The Dilemma of Copyright and Digital Texts

“Mr. Conroy, can you come over here a minute?” asked one of my sixth grade Language Arts students. “I can’t seem to save the image from this website to put into my digital story.” The student pointed to a picture of Kinga Ka, the tallest roller coaster in Six Flags Great Adventure, on the computer monitor.

I grabbed control of the mouse and attempted to right click “Save As,” only to learn that the image in question was embedded with Adobe Flash and could not be cut and pasted the usual way. Without any second considerations, I demonstrated a workaround: I used the Print Screen button to capture a screen shot, and then I edited the image through the Paint program included with Microsoft Windows. We then saved and inserted the edited image into the digital story my student was composing in Movie Maker. We outright ignored the extensive copyright notices written in fine print down in the footer of the website.

Copyright symbol with print screen button from PC keyboard.

Without any comprehensive awareness of the legally reusable media already available on the Internet, I had resorted to a two-pronged approach of lifting copyrighted images directly from websites and blindly utilizing Google Images. Some time later, our district’s technology administrator blocked access to Google Images, severely limiting my options. I was running out of resources for digital media (as far as I was aware). I was desperate to find images, no matter the cost. At that time, I reasoned the educational ends justified the means, even if I was potentially breaking federal copyright law.

Perhaps my frustration was to blame? That’s an easy scapegoat. No. Rather it was misunderstanding, or rather, a lack of any understanding of how to navigate copyright law as my students and I acquired and used digital media. It had never crossed my mind that my workaround might have violated federal copyright laws. I was of the mindset that if digital media—images, video, audio—were openly viewable on the Internet, then they were free for the taking. Of course, this is far from the truth of the matter; the guidelines for re-purposing digital media in an educational setting are much more nuanced than my previously held assumptions.

Over the years, I’ve developed a better understanding of where my students can access copyleft friendly media, and how we can properly use copyrighted materials and respect intellectual property through fair use practices.  In the next few pages, accessible through the <page links> below, I share some of what I learned.

Creative Commons and Copyleft

To be perfectly honest, my preconceived notions about copyright were misinformed and incomplete at best. In my mind, the familiar WARNING: For private use only. Federal law provides severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized reproduction, distribution or exhibition of copyrighted motion pictures and video formats that precedes movies applied to all copyrighted works. This belief was reinforced by the media’s coverage of the Napster trial and other forms of digital piracy.

The two extremes of over-compliance and outright disregard for federal law appeared irreconcilable, and navigating between them only complicated my classroom practices. On one hand, I gravely frown upon my students copying “intellectual property” through plagiarism or sloppy citations. On the other hand, hadn’t I just guided my students to blatantly use digital media without any consideration of the author’s copyright? This hypocritical double-standard did not sit well with me. I needed to find a more balanced approach.

On one side of the spectrum, a growing number of individuals believe information should be openly available to copy, distribute, and modify despite copyright status, a position known as the copyleft. The growing copyleft movement provides a legal solution that enables authors a balance between copyright and public domain. For example, Creative Commons offers a wide range of tools to legally license intellectual property to be freely distributed, reproduced, and modified. Social media sites like Flickr take full advantage of Creative Commons licensing. Other websites like Pics 4 Learning offer copyright-friendly media and gather collections of royalty-free media available to the public domain, such as the Public Domain Database.

These resources are part of an effective and efficient approach to help navigate the complexities of copyright. I was relieved to know that my students could graze the commons of copyright-friendly and public domain media. Every now and again, my students wandered outside the pastures of public media, which prompted me to address the topic more directly. I still needed to know how to guide students who wanted to incorporate copyrighted material into their school projects.

Copyright & Fair Use Teacher Resources

In many ways, Renee Hobbs and the Media Education Lab of Temple University have spearheaded media literacy and shed light on how fair use should be applied in educational contexts. Not only is Renee’s scholarship quite forward-thinking, but her material speaks directly to a teacher audience. Take note of the linked videos—they inform as much as they entertain. Consider using these resources directly in the classroom with students.

PBS station KOCE of Huntington Beach, California has produced resources to support classroom teachers, including the “Copyright for Educators” series. This collection of videos and PDFs is quite detailed in the specifics of fair use doctrine, and it highlights what educators can and cannot do. These videos might be of particular interest for public school administrators who need to outline a district policy on fair use.

Lawyer and Harvard professor Larry Lessig speaks about copyright in his lecture “Laws that Choke Creativity”. This twenty-minute video covers everything from the original intent of copyright to how Web 2.0 technologies have challenged copyright law. His stories and examples are evocative and should be of high value to anyone with interest on the topic.

For Constitutional purists, take a gander at “§ 107. Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use” to see for yourself what started it all. Most contemporary interpretations of Section 107 stem from “The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education” developed by American University’s Center for Social Media.

Creative Commons has pioneered free licenses to content creators to publicly share work though a wide array of license options that allow others to reuse and remix for non-commercial and not-for-profit motives. These licenses offer more contemporary and flexible copyright options for both authors and users.

Copyright: Promoting Progress

In the summer of 2009, I came across the work of Renee Hobbs and the Media Education Lab through the Powerful Voices Institute held at the Russel A. Byerscharter school in Philadelphia, PA. The week-long institute brought together teachers from across the country, graduate students from Temple University’s education program, and students participating in the charter school’s summer media literacy program. Powerful Voices exposed this cohort to various critical thinking tools to deconstruct media messages, and the Institute also provided a repertoire of techniques to integrate the creation of media into the content areas.

In order to analyze media, we first needed to bring it into the classroom and under the microscope of critical thinking. On the flip-side, the Powerful Voices group needed an ample palette of media in various forms—audio, image, and video—to assemble our own media messages. The need to access media for educational purposes jettisoned the Institute right into the middle of the copyright dilemma I had previously encountered in my own attempts to bring technology into the classroom. Until then, I had always presumed the writ of copyright was intended to protect intellectual property through outright prohibition of the duplication of copyrighted works.

Renee Hobbs delved into the topic of copyright confusion. She pointed back to Section 8 of the United States Constitution that empowers Congress “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” This section protects the rights of authors, artists, and inventors to profit from their works within their lifetime. Without gainful pay, there would be very little incentive to write, create, and discover.

This notion challenged my unfounded assumptions that copyright was merely a tool for corporate gain. It made me question how academic progress protected under the U.S. Constitution related to my students and their media projects, especially if my students’ learning experiences by creating media messages wouldn’t compromise the owners’ ability to financially gain from our use of an intellectually protected work.

Copyright Section 107: Fair Use

Although I knew that Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution asserts our right to “Promote the progress of Science and the useful Arts,” I was still challenged by the question of whether my students’ use of copyrighted material to create their digital compositions was considered a useful art, or whether my students’ class assignments could be considered some of the intellectual progress the Constitution sought to protect. How could the writers of the Constitution know anything about my students’ needs to access and utilize digital media?

Further clarification is provided through the Copyright Act of 1976, Section 107 limits the exclusive rights of copyright owners for intellectual property to be analyzed, criticized, researched, commented, taught, or reported upon. This exemption is otherwise known as fair use. There are four factors that determine copyright infringement versus fair use:

  1. the commercial or educational purposes,
  2. nature of the copyrighted material,
  3. amount used compared to the whole, and
  4. the impact upon the profitability of the work.

Context is everything when determining fair use. For example, my students’ digital stories were for a non-commercial and educational purpose. The images pulled from the Internet were inserted into the movies in brief snippets. I hadn’t planned for my students’ movies to be displayed beyond our classroom, and therefore the use of those images would not compete against any profit potential of the original copyright holders. By observing fair use guidelines, my students were able to legally re-purpose copyrighted media for their own digital compositions.

Power Users’ Guide

Instead of using a rubric, Paul Allison, a high-school teacher from the New York City Writing Project and one of the founding teachers of the Youth Voices social network, uses this performance-based checklist as one of his assessment tools for students. It illustrates how a teacher can move from the broad learning outcomes statements of the NCTE “21st Century Curriculum and Assessment Framework” to more focused performance outcomes. As the title implies, the Power User’s Guide (PDF) is meant to be used as a guide for students as they participate in discussions on Youth Voices blogs, as well as a means of assessment.

The specific assignments included in the grid show the integration of technology skills (e.g. using a Delicious site and, participating in an online discussion, inserting a Creative Commons image in a discussion post) with more traditional writing skills as repurposed for an online discussion genre (e.g. draft, revise, and copy-edit; summarize; use quotations from a book and an online discussion to develop a point).

The “Power Users’ Guide” is just one of the self-assessments that Allison incorporates into his teaching. Other reflection guides linked to participation on Youth Voices are available on the Youth Voices site under the heading “How Am I Doing?” The “Basic Reflections Questions” encourage students to reflect on what makes a good post, their own posting behavior, and differences between writing on paper and blogging—basic questions for all of us.

