Saturday, September 24, 2011

The History Behind Memorial Day

Although I know we are 4 months beyond the last Memorial Day and will wait 8 more months before it comes around again, I was fascinated to learn how it came to be through my readings from the History Connected program coursework this year.  I knew it became an official American holiday in the late twentieth century, but I did not know the roots of Memorial Day stretch all the way back to the post-Civil War era.

To understand this American desire to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, one must first understand the scale of death that Americans were coping with in the wake of the War Between the States.
The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865, an estimated 620,000, is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined.  The Civil War's rate of death, its incidence in comparison with the size of the American population, was six times that of World War II.  A similar rate, about 2 percent, in the United States today would mean 6 million fatalities.-Faust, pg xi.
So how did they cope?  How does a society ensure that it does not forget the horrors of a war like that, but at the same time prevent the memories from becoming all-consuming and preventing progress?

I found the answer in another book.
Soon after the war ended, the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic, a large and successful Union veterans organization led by a U.S. senator and former Union general named John Logan] began to encourage the commemoration of Memorial Day, a day dedicated to remembering the war dead. To a certain extent the GAR had merely standardized and formalized an increasingly common observance. In the South, as early as 1865, groups of women decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers and held memorial services in the spring. The custom spread north in 1866 and 1867 and was celebrated on a wide variety of spring days. The GAR played a crucial role in turning Memorial Day into a widely observed holiday in the North and in eventually making it an official federal holiday.-Piehler, pg 58.
Of course, being who I am, I wanted to find out more and to find some multimedia resources I could share with my students when the holiday comes around again next year.  After a little searching on YouTube and TeacherTube, I found a decent little video on the history of Memorial Day, formerly referred to at Decoration Day, at

OK, so I have a good video clip of the history.  Now how do I connect all of this to their own lives?  I needed a video that showed the students how meaningful Memorial Day still is.  Unlike the post-Civil War era, many Americans in our time don't know anyone who has died in sacrifice for our nation.  The history should touch our students in order for them to best learn from it. came through again with a touching tribute that contains both historical and present-day footage.  I teared up when I first watched it.

I managed to work all of this information into my final project for Year Two of the History Connected program.  Feel free to check it out to learn more.  It is called Civil War: Behind the Scenes, and it strives to show students the parts of Civil War history that are often glossed over by text books and state curriculum frameworks.

I hope this information on Memorial Day will be useful to you and your students in 8 more months.  In the mean time, we should encourage our students to be mindful of the sacrifices others make for us more often than once per year on an official holiday.

Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, 2008. 
Piehler, G. Kurt. Remembering War the American Way. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 1995.
History of Memorial Day Video,
Memorial Day Tribute Video,

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

War of 1812 Through the Eyes of Children... and Primary Source Analysis Skills Too!

Although I am also a participant, I had to opportunity and honor of presenting a breakout workshop at this year's History Connected summer institute.  Since the focus of the institute this year is on the impact that American wars have had on American society, I reached back into my files from a few years ago when I taught U.S. history in 8th grade to find a webquest I created on the War of 1812.  Teachers got to "play student" and take part in a shortened version of the 4 day lesson.  Click the screen shot below to see the webquest website.

Here is a brief day by day guide of the primary sources and analysis skills that students use as they complete the 4 day webquest.

Day 1: Introduction to the Webquest and Madison's Declaration of War

Students choose to be either Eliza or Joshua.  Both are 14-year-olds living in the United States before and during the war.  

Then the students move on to reading Madison's war message explaining his reasons for asking Congress to declare war.  Since the lesson was written for heterogeneous classes of 8th graders, I needed to find a way to break down the speech into manageable parts. So, I put excerpts of the speech in a worksheet with missing words or phrases.  Students had to skim the speech for the excerpts to fill in the missing information and then answer guided questions that helped them understand the meaning of Madison's words.

After completing this analysis, students wrote a half page journal entry from the perspective of Eliza or Joshua reacting to the news and incorporating some of the reasons for war from the primary source into their writing.

Day 2: Old Ironsides - U.S.S. Constitution & the H.M.S. Guerriere

After reading some brief historical background on the importance of the battle between these two frigates early in the war, students read Oliver Wendell Holmes' peom Old Ironsides, which was actually written as a memorial several decades later.  Holmes remembers the reactions of his fellow Americans in his childhood during the actual war.  Reading 19th century poetry is daunting for 8th graders.  So this time, students are asked to choose one stanza and translate its meaning into their own words.  Then, as with Day 1, students write a half page journal entry from the perspective of either Eliza or Joshua reacting to the American victory and huge boost in morale.

