Sunday, December 13, 2015

Citizenship and Beyond: Using Historical Case Studies

Teaching citizenship can be a real challenge. We value the ideals of citizenship and want it to be practiced. However evoking the application of such ideals is hard to accomplish.   How do teach it? Has it become a list of rights and responsibilities or is it something more? Do you model it?  How do you monitor student understanding of citizenship?

One way to address the issue is to use the theme of citizenship in the classroom. Themes can be important tools for defining a path of study. The use of themes helps to draw attention to a broader interpretation and understanding of history.  Using citizenship as a theme sets the stage for a study of both action and perspective by individuals as citizens in history. Events become more than dates as students use themes and case studies as a basis for analysis. A case study is an in-depth investigation of a single person over a period of time. By choosing biographical sketches as case studies for citizenship students can use the actions of citizens to developing an understanding of citizenship and the impact of citizens on society. Students will be able to observe how the understanding of citizen has evolved over time. It will also give students an opportunity to extrapolate about how they can use similar actions as citizens in their own lives.

To support the use of historical case studies to study citizenship, we developed a student strategy.  The strategy focuses on answering several questions. Our questions include:

  • What can we learn from the past?
  • How can people change their community? 
  • How can individuals be agents of change?
The goal was to encourage students to use the lives of historical figures and these questions to better understand how citizens exercise their rights to impact their community. What kind of path did they PAVE? Did they create change? Did they ensure continuity? Students used the questions below to consider the lives and impact of citizenship in the past.


To support this strategy, we organized case studies around a few historical figures. We organized materials spotlighting the lives of George Washington, A. Philip Randolph, Eleanor Roosevelt, and William Cody.

We used two methods for incorporating case studies into the history classroom. One is to embed the case study in the unit of study. Students can study the actions of the individual as they study the period. Students can track the figure or follow them just as they might follow a celebrity via social media today. This provides students an opportunity to use the words and actions of the individual to illustrate the developments of the time period. The lives of these individuals become the examples of citizenship in action and the teacher directs how they are analyzed. The other option is to investigate the life of the individual as a small project as some point during the unit or year. Students they dedicate sustained time to the study of the person having previously acquired background knowledge. Each study can provide opportunity for extrapolating modern behavior equivalents to adopt.

We have successfully used this approach with both high school and elementary school students. It has been a great way to have student think about citizenship in greater depth and apply the attributes of citizenship. It is a challenge for students but the guiding questions supported reflection when they needed to revise the projects.  We encourage you to check out the site. The case studies and teacher support materials are on the site. Let us know how it works for you.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Teaching with Historic Places:Where Preservation and Education Meet

Guest Blogger: Stacy Rieke

(Stacy Rieke is an experienced high school teacher in Henry County Public Schools and currently teaches AP U.S. Government and Economics.  She is also a graduate student in the Heritage Preservation Program at Georgia State University in Atlanta.)

The Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) program is a project of the National Register Office of the National Park Service (NPS).  The program uses lesson plans and teaching materials related to places listed on the National Register of Historic Places to assist teachers in meeting content standards in Social Studies and other curriculum areas.  The program was conceived in the 1980s when the National Register Office and the National Trust for Historic Preservation both wanted to expand their educational outreach.  The program was officially launched in 1991.  Materials offered by the program on its website are created by NPS staff, teachers, historians, preservationists and curriculum specialists.   Collaboration with individuals from the National Archives, Smithsonian Institution, National Trust, National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), NPS regional and support offices, national parks, historical societies, universities, and numerous schools and school districts ensure the TwHP materials meet current curriculum standards and promote the use of primary source materials in the classroom.

One main objective of historic preservation efforts is to engage the wider community in understanding and embracing the need for and benefit of preservation activities.  The introductory video for the TwHP program explains the benefits of using historic places as primary sources to improve both teaching and learning.  It also describes lesson plans developed by the TwHP program and shares experiences of educators who use the program.)  In many instances, there can be a gap, real or perceived, between historic site experts who wish tailor their tours and site materials to those content standards which would make their tours more meaningful to teachers and students and teachers who are looking for quality primary source material to address their content needs.  The TwHP program seeks to bridge this gap.

One great TwHP lesson is “Castolon: A Meeting of Two Cultures”.  This lesson compares the Spanish and Anglo influences on settlements along the Texas-Mexico border region of the Rio Grande River focusing on the area that is now the Big Bend National Park (est. 1944). The lesson plan index for the TwHP is searchable in several different ways including by location or state, theme, time period, skill, primary sources, National Standards for History and Curriculum Standards for Social Studies.

