Saturday, January 16, 2016

Google Drawings and the First Thanksgiving


Back in November my fourth grade was studying early america and integrated the unit with the first Thanksgiving. Students in Mrs. Wolfson’s class learned about the lifestyles of the Wampanoag Native Americans and the Pilgrim settlers from the Scholastic First Thanksgiving site and took notes using this graphic organizer. Students then conducted an analysis of the painting The First Thanksgiving 1621” painted by J.L.G. Ferris. This included zooming into the painting to find relevant details and make inferences.

Finally, the class deconstructed the painting to make a comic strip of the historic event. Students were taught to create vignettes of the painting in Google Drawing. Using their research, students wrote dialog from the different perspectives in the painting.

Google Drawings became the perfect format for this activity. Including research, the activity took three days. Student cartoons were saved as jpgs and added to the class Google presentation below.

Changing Gears
I started the project in Pixton. I was looking for a Comic Life alternative to use with our aging 4th grade chromebooks. It didn’t work out so well. Perhaps I could have structure the activity better, but students obsessed over customizing the characters and building their scenes. Nothing quite fit their research despite many distracting choices and the student emphasis was wrong. To make matters worse, the interface was complicated and didn’t work smoothly.  Older students with more powerful laptops might have a better time.

It went so poorly, in fact, that we changed direction mid-lesson. We scrapped Pixton and spontaneously created and shared a Google Drawing that featured the painting they had been studying. It wasn’t fancy, but it was effective and efficient. The tool “got out of the way” and let students focus on their storytelling.

What I’d Like to Try Next Time

There is some controversy about the authenticity of J.L.G. Ferris’ painting The First Thanksgiving 1621.” I think it would be interesting to discuss whether this depiction is accurate with our kids. This article from could provide an interesting counterpoint to the Scholastic website, although I think it should be tweaked to be more accessible.  It might also be useful to compare the Farris account with the “First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” by Jennie A. Brownscombe.

Google Drawings saved this project. The deceptively simple interface allowed me to concentrate on the “what” and the “why” instead of the how. I’m looking forward to revisiting the First Thanksgiving next year.