Day 3: The Burning of Washington D.C.

On the third day students experience a big let down after the huge victory of the U.S.S. Constitution early in the war.  The British successfully blockaded the entire Atlantic coast, and then captured and burned the capital, Washington D.C.  This time students look at an engraving and political cartoon that were created at the time reacting to the events.  They also read First Lady Dolley Madison's letter to her sister expressing her fears as the British approached the city.  To understand the significance of the images, students are either asked to identify items in them or to recognize the mood of each image to interpret the reactions that people had at the time.  For Dolley Madison's letter, students once again scan for excerpt in order to complete them and then answer questions about them.  Finally, once again, they write a half page journal entry from the perspective of Eliza or Joshua reacting to the horrible news.

Day 4: Fort McHenry & the Star Spangled Banner

On the last day of the exercise students learn about the bombardment of Fort McHenry and the events that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that would eventually become our national anthem.  Once again, 19th century poetry is not the most engaging content for 8th graders, so they are asked to choose one of the stanzas that we do not sing as part of the anthem song and put it into their own words.  It helps students to understand that although the bombardment caused major destruction, the fact that Americans held the fort served as an inspiration to carry on.  Students then write one last journal entry reacting once again.

Hopefully, after completing the 4 day exercise, students will understand the variety of emotions that can be triggered by war.  Typically there is enthusiasm at the start when people believe in the cause.  Early victories, like the U.S.S. Constitution, can fuel that fire.  But devastating defeats, such as the burning of Washington, tend to give people a dose of the realities of war and they might even start questioning whether the war is worth the cost.  The activity gives students, who have never experienced wartime sacrifice, some empathy.  In order for students to truly understand, and hopefully remember, history they need to be able to relate to the people who lived it.  Hopefully, this activity gave them an opportunity to do just that.

Friday, April 15, 2011

If You Were in My Classroom Yesterday, This is What You Would Have Seen

I had the opportunity to have education professionals from all over the country visit my classroom through the Blueprint for Educational Excellence National Institute yesterday morning.  The conference is sponsored in part and run in part by the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence organization.

Conference attendees who arrived from around the country were touring our school, Reading Memorial High School, to check out our teaching practice and technology integration.  I had visitors in an out of my classroom all morning.  The students, teenagers who LOVE to show off, were their animated, out spoken, fun loving selves in front of our guests.  (I'm sure the fact that those morning classes were the last in-school hours they would spend before a nice week long April Vacation was a factor in their restlessness.)  Teachers, administrators, and education leaders from as far away as Houston, Texas were walking in and out of my classroom at about 10 minute intervals.

What Did They See?
They saw everything from... analysis of the interactions between the British Regulars and American Patriots during the Battles of Lexington and Concord... an introduction to the Romanov family and Czar Nicolas II.

These are actual images that appeared on my SMART Board at the front of the room, and while these topics may not sound riveting, it is the integration of technology that made the lessons interactive and engaging for both the students and our visitors.

How Does Technology Integration Make History More Fun?
In the Lexington and Concord lesson, students read through short passages about the different phases of the battle, and then turned their attention to the front of the room and watched short video clips from Discovery Education.  Then we discussed the information from both the text and the documentaries.  This is the short clip they saw about Concord.
Did the facts in the text and in the video match up? If not, why does that happen when we study history?  Which provided more detail: text or video clip? What facts did they need help remembering? Ask each other! The students really ran the discussion and in the end everyone understood what happened.  The integration of the video clips and groups discussions made the lesson more interactive and more interesting than a typical classroom where the teacher is up front and the students are dutifully taking notes at their assigned seats.

In the Romanov Dynasty lesson, I was simply introducing the information, but the students would be charged with learning the content on their own and then sharing it with their classmates.  In this case, the technology integration came into play with the assignment.  Students were going to read and research various suptopics related to the Romanovs (like the Crimean War and the emancipation of Russian serfs) and then create a quiz for their classmates to take and help them learn the content for themselves.  The quizzes will be published on Google Documents for their classmates to access and take.  I even made and showed a video tutorial with SMART Recorder, which is part of the SMART Classroom Suite all teachers at my school have in their classrooms, that explains how to create, save, and share documents on Google Docs.

