Blabber” is a simple, catchy online video-creation tool from that uses a recorded voice to speak while an image with a drawn-in "mouth" moves. The students will narrate a first person biography while the portrait "talks".

This 3-lesson unit will be implemented by the school media specialist independently in tandem with the 5th grade team’s teaching of the American Colonies and Revolution in Social Studies. It will orient students in their inquiry via use of the Big6 model, developed by Michael Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz. The Big6 encourages metacognition throughout the process of inquiry and information seeking and will already be familiar to students from prior years’ projects in the media center. Creating a Blabber oral report will give students an opportunity to work collaboratively in teams, perform computer-based research and present their findings to their classmates in an engaging format.

The Topic & Standards

Source: Maryland State Standards for 5th Grade Social Studies (MSS5SS)

Showing and discussing a video on the DoI will ensure that students have been given an overview of the social and political climate leading up to the DoI. That particular video plus showing another one on Thomas Jefferson will impart information about the men who framed and wrote the DoI. (Both videos are short by design; student time in the media center is limited.) After then examining biographical data on the signers (a chart will be shown), students will discuss the implications of the signers’ occupations, place of birth (e.g., England versus Colonies), age, etc. at the time of the DoI. These activities address the following political science curricular standards:
  • 1.A.2.c Explain the significance of principles in the development of the Declaration of Independence…
  • 1.B.1.a Examine the contributions of people associated with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the framing of the Constitution, such as James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and George Washington.

When the students perform online research on their chosen DoI signer, they will use the Big6 guided-inquiry approach to develop research questions and appropriate information seeking strategies, read several secondary sources, take notes on a graphic organizer, locate and download a portrait image and write an oral report in the form of a Blabber script. Although the information sources will be provided (for the sake of limited time), students will need to determine which sources to choose and summarize the information they find. Expressing biographical information in the form of a first person script will help the students express new understandings; actually performing the script for recording will give the students a new medium of expressing that understanding. The media specialist will try to assign the performance activity to students who are stronger oral communicators than writers. These activities address the following social studies skills curricular standards:
  • 6.A.2 Use strategies to prepare for reading (before reading).
  • 6.A.3 Use strategies to monitor understanding and derive meaning from text and portions of text (during reading).
  • 6.B.1 Use informal writing strategies, such as…note taking, quick writes, and graphic organizers to clarify, organize, remember and/or express new understandings.
  • 6.C.1 Identify a topic that requires further study.
  • 6.E.2 Organize information from print sources.

Source: Maryland State Standards for School Library Media (MSLM) (which incorporates the content of the American Association of School Librarians Standards for the 21st Century Learner)

The media specialist will guide the students’ inquiry process by using the strategies within the Big6 approach. This approach has been taught to the students throughout their time at the school so they are very familiar with it. In addition it will be reviewed during the first lesson, as the project is explained, at the start of the second lesson, as the students start their information gathering, and during the third lesson when the final product is prepared. Using the Big6 process with the students addresses the following information literacy standards:
  • 1.A.1.a With guidance, identify the inquiry process used in the school.
  • 1.A.1.c With guidance, follow the inquiry process used in the school for an assigned information need.
  • 1.B.1.a Identify an assigned information need.
  • 1.B.2 Determine the scope of the information need.

Students will be asked to select relevant information about their chosen DoI signer, organize it in a graphic organizer and summarize it in their own first-person words within a script format, and responsibly cite their sources. They will also be asked to save and cite a digital image of their signer. The biographical computer-based research and writing of a first-person oral Blabber report will address the following information literacy standards:
  • 3.A.1 Use specific sources to find information.
  • 3.A.2 Evaluate the relevance of information within a specific source to meet the information need.
  • 3.C.1 Record data/information in a variety of formats.
  • 4.A.3.b With guidance, avoid plagiarism by citing all summarized and paraphrased recorded date/information.
  • 4.B.1 From the recorded data/information, ethically create new understandings and knowledge related to the information need.
  • 5.A.1.d With guidance, use technology to present findings/conclusions in a variety of formats.
  • 5.A.1.e With guidance, edit/review/revise/practice the presentation of the information product.
  • 5.A.2.c With guidance, credit sources using an appropriate citation format as part of the information product.

Source: American Association of School Librarians Standards for the 21st Century Learner

Throughout the unit, students will be collaborating in teams of two, dividing tasks equitably and taking turns interacting with technology.
  • 1.1.9 Collaborate with others to broaden and deepen understanding.