Voice and Composition: Authenticity Through Digital Literacies

I believe in the power of voice. As an English Language Arts teacher, I value voice in writing, speaking, and as a means to critical thinking or engaging in ideas. I want my students to know they have something to contribute and can insert their “oar” in life’s many conversations.

When preparing to teach a speech class, I knew that I wanted students to experience an audience that would offer diverse responses to their speeches and one that was larger than the nineteen bodies in our classroom. That’s when I turned to podcasting. [For further details about the curriculum for this project, visit ReedCurriculum.pdf.] Our class explored the role of technology in communication, which then led to blog discussions, the exploration of the National Public Radio podcast “This I Believe”, and students ultimately creating their own “This I Believe” podcast.

While, I had many reasons for approaching the work in this way and many questions to explore about the role of digital literacies in the classroom, I didn’t anticipate the way this project would transform my teaching and classroom learning community.

[Further discussion of this project can be explored in “From the Front of the Classroom to the Ears of the World: Multimodal Composing in Speech Class (PDF)” in Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom.]

Voices in the Classroom

When I reflect on my classroom, I see students engaged in dialogue about good writing and speaking skills. Yet, as we discuss the role of voice in writing, we enter a gray area. Defining writing with voice as well as assessing voice is often a continual challenge for writers and writing teachers. When we began writing our “This I Believe” speeches, I hoped my students would simply engage in their writing of speeches in order to consider their larger audience in relation to delivery and content. Yet, the newer technologies we worked with helped us convey voice in our own unique way. We learned to emphasize words to express a particular tone that would compliment our message. This was even present in our class’s collaborative introductory message (see video at bottom of post), in which we each shared one line about what we believe. These beliefs offer a tiny glimpse of my classroom.

When we recorded our collaborative introductory beliefs (MP3), students went back and forth to revise their one line belief statement trying to get it perfect. In our introduction we collaboratively worked on shaping, reshaping, and revising, and we discovered that the technology of digital voice recording and editing were not only a major piece of the end product but also a major part of the writing process. For instance, if we didn’t like the way we pronounced something, we could hear it and even see the peaks and valleys of the way our voices sounded through the use of audio tools, and this process often led to revision of our writing.

Students said they revised in new ways when they podcasted. They also found that they tried to portray speaking personalities in which they worked on emphasis and tone in their writing to convey their message. Take Lisa’s speech (MP3) on her belief in laughter. In her piece, voice is present in her print text but becomes even more sincere and heartfelt through the manner in which she shares her story (despite the rough background noise of the audio recording). Moreover, Lisa’s classmate shared a closing piece to her speech and while doing so accidently laughed. While this may at first have seemed merely cute, it later seemed to also offer a natural reiteration of the message of Lisa’s “This I Believe” speech. As such, this laugh was left in intentionally by Lisa in order to emphasize the message through not only her spoken voice, but also that of her peer.

Other students also found a sincere voice for their essay, which was especially apparent when they felt passionate about their speeches, such as Madi’s speech (MP3), in which she reflects on being the oldest of five girls, or Ronney’s speech (MP3), which focuses on what he learned from the death of his father. Still other students let their voice of confidence come alive in their speeches. Take for instance, Cody’s speech

, which focuses on the importance of being selfless. In this speech, he is able to make his examples become living stories through his emphasis in reading his essay. Yet, these voices were not able to come alive without careful revision of both the written and spoken word.

Voice: Tools for Revision

Just as the audio recording became a tool for our writing, as we examined the shapes of our spoken voice in the literal waves of the recording and the way in which we simply pronounced a word, investment in sounding like ourselves was also important to our writing processes. Jonathan’s explains his writing process:

The most important thing I learned was how to put my true thoughts and point of views into writing and process complete thoughts. This I believe essays helped with shaping and creating my speech in there [sic] speeches I noticed the emotion and realism in there [sic] voice which showed that they had a genuine belief in what they were saying. After listening to their [sic] speech I decided to go out on a limb and try to match their [sic] creativeness. Once I had all my thought down on paper It took so long before I had changed everything to the way I seen fit. Hearing my voice in audacity was a wake up call I found myself rewording many parts of my essay because I didn’t feel it sounded right coming out of my mouth.

Jonathan suggests that while the role of audience is present, pleasing the audience was not his end goal. Rather, his goal was to please himself, and he began to do that through his practice with the writing process and taking “so long” to make sure he liked the essay. Having taught Jonathan without the context of digital literacies, I did not observe this sort of response or care to revise, prior to this project. In fact, in another class students, (including Jonathan) were to work in writing groups, and they were supposed to read their writing aloud to one another as part of their peer review protocol. When we started this podcasting project, however, Jonathan told me he was amazed by how the recording of his speech made an impact on the way he viewed his voice. He also told me that he had never read his work aloud before, and he was impressed with the role it had on his revision. Without the step of the actual recording of his voice, Jonathan skipped the reading aloud of his work. It wasn’t until he needed to record that he saw the value in reading his work aloud, and he additionally listened to his voice, which gave him insight on his writing and revision strategies. In this way, digital literacies have become a revision tool for Jonathan. It was when he heard his voice being played in the recording that he noticed himself not sounding real or genuine and that’s when he went back to revise the piece in the print and spoken text in order to have his writing and speaking show his voice. Through this process, Jonathan affirmed the role of his unique voice in his print and spoken essay.

Sharing Your Voice with a Real Audience

In a world where communication is constantly changing and everyday people may choose to engage with conversations in various Web 2.0 mediums, the role of audience is clearly changing. James observed this concept when he shared:

Doing this podcasting project had changed my outlook on public speaking. I used to think that public speaking was really just for the public around me. But this pod casting project has shown me that when your audience it [sic] limited that you will need to get a bigger one. The TV and radio are really good ways of telling your speech to the masses. But what better than to give your speech on the world wide web.

Troy Hicks and I observed (2007) that “James, who was originally skeptical about producing content for the read/write Web, had gained an appreciation for creating podcasts and sharing his ideas.” Furthermore, we found that “since one of the goals of 21st-century learning include using newer technologies to communicate to a wider audience; James exemplifies what it means to have a better understanding of how to do just that.” From this project, clear illustrations of the importance of authentic audiences and purposes as well as the role of recording a spoken essay with the intent of podcasting influence the writing process through a deeper appreciation and relevancy of composition and revision. When the audience is more than the classroom, the composer is often more engaged and more fully embraces the challenge of addressing the audience. Not knowing the audience provides a different challenge about how to address that audience when our voices are literally something that can go to the whole world. Our speaking personalities develop in the delivery and the language used in the composition. Our voices become real to tell who we are, and the way we understand voice is broadened as podcasting then becomes a game changer for the composer as the composer is able to shape his or her own voice for the audience.

Our Voices are Heard

Ultimately, what I found compelling about this project was the engagement of students.

To complete the project, students would voluntarily stay after class to revise and revise. On the last day of our class, which was the Friday before spring break, the bell rang, but no one jumped for the door. Rather, slowly people left, and then others stayed hours after school to keep working on revision or listen to other speeches and post comments to one another. Over our break, I checked our blog and found that students were posting. Learning was truly happening beyond the walls of our classroom and the hours of our school day.

We used technology as a new writing tool to explore the rhetorical moves of writers in digital environments and the sophisticated thinking that happens when students are able to insert their voice into a larger conversation (such as the “This I Believe” speeches) as done through their revised speech. Additionally, I found that technologies transformed our experiences and pushed us to a higher level of community and inquiry as we were working in digital and face-to-face environments. My students honed their writing and the critical thinking skills needed to have a voices and move forward in the 21st century where the jobs and skills they need for their future are constantly evolving.

As a teacher, I aim to help my students express their voice. With digital literacies, our understanding of voice is not as limited, but rather we aim to express it in our composition and means of delivery in authentic ways.

This I Believe: Collaborative Introductory Message

When we began writing our “This I Believe” speeches, I hoped my students would simply engage in their writing of speeches in order to consider their larger audience in relation to delivery and content. Yet, the newer technologies we worked with helped us convey voice in our own unique way. We learned to emphasize words to express a particular tone that would compliment our message. This was even present in our class’s collaborative introductory message, in which we each shared one line about what we believe. These beliefs offer a tiny glimpse of my classroom.

Discussing the Digital Writing Workshop

For over many years, the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast has provided a number of educators, especially those affiliated with the NWP, a forum in which to share their work.

In the fall of 2009, I co-hosted three episodes of “Teachers Teaching Teachers” where we invited colleagues featured in The Digital Writing Workshop to share their ideas about teaching in a digital writing workshop.

Then, in early 2010, I was invited back to talk with Renee Hobbs, author of Copyright Clarity, How Fair Use Supports Digital Learning.