The lesson is structured in five sections: the inquiry question, map analysis, reading analysis, image analysis and concluding activities.  The inquiry question in this lesson focuses student attention on a photograph of distant rock outcroppings, squat buildings, scrub trees and windmills asking, “Where might this photo have been taken?” and “What is the building in the foreground made of?”  These questions begin to engage the student in an exploration of place, bringing into focus the student’s understanding of what “sense of place” means.  

The map analysis section includes two maps, one of Texas and one of the area, including Castolon, that is now the Big Bend National Park.  Map questions include, “Why do you think the area was named Big Bend?” and “Many of the streams in this area run only intermittently. What does that you tell about the local climate?”  Exploring maps provides students with the opportunity to practice important social studies skills while further connecting them to the site itself.

The reading section includes two secondary sources produced by Clifford Casey in 1967 (“Settling the Big Bend” and “A Frontier Border Trading Post”) and two primary sources from 1919 and 1920 (“Captain Lafferty’s Report of 12 November 1919” and “Colonel Hornbrook’s Recruiting Announcement of February, 1920”)  The questions associated with each reading are a mix of “find it in the text” and higher level questions that require students to analyze the texts in order to construct interpretations and responses based on the texts. The readings provide students with the opportunity to imagine themselves on the Texas-Mexico border during the time period, including the opportunity to think about what something as seemingly mundane as recreation time might have been like for people living in that area at that time.

The image analysis section requires students to use their compare/contrast skills and context clues, along with their own prior knowledge, to link information from the images to experiences in their ever day lives.  The images range from the inside of a general store, to an abandoned cotton gin to desert vistas and ask students to think about building use and building materials in this period and in this place and how that might be illustrative of broader concepts of technology and exchange.

Finally, the activities section in this lesson provides teachers with three wrap-up options: an essay, a cross-curricular activity incorporating both Spanish and English vocabulary words and a local community research project.  All three options provide students with the opportunity to process the information they analyzed through looking at the maps and images and reading the texts. 

The lesson can be used with either middle or high school students and it provides a variety of instructional techniques that can be used to move students toward a stronger understanding of this period of time, including settlement patterns and the development of the economy and culture of southwestern United States.  Teachers can use the lesson as is, or adapt it and use it as a spring board for students to delve deeper into the concepts of encounter, exchange, borders and technology.  By providing teachers with tools like those found on the TwHP website, preservation professionals promote the importance of preserving historic places in a very practical and impactful way for students and teachers alike.  By using these materials, teachers provide students with unique opportunities to visit historic sites both far away and close to home and to “do history” like a historian.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bringing Antebellum Reformers to Life

By Jeff Burns

The antebellum period was a tumultuous time in American History, and there were a lot of reformers and reform movements seeking to cure various societal ills.  Movements to end slavery and alcoholism coexisted with movements to improve the conditions of women, inmates, and the mentally ill.  New religious denominations spread across the country, and utopians tried to build perfect societies.  There are a lot of people that students need to know.

This period is a perfect period for speed dating, an activity I picked up from the AP U.S. History Teachers Facebook Group.  I have no idea of the origin, but it is a fun way to cover a lot of people quickly.  Each student chose a reformer from a list.  The list can be customized based on local or state standards, textbooks, teaching preferences, etc.

They then have a couple of days to research their character. I have them prepare a one page biography sheet and an “I am” poem in the voice of the character.  On the biography sheet, they answer these questions:
  • What criticism of American society did the individual have?
  • What methods did the person use to improve American life?
  • What success did the individual have in promoting reform?
  • What detail(s) of the person’s work made him or her an interesting historical figure?
  • To what extent was the reformer obsessed with achieving an impractical goal through fanatical or impractical means?
  • What lasting impact did the person’s reforms have on American society? 
They may also wear costumes or bring props that relate to their character for extra credit. 

On the appointed day, the desks are set up in pairs and one side of the pair moves every 2-3 minutes, to rotate around the room.  In that two to three minutes, each one of the pair shares important highlights about his or her character and takes notes.  

The next day we debriefed in small groups.  I had 6 stations set up around the room with big pieces of paper and markers.  One paper had the question “What did the Reformers have in common with each other?”  One said “How were the reformers different from the rest of Americans?”  The other 4 papers had straight lines, the small groups had to discuss and place their partial list of reformers on each spectrum.  Among the spectrum topics were:

Most Successful/Least Successful
Most Crazy (Unconventional)/Least Crazy(Unconventional)
Most Dedicated/Least Dedicated
Overly Idealistic/Practical & Pragmatic
Greatest Legacy/Least Legacy

The small groups rotated around the room addressing each question and contributing to each page.  Then we had a whole group discussion about their work and why they thought the way we did.