The Setting and Context

Our unit will teach fifth graders during three consecutive weekly library media center specials periods in a Montgomery County elementary school (Fictional ES). There are seven fifth grade classes, each with approximately 22 students. The students comprise an integrated range of socio/economic/ethnic/learning needs. The school is in Silver Spring, Maryland and has a diverse population of approximately 30% white, 30% Hispanic, and 40% African American (many children were born in Africa). About half of the children live in the nearby high-rise apartment buildings and half live in single-family houses.
The media specialist has coordinated with the seven fifth grade teachers to ensure that the unit falls within their classroom units on the American Revolution. Since there is a significant student population of first generation Americans at this school, our unit on the signers of the DoI is important beyond its conformity to curricular standards; many of these children may have parents without a strong knowledge of American history and its implications. The unit will need to begin with enough background information on the DoI – its purpose and significance in its time, sentiment and events leading up to it, motivations of its crafters – to allow students to bridge meaning from their assignment. Since the seven classes may be at different places within their classroom units, however, the media specialist will show two short non-YouTube* videos at the start of the first lesson to ensure that all students have adequate foundational knowledge of the DoI. *YouTube is blocked by the school system.
Lessons need to reach both advanced and struggling learners, as well as ESOL students. The activities within the overall unit provide opportunities for many different learning styles; for example, they can engage the strong computer user, writer, editor or oral communicator (“actor”). Another strategy to address the wide range of learning is to pair the students so that advanced learners and/or writers work with less advanced. Requiring that the student pairs divide up the tasks within each lesson (eg, one student browses the online material while the other writes on the graphic organizer) will, hopefully, give each of them an opportunity to accelerate in different learning modes. The media specialist will assign the task roles so that the students can capitalize on each of their strengths/styles.
FES is not a Title 1 school, so funds are severely limited. There is one media specialist and a media assistant who has been cut back to part time (.8). Teachers are very rarely receptive to co-teaching in the media center; they use their class’s “specials” period for their own planning and do not willingly give up that time. As such, a parent has been recruited to volunteer in the media center. She is an experienced computer user and will be assisting the media specialist during our unit class times when the media assistant is unavailable. Before the unit begins she will be given an overview of the lesson plans and Blabberize. She will then support the media specialist by assisting with classroom management and answering student questions during the lessons in the computer lab.
At least 25 - 50% of the students do not have access to a computer with internet at home and at least that many are in after-care, so computer time outside of school is hard to find. As such, the assignment is short enough to be accomplished during media center time and students will not be expected to work on it at home. While there are eight computers in the media center with internet access, this is not enough for each pair to get one. For lesson two, the classes will meet in the school’s computer lab. It has 20 networked computers, plenty enough for each pair to share one, and each student has access to the school system’s server with a unique username and password (accessible by the media specialist for monitoring/evaluating the assignment). The school library's website is the default homepage for all school computers' web browsers; the pathfinder will be clearly linked from this, as is the Big6 glog poster. Lesson three is back in the media center where there are four networked microphones that the students will take turns using to record their “Blabber” voices. The opportunity this presents is that they will have plenty of time to practice their scripts as they wait for their recording turns. Both the media center and the computer lab also have Prometheum boards for the media specialist to use during the lessons.
Although the students have been developing their digital information seeking and computer skills regularly since Kindergarten there will likely be a handful of students in each class that will need support to complete the assignment. The entire assignment is designed to be completed during media center time so the media specialist and assistant/volunteer can help the students. Many will probably not be familiar with using the microphones, so in lesson three the assistant/volunteer can be dedicated to it. Providing thorough instruction at the start of each activity, including reviewing where the students are in their progress through the Big6 model, and providing access on the Prometheum board to the pathfinder and graphic organizer throughout lessons two and three will support the students in their learning process.
This unit depends entirely on the availability of the internet. None of the lessons could be be implemented without it. If the internet is “down” during a lesson then the media specialist will use that time for a print-based lesson outside of this unit. Luckily, the classroom unit on the American Revolution takes a few months so extending the media center lessons by a week or two will not have an adverse effect on students’ learning.