Featured here are four episodes available as streaming MP3s or downloads, along with annotations pointing out significant parts of the conversations.

Choice and Inquiry

Teachers Teaching Teachers – 9/30/09 – Choice and Inquiry (MP3)

Troy Hicks, Penny Kittle, Sara Beauchamp-Hicks, and Chris Sloan. Hosted by Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim.

In this episode, we discuss how the concepts of choice and inquiry frame our approach to teaching writing, specifically in relation to teaching in a writing workshop. As students learn how to use digital writing tools like blogs, wikis, and RSS feeds, they can explore topics of personal interest and connect with their peers in order to write, read, and respond. A few highlights of the conversation:

  • 6:30 – Penny Kittle describes her approach to blending the writing workshop and technology
  • 11:15 – Troy asks Penny “what’s compelling” about using film, web, email, etc. and online mentor texts
  • 16:00 – Penny describes “One of our big mistakes” in teaching in the writing workshop
  • 22:00 – A discussion of Youth Voices leads Chris to talk about inquiry and the effect of having a network of student learners.
  • 27:50 – Building community across classrooms. Chris follows up by talking about how comments lead to more conversation. Paul talks about choice and how they find other to connect with.,
  • 36:06 – Paul talks about student blogs as an “archive of writing”
  • 43:30 – Sara talks about the censorship project on The Giver and how she used a wiki to frame it
  • 48:05 – Sara discusses how the research process changed over time for her students
  • 51:00 – A discussion of Google Apps
  • 53:30 – Roundtable discussion of one favorite tool with Chris describing the Youth Voices social network, Penny discussing iMovie, Sara talking about wikis, and Paul sharing insights about using cell phones.

Exploring Author’s Craft

Teachers Teaching Teachers – 10/7/09 – Exploring Author’s Craft in Digital Writing

Troy Hicks, Dawn Reed, Aram Kabodian, Sharon Murchie, and Shannon Powell. Hosted by Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim.

We know that good writer’s capture our attention with catchy intros and carefully use details to build their ideas in written text. But, what does the craft of writing look like in digital spaces? In this episode, we talk about how students craft audio, video, and multimedia texts using digital writing tools. Highlights of the conversation include:

  • 3:00 – Troy describes the MAPS heuristic (Mode/Media, Audience, Purpose, and Situation)
  • 18:15 – Troy introduces Dawn and the podcasting project
  • 21:00 – scripts moving from oral to written
  • 24:30 – Troy talking about editing and revising podcasts
  • 29:10 – Troy introduces Aram and the Public Service Announcement (PSA) Project
  • 31:20 – Paul asks about crafting a lead in the PSA
  • 35:45 – Paul asks about length of the PSA
  • 38:00 – Paul asks about applying MAPS
  • 42:00 – Troy introduces Sharon and she talks about the Senior Exit Project and how the presentation should take on a “bigger topic.” She also discusses using Karl Fisch’s video as a mentor text
  • 46:50 – Sharon describes her goal of having students present a final project by being able to “Press play and walk away”
  • 48:00 – Paul asks about citations and attribution
  • 50:50 – Troy introduces Shannon who talks about SSR (sustained silent reading) from RSS (real simple syndication)
  • 57:30 – Roundtable discussion of favorite digital writing tools: Dawn (recording voices), Aram (wiki), Sharon (Google Docs) and Shannon (digital story)

Conferring and Response

Teachers Teaching Teachers – 10/14/09 – Conferring and Response in the Digital Writing Workshop

Troy Hicks, Melissa Pomerantz, Heather Lewis, and Joe Bellino. Hosted by Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim.

Response is the most powerful way for writer’s to grow, so we want to think about assessment, and how students give and receive feedback. Here, we talk about what it means for teachers to provide feedback to their students using audio and embedded comments, as well as how teachers can structure positive experiences for students as they learn to respond to each other’s work. Highlights from the conversation include:

  • 7:00 – reading intro to the chapter, citing Bud
  • 8:50 – Troy introduces Melissa and she describes “the 1:1 nightmare”
  • 11:20 – Melissa describes the Word audio embed function
  • 13:10 – She talks about writing responses to students vs. recording/talking them using Audacity
  • 18:00 – Susan mentions screencasting and VoiceThread, and the possibility of sharing with parents
  • 25:40 – Troy introduces Heather, who talks about the benefits of using Google Docs, including revision and ownership
  • 39:30 – Heather talks about conferring and types of response she offers
  • 43:00 – Troy introduces Joe and gets an overview of how he uses Google Docs
  • 49:20 – Joe describes how peer response in Google Docs, for his students, is more valuable than with typical peer response talk
  • 52:00 – A discussion of how to build community using technologies

Copyright and Fair Use

Teachers Teaching Teachers – 1/27/10 – “Renee Hobbs and Troy Hicks Discuss Fair Use” (MP3)

Renee Hobbs, Troy Hicks, and Chris Sloan. Hosted by Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim.

In this episode, Renee and I talk about her work related to the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education as well as her book, Copyright Clarity.  We discuss samples of student work and how educators can think about the process of applying principles of fair use as they help their students craft digital writing. Chris began with the question, “What can you use and what can’t you use when it comes to copyrighted material?” and the conversation moves forward from there.

6:20 – 10:20
Chris asks Renee to describe the process that led Renee and her colleagues to create the  Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education. She discusses the ways that teachers were invited into the work and how they shared their understandings of copyright and fair use, including the development of ten hypothetical scenarios involving copyright and fair use.

11:25 – 12:20
Renee responds to a concern from Susan about how to bring up this conversation with other teachers, discussing how teachers are inclined to share and it is the media industry that has frightened teachers into not sharing at all.

“The culture of teaching is a culture that’s built on sharing. When you find something good you share it, right? … where we start with teachers for whom this isn’t even on the radar screen, is to acknowledge how much sharing is a part of the ethic at the heart of what we do as educators… Sharing is not a bad thing. sharing is not stealing.” —Renee Hobbs

12:20 – 15:30
Chris prompts Troy to talk about his thinking related to fair use and how it changed during the writing of his book, The Digital Writing Workshop, and how Paul, Chris, and Renee have influenced his thinking.

16:20 – 20:20
Renee talks about how educators’ understanding of copyright law has deepened over the years, and the influence of Creative Commons licensing on users’ rights. She describes how copyright protects both authors’ rights, and users’ rights, too. Then Chris discusses how understanding copyright is a part of digital citizenship. Renee follows up by discussing a reasoning process for determining fair use.

“As our understanding of the law has deepened… what happened to many of us educators is that copyright was never ever on the agenda, that all of a sudden there was all this fear and anxiety… and there was this great sense that we might be violating [the law]. And, then, all of a sudden came a savior to rescue us, Creative Commons, and we said there’s the answer to our problems. It is important for your listeners to understand that Creative Commons is a licensing scheme, and that is basically is a way that owners can formally grant permission for others to use their work. And a licensing scheme is another way of asking permission. It’s another kind of author right. And while it’s wonderful that the Creative Commons licensing gives us users a lot more flexibility in how we can use materials that doesn’t take away or diminish… our user rights. Because remember that the purpose of copyright is to promote creativity and the spread of knowledge. The protection of owner’s rights is only one half of the bargain that is at the heart of copyright law. The other half of that bargain is fair use.” —Renee Hobbs

20:52 – 31:30
In this extended segment, Paul prompts Troy and Renee into a discussion of the pedagogical and legal issues related to using digital media and inline linking as a part of understanding ownership and authorship, as well as critical thinking and composing. Renee also talks about citing sources as an ethical, not legal obligation, then Troy elaborates on that idea as a teacher of writing and Renee replies about the way she looks at different academic discourse communities and norms of attribution, as well as ways to approach the integration of copyrighted materials through a genre-based lens. Troy follows with a quick discussion of one way to cite a PSA by posting a video without citations, but then citing your sources on a webpage related to the video.

“It turns out that, from a legal point of view, citing your sources doesn’t have anything to do with the law… Whether and how we cite sources is a matter of professional obligation within a discourse community and there are different norms within different discourse communities about attribution, or citing one’s sources. But, citing sources doesn’t have anything to do with copyright because citing sources is an ethical obligation, where as copyright is a legal obligation.” —Renee Hobbs

“When it comes down to the legal issues, that idea of ‘transformativeness’ is really about asking questions that we English teachers are really good at asking. ‘What’s your purpose? Why did you use the other person’s material? How did your use of the material change the syntax of the communicative function? And, did you used just as much as you needed, or are you repeating, or rebroadcasting, or retransmitting and in some way competing with the person who created the original materials? Those are questions that are basically at the heart of the way we English teachers think about helping students understand their purpose, their audience, and their goals… once teachers have a deep understanding of copyright and fair use, I think it’s pretty easy for them to integrate that into their teaching.” —Renee Hobbs

31:30 – 40:35
Renee, Chris, and Susan talk about how a photography project is a well-reasoned example of fair use of copyrighted materials. Does the use of the copyright material benefit society more than it hurts the copyright holder? They then go on to discuss the ways that students sharing their work and building on one another’s work is a part of a more open culture mediated by networks.

