Tag Archives: Think Alouds

Eight Guys From Trenton (cont’d)

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for the blog on my favorite eight guys from Trenton. I have updated information on these fellows. I still don’t know who they are, but I know a lot more than I used to about the image itself.

I’m not why, but in a fit of boredom, I searched on the name of the frame shop (Kalen’s) that had framed the image. I’d done this search before without success, but this time, to my surprise, I got a hit — a fine arts business in California that is the descendant of Kalen’s Picture and Frame Shop. I wrote to them and received an email back from one of the descendants of the owners of Kalen’s. Here’s what he told me about the picture of my eight guys:

The sticker on the back of the picture is obviously one of ours.  It comes from my grandfather’s ownership days.  You did not mention, so I wonder if anyone noticed that the phone number on the Kalen’s sticker is 25446.  Ever since I was a kid and until the return to all-number phone numbers of the 1960’s the phone number I knew was EXport2-5446.  So the label predates that type of phone numbering.  I am told that the letter prefixes came into play when an exchange had more then 10,000 phones on it.  Anyway from what I can tell, that sticker would have come from a time between 1919 and 1933.

The dating of the image is one of the things that bedevils my students all the time. Now we can narrow it down to a couple of decades. My correspondent continued:

You already know that the Roma Photography Studio is not a current business in Trenton, NJ.  But given the ethnic cohesiveness and the pretty specific neighborhood-centricity involved in the Trenton I know about, makes me feel that the people in the photo were probably Italian. It might also explain why these 8 were all together and the skin tone variation. I did not run it much further than that, But there is an Italian American society and others in and around Trenton that might be an interesting avenue to pursue. Given the dress of the men, the fountain pens in the jacket pockets (an interesting cultural item in itself) and the gold vest chain on one fellow, these were not poor folks.  There was an Italian owned Building and Loan, and some very prosperous attorneys who invested in Trenton businesses.  Joseph Felcone, eg, and the guys who all formed the Roma  Building and Loan might be an idea too.  OTOH the mob did not pose for pictures very often.

The Roma Building and Loan is now the Roma Bank. I’ve written to them to see if they can help and to the Trenton Historical Society. Anyone who has done this sort of scavenger hunting in local and out of the way collections knows that each step in the process is a longshot and the whole thing could come crashing to a halt at any moment. But for now, there is a certain thrill at the thought that I might actually find out who my eight guys actually are.

Historical Thinking Submerged

A second project I want to highlight from my graduate seminar Teaching History in the Digital Age is by Kurt Knoerl. Kurt is the owner and webmaster of the Museum of Underwater Archaeology and one of the PhD students in our program. The Museum exists entirely online, but Kurt has plans to establish a distributed physical presence in the years to come (ask him what that means…it’s a revolutionary idea).

For his class project Kurt worked with a graduate underwater archaeology course at East Carolina University and made space on his website for the grad students to write about their experiences beneath the waves and then in the lab. Kurt’s stated goal for the project was to see whether forcing the students to write about their work in online journals would meet his (and the professors’) goal of “influencing and impacting underwater archaeologists’ attitudes about using the Internet to reach the public.”

Students in the class wrote weekly entries in the online journal and then as the semester progressed Kurt interviewed them about their experiences and their attitudes about writing exercise. What he noticed was that the early entries were much chattier and informal, but as soon as he pointed out to them that their entries were attracting a fairly large audience (large for underwater archaeology…meaning in the hundreds), they began to take much more care with their writing. In short, knowing they had an audience introduced an element of professionalism in their work that was lacking at first.

One of the strengths of this project is that Kurt interviewed the students and posted video of those interviews online (unfortunately available only in .wmv format). Only a couple of these are up on the site now, but more will be in the weeks to come as he wraps up the project.

