It was a busy start of the year in the Education Department at CHNM. I worked on data cleaning for the American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) War Dead Database, transcribed Sacrificing Freedom eulogy videos, prepared/uploaded Lesson Plans for ABMC’s new Education Site, and did a content inventory for the National History Day redesign.
Working the war dead database I came to understand that optimizing search and sorting for large data sets involves strategic efforts to ensure proper data importing and input, detailed taxonomies, multiple testing stages and checks for uniform outputs. My job was primarily searching, sorting and testing cross-browser functionality, but in the process I was able to come gain some insights into how the data set was moved from the old to new system, that could be of benefit if I work on any other data migration projects. I also was able to get to know a bit more about the different ranks and divisions in the U.S. military.
By transcribing eulogy videos, I was reminded of the importance of accessibility to digital work. Furthermore, the people in the database entries came to life . The Understanding Sacrifice project works with teachers to develop lesson plans on WWI, by researching individual soldiers and eulogizing them at their overseas resting places. I was moved by the teachers attachment to their subjects.
I also helped CHNM’s filmmaker Chris Preperato identify selections from project leaders and teachers interviews for the Understanding Sacrifice intro video. This helped me understand the goals of the project facilitators and see that they were met by the reactions of the teachers. Teachers were reinvigorated as working historians by doing primary source research on the First World War. They made lasting connections with the families of fallen heroes. Perhaps most importantly, they were able to channel the power of place, connect it the lives and stories of individuals on the battlefield, and bring that knowledge back to the classroom with renewed vigor.
In a time when middle and high school teachers are sometimes treated like little more than pre-packaged content distributors and assessors, projects like these seem to make them feel like experts again, with unique experiences to share with students. Jennifer explained to me how impressed the teachers were that their final lesson plan products were professionally designed and distributed. When marking up the lesson plans with some html, and uploading documents, I was able to see the great variety of ways that the history teachers approached their lessons, which could be helpful in my own teaching. However, the painstaking detail to each minute process and attention to national standards, reminded me that a career in secondary education will likely not be in my future.
One of the major takeaways from this experience would be the importance of close collaborations. Understanding Sacrifice is a collaboration between CHNM and National History Day (NHD). During my work tenure, NHD had trouble putting together a birthday video for one of their major donors. On short notice, Kelly was able to step in. I helped by taping the directors message while Chris was on vacation. (Note: the WWII memorial is windy and loud, so if you tape there, be prepared) Despite my bad audio collection, Chris was able to get together tons of other footage and testimonies and Kelly hired a professional musician to score the video and help with other audio layovers. I hear that the major donor is really thrilled with his video and shows it to all of his friends.
In sum, I think that the flexibility of working relationships, i.e. going outside the box with professional development like Understanding Sacrifice and being able to solve partner problems on the fly without huge administrative hurdles, shows how the Education Department at CHNM knows how to make things happen and is dedicated to serving the needs of partners and teachers in unique ways. It is a model example of how to develop dynamic working relationships and lasting professional collaborations.