40:50 – 46:36
Paul gives an example of how students would find images on Google and asks whether they really need to go through a fair use reasoning process, or if they can just use the images because it is a protected use of copyrighted material. Renee then elaborates on how students must move beyond simply retransmitting work, and make transformative use of it. She also discusses how fair use differs from piracy in that students must respect the rights of authors.

52:37 – 57:22
Paul shares an example of a student who has published a poem to Youth Voices and how she wants to protect her work, then Renee deconstructs this example in terms of her rights as an author and from the perspective of the rights of the users, too. Chris follows up with an example from his classroom and how students feel about other students building off of their original work.

1:05:04 – 1:09:00
Paul sums up the show by citing an image taken by a sailor in the US Navy and relating it to what a student should do when using that image and reasoning fair use. Renee replies by discussing how the cluster of concepts related to copyright, fair use, the public domain and related images connects to this idea. the show closes with us discussing the ways that fair use can and should be taught over time and in context in our classrooms.

The Digital Writing Workshop

This video captures the process of digital project creation in my English classroom. My students blog on our social network, create films, podcasts, and other digital media, and ultimately share their final projects during end-of-project screenings.

Environmental Problem Solvers

Developed by: Sarah Alessio Shea
Subjects:  Science, Environment, Ecology
Estimated Time:  10 sessions over 2-4 weeks
Grade Level: 6-8
Download the lesson plan and related materials (PDF) →

About This Lesson Plan:

The Environmental Problem Solvers Curriculum will educate middle school students about regional environmental issues and show them practical applications for how to make an impact on regional environmental issues.  Students will learn about household toxins, watersheds and water quality, and waste management.  They will utilize this information to develop tools and projects that help the local environment such as installing rain barrels or recycling signage at their school.  They will take their knowledge and present their projects to their classmates.

About Pennsylvania Resources Council:

PRC is Pennsylvania’s oldest grassroots environmental organization. Since 1939 we have worked to protect the Commonwealth’s resources for future generations through environmental education, recycling and waste diversion programs, anti-litter campaigns and much more. Navigate the pages below to find more about PRC’s history and current projects and programs.

Pro Tips:

This lesson plan invites students to look closely at how small steps at home can make a global environmental impact. Consider using elements of this lesson plan to help your students investigate similar issues and find new ways to engage in your community. What environmental issues are especially pressing in your community? What community partners might be help your students with their research? Who might be willing to help your students showcase their work and spread the word about their insights?

Lesson Plan

Lesson One (Intro to Unit: Regional Environmental Issues)

Students will be introduced to local/regional environmental issues and how people can make positive impacts.  Teachers can choose from a variety of issues to focus on and may take something from the state of PA to emphasize ideas.

  • Discuss Earth Awareness. Create a KWL chart on ways to make our planet better and cleaner. Ask students to what topic they would like to learn more about (air pollution,, humans and the environment, recycling, water supply, etc)
  • Protecting Our Planet:

Lesson 2-7 (Background Knowledge)

Students will learn background information on Natural Resources, Recycling, Composting, Watersheds, and Environmental Health or whichever topics the teacher chooses.  Lesson plans included in the Google doc.  Through these lessons students will get a grasp on the value of conserving our natural resources and ways they can make changes in their lives to improve the quality of their environment.

Hands on Activities (Lesson 6 and School Waste Audit)
Hands-on activities include:

  • Waste Audit of specific classrooms, cafeteria, etc
  • Watershed Extension Activities

Lesson 8-9 (Final Project)

With the final project students will take the background knowledge gained from previous lesson and utilize this to develop a project to make a positive impact on a local environmental issue.  This could be through implementing a program such as recycling or composting in a classroom or schoolwide, or creating an education campaign for students on non toxic products, and more.

Teacher will review topics discussed and ask students to imagine and generate some project ideas based on these topics (see attached document for examples).  Once a list of ideas have been generated, the instructor will guide students to pick which topic/idea they are most interested in.  Students will be grouped together with students with shared project interest

Teacher will give students a work day to develop their project ideas and sketch out a plan for what they will do, how they will do it, and why (ie what is the need for their project).
Each group will get review time with teacher to fine tune their project ideas.

Students will receive a selected number of class periods to work on their project.  Teacher feedback will be key throughout to ensure students are on the right track and have needed materials (computer access, hard supplies, etc) to complete their idea.

Lesson Ten (Final Project Presentations)

Students will present their final project/idea/campaign to their fellow classmates over the course of one to two class periods.  Students will be responsible for explaining to their classmates why they chose the project/idea they did, what impact the project could have on their community or school, and how it will positively impact the environment.  After each presentation, students in the classroom will give a written response highlighting what they think were the strengths and the weaknesses of each presentation (See Student Presentation Feedback Form for example).  These will be collected by the teacher and reviewed with all students on the final day.

  1. Open Lesson 1 – Watershed Awareness Power Point (PDF) →
  2. Open Lesson 2 – Natural Resources (Word) →
  3. Open Lesson 4 – Recycling and Closing the Loop (Word) →
  4. Open Lesson 5 – Composting (Word) →
  5. Open Lesson 6 – Watershed Educators Guide (PDF) →
  6. Open Lesson 6 – Watershed Student Guide (PDF) →
  7. Open Lesson 7 – CHE-Hormone Disruptors and Womens Health (PDF) →
  8. Open Lesson 7 – discussionguide (PDF) →
  9. Open Lesson 7 – Eval Form 2 (Word) →
  10. Open Lesson 7 – EWG-2009-schoolcleaningsupplies (PDF) →
  11. Open Lesson 7 – EWGguide-cellphone_radiation (PDF) →
  12. Open Lesson 7 – Home Audit Worksheet (Word) →
  13. Open Lesson 7 – Non toxic PCP recipes (Word) →
  14. Open Lesson 7 – Post-test (Word) →
  15. Open Lesson 7 – Pre-test Post-test Answer Key (Word) →
  16. Open Lesson 7 – Pre-test (Word) →
  17. Open Lesson 7 – Resources (PDF) →
  18. Open Lesson 7 – Sample Letter to company (Word) →
  19. Open Lesson 7 – UPCI Lesson Plans – 2009-2010 (Word) →
  20. Open Lesson 7 – Vocabulary (Word) →
  21. Open School Waste Audit Guide (Word) →
  22. Open Student Presentation Feedback Form (Word) →
  23. Open Student Project Ideas (Word) →

Standards, Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings

Content Standards

Next Generation Science Standards
MS-ESS3 Earth and Human Activity
ESS3.A: Natural Resources
ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems
MS-ESS2-4 Earth’s Systems

Standards for each lesson:

  • Lesson one (Introduction):
    • 4.5.8.A Explain how Best Management Practices (BMP) can be used to mitigate environmental problems.
    • 4.5.8.C Describe how humans can reduce pollution.
  • Lesson two (Natural Resources):
    • 4.3.7.A Explain how products are derived from natural resources.
  • Lesson three (Landfills and Solid Waste)
    • 3.4.7.B2 Explain how decisions to develop and use technologies may be influenced by environmental and economic concerns.
  • Lesson Four/Five (Recycling & Composting)
    • 4.1.6.D Explain the costs and benefits of recycling in controlling resource use.
  • Lesson Six (Watersheds)
    • 4.2.6.C Identify natural and human-made factors that affect water quality.
    • 4.2.7.A Explain how water enters, moves through, and leaves a watershed.
    • 4.2.7.B Explain the primary functions of a wetland within a watershed.
  •  Lesson Seven (Environmental Health)
    • 4.3.7 A Identify environmental health issue
    • 10.1.6 C Analyze nutritional concepts that impact health.
    • 10.1.6 E Identify health problems that can occur throughout life and describe ways to prevent them.
    • 10.2.6 A Explain the relationship between personal health practices and individual well-being.
    • 10.2.6 B Explain the relationship between health-related information and consumer choices.
    • 10.2.6 D Describe and apply the steps of a decision-making process to health and safety issues.
    • 10.2.6 E   Analyze environmental factors that impact health

Understandings (what do you expect your students to understand? What misconceptions do you need to overcome?)