The Materials and Technology Tools You will Need

  1. Prometheum interactive whiteboards: one each in media center and computer lab, used to orient the lesson and provide guidance during the assignment.
  2. Online videos and short videos with clear spoken information providing historical and re-enacted imagery to orient the students to time and place.
  3. Big 6 Questions glog poster: an online visual representation of the concepts to understand during research process, will be embedded on school website for use in many projects.
  4. DoI signers biographical fact chart summarizes biographical facts about the signers, a bird's-eye view used at the start of the unit to orient students quickly to the signers and their perspectives.
  5. Paint-spill-able map of 13 colonies (select blank map of the 13 Colonies): an interactive element added to an otherwise passive lesson (one), also reinforces geographical understanding.
  6. Computers: eight in media center, four have microphones; 20 in computer lab; all linked to school system's server; for online research, saving data, and creating new media.
  7. Printed copies of graphic organizer: to guide research toward main ideas and provide framework for Blabber script.
  8. Lined paper and pencils: for writing the Blabber script.
  9. Pathfinder: a webpage linking to pre-selected online resources for students to use during research and image selection, also provides citation formats, linked from Fictional Elementary School's media center website.
  10. An online tool for creating "Blabbers," i.e. "talking" images in which the mouth of a still photograph moves along with a recorded voice. Silly and appealing to 5th graders, a Blabber also incorporates both an oral report and the use of an online, easily shareable technology.
  11. Sample Blabber of Philip Livingston: an example for the students of what they are expected to produce.

The Implementation & Assignments

This unit is designed to be taught within three consecutive media center classes, falling somewhere within the several months of the fall semester during which FES's seven fifth grades study the American Colonies and the Revolution. Students will ideally enter this unit already having a general understanding about the era, politics, and importance of the DoI’s ideas, but if the classroom teachers have not all taught these topics yet then the introductory information and class discussion at the start of the unit will orient them.

Lesson One includes an introduction to the unit, content background and discussion, project/assignment expectations and review of the Big6 model. Students will be assigned to their pairs and choose the colony in which their DoI signer lived. Pairs have been carefully selected in advance of the unit by the media specialist with input from each classroom teacher. As there is a large ability range within each classroom, students who have strong computer skills will be paired with students who aren't as experienced on computers. Students who would likely enjoy/excel at performing the oral report script will be paired with students whose writing/oral reading skills may be weak or who are ESOL. This should help ensure that the students within their pairs support each other.

During Lesson Two, students will meet in the computer lab to follow a relatively scripted online search process, using specified websites and databases and a graphic organizer on which to record their findings. Pairs will be required to save an image file of a portrait and citations to the school server (in a Notepad file they create) for use the following week in their Blabber. Throughout this time, the media specialist and media assistant (or parent volunteer) will circulate among the students to assist as needed. The roles have been equitably divided within the student pairs to ensure that each student does a fair share, has an opportunity to experience the technologies and is evaluated fairly (see rubric below and lessons for detail). The evaluation of this lesson's effectiveness will be fourfold: informal assessment by the media specialist as she circulates, completeness of their graphic organizers, accuracy of citations, and appropriate filesave of portrait image.

Lesson Three brings the students back to the media center to convert the research they recorded on their graphic organizers into scripts of first-person narrations. Students will practice their scripts out loud (quietly) and then take turns recording them into networked microphones. Before they can record their narrations, the students will use to begin a Blabber project and upload the portrait image file and citation information they had saved during Lesson Two. They will need to draw a "mouth" on the Blabber image and one student will act as recording engineer while the other student’s voice is recorded narrating. At the end of this lesson/unit, their final product will be a Blabber of a DoI signer. This is a busy lesson with a highly technical end-product. Viewing the completed Blabbers as a class may occur in the last minutes of media center time, as time permits, but will also be shared with each other later by their classroom teachers. At the end of this lesson, students will turn in their graphic organizer and URL of their Blabber.

All students who complete a Blabber will “pass,” but on their next class visit to the media center the media specialist will return completed rubrics (see below). Although both students are responsible for the bulk of the project, the division of certain responsibilities should mitigate the feeling among students that they are being judged by their partners' abilities.

Evaluation of the project's success in teaching about the signers will be done by the 5th grade team and the media specialist after the Blabbers have been shared in class and integrated into the broader Social Studies curriculum. However, the media specialist will need to evaluate the students' awareness of the inquiry process throughout the three lessons by leading a discussion in the following media center session; no formal rubric is in place to assess the students' metacognition.

Rubric (+ or --)
Student A
Student B
Graphic Organizer:

  • Ideas noted, not full sentences

  • All items completed
  • "Interesting facts" well-chosen

  • Image file cited correctly
  • Texts cited correctly

  • In first person
  • Relevent items included

  • Name of signer in title field

  • Citations in summary field

  • Character voice adopted

  • Between 30 and 60 seconds
  • Clear, loud enunciation

  • Flow

The Lessons

Lesson One
Lesson Two
Lesson Three