By watching these interviews–think alouds of a sort–you can get a sense for how the students’ thinking about their work underwater changed over the course of the semester. Having this sort of evidence of student thinking about a course is invaluable as we try to figure out what works and what doesn’t in our courses. Also, it’s worth noting that Kurt did these “video” interviews with an Olympus still camera and its built-in microphone. Obviously, this doesn’t produce professional quality video–but it does produce “good enough” video that can be displayed online. Continue reading

Me Media

A couple of summers ago I gave a series of workshops under the aegis of the various Teaching American History grants that the Center for History and New Media runs in conjunction with area school districts. One set of those talks was captured on tape and is now available online. Watching yourself teach is fairly painful at first, but after a while, you begin to notice things you do well and things you do less well.

The question I have is how well a video like this would look on the small screen of the iPod in a vodcast? I don’t think it would work visually, because the camera is too far from the speaker (me), but those moments when the camera operator zoomed in seem like they would work on the tiny screen. During segment #2 I have one of the participants doing a think aloud and, if I were doing this is a vodcast, I would certainly have images of the sources she is looking at projected on screen. The photographs would be fine (I think) on the tiny screen, but the text would not, even though it is a short text. Students watching such a vodcast would have to watch it on their computer to have access to the full range of the images.

If you just can’t get enough of me after watching one of the video segments, you can also listen to an interview I did with WGR radio (Charlottesville) last winter in which I talk about my trajectory in the scholarship of teaching and learning (I’m at the bottom of the page). Or you can hear my contributions in to a podcast interview on copyright done by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society that is an exploration of copyright in the digital realm.

Eight Guys From Trenton

Ever since I first encountered the work of Sam Wineburg, I’ve tried to incorporate “think alouds” into my teaching as a way of getting my students to see how it is that we construct historical understanding. At first, I tried using texts, but I found this too cumbersome, so I switched to images. I almost always do this on the first day of class to let my students know that all semester long we’ll be visiting and revisiting their thinking processes–and it’s a low stress and generally fun exercise to do on day one.

The image I use is this picture of eight guys from Trenton (click to enlarge):


I ask my students to first tell me everything they know for sure about the photograph and then to tell me what they suspect about it. And as they do this, I ask them to think out loud, exposing their thought processes to the entire class. The first two of these tasks are easy, but the thinking aloud part is difficult. Only when I get to the second or third student in the room does it really begin to work–either because they now know what do to or because any anxiety that might have existed has worn off, or both.

The students who really try hard on this notice a number of interesting details, most notably the seal in the bottom right corner, which tells them that the image was made at the Roma Photo Studio in Trenton, NJ:


Only about half of the students actually ever turn it over to see what’s on the back:


The label there tells them that it was framed at Kalen’s Frame Shop:


A quick search in Google tells us that, alas, Kalen’s is no more, because the address on the label turns out to be a parking lot these days (when I drove past it years ago, it was a dilapidated building with no evidence of having been a photo studio):


My students have all sorts of theories about the men depicted here. They are bankers. They are in the mob. They are members of a club. They know each other. They don’t know each other. They are wealthy. They are middle-class. They like each other. They don’t like each other. They are all white. One of them (front row left) is less white (Italian, Hispanic, etc.). That less white person just got back from the beach and is just tanned. The photo is from the 1920s. No, it’s from the 1930s. No, the 1940s. No, the 1950s. They are old (“like, in their forties,” one of my freshmen said last month.) No extra credit for him.

Along the way we learn something about how people make assumptions about sources that they don’t know a lot about and how those assumptions can be tested against other evidence. And we have some fun laughing about things that come up in the discussion.

At the end of the exercise, my students always ask me what the “real story” behind the photograph is. I have to admit then that I have no earthly idea. I bought this frame/photo combination at a junk shop in Washington, D.C. about 20 years ago for 50 cents because I wanted the frame. I was about to tear out the photograph when I decided that I kind of liked those eight guys from Trenton. So, instead, I put a label on the frame that said “Our First Board of Directors” and hung it on the wall in the office of the consulting firm where I worked at the time. People who visited me there would see the picture and comment that they hadn’t realized that my company had been in business so long. Of course, I didn’t disabuse them of this notion.

If you want to read a more formal discussion of integrating think alouds into a course, read Lendol Calder’s recent essay in the Journal of American History.