  • Overarching Understandings
    • Students can make an impact on local and regional environmental issues by starting in their schools and own communities.
  • Related Misconceptions
    • Students may believe that one person cannot make a difference.  This curriculum’s goal is to show them that one person can make a lasting sustainable difference or change in their school or community through promoting positive environmental change

Topical Understandings 

  • Lesson one (Introduction): Students will be introduced to national environmental issue to engage them in how local people can make an impact on larger scale issues.
  • Lesson two (Natural Resources): Students will be able to identify the five basic categories of natural resources and how they are used in everyday lift.
  • Lesson three (Landfills and Solid Waste): Students will identify the four parts of the waste streams, identify parts of a landfill and problems caused by them. Students will be able to do a home audit of their waste as take home assignment.
  • Lesson Four/Five (Recycling & Composting): Students will learn about “Closing the Loop” and the importance of completing the recycling process. Students will also be able to identify materials that can be easily composted as well as how the system of composting works.
  • Lesson Six (Watersheds): Students will be able to identify the parts of the hydrologic cycle, define “watershed”, and have an awareness of how human behavior impacts the quality and quantity of water.
  • Lesson Seven (Environmental Health): Students will understand the links between the environment, personal behavior and human health/cancer. Students will be able to list some of the environmental hazards presented by personal care products, cleaning products, lawn and garden care products, second-hand smoke, the production of electricity, and industrial pollutants.

Knowledge: Students will know…

  • Utilizing knowledge gained initial lessons students will know some of the environmental issues facing the region today

Skills: Students will be able to…

  • Take their knowledge gain and develop a tool/campaign to help tackle a local environmental issue in their school or community

My Block is Beautiful

Developed by: James Brown
Subjects: Fine Arts (Photography, Art as Social Practice, Graphic Design, Screenprinting)
Grade Level: 6-8, 9-12
Estimated Time:  Developed as a 20-week project. Can be shortened or extended.
Download the lesson plan and related materials (PDF) →

About This Lesson Plan:

My Block is Beautiful, a project of YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, is an interdisciplinary S.T.E.A.M. project that integrates art, media, technology and civic pride. High School students from the Westinghouse High School feeder pattern participate in a 4 month-long series of workshops that include drone training, aerial photography, photo manipulation, screen printing and gallery installation. During these workshops participants learn about the science and practical application of drones and use them to take aerial photos of blocks in their community. They then transform these digital images into works of art — resulting in a digital/artistic beautification of their neighborhood. At each phase of the process, youth work alongside experienced mentors including drone experts, photographers, graphic designers and screen printers. This project is ideal for high school students, and it can be adapted for middle school.

About YMCA Lighthouse at Homewood-Brushton YMCA:

The YMCA Lighthouse mission is to develop young people that are creative, connected and ready for college and career. Based inside the Homewood-Brushton YMCA, the Lighthouse Project is a safe and exciting place for young people to explore their interests in music, film, photography, art and fashion. In each of our arts programs, experienced teaching artists empower young people to find their voice while building technical and transferable skills that position them for success after high school. Each arts program combines project-based learning, critical analysis and creative expression in ways that stimulate curiosity, build community, and transform youth in confident, creative leaders.

Pro Tips:

If you have access to a drone, perfect! If not, consider how you might use other technology tools to photograph or otherwise document your location from a new perspective. Use the tools you have to create artwork that reshapes perspectives and helps start dialogue about a place your students know well. Use these tools to think critically about how stories are told—and how your students might tell their own stories.

Standards, Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings


  • Youth will have an understanding of the relationship between art, technology and community
  • Youth will understand the benefits and challenges of social practice art (About social practice art)

Essential Questions

  • What is the relationship between art and technology?
  • What is the relationship between art and community? What is the role of art in building community?
  • Can art have a role to play in urban planning issues such as gentrification, environmental justice, urban blight and community development?
  • What do you/we want to say about our community (positive or negative)?
  • Who is the target audience of our work? What do we hope the audience will get from our work?


  • Students will know drone safety, various uses of drones,
  • basic urban planning concepts, examples of map-based artwork
  • Students will review maps of their community and know the various assets and challenges in their community

Skills: Students will be able to…

  • articulate drone safety; identify parts of a drone; fly and land a drone;
  • basic Photoshop skills such as photo manipulation; inserting text; applying effects (Photoshop Tutorial for Beginners)
  • Create screen printed artwork (optional)
  • Present their works and explain the social practices and creative processes involved in creating their work

Lesson Plan


  • Quadcopter (Recommended models: DJI Phantom Standard or DJI Mavic)
  • Ipad, IPhone or IPad Mini (download DJI app as per instructions)
  • Extra DJI battery (optional – for extended flight time during sessions with youth)
  • Computers with Photoshop CC installed (at least 1 CPU for everyone 2 students)
  • Micro SD USB Card reader (to transfer drone images onto a computer)
  • Color Printer or access to a printer
  • 16”x20” Wooden Screen frames (3)
  • Screen printing ink (various colors)
  • 10” Squeegee
  • Latex Gloves
  • Framed Canvases (Wood or Metal)
  • Projector (recommended)
  • Internet access (recommended)

Supply Budget Estimate: $1,600 –  $2,000

Before program begins:
Spend time with quadcopter reading instructions and getting familiar with its operation. Consult a local drone specialist. Train any other key staff on the basic safety and drone operations.

Session 1: community mapping

  • Schedule an urban planner, community historian or long time resident to lead a conversation with the group. Have students prepare interview questions.  Have a large map out on a table or projected from a computer while the conversation is taking place.
  • Questions:
    • What are some things the group may not know about their community?
    • Where are the assets in the community?
    • What should we know about the history of the neighborhood?
    • What are some current initiatives taking place that impact our community?

Session 2: Drone Safety and flight tests (DJI Resources for safe flying)

  • Rules, regulations and guidelines for your region/city
  • Learn the parts of the drone and the controls on the remote.
  • Practice taking off and landing
  • Practice basic maneuvers and photography at low altitudes
  • Take an aerial shot of your project group!

Session 3: Location selection and Photography Basics

  • Students work in small groups and use local maps to identify compelling or interesting areas of their neighborhood that they want to photograph.  What parts of the community are visually interesting? What parts of the community are important to capture and discuss?
  • Photography basics:
    • Learn the rule of thirds
    • Consider how a close-up or wide shoot of the same thing tell very different stories
    • ISO — Keep in Low
    • Resource: 10 Surefire Drone Photography Tips

Session 4: Drone shoot Day 1

  • Arrive or meet at first locations. Have students take turns flying the drone and taking pictures. Encourage students to take pictures at different angles and altitudes.

Session 5: Drone shoot Day 2

  • Students take turns taking aerial pictures at second location.

Session 6: Drone shoot Day 3

  • Students take turns taking aerial pictures at third location.

Session 7: Review images and reflect, local artist or historian workshop

  • Have images printed or compiled on a computer connected to a projector.
  • Invite each student to say something about each image they took. Have the group respond with feedback, ideas or questions. Encourage the group to start thinking about creative applications for the images.
  • Discussion Questions:
    • What do you see? Is their deeper meaning in this image?
    • What else can we say about this image?
    • What images stand out to you? Why?
  • Optional: Invite a local photographer, photojournalist or visual artist to participate in the review. Invite them to offer ideas and ask questions.

Session 8: Example artwork and idea board

  • Examples of Aerial Art: For added inspiration have students look at the work of Mark Bradford, Julie Mehretu and other similar artists. What do you like (or not like) about their work? What inspiration might you draw from this?
  • Have students create in idea board by pinning their actual images to a cork board or white board. Students can then add words and phrases and also make additional sketches. Encourage students to draw themes from the words and images.
  • Discussion Questions:
    • What are all the images and words telling us about our community?
    • Can we cluster together some words and images to create themes?
    • How can we manipulate the images and use our creativity to further communicate the themes and ideas?

Session 9: Intro to Photoshop

(Photoshop Tutorial for Beginners)

  • Import images into Photoshop and have students explore the basic functions such as applying effects, inserting text, using the lasso tool to create layers, using the paint bucket to fill colors.
  • *GIMP is a free image editing software that can be used in place of Photoshop.

Sessions 10 & 11: Photoshop continued

  • Students continue to work with images in Photoshop. Encourage students to experiment with images by turning them black & white or adding color saturation.

Session 12: Photoshop completion

  • Students should finalize their digital images and export them in preparation for screen printing or digital printing.

Session 13: Screen printing planning session

  • Students should finish exporting Photoshop files in preparation for screen-printing (or digital printing. Digital prints can be further transformed by having students cut out objects, use paint and markers and turn cut-outs into a collage. This is a recommended option if you do not have screen printing capability.)

Session 14: Field trip to art museum or art-making space

  • If time and budget allow, organize a field trip to a local art museum, gallery or art-making space.  Promote conversation about the actual meaning of the art as well they way it is presented.
  • *This break in the art-making is so that staff can have the images “burned” on the frames.  Identify a local screen print shop in your area who can do this for you or create your own screens by following this DIY Quick guide to making screens and ordering a screen printing starter kit like this one.

Sessions 15 – 17: Screenprinting

  • Students screen print images onto designated materials — Canvas, metal or wood all work well.  Here’s a DIY Quick Guide to screen printing.

