Episode created with KidCitizen Editor is runner up for national prize.
recently, Teacher Bretton Varga was honored to receive word that an episode he developed using the KidCitizen Editor was recognized as runner-up for the 2019 Don Romesburg Prize, a national award for outstanding K-12 curriculum in LGBTQ history.
Bretton created a digital interactive that combined primary sources based on the life of Harvey Milk with the essential question, "How are important people memorialized in society?"
Teachers can access the episode along with teacher and student guides at the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Remembering Harvey Milk” website.
The episode, Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Rembering Harvey Milk, is geared towards upper elementary classes and Bretton is hopeful that it will be used as an example of how online digital tools can be utilized to create a purposefully complex and critical lesson. Bretton teaches at Booker High School, and is a PHD student at the University of South Florida.
KidCitizen’s Bert Snow had the chance to talk with Bretton about his work recently. Here’s some highlights:
Bert: What inspired you to tackle this project?
Bretton: I strongly believe that a more representational iteration of social studies must be offered to our students. As educators, we need to keep finding new ways to get our students to engage with divergent perspectives. I think the kind of exploration and storytelling we can do with a tool like the KidCitizen Editor helps begin these types of conversations and can ultimately lead to the widening of our students' world views and appreciation for different cultures, people and ideas.
Bert: Why did you choose KidCitizen as the digital tool to create and share this curriculum?
Bretton: I had a chance to work with the KidCitizen Editor as part of my first course as a doctoral student at USF with Dr. Michael Berson. I thought the tools offered an approach I had not seen before in my 18 years of being in education.
After the class concluded, I continued thinking about how KidCitizen might be used to provide teachers with purposefully critical- themed lessons.
Later, I thought the KidCitizen editor could be the perfect tool for a project I was starting on gender issues. I wanted to highlight the life of someone from the LGBTQ community, and being from the San Francisco area, Harvey Milk was a perfect fit.
Bert: How did you approach designing an interactive exploration of primary sources?
Bretton: I wanted to do more than merely use KidCitizen to tell the life story of Harvey Milk. Before I began to develop the episode, I revisited our state standards and with the goal of anchoring my project to a pre-existing curricular theme that educators were expected to teach.
I decided on a standard that involved how and why famous people become memorized in society. I am inclined to believe that taking this approach allowed to me develop a digital interactive that was purposefully critical, allowing for students to learn about memorialization in a non-transactional manner.
Bert: What was something interesting YOU learned, in creating "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"?
Bretton: Creating “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” made me think deeply about the power of story-telling in education and how stories can be used to connect students to broader themes. It also highlighted a concept that is important teachers: the danger of the single story.
Representation matters and as educators, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to diversify and complexify the narratives that we incorporate into our classrooms.
It certainly is not lost on me that while Harvey Milk was a member of the LGBTQ community, his story is of another Euro-centric man. I believe intersectionality is a critical concept that must be attended to and I have already begun the process of thinking about and planning another episode around the life story of Audre Lorde.
Bert: Have you had a chance to see students or teachers using "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"? What have you learned from that?
Bretton: My episode is intended for upper elementary students (4th, 5th, and 6th) but I conducted a beta test of my episode with my high school students. They found it engaging and gave me some great feedback on how to improve one of the activities.
I also used the full-lesson plan that I developed to complement the episode. This guided students to start and stop at various points thus allowing for key concepts to be unpacked and discussed. I believe this approach allows for the activity to be scaled up or down depending on the grade level.
The final teacher-led activity involved having my students create an obituary for Harvey Milk, which several students read aloud. It was a compelling moment in our classroom and one that I will always remember.
Bert: What encouragement and advice would you give to other educators who might be considering creating their own KidCitizen episodes?
Bretton: Pedagogically, I believe that beauty in KidCitizen lies with how it can be adapted to meet the needs of teachers and students. I wanted to use the Author application as a way of creating a purposefully critical lesson around the life story of someone from a group of people who are virtually non-existent in social studies curricula.
I would encourage others interested in developing an episode to think deeply about the curriculum and the stories that are missing. This is not to say that KidCitizen cannot be used to reinforce themes that are already there, but as someone who thinks critically about social studies as an academic and educational discipline, I believe that KidCitizen is an incredible storytelling tool.
Perhaps the best place to start is with a story or person that would add to the curriculum. From there, analyze the standards and consider how you use a strand from the state-adopted educational framework to guide the story you are trying to tell. I believe this is an essential step in the process and is what separates purposefully critical lessons from the addition of marginalized stories that are discussed in a tokenizing way.
Once the story becomes paired with a standard, the search for primary sources can begin. For the "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" episode, I found a beautiful collection of photographs of Harvey Milk that were taken by a photographer in San Francisco named Dan Nicoletta. After reaching out to him and explaining my project, he granted me access to his collection and his photographs served as the main points of inquiry throughout the episode. The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of primary sources, but I would remind teachers to expand their search and not be shy about reaching out to photographers or artists about gaining permission to use their work.
Bert: Thanks Bretton for talking to us, and for your great work on Somewhere Over the Rainbow!
You can access Somewhere Over the Rainbow, teacher and student guides at:
And you can contact Bretton at firstname.lastname@example.org