Yesterday was truly a typical day in my class.  I didn't do anything special because the tours were coming through.  These were simply the next topics I had planned to cover based on my curriculum.  Perhaps the lessons were slightly tweaked from last year, but they were not specially made for the Blue Ribbon occasion.

Since there were about 40 educators from around the country who got the opportunity to peek, I thought, "Why not give my blog readers the same opportunity?"

I hope you enjoyed it!

Image and Video Citations:
"Battles of Lexington and Concord, 1775." Map. World at War: Understanding Conflict and Society. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2011.
"Nicholas II and family." Image. The Illustrated London News Picture Library. World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2011.
Battle of Concord. Discovery Education, 2006. Video Segment. 15 April 2011. .

Friday, April 8, 2011

Turning History Students into Detectives

How can I turn my history students into detectives?
One of the most valuable skills we can teach our history students is to use evidence from the past to develop their own opinions about historical events.  One popular program that many high schools use is the DBQ Project.  Students use textual and visual primary and secondary scholarly sources to answer a question.  For example, my sophomores recently had a class debate based in the evidence from the DBQ entitled "North or South: Who Killed Reconstruction?" Essentially, students use evidence from experts and first-hand witnesses to solve problems, just like a detective would.  The program has a fabulous reputation and student essays that result are well-thought-out and evidence-based.  Unfortunately, one small pitfall of the program is that it requires a lot of paper and not much technology.

Why not combine technology with historical evidence analysis?
I found a great website that enables student to do the same kind of analysis in a webquest style environment.  Surprisingly, students are more enthusiastic about the same tasks when they can simply use a computer instead of doing the writing out with pencil and paper.  Historical Scene Investigation puts famous dilemmas from history into "case files" and asks students to solve the mysteries.  Students analyze primary sources, similarly to the DBQ Project, but the entire task can be done online.

Recently, my freshmen were finishing up their unit on the causes of the American Revolution.  As a review of some of the events, we spent two class periods in the computer lab where they chose to work on one of two case files:
  • The Boston "Massacre": Students read about the event, sifted through both American and British first-hand accounts, and decided whether justice was served at the trial where 6 of the 8 accused British regulars were acquitted.
  • Lexington and Concord: After reading both American and British first-hand accounts, students had to decide the historical question: Who fired the first shot?  Was it the Minutemen or the British regulars?
How should I introduce the website and assignment?
To introduce the assignment, I also used technology.  I used the SMART Recorder program, part of the SMART Technologies suite of software that comes with my SMART Board, to create an instructional video.  Students watched it in class, and, if they ever got confused during the process of completing the work in class or at home, they could reference the video anytime since it was posted on our class website.

What kinds of documents did students work with?
Then it was time to get down to work.  Students worked hard in class analyzing great sources like:
  • Paul Revere's famous engraving that started the use of the term "massacre" to describe the event, The bloody massacre perpetrated on King Street
  • The chromolithograph by John Bufford that dramatized the death of Crispus Attucks: Boston Massacre, Mar. 5, 1770.
  • Entry for April 19th 1775, from the diary of British Lieutenant John Barker swearing that the American provincials fired first at Concord: "...a number of people, I believe between 200 and 300, formed in a common in the middle of town; we still continued advancing, keeping prepared against an attack through without intending to attack them; but on our coming near them they fired on us two shots, upon which our men without any orders, rushed upon them, fired and put them to flight; several of them were killed..."
  • And of course a conflicting sworn account from 34 minutemen who reported that the British regulars fired first: " which time, the company began to disperse, whilst our backs were turned on the troops, we were fired on by them, and a number of our men were instantly killed and wounded, not a gun was fired by any person in our company on the regulars to our knowledge before they fired on us, and continued firing until we had all made our escape..."
So, how did the students do?
Well, when it came to the question over whether justice was served in the trial that followed the Boston Massacre, one student contended:
In Document D, created by John Bufford, it shows colonists are attacking, while others are getting slaughtered by the soldiers' guns.  In Document E by Alonzo Chapel, it shows colonists holding weapons attacking the soldiers.  In Paul Revere's depiction, it shows innocent colonists being brutally killed.  I believe that the colonists were not innocent.  They did somewhat attack the soldiers.  But shooting the colonists was not justified.  I believe that justice was not served.  How can branding someone's thumb be a justified exchange for someone's life?  All of the soldiers should have been put in jail and branded because they killed a group of people over a small conflict that could have been solved a different way.

