Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Razzle Dazzle and All That Jazz...Again

Lesson Planning 101 teaches that students must be engaged in the lesson for learning to take place. Charlotte Danielson of the Educational Testing Service states students should not simply spend “time on task” but should be actively involved in the curriculum. She calls it “minds-on learning.” In fact many researchers have shown that teachers who are most successful develop activities with students’ basic psychological and intellectual needs in mind (Ames, Alderman & Midgley, and Strong, et. al.).

Those statements sound good to me. I agree with them, however, I often feel as if I am doing a frantic tap dance attempting to keep everyone focused and learning at the same time. Spinning plates is the best way I know how to describe delivering instruction in a classroom that has quite a menu of interruptions from loose teeth, unannounced visitors, and the ever squawking intercom.

From time to time the content I teach actually gives me aide and comfort and makes my tap dancing steps a little less difficult. World War I gives me many opportunties to catch my breath as I am able to present one interesting idea concerning the war after another that successfully engages students. The Georgia standard I’m most concerned during this time is SS5H4(a) which involves German attacks on U.S. shipping during the war in Europe and how it eventually led to our involvement in the war.

After we have discussed the causes of the war (another post for another time) we take a look at the German U-Boats and their attacks on merchant and passenger ships especially the British passenger liner, Lusitania, where several hundred Americans were killed. Students generally take a look at passenger recollections of the event at great websites like Lusitania: Lest We Forget. We debate the question if it was correct for the Germans to fire on the passenger liner and through a power point I've created we take a look at evidence ending in a 2006 underwater expedition that confirmed the Lusitania was carrying munitions.

Then we take a look at camouflage.

I show students an image of camouflage. “What’s this?” I ask.

Hands begin to wave frantically.

Of course most of my students know what I’m showing them. Many hunt with their fathers, even some of the girls. A lively conversation begins. Just like their daddies every young hunter has a story to tell. Other students are just as familiar with the military uses of camouflage.

I tell students military forces across the world haven’t always used camouflage. It wasn’t until the savagery of World War I that it began to be used extensively in many different nations including the United States. I show students images of the British Redcoats and Patriot soldiers during the American Revolution.

Nope, no camouflage there.

Then I show them images of Civil War soldiers wearing the blue and grey and the more colorful Zouves.

Again, we don’t find any camouflage.

The old notion was that bright and bold designs would intimidate an enemy, but even the British threw out that tradition in 1902.

The increased use of technology during World War I---namely the use of aerial photography for surveillance and the extensive use of trench warfare provided for the widespread use of camouflage and the need for a new type of military personnel---the camoufleurs. Their job was to devise camouflage schemes to make it difficult for the enemy to locate and destroy forces and equipment. Many of the camoufleurs were artists and designers during their civilian lives.The French established the first camofleur group in 1915. The British then picked up on the idea calling the camouflage Dazzle. Finally, the U.S. began to use it and referred to it as Razzle Dazzle.

So, as many students often say, just what the heck does Picasso and art have to do with a war?

Picasso said it best when he witnessed camouflaged tanks rolling down the streets of Paris----“It is we that have created that.”

It’s at this point I share a few facts about Cubisim with students. The style of painting is thought to have begun in France around 1907 continuing through at least 1914 and beyond. Pablo Picasso is one of the best known Cubists as seen here with his L’Accordeoniste completed in 1911. Painters like Picasso liked to take objects and break them up and then present them in abstract form.

Picasso was correct. Art and war fused. Camouflage is a type of Cubism.

Many painters that are well recognized today were camoufleurs in the U.S. military----Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Birchfield, and Grant Wood.

Eventually the “school of Dazzle” was created and it was used extensively. Dazzle was camouflage used on naval vessels and it was quite dramatic using bright colors. Students are generally amazed by dazzle pictures. They do seem sort of strange looking. It was impossible to hide a ship out on the open ocean simply because they cannot melt into the background of sea and sky. Cubism helped to break the ship up and made it hard for the U-Boats to determine a ship’s speed and course. Without those two vital pieces of information a direct hit by the U-Boats was very hard to accomplish.

Take a look at the Mahomet, seen here. How many bows could this ship have?

In the beginning camoufleurs gave each ship a different design, however, as the war trudged on they devised specific designs that worked the best and used them over and over. It wasn’t just military ships that bore the Razzle Dazzle designs. Merchant ships and passenger liners become very colorful as well.

There were no color photography at the time, however, a few people have used today’s technology to cover over old dazzle pictures so that we can get an idea of what it might have looked like. A terrific website that covers all aspects of dazzle painting is presented by Roy R. Behrens HERE.

The advent of technology brought on dazzle and since technology is so fluid it effectively ended dazzle painting as well. Once radar began to be used dazzle camouflage was unnecessary. The extensive use of airplanes during warfare after World War I also made Razzle Dazzle obsolete, however, after the Japanese air power was diminished in the Pacific the Americans used some dazzle painting during World War II.

After the war dazzle painting soon began to be seen in civilian life in drawings, paintings, cartoons, clothing, and even painting on vehicles. The Behrens site gives several examples of civilian dazzle painting and goes into detail concerning the British efforts with dazzle painting.

Getting back to student engagement....after students have drawn their own ships and created their own dazzle camouflage designs it is very hard for them to forget the reasons why the United States was dragged into World War I.

Journal References:
Ames, C. (1992) Classrooms: goals, structures, and student motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84(3), 261-271.

Alderman, L.H. and Midgley, C. (1998). Motivation and middle school students [Eric Digest]. Champaign, Il., Eric Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. Ed 421 281).

Danielson, Charlotte. (1996). Enhancing professional practice: a framework for teaching. Alexandria, Va., Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Strong, R. , Silver, H.F., and Robinson, A. (1995) What do students want? Educational Leadership, 53(1), pages 8-12.

This post originally posted in July, 2007. You can click through and read the comments left at that time.

I’m reposting certain articles through the month of May… can read about it HERE.


Isabelle said...

This post is wonderful! Thanks for the reminder of how we're supposed to teach and what the goal is - student engagement. I really enjoyed reading about the activities you have planned for your students, and agree that after this, they won't soon forget about WWI. Do you have a resource you like to use for activity ideas? I typically consult a number of sources, but any suggestion helps alleviate some of the spinning plate action.

Katie said...

What a fascinating lesson! I just loved the idea of bringing these seemingly disparate topics together: cubism and'd love to learn in YOUR classroom.

EHT said...

Isabelle, the number of resource books I own would boggle the mind. I generally sift through them constantly trying to get ideas to engage students with.

Thank you would be welcome anytime....sometime I even teach right here, so keep reading. :)