In the end, the students had actively engaged in learning about the reformers and the antebellum period. I do speed dating a few times a year now, as it can be easily adopted to almost any period when there are a lot of people. However, it doesn’t have to be just people.  Students can also speed date as ideas, books/documents, states, countries, etc. 

If you want to see the student instructions and list of reformers that I used, go here and look for “Reformers Speed Dating.” There are numerous “I Am” poem templates online; you can easily find one that suits your needs.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Pinch of This, A Dash of That: Combining Lessons

By Jeff Burns

When it comes to lesson plans and activities that I pick up along the way, I rarely use them as is. Like most teachers, I almost always make adjustments and alterations for some reason or another.  Sometimes I combine multiple ideas into one lesson. 

Recently, I was running out of time in my American History unit on the American Revolution and Constitution.  I had several goals that I needed to meet very quickly.  I wanted to get in some primary document analysis, review important information that we had covered, and at least introduce a few documents that we hadn’t exactly gotten to in class.

I got an idea.  I combined an activity that I had adapted from the AP US History Teachers Group on Facebook last year: Speed Dating.  In the typical Speed Dating assignment, each student is assigned an important person to research.  Then, the room is set up so that students share their person with each other in pairs.  Every two minutes, one side of the pair rotates so that all students get to interact with at least most of their classmates.  After discovering it, I did it 2-3 times last year with great success.  For this activity, however, I assigned each student a document instead of a person, everything from the Declaration of Independence to Washington’s Farewell Address to Alexander Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures.

This year, I got another great activity idea from the APUSH Teachers Group, by way of Literature teachers, I think: the I Am poem.  The student is given a template of a few stanzas.  Each line starts with a prompt, and students.  There are a few different templates online.  I used this:

  "I Am"  ______________________________________  

I am __________________________________________________________________

I wonder ______________________________________________________________

I hear ________________________________________________________________

I see _________________________________________________________________

I want ________________________________________________________________

I am __________________________________________________________________


I pretend ______________________________________________________________

I feel _________________________________________________________________

I touch _______________________________________________________________

I worry _______________________________________________________________

I cry _________________________________________________________________

I am _________________________________________________________________


I understand __________________________________________________________

I say _________________________________________________________________

I dream_______________________________________________________________

I try__________________________________________________________________

I am __________________________________________________________________

Not only would my students prepare for speed dating, but they would also complete an I Am poem for their assigned document (or the creator of the document).
These were their directions For this activity, each of you is assigned an important document in the period 1754 -1800.  Your tasks are to
  1. Research your document; read the document itself and read secondary sources about the document.
  2. Write an AM poem for your document using the template provided, either as the document itself (literally making the document speak) or as the author(s) of the document.  This is going to take some thought and creativity. 
  3. On the teaching day, you will review your document with your classmates, one by one, so that they can complete the table.
  4. Bonus Points for either wearing something that relates to your document or having a relatable prop of some sort.  Costumes and prop must of course be school appropriate.
We pulled it all together on speed dating day, just before the unit test, by creating a notetaking matrix for them to record notes.  When it was all over, they would have a good review guide. Two of the four pages are below.


When all was said and done, the students enjoyed the speed dating experience and turned in some really thoughtful and creative I Am poems. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Resources for Hispanic Heritage and History

By Nina Kendall

Hispanic Heritage Month is here.  The annual  celebration of Hispanic heritage is organized around historical anniversaries. Now is a great time to reflect on how you include Hispanic heritage and history in your classroom. As a history and geography teacher, I approach this topic from multiple perspectives.  If you are still looking for a few options for your social studies classroom, check out our suggestions.

The Hispanic Heritage Month site hosted by the Library of Congress has a collection of art, literature, and history that will help you  design engaging lessons.

A section of the Veterans History Project is dedicated to oral history records of Hispanic American Servicemen since World War II.

The Smithsonian Hispanic Heritage Teaching Resources explore the art of textiles in the southwest, provide historic resources about the Bracero Program, and examine the development of cowboy culture.

The Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum is a unique way to experience Latino culture. Explore a virtual landscape hyperlinked to related resources and YouTube videos.  Set your students to explore the site or check out the teacher resources for ways to incorporate it in your classroom.

The PBS Hispanic Heritage Month site will provide you with links to the Latino Americans documentary and Latin Music USA documentary. The Latin Music USA documentary is a fascinating look at immigration and musical syncretism.

Edsitement has put together a collection of resources for the study of art, language, culture, and history. The 14th colony site provides resources for Teachers to use in teaching about the California Mission system.

The state of California has lesson plans and student friendly biographies about César E. Chávez for K-12 students.