In the case of Lexington and Concord, one student argued that the American rebels must have fired the first shot because:
The British had well disciplined soldiers who would not fire without an order.  This is clear as one British soldier commented on their intent not to fire and said, "we still continue advancing, keeping prepared against an attack though without attacking them."  This line clearly represents how the British did not want to fire on the Patriots.

It was satisfying for me, as their teacher, to read that these 14 and 15 year old students were combining their own opinions and reasoning skills with evidence from the past. Their number grade was based on a rubric I developed according to the assignment description and class standards we have developed throughout the school year.  Overall, however, I think they did pretty well, don't you?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Caring for Our Veterans: Lessons from WWII and Today

I recently read Double Victory: A Multicultural History of American in World War II by Ronald Takaki.  There were many parts of Takaki's book that are striking, but the one part I kept coming back to as I remembered reading through it was the story of Ira Hayes, The Indian "Hero" of Iwo Jima starting on pg 72. I had heard the story before many times, but every time I read or hear a new account, I am touched by how this smart young Native American went into war enthusiastically seeking to prove the value of both his Pima people and his pride in America as a nation.  His reasons for going to war were noble and perhaps naive, but the reward he got for his service is a dark mark on American history, too often glossed over in history classrooms.

Before teaching high school, I taught 8th graders for 6 years. Four out of those 6 years I took large groups of adolescents to Washington D.C. to experience some of their own history first hand. One of the sights we visit, of course, is the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. The guides, though knowledgeable, always tell the story of the first flag-raising and then the second flag-raising for the photo opportunity. They always tended to gloss over the rest of Hayes' tragic story. I suppose it doesn't make for cheerful tour groups of adolescents to explain how Hayes was pretty much forced to tour the country to encourage Americans to buy war bonds.  Hayes had trouble with the "hero" status he carried, because he knew he hadn't been present at the event he was credited for due to the staging of the second photo that became famous. He also faced unrelenting discrimination because of his Pima heritage while on tour.  He wasn't cared for when the psychological impact of his situation was manifesting in his behavior in public and in private.

But the tour also had irritating and disturbing moments.  Reporters asked Hayes questions like: "How'd you get a name like Ira Hayes, Chief? I never heard of an Indian with a name like that."  Such insults angered Hayes and aggravated the distress he felt about his unearned celebrity status.  He shrouded himself in silence.  Asked to speak at one of the bond dinners, Hayes muttered: "I'm glad to be in your city an' I hope you buy a lot of bonds."  During the tour, Hayes drank heavily and became an embarrassment to the Marine Corps.  General A. A. Vendegrift complained to Beech: "I understand you Indian got drunk on you last night?"  Shortly afterward, Hayes was abruptly sent back to the front.  The press reported that the "brave Indian" wanted to return to military action in the Pacific. (pg 77)
Ten years after the war, in 1954, Hayes was honored at the ceremony that dedicated the aforementioned Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.  Just a few weeks later, his body was found on a street in Bapchule, Arizona.  He had fallen down drunk and drowned in his own vomit.  Hayes tragic story ended abruptly because the United States, while honoring Hayes in multiple ways, did not treat him or care for him the way he needed.  Hayes would probably trade all of the cheering crowds and honor dinners for someone to show him the compassion he needed in the wake of so many difficult experiences.

I actually heard a rather touching story of a modern war veteran, Iraq veteran Brock Savelkoul, on NPR on my way home yesterday afternoon that reminded me of Hayes' story. Read or listen to the incredible story by clicking here.  I'm not the only one who was impressed by this piece of journalism.  If you have a few minutes, this video gives you a taste.

His story was heart-wrenching and literally brought me to tears during my commute.  Similar to Hayes, I bet Savelkoul would trade his Purple Heart for the help he needed to cope with his injuries.  Our soldiers need to be both honored and cared for like they deserve.  Thankfully it seems that Savelkoul's story will have a happier ending than Hayes'.

As we teach history in our classrooms, it is important to tell them the patriotic parts, but also the portions that we should learn from.  It has been over 50 years his Hayes' tragic story ended.  I hope our nation is learning from our mistakes in caring for our veterans.

