Shoah launches pilot education program

first_imgThe USC Shoah Foundation’s IWitness program has recently taken its first steps beyond secondary school classrooms, experimenting with multimedia history lessons for students as young as fifth graders.Learning experience · Students in Suzi Gantz’s fifth-grade class at the O. A. Thorp Scholastic Academy in Chicago watch iWitness testimony. – Photo courtesy of USC ShoahIWitness is an educational website that is part of USC Shoah’s Institute for Visual History and Education. It allows teachers to choose from more than 1,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other genocide victims to show their students. This pilot activity in schools, they hope, will help the organization learn how best to teach students about issues like prejudice and tolerance at a younger age.“We are in a piloting stage — we have to think carefully about the developmental needs of students,” said Claudia Wiedeman, associate director for educational technologies and training. “Through systematic research, we have inquired with our users to see what they would like in IWitness.”Only one elementary school, O. A. Thorp Scholastic Academy in Chicago, has used IWitness in its pilot program so far, but surveys and focus groups following the class’ completion of the project will help to determine what students have learned and to improve future projects over the next few months. Since IWitness has been used by high schools in every U.S. state and 58 other countries, the organization has a good idea about how younger students will respond to it.“You’re not going to use the entire testimony — you’re going to use different clips to accent a topic or theme. [IWitness] can certainly be used at all grade levels if you’re careful about which clips you select,” said Lesly Culp, who now works for USC Shoah but previously taught high school students using IWitness testimonies.Culp found that her students were very interested in the testimonies, learning background information about the survivors first and writing about what they learned after.“Talking to students about testimonies, they always wanted to watch more and hear the full stories,” Culp said. “They were able to write intelligently about them, much better than they had written before.”Though the students spent only a portion of their class times watching these testimonies, Culp found that the audio-visual component helped the stories resonate in students’ minds.“It always gave them a different perspective from reading memoirs and short stories,” she said. “The comment was always, ‘I felt like it was my grandparent or aunt,’ and I think all people can resound to that.”Wiedeman said that IWitness’ extension to primary schools reflects its mission to not only expand geographically, but to also continue allowing their archive to educate more students.“We have years of information about [IWitness] use across the U.S., but this is a focus on primary education,” Wiedeman said. “That’s what the pilot was all about last week — to learn from the students and the teacher what would fit best, how to implement it, how to preface it. Developing additional content and strategy is something we want to do and will continue to explore.”Shoah stressed the importance of teaching students about prejudice at a young age, and the organization believes that children are influenced by others’ opinions and actions early on. Once the program is fully developed for younger classrooms, Shoah hopes, these students will gain a positive and influential learning experience from IWitness testimonies.“The power that we have to teach and to affect change is enormous,” Wiedeman said. “It’s seeing this platform being used across the world to get kids to think beyond themselves — that keeps us energized around here.”last_img