Session 18: Finalize Screenprints

Sessions 19 & 20: Exhibition Prep & Event Planning

  • Students work collaboratively to design the installation of the gallery. Gallery exhibit can be a stand alone event or a component of a larger culminating showcase or community gathering.
  • *Make sure students are ready to speak about their work and engage audience members.

Gallery Exhibition & Presentation

Re-Group and Reflect

  • Students re-group to discuss the experience and complete a self-reflection survey.
  • Reflection Questions:
    • What did you like most about this project/process?
    • What did you find challenging?
    • What did you learn?
    • What would you do differently next time?
    • Did this project/process challenge your thinking about art or community? If so, how?
    • How would you describe social practice art?

Pathway to College

Developed by: Walter Lewis & Lisa Marie Benavides
Subjects:  College Readiness
Estimated Time:  8-week unit, 2 hours per week
Grade Level: 10-11
About This Lesson Plan:
Download the lesson plan and related materials (PDF) →

This lesson plan was inspired by the Post-Secondary Readiness Badge-Enabled Playlists & Pathways project is from the Homewood Children’s Village with Homewood-Brushton YMCA, Higher Achievement, Operation Better Block, and Community College of Allegheny County. Playlists and badges will reinforce the path to post-secondary success by laying out a clear route through high school and towards college or other post-secondary placements.

A key component of this program the HCV Personal Opportunity Plan (POP). The POP is a tool that guides high school students towards high school and post-secondary success. It provides a year by year roadmap for students to understand the important milestones to reach at each stage of high school and the post-secondary planning process. Built around an individual students expressed dreams, the POP documents their journey and progress through SMART goals planning, academic and college-readiness checklists, and exploratory life skill activities. The 150 page booklet is designed for students to work alongside a student advocate. A digital application is currently being explored as an expansion for the POP’s effectiveness, for students, advocates, and parents to utilize.

About Homewood Children’s Village:

Homewood Children’s Village (HCV) is a collaborative comprehensive community initiative modeled after Geoffrey Canada’s internationally acclaimed Harlem Children’s Zone. The mission of the HCV is to improve the lives of Homewood’s Children and to reweave the fabric of the community in which they live.

Pro Tips:

Many high school students don’t have access to high-quality college and career counseling resources. This lesson plan offers a framework for mentors and educators to help high school students develop a structured approach to considering their future pathways. Consider using this lesson plan in any setting where such future-thinking conversations might develop, including afterschool mentoring programs or in-school advisory settings.

Lesson Plan

Initial Questions to consider:

  • Utilize open discussion to identify student knowledge of college to career pathway.
  • Unit is designed for students who self-select to participate.
  • Students will review and refine their work through peer review, open ended questions with staff and self-reflection
  • Students will show their learning through short share outs with each deliverable culminating into the presentation at the end of the unit.
  • Student work is individualized and student led, teachers will have freedom to check in frequently with students not engaged.
  • Each activity builds off previous lessons and includes a teaching portion followed by a independent ‘making’ session. Students have freedom to work at their own pace with the unit designed with room to allow for students working at a slower pace to have time and activities for students who work at a faster pace to have activities.

Activity Plan

  • Complete and discuss 16 personalities assessment
    • To engage all learners, class discussion about the different personalities and how are all of they are all necessary will follow assessment
  • Complete ACT Major Map and discuss potential pathways to career options
  • Students will identify potential careers based off the likes and dislikes identified through the major map on the ACT profile and potential majors to reach that career.
  • Complete College Worksheet from career option
  • Utilize student obstacle map to create short and long term goal.
    •  To include multiple learning styles students will have the option to draw, build (with materials from makers box), or write their obstacles and solutions.
  • Utilizing XQ schools Pay for College tool, create a budget after finding true cost of college.
  • Prepare and deliver a 3-5 minute presentation explaining how the pieces all come together
  1. Open Choosing a College Sheet (PDF) →
  2. Open College Research Worksheet (PDF) →
  3. Open HCV Pathway to College Curriculum for Sprout Fund (PDF) →
  4. Open HCV Sprout Pathway to College Curriculum (PDF) →
  5. Open Potential Career – College Worksheet (PDF) →
  6. Open SMART Goals (PDF) →

Standards, Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings

Content Standards

  • CEW 13.1.11A
  • CEW 13.1.11B
  • CEW 13.1.11F
  • CEW 13.1.11E


  • Overarching Understandings
    • Students will understand that college is a pathway to career choices
  • Related Misconceptions
    • College is unaffordable
    • College is too far to reach

Knowledge: At the end of the unit students will know…

  • What natural abilities/talents they have that can lead them to their career
  • What different types of postsecondary institutions exist

Skills: Students will be able to…

  • plan for and create a budget for college expenses
  • effectively plan a long term goal including problem solving obstacles
  • research a postsecondary institution
  • Use evidence to present their findings

Assembling Identity: Multimedia Collage Self-Portraits

Developed by: Jess Gold
Subjects: Social Studies, Fine Arts
Estimated Time: 2 sessions, each 1-2 hours long
Grade Level: 6-8
Download the lesson plan and related materials (PDF) →

About This Lesson Plan:

In this two-session activity, middle school students will create a mixed media, identity-based self-portrait involving collage and sewn circuit components. The final self-portrait will make visual connections between aspects of the artist’s identity and will involve a lit LED.

About Assemble:

Assemble is a 501(c)3 non-profit located in Garfield, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s East End, that is dedicated to providing an on-ramp to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics in the community. We offer daily educational programs to youth throughout Pittsburgh, both in our 4824 Penn Avenue space and at local schools and community centers. Our programs provide a platform for experiential learning, open creative processes, and building confidence through making.

Pro Tips:

This deceptively simple lesson plan features a great STEAM activity: students will learn about electricity and circuits, and they’ll also articulate the characteristics that comprise their self identities. Consider using this in a science class where students are beginning to study circuits: Consider how you might use the sewing activity to help students illustrate connections between other related concepts or ideas. Similarly, consider using this activity in an ELA class or Social Studies class as you discuss fictional characters or historical figures: how might you use a similar sewing activity to illustrate these characters’ motivations, interests, or actions?

Standards, Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings

PA Content Standards

  • Standard – 3.4.6.A2 – Describe how systems thinking involves considering how every part relates to others.
  • Standard – 3.4.7.A1 – Explain how technology is closely linked to creativity, which has resulted in innovation and invention.
  • Standard – 3.4.6.B4 – Demonstrate how new technologies are developed based on people’s needs, wants, values, and/ or interests.
  • Standard – 3.4.7.C3 – Describe how troubleshooting as a problem-solving method may identify the cause of a malfunction in a technological system.
  • Standard – 3.4.6.E7 – Explain how the type of structure determines the way the parts are put together.
  • Standard – 9.1.8.E – Communicate a unifying theme or point of view through the production of works in the arts.
  • Standard – 9.1.8.J – Incorporate specific uses of traditional and contemporary technologies within the design for producing, performing and exhibiting works in the arts or the works of others.


Overarching Understandings

  • Traditional and modern forms of art and technology can be used in tandem to create complex, visually interesting mixed media creations
  • Art and technology can be employed as powerful tools for creative self-expression and community-building
  • “Technology” encompasses a wide range of science and innovation-based applications
  • Aspects of our identity and community are interconnected

Related Misconceptions

  • Art and technology are distinct areas of study that have no connection or overlap
  • Art is always purely aesthetic and has no thematic, political, or cultural significance
  • “Technology” refers only to electronic or digitally-based applications
  • Aspects of our personalities, identities, and experiences are distinct from each other have no meaningful connections

Topical Understandings    

  • Collage / Visual Art
    • Collage is an artistic technique that involves putting together an assemblage of different components to create something new
    • The individual components of a collage can gain new meaning in the context of the larger piece
  • Sewing & Circuitry
    • Sewing involves decorating or attaching objects by stitching with a needle and thread
    • While sewing is generally done with thread made from basic fibers, technologists have created thread that is conductive, allowing it to be part of a circuit.
    • A circuit is a path that electricity flows on. A circuit needs to be closed in order to successfully power an output.
    • Technologists have also created other electronic components for sewing, such as battery holders and LEDs. These components are designed to be used with conductive thread to create a functioning circuit. There are visual markers on these sewable electronics that provide information about how to use them properly.
    • LEDs are light-emitting diodes. To emit means to give off. As diodes, electricity can only flow through them in one direction. If connected the wrong way, they won’t light up. The positive side of the LED (marked as a +) must be connected to the positive side of the battery holder, and the negative side of the LED (marked as -) must be connected to the negative side of the battery holder. When a battery is in the holder, the circuit will be complete and the LED will light up.
  • Identity & Community
    • Identity is the way that we understand and define ourselves through traits, beliefs, and experiences.
    • Identity involves self-definition and expression of individuality but can also be used to make connections with others around similarities and differences