Please Note: This reflection was completed as part of the author's participation in the History Connected program. Please see the History Connected Wiki or the History Connected Official Website for information on the federal grant that provided the opportunity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Are You Wearing Green Today?

Did you know that the story about St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland is a metaphor?  "A metaphor for what?" you ask.

Why do we associate 3 leaf clovers with this day?

There are many traditions associated with today.  Some, like going to church to observe the holy day, are healthy for body and soul.  Some, like downing a pint or two of Guiness, are not.  Where did all of these traditions come from? 

Watch the quick video below to find out!

OK, so now you know the history.  But why am I wearing green to celebrate the day?  
Turns out, I should probably be wearing blue!

Yup, here's another quick video explanation.

So, on this lovely Saint Patrick's Day, I leave you with an Irish blessing and wish you well.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lincoln's Assassination: A Nation's Emotional Response

My sophomore students are wrapping up their unit on the American Civil War.  There is a lot of information for them to take in; massive casualty numbers, battles, generals, politicians, primary source readings like the Peninsula Campaign Letter and the Emancipation Proclamation, the lives of slaves during the war...

The final lesson of the Civil War is always the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  This year I was searching for a new way for my students to study the information.  After a little searching, I found an amazing website: The Abraham Lincoln Papers from the Library of Congress.  One of their special collections is called The Lincoln Assassination.  There I found broadsides, illustrations, and other publications that convey the public sentiment surrounding the shocking events of April 15, 1865.

So.... here is my plan for Monday!

The Set Up
First, I will ask the students to read this short summary of the events surrounding the assassination.  Then, to make the rich primary resources into a lesson, I will divide them into 5 categories.  Each category will be assigned to one of 5 small groups of students in each of my sophomore classes.

To see more detail for any of these images, simply click on it.

Lincoln is Shot
The Nation Reacts
Mourning Lincoln
Memorializing Lincoln
Punishing the Perpetrators

Each group/category will have three images.  What you see above is just a taste.

The Analysis
In order for students to see all of the incredible emotion that is captured in these images, I will ask them to use the following questions to analyze them in their small groups.
  • Identify at least 3 details from the document.  Write them in a list with an explanation of the importance of each detail.
  • What inferences can you make about the feelings and intent of the creator from this document?
  • Who do you think is the target audience the creator had in mind? Why do you think so?
  • After looking at and analyzing this document, what is the main idea of the document?
The Share-Out
When all groups are done with the above analysis of all three of their documents, I will ask each group to get up in front of the class.  While I project the images in full size and in color on my SMART Board, they will lead a class discussion in the analyses of these rich images.  I hope that, inevitably, students will notice details they didn't on first glance.  Maybe some groups, who thought they had done a thorough job before getting up in front of the class, will even learn from their audience during these discussions.

The Culminating Question
After each group presents, the students in each group will be asked to consider their 3 documents together and answer this question:
  • Taken together, what emotions or ideas do these documents demonstrate?  Use words or images from your documents as evidence of these emotions and ideas.
My hope is that the answers will be thoughtful and that the students will point to specific details or words used in the documents that convey the emotions of the time period.  The goal is for them to have a greater understanding of what is must have been like to live during these tumultuous times, based on the words and images created by the people who were there.

Wish me luck!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Teaching Historical Context With Primary Sources & Podcasting

The Philosophy Behind the Lesson
Now that the second half of the school year is well-underway, I am becoming more and more cognizant of the fact that I need to teach my freshman students certain skills to prepare them for the larger-scale research projects that await them in their sophomore classes next year.

One of those skills is historical context.

Professor Claude Bélanger at Marianopolis College describes historical context as:
The context is understood as the events, or the climate of opinion, that surround the issue at hand. They help to understand its urgency, its importance, its shape. What was happening at the time of the event or the decision that sheds some light on it? In what type of society did the event occur? An urban one? A rich one? An educated one?
The Lesson
I wanted to come up with a fun way to teach my freshmen this concept.  So, I opened the class with an explanation of historical context.  We happen to be studying American colonial society prior to the American revolution.  So, the two issues I chose to highlight were the Great Awakening and colonial westward expansion into Native American lands.

Each group received one primary source quote or excerpt to analyze.  They did some pre-reading the night before, and now they had to apply that knowledge and set up the historical context to explain how people of the time might feel and why they might make the statements assigned to them.

Click here to see the handout they received.