Check out these resources and pick what works best for you. A new resource may be just the thing for a lesson you are planning.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Planning for National History Day 2016

By Nina Kendall

As the start of the new school year approaches, it is time to start planning for participation in National History Day again.  Here are a few suggestions to help you get excited about student research.

1) Get to know the theme. 
The theme for National History Day 2016 is Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange. This theme provides a number of options to pursue.  Read the theme essay, look over the sample topics, and start brainstorming your own ideas.  If you spend some time thinking about the theme, it will be easier to share with students.   Look for a new way to introduce the theme. How will you encourage thoughtful topic selection? This year I was inspired by the Wisconsin Historical Society to create a theme introduction with state specific examples.

2) Encourage student voice in topic choice.
Challenge students to create a list of possible topics.  This year we started by having students compare time periods and fields of history they were interested in to create brainstorming groups. Ask students to draw on their own interest.  While a topic may see risky or unappealing to you may appeal greatly to your students. Student engagement in research is vital to success.  I have had students successfully pursue topics that were unfamiliar to me. Their passion sustained them. 

3) Introduce a New Avenue for Research
Show students different options for research. You can introduce special online services like Google scholar or databases available locally. You can encourage site visits or interviews.  Visits to museums and historic sites are fun and enjoyable ways to further your research. Share schedules for regional research facilities with students as well. Facilities can be quite welcoming to young researchers and may have planned events. During Archives Month in 2104, research facilities open their doors for visits by National History Day participants.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

History’s Canvas: Using Art in the History Classroom

By Jeff Burns

My love of history has always gone hand in hand with a love for art, so I was excited when I was recently asked to present a couple of professional learning sessions for my districts history teachers.

I have always incorporated art in my units and lessons whenever I can, and I use artworks as bulletin board and room decoration, and I think it is an important aspect of human history that cannot be overlooked.  Art is a cultural hallmark that allows us to distinguish cultures, periods, and places.  Art tells us much of what we need to know about particular periods and places, intentionally or unintentionally providing important economic, social, and political details.    Art is both primary and secondary source material. Art reflects both a contemporary perspective of the periods and events of history and how perceptions of earlier periods have changed. The study of art promotes analytical and critical thinking skills. Finally, appeals to a variety of student interests and learning styles.

So what do you with art in the classroom?  Often, I use an artwork as a hook or a warm-up to get students’ interest and attention.  Choose a work that relates to your lesson.  It could be one that students would be familiar with or something they would not.  Sometimes the unfamiliar leads to great discussions since students are all analyzing something fresh.  For this activity, I practice a spiral questioning technique, moving from most basic to advanced, scaffolding to get to high order thinking.  Start with “What do you see?  No interpretations, no analysis.  Just what do you see in the work?”  Then gradually move into interpretation:  “What does this element mean? What was going on at the time this painting was done?  How does this relate to ….?  Etc.”

Another tool that can be a lot of fun is the act-it-out, a strategy that I learned from Teachers Curriculum Institute (TCI) or History Alive.  Project a painting, poster, or photograph and ask volunteers to stand in front and assume the roles of characters in the work.  They assume their postures, maybe even use simple props, and create a backstory for the character.  Then, the teacher (or another student) interviews them as if he/she is a reporter on the scene.  This can be done either to introduce or review a topic they’ve read or studied about.  Students have fun in the process, and usually some historical connections are made.

If you have several works for them to consider, do a gallery walk.  Post copies of the work around the room or in the halls.  Divide the class into small groups and rotate them through, allowing them to see and discuss each work and take notes.  You can guide the notetaking as you see fit, but there are at least three big questions:  1)  Description. What do you see? What is it?  2) Context.  How does this work reflect the time and place of its creation?  3) Synthesis.  Can you relate this work, the theme, the ideas behind it, to any other place and time?

Small groups might also look at works chosen by the teacher or brought in by students to reflect a particular period, for example the Renaissance.  You might have 4 or 5 works.  Each group has to determine why their assigned work is the quintessential Renaissance work.  If you were in charge of curating an exhibit and had to choose one and only one work to represent the characteristics and ideals of the Renaissance, why should it be your assigned work? They then have to make their case to their peers and convince their classmates in order to reach a class consensus.

After looking at an iconic work in class, you might ask students “How would this work be different if it were painted today or in another period and place?”  For example, what would Mona Lisa look like today?  What would a Mona Lisa of the Songhai Empire look like? 

Some resources for American History:
      Smarthistory (Khan Academy)
      Art History Lessons
       Digital History Art
      Seeing American History through Art
      Art History Websites
      Robert Hughes American Visions series
Sources for World History:
      Art History Lessons
      Smarthistory (Khan Academy)
      Art History Websites