  • Students will know…
    • Basic definitions associated with collage, sewing, and simple circuitry
    • The components and structure of a simple circuit


  • Students will be able to…
    • Identify and visually communicate connections between their personalities, interests, identities, and experiences through a mixed media project
    • Combine art and electronic technology through the use of e-textiles
    • Thread a needle and sew a basic running stitch
    • Create a functioning sewn circuit that lights up an LED
    • Think critically to troubleshoot issues with their sewn circuits
    • Make connections between their projects and those of their peers
    • Work independently and collaboratively to complete a project

Lesson Plan


  • 8×11 cardstock
  • ModPodge (2 containers)
  • Glue brushes
  • Embroidery thread
  • Conductive thread
  • Sewing needles
  • Sewable LEDs
  • Sewable battery holders
  • Coin cell batteries
  • Scotch tape
  • Magazines / magazine pages for cut outs
  • Markers
  • Pencils
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes

Lesson Plan Day 1

  • Ice Breaker Go-Around (5 minutes)
  • Students share:
    • Their names
    • Their pronouns
    • One word they would use to describe themselves, a word that captures part of their identity
  • Project Overview (10 minutes)
    • Explain: Today we’re going to create mixed media, identity self-portraits involving collage and sewn circuit parts. The final self-portrait will make connections between aspects of your identity and will involve a lit LED light.
      • Show example and point to components/vocabulary words as you explain
    • Ask and write: What steps do you think this project will involve? Share examples of each step as you go.
      • Identity Intro Activity (create and share list of 10 words connected to personal identity)
      • Collage Prep Activity (cut and assemble a collection of images reflective of self-defined identity)
      • Sewing Intro Activity (sew 2 parallel 6-in running stitches on scrap fabric)
      • Circuit Intro Activity (draw and complete a simple circuit using a coin cell battery, sewable LED, sewable battery holder, and 2 alligator clips
      • Putting It All Together: Students will create mixed media, identity self-portraits involving collage and sewn circuit parts. After you collage your self-portrait, they’ll use conductive thread to sew a complete circuit on final project, ultimately lighting up an LED light
  • Identity Intro Activity (10-15 minutes)
    • Identity is the way that we understand and define ourselves through traits, beliefs, and experiences
    • Identity involves self-definition and expression of individuality but can also be used to make connections with others around similarities and differences
    • Write and/or draw a list of 5 personality traits and 5 things that make you who you are.
      • Personality trait examples: Funny, artistic, sensitive, strong, caring, introverted
      • Things that make you who you are examples: gender, race, ethnicity, religion, etc.
    • Go around in a circle and share parts of your identities that you feel comfortable sharing
      • What similarities did you notice? What differences? How did feel to share those things? Did you learn something new about your classmates?
  • Collage Prep Activity (45 minutes)
    • Show example again. Ask: What is a collage?
      • Collage is an artistic technique that involves putting together an assemblage of different components to create something new
      • How can individual parts of a collage gain new meaning in the context of the larger piece?
      • As you move into talking about collage, ask: how might a collage connect to identity?
    • Have students:
      • Use cardstock to draw an outline of their silhouette
      • Use their identity lists as inspiration as they begin looking through magazines and drawing things to cut out and use for inside of silhouette
      • Assemble collage with paper, magazine cutouts, and markers or colored pencils — show how to put everything down using glue sticks and Mod Podge
  • Sewing Intro Activity (30 minutes)
    • Show running stitch example.
      • Ask: What is sewing?
    • Sewing involves decorating or attaching objects by stitching with a needle and thread
    • We’re going to learn a running stitch (show running stitch)
    • Pass out needles (2 per student), thread (2 18 in pieces per student), and fabric scraps
    • Demonstrate and explain how to thread needle and have students follow along with both of theirs.
    • Demonstrate and explain how to sew a basic running stitch like the one you’ll be using for your sewn circuits. Have students follow along with their projects, ultimately sewing 2 parallel running stitches, roughly 1.5 inches apart.

Lesson Plan: Day 2

  • Review Day 1 Project (5 minutes)
    • Ask:
      • What were we working on yesterday?
      • What did we learn how to do?
  • Circuitry Intro Activity (20 minutes)
    • Explain: Today we’re going to make both real/visual and mental/metaphorical connections between parts of our collage! We’re going to do that by putting together sewing and circuits. Show example of finished project.
    • Ask: What is a circuit? How do we sew circuits?
      • A circuit is a path that electricity flows on. A circuit needs to be closed in order to successfully power an output.
      • Technologists have also created other electronic components for sewing, such as battery holders and LEDs. These components are designed to be used with conductive thread to create a functioning circuit. There are visual markers on these sewable electronics that provide information about how to use them properly.
      • LEDs are light-emitting diodes. To emit means to give off. As diodes, electricity can only flow through them in one direction. If connected the wrong way, they won’t light up. The positive side of the LED (marked as a +) must be connected to the positive side of the battery holder, and the negative side of the LED (marked as -) must be connected to the negative side of the battery holder. When a battery is in the holder, the circuit will be complete and the LED will light up.
    • Circuit Demo:
      • Pass out sewable LEDs, battery holders, batteries and alligator clips
      • Ask: Based on what we just talked about, can you create a circuit with these materials?
      • See if students can make their LEDs light up.
      • Ask: How did this work?
  • Putting It All Together (45 minutes)
    • Explain: Now we’re going to do this with sewable circuits on our portraits. (Yes, you can sew through paper and cardstock!) Show example sewn circuit drawing and use this to demonstrate how to create a circuit conductive thread on their collages. Have students create their own circuit drawings, using pen or marker, directly on their collage. This will provide a guide for sewing the circuits.
    • Ask: Where might we want to add stitches and LED lights on our collage portraits? How does this add to what we’re trying to communicate with our portraits?
    • Sewing Circuits:
      • Have students thread 2 needles like they did in the last session, but this time, with conductive thread.
      • Now students will sew their circuits, making their LED light up.
    • Troubleshooting:
      • Students who are struggling should ask 2 peers for help before approaching the instructor. This will encourage creative problem solving and collaboration.
  • Group Review (30 minutes)
    • Have students go around in a circle and share their projects:
      • What does my project say about who I am?
      • Where did I choose to put my LED and why?
      • What did a struggle with while completing this project?
      • What is something I learned while completing this project?
    • Give 2 students the opportunity to respond per presentation:
      • With a question
      • With an observation, either – I liked or I noticed
    • After group review, students can make modifications or revisions if desired

Green City Remix

Developed by: Mariruth Leftwich
Subjects:  Social Studies
Grade Level: 9-12
Estimated Time:  minimum of 4-6 classroom periods, plus art installation design and production time (the original project was approximately 50 contact hours with students spread over three months)
Download the lesson plan and related materials (PDF) →

About This Lesson Plan:

This lesson plan is based on the Green City Remix project, a learning experience designed by the Green Building Alliance and the Senator John Heinz History Center. The experience interweaves historical research, social change, and design. Cohorts of high school learners actively constructed Pittsburgh’s environmental Smoke Control campaign through archival research, analyzed it for social change strategies, and applied their knowledge to issues important to them. Participants remixed what they learned into an art installation that was displayed at the Heinz History Center. Through this experience, learners improved their historical thinking skills, built critical understanding of change, and creatively visualized their learning with hands-on making.

About Senator John Heinz History Center

Devoted to the history and heritage of Western Pennsylvania, the Senator John Heinz History Center (legal name – the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania) is Pennsylvania’s largest history museum and a proud affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The History Center is an educational institution that engages and inspires a large and diverse audience with links to the past, understanding in the present, and guidance for the future by preserving regional history and presenting the American experience with a Western Pennsylvania connection.

Pro Tips:

This project is a framework for helping students analyze and engage with primary source materials and thereby reframe their understanding of their local community.

Lesson Plan 5: Installation Design

Materials and Resources Required:

  • Copies of all primary sources used in both Activity 1 and 3
  • Social Change Timeline from Activity 1
  • Art Supplies and Prototype Supplies that have been available throughout the project
  • Participant Issue Interest Word Cloud from Activity 1
  • Resource Appendix: Installation Design Plan (edit to meet the needs of your specific site)


  • Share an art installation that features historic maps as way to “question our ideas of progress, the future, and nostalgia for the past.”
  • Examine the artist’s statement on the web page that features the project and ask participants how they see these artistic goals represented in the art installation.


  • At this point in the project, participants should be broken into working groups for the installation. These groups can be formed in a range of ways: similar interests for the contemporary issue featured, a common interest in the medium/format being used, ensuring a range of participant skills are grouped (writing, design, installation, etc.).
  • Walk groups through the installation proposal process with an initial focus on the thesis statement and key idea. Each section of the proposal can be treated as its own session depending on the amount of time you have for the project.
  • The design and installation process will be iterative and will require several sessions to refine the ideas and move the ideas into production.  Below is an example of an installation sketch that accompanied a design proposal for the Green City Remix project.