They had the first half of class to do their research and writing, and then we recorded their results in a podcast during the second half of class.  Groups sent two representatives up to my desk, and they recorded there using a simple headset with microphone and my account. (Audio expert is something covered and demonstrated in an earlier History Connected Seminar this year.)

I published the podcasts before the kids even left the classroom using my account.  PodBean is easy to use.  If you know how to write a blog using Blogger or WordPress, PodBean is relatively intuitive.

Here are the podcasts that resulted:
D Block Podcast

C Block Podcast

Finally, to follow up on the lesson and ensure that everyone got the historical context for all of the quotes, students were assigned to go online and listen to the podcast one more time for homework. They were to take notes on the historical context explained by each of the other three groups on their handout from class.

Reflecting on the Results
The students really liked this lesson because... 
  • It reinforced and reviewed the reading and outline work they had done the night before.
  • They got to work in groups and talk to each other throughout the class (it was a student-centered activity). 
  • They love publishing podcasts online.  Fourteen and fifteen-year-olds love to hear their own voices! 
  • Also, I often send emails home informing parents when we publish podcasts or videos from class.  Parents love hearing what their children are learning directly from their mouths and in their own words.
I really liked this lesson because...
  • It was quick, one 55 minute class period.
  • The kids were engaged and motivated the entire time they were in class.
  • The work they are doing is applying the knowledge they have already learned.  It isn't about spitting back information they memorized, it is about higher order thinking. 
  • Also, I tend to get a lot of feedback, from both parents and students, when our lessons result in something we publish.  Parents email me and comment on the actual podcast.  I can also see how many "hits" each podcast gets right on the PodBean site, so I know that students are going back and listening.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Colonial America... In Plain English!

Inspired by both Greg Kulowiec's presentation at the MassCUE Conference in October, 2010, and Common Craft, I assigned a low-tech/high-tech project to my honors freshmen students as they learned about everyday life in the American colonies prior to the Revolutionary War.

The essence of Common Craft videos on YouTube is to "help educators and influencers introduce complex subjects."  Lee Lefever and the people at Common Craft are geniuses in the art of simplification in their "In Plain English" videos.  They take processes and concepts, like the electoral college, that seem complicated at first and break them down so almost anyone could understand them within short 3 minute episodes.  They use simple paper drawings and cut outs and move them around with their fingers on screen while narrating and explaining what the audience is seeing.  So, I asked my students to do the same thing to explain the everyday lives of people living in colonial America in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Here are a couple of great examples of my students final videos.

If you would like to see more about farmers and fishermen, women, and printers in the American colonies, check out my Kerry Hawk02 YouTube Channel.

What I Loved About This Project:
  • Student Work Ethic - Students had only three days to read information from their textbook and various scholarly articles, synthesize it into a script, storyboard the video, create the drawings, rehearse, and film the final cut.  The quick turnaround encourages them to work efficiently together and even assign each other homework over the intervening evenings.  Their work ethic was great!
  • Checking for Understanding - By simply watching them go through to process and then watching the final 2-3 minute videos I can tell that they understood all of the information they were assigned and were able to put that understanding into their own words in a simple but creative way.  Plus, the kids had fun.
  • Low Tech Process and a High-Tech Product - While the final product is work that is published to the world online, the preparation did not require a computer lab, which can be tough real estate to acquire in any school building.  All I needed to do was sign out a FLIP camera from my school library for two class periods and upload the videos to my free YouTube Channel.  Easy!
  • Approved For All Audiences - The product of the project is easy to understand, so students can share it with all members of their families.  But also, I think a version of this project could be implemented in any classroom, elementary through high school.  A student who worked on the project has a mother who teaches at the elementary level.  She said her mom loved the idea and is going to do the project with her younger students too!
I hope you enjoyed watching and reading.  We certainly enjoyed making these videos for you!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

An American Empire

Until the 1890s, America prided itself for its isolation from world affairs. Territorial ambitions and visions of empire were limited to westward expansion across the American continent. But in the 1890s, as the nation emerged as the world’s leading economic power, America took an increasingly aggressive role in international affairs. By 1910 America had become an imperial power, controlling territories around the globe such as the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba, not to mention the Panama Canal. While many Americans welcomed these events as confirmation of the nation’s status as a world power, others were troubled by the seeming incompatibility of imperial conquest and republican government. (See soucres list below for the source of this summary.)

