A few weeks ago we had an amazing opportunity to bring learning to the real world context. Our 7th grade students were able to experience a chance of a lifetime by speaking with a Holocaust survivor. Many of us have been taught this time period, have studied the unfortunate events, and many of us still teach this time period. For one hour we were able to speak with someone who lived the events and was willing to share with us.
This event started with a project created by Jessica Blaum. She is a language arts teacher who, along with the seventh grade language arts and social studies team, launched a project called “Every Life Counts.” The driving question, “What makes a person more than a number?” asked students to look beyond the statistics of the Holocaust at how real lives were affected by those events. Students chose an individual affected by World War II and conducted research on that individual’s life, including reading personal accounts of Holocaust experiences, in order to create a memorial that would reflect that person’s individual experience. Many students chose to research Holocaust survivors, and one student stumbled upon a survivor, Magda Herzberger, who had posted her contact information on her website. The student sent. Ms. Herzberger an email with some questions for research. Ms. Herzberger was not only kind enough to Skype with the student to answer her questions; she also freely offered her time to speak about her experiences in detail with our entire seventh grade over Skype.
Below is our first time Skyping with Ms. Herzberger. This was a chance for the student who reached out to her to connect for a bit to develop her project. We then scheduled another Skype session with Ms. Herzberger for everyone to hear her story.
When we were ready to Skype with Ms. Herzberger we had to use our cafeteria to house all 300+ students. Now, there is risk in this type of activity because that many middle school students squeezed into one location at the end of the year is just asking for trouble. However, despite some technological glitches the students were silent and well behaved. Despite some accent and lag in wifi we were able to hear her message and she was able to grab their attention.
It is at this point in which I have to state my love for the Surface Pro 3. Had it not been for the SP3 this would never have happened. Our school is not equipped with the technology to Skype in our cafeteria. I was able to use the SP3 and the wifi dongle to make this happen. I plugged the HDMI cable into the project, connected my SP3 to the projector and we made it work. Thank you Microsoft for creating a product that allowed students to capture a story before it is lost forever. Due to our wifi having issues our video did freeze so I will not be sharing the video as it is not worth it to view, but the video above with will give you some insight. However, we do not have all the powerful details of her journey, but she has written many books in which you can learn about it all.
After this session and being able to process what she shared Ms. Blaum connected the dots with the students. SThere were some big takeaways from the Skype session. When students were reminded that having this experience is very unique in that in about 10 more years there will no longer be any more survivors that really made them think. They had reactions like, “I never even thought of that.”
Additional reactions were the difficulty in understanding her as she has a heavy accent. This is a great learning opportunity, but does make the listener really focus and key in on words. The students that found that frustrating were also the same ones who realized it was very cool to listen to someone who was actually there and experienced these events.
Another idea that was brought up that I think is vital for student awareness is the connections they made with media. Students seemed to take away what she said about how no book or movie made about the Holocaust accurately captures how horrible it truly was.
In closing this was a powerful moment brought to the lives of students because of technology. Technology is never the answer, but when we have powerful learning moments that can be bridged with the use of technology, then we have something valuable. Without internet and Skype students would not have been able to make this happen. We thank Ms. Herzberger for sharing her story and for everyone who was flexible to allow this event to take place.
You can learn more about Magda on her website: http://www.magdaherzberger.com/index.html
I encourage you to read her book, Survival, which is her atu