Lesson Plan 4: Remixing the Past and Connecting the Present

Materials and Resources Required:

  • Copies of all primary sources used in both Activity 1 and 3
  • Social Change Timeline from Activity 1
  • Art Supplies and Prototype Supplies that have been available throughout the project
  • Participant Issue Interest Word Cloud from Activity 1


  • Review the Social Change Timeline, which showcases the issue and historic sources in a chronological order.
  • Explain that the purpose of the art installation is to find creative ways to re-interpret these sources in a way that does not rely on traditional narrative.


  • Provide small groups with a set of 4-6 sources and ask them to ‘remix’ the sources in a way that does not rely on chronology. What are other ways that we can group or interpret historic sources? How might you think about different forms of media or mediums to interpret the sources to talk about social change?
  • Allow groups 20 minutes to create an idea for a remix installation (they do not have to actually prototype the installation at this point) with a focus on deciding two elements:
    • The social change strategy the group would like to highlight
    • The medium or format for remixing, which could range from an image collage to music or video.
  • Have each group share their ideas and receive feedback from other participants.
  • As a large group, return to the Word Cloud of issues that participants are interested in from the first activity. How do these issues relate to the social change strategies that groups just highlighted in their remix installation brainstorming?
  • Return to small groups and ask participants to create a rapid prototype that connects the historic interpretation they focused on earlier in the activity with at least one modern issue or social change strategy that they are concerned about.
  • Share out the installation prototypes and ask learners to reflect on how they might use the installation to connect social change in the past with social change today.

Lesson Plan 3: Building Empathy

Materials and Resources Required:

  • Instructors should identify 5-10 historic images that relate to the topic of the project that document the social issue.
  • Resource Appendix: Observing and Describing the Past
  • Social Change Timeline from Activity 1
  • Rapid Prototype Supplies – these can vary based on supplies available and can include sheets of aluminum foil, popsicle sticks, yarn, felt, scissors, glue sticks, etc.


  • The purpose of this activity is for learners to think about the past and social change in a more affective way, building empathy around the social change issue. Begin by sharing a historic image that is evidence of the problem. In the case of the Green City Remix project, which focused on air quality issues, a ‘night scene’ image was used that shows the city at what appears to be nighttime, but was in fact a darkened mid-day scene that was the result of air pollution.
  • Instead of completing an analysis of the source, ask learners: how does this image make you feel? If you were standing in this image, what words would you use to describe your emotions at that moment?


  • Using the set of historic images, ask them to observe and describe the past using the descriptive framework. This exercise has learners explore the environmental setting, the people, and the interactions they see in the image. Have learners title the image and writing a descriptive paragraph about the experience represented in the image.
  • As learners share out their descriptions, record the words that are used to describe the past. How do the immersive descriptions of the past help us build empathy for the social issue?
  • When the participants begin planning their remix installation it will be important that they consider how the installation will make the viewer feel, using emotions to connect the audience with the issue. Using the list of descriptive words from the first part of the activity, form students into small groups and ask them to represent the feelings around the social issue using rapid prototyping supplies.
  • Each group should select one event, person, action, or strategy from the Social Change Timeline and create a prototype installation that reflects their chosen timeline item.
  • Give groups 20 minutes to create their mini-installation that will accompany the timeline. This exercise will also give participants an opportunity to think about how they might use supplies and approaches in their installation.

Each group should share out their prototype. Before the group describes what they were trying to achieve with their installation, ask other participants what they think the installation represents and how it makes them feel as a viewer.

Open Resource — Observing and Describing the Past (PDF) →

Lesson Plan 2: Understanding Social Change Today

Materials and Resources Required:

  • Guest speaker or information about the same or similar issue of social change that shares a contemporary perspective
  • Resources from a contemporary social action agency related to the topic
  • Chart paper/whiteboard for a comparison chart
  • Art supplies: whiteboards, whiteboard markers
  • Optional Art Supplies: LED lights with batteries attached to better simulate ‘remixing’ ideas using a creative media. These LED lights can be easily constructed using LED bulbs and lithium batteries. For a full set of instructions, visit:


  • Review the results from the first activity and make a written list of the important change strategies learners saw documented in the historic sources (legislative or policy change, campaigns to change behaviors, attempts at changing business practice, raising public awareness, etc.).
  • Ask learners to consider if this issue is still something people are concerned with today, and if so, how do they think the contemporary issue is being handled today?


  • Provide a briefing on the contemporary issue, which may include relevant speakers, videos, scientific research, news articles, etc.
  • After being presented with the contemporary issue information, ask learners to identify the strategies for change that they see represented. List the current change strategies in a column beside the historic change strategies and ask learners to compare and contrast strategies (i.e. in the past there may have been a reliance on print media or radio broadcasts to influence public opinions and today there is an emphasis on social media).
  • Describe a contemporary issue scenario and ask small groups to brainstorm what strategies they might use to see change happen. The example from the Green City Remix project was highlighting the work of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) and a current project they are working on to enforce school buses using clean fuel sources ( and groups were asked to create a list of potential strategies that could help GASP succeed.
  • Art Activity: This project will culminate in the participants creating a reflective art installation, and the second half of this activity asks learners to practice transforming their ideas into concepts/statements rather than narratives.
    • The goal of the art activity is for learners to think about how they might visualize an issue using a medium primarily other than words.
    • For the Green City Remix project, students were asked to visualize the invisible impacts of air pollution on the Pittsburgh skyline. Participants were provided with magnetic dry erase boards, dry erase markers, and LED lights that were powered by lithium batteries with magnets attached. They used the colored lights against a vinyl silhouette of the city skyline to create an artistic representation of air quality issues today. Example images of the activity are included below:

Lesson Plan 1: Understanding Change Through Primary Sources

Materials and Resources Required:

  • Instructors should identify 10 – 15 primary sources that relate to the topic of the project that helps illustrate social change. Select sources that represent multiple perspectives.
  • Resource Appendix: Archival Document Analysis Framework
  • Resource Appendix: Photograph Quadrant Analysis Framework
  • Timeline drawn on whiteboard or large sheet of paper (The timeline will be used again in the project, so keep it posted or photograph the final product.)
  • Photocopies of the sources that will be taped to the large timeline
  • Tape/glue to place sources on the timeline
  • Markers for timeline annotation


  • Ask learners to share issues that they are concerned about today. Record responses in a Word document and upload to form a word cloud ( that highlights shared and varied concerns (used again in Activity 4).
  • Hook students with an understanding of the social change issue that you will be ‘remixing’ by selecting a historic image that documents the issue being discussed. In the case of the Green City Remix project, which focused on air quality, a ‘night scene’ image was used that shows the city at what appears to be nighttime, but was in fact a mid-day scene that was the result of air pollution (examples on Historic Pittsburgh). Explore the image with students asking them to identify the issues that they see represented in the image.


  • Introduce the timeline, which should include basic beginning, ending, and any key dates to the topic being discussed (i.e. key legislation, events, group actions, etc).
  • Begin the session by modeling the analysis of a document or image using the analysis frameworks listed in the resource section to answer the key question: how does this source document social change?
  • Divide students into groups and have them analyze 1-3 sources depending on the number of groups and sources available.
  • Each small group will present their sources to the whole group and place the source onto the collaborative timeline.
  • After all of the sources have been placed on the timeline, collectively go through and annotate the timeline to identify: issues, people/groups, actions, and strategies. Remember that these actions and strategies may either move an action forward, block an action, or be an action of resistance.
  • Conclude the activity by asking learners to identify the key components of social change that they see documented in the historic sources.

Open Resource — Analyzing a Photograph (PDF) →
Open Resource — Analyzing Historic Document (PDF) →

Standards, Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings:


Students will:

  • understand that strategies for social change are similar across time and issues
  • understand how they might apply lessons learned from a historic case study to an issue or challenge important to them today


Students will:

  • recognize the relevant knowledge that can be gained from historical analysis and the ways in which such knowledge can empower social change
  • articulate how change was implemented in the past based on analysis of primary sources
  • identify and analyze strategies and practices used in the past that advanced the cause or stalled it
  • document how knowledge of the strategies and practices identified during their historical analysis influences their understanding of change
  • apply this understanding to a current movement related to social change and articulate what is similar and different about the two initiatives


Students will be able to:

  • demonstrate an ability to make claim-evidence connections between primary and secondary sources and their interpretations
  • map the relationship between different elements involved in social change, including policy, leadership, socio-cultural factors, and citizen activism
  • balance different perspectives of those involved in social change by critically examining diverse pieces of archival evidence