The two competing perspectives regarding American expansionism and subsequent imperialism are best analyzed using primary sources.  I have used political cartoons in the past to get these perspectives across.

This one shows the American view, rooted in manifest destiny, that it was the duty of the more advanced, Christian, democratic society to carry others and show them the way to true civilization and happiness.

This one mocks the American celebration of imperialism and superiority which is in stark contrast to American ideals of equality and participatory government.

Both of these cartoons are, of course, a play on the words of Kipling in ‘The White Man’s Burden’ in 1889.  Although the poem is written about British empire building, it is relevent to the American situation.  Perhaps my favorite excerpt from that poem mocks imperialists’ self-important attitude when it comes to “helping” the seemingly hopeless peoples they colonize and control.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Note that Kipling sarcastically emphasizes that the imperialist mission will fail.  And, of course, the imperialists will blame the laziness and stupidity of the "heathens" for the failure.

In combination with these sources, the Central Filipino Committee (CFC) ‘To the American People’, a pamphlet from 1900, shows not just the conflicting American perspectives, but gives the people of the Philippines a voice.  What is most fascinating is how the CFC uses American arguments FOR imperialism as a mechanism to convince Americans to HALT their dominance of the Philippines.

For example, American imperialists argued that they would bring freedom to the Filipinos.  As long as the Filipinos obeyed American authorities, they would reform the government of the Philippines and bring them freedom.  The CFC turned that argument on its head since they did not  see how freedom can come from a war of domination.

Why, forgetful of all your history and the noble precepts of your illustrious forefathers, are you fighting against the cause of Independence, of Progress and of Justice, which is our cause? What has come to pass between you and us that should cause you to permit this incredible and monstrous war to be waged against us?

A second, even more emotional, plea conjures up the memories of idealized American founders in order to show American imperialists that their actions conflict with their long-standing American values.

Choose, then, sons of Washington, of Jefferson and of Lincoln, between these two alternatives: Freedom for the hapless peoples who are in your power, and thus, under God's just laws, the recompense to you of a larger freedom for yourselves, or, tyranny and destruction for your struggling but helpless victims, whose wrongs the Great Ruler of all will in due time avenge by the mournful destruction of your own liberties. Shall it be generosity, or colonial greed? Shall it be right, or wrong? Give ear to your own conscience, and we are sure you will incline yourselves toward mercy… because our resolution is fixed: Liberty or death; independence or annihilation.
The last line is quite striking because the CFC uses an infamous line, “Liberty or Death” from the lips of Patrick Henry on the eve of the American Revolution.

Taken in combination, primary images, poetry, and pamphlets can tell a much more powerful story than any history teacher standing and speaking at the front of the room.  American pride and patriotism is something we should instill in our students.  At the same time, we need to teach them about the darker parts of our past so that they may learn to be better leaders in the future.

Please Note: This reflection was completed as part of the author's participation in the History Connected program. Please see the History Connected Wiki or the History Connected Official Website for information on the federal grant that provided the opportunity.

The White Man’s Burden, Rudyard Kipling (1889) -
‘Give me Liberty, or give me Death’, Patrick Henry (1775)  -

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Civil War Teaches Us About Death... and the Beauty of Life

There is a great beauty in life that we fail to recognize until something, some experience or some knowledge, gives us the gift of perspective.  I have personally gone through some difficult moments recently, but I was reminded of the great beauty of life last week as I got off a chairlift and buckled down my ski boots for the first run of the day at Attitash in Bartlett, New Hampshire.

Rarely do we teachers get the opportunity to give our teenage students, who are caught up in a material and highly virtualized world, such perspective.  There are countless passages and examples of the lives and deaths of ordinary soldiers throughout Drew Gilpin Faust’s book, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the Civil War. This book just might provide us teachers with that opportunity.

Faust is able to present ample evidence to prove that the nature of death and the American understanding of what death meant changed as a result of the war. The study of these ordinary soldiers is important for our students’ learning and understanding of the intense impact of this war on American society, economics, politics, and culture.

To understand this shift I might first explain what ars moriendi is. Students need to understand that a proper death at the time was at home, surrounded by loved ones, prayerful, and followed an honest profession of sins in a Christian mindset that allowed for both the dying and the living to be secure in the fate of the soul of the moribund.

Next, the passages I might use with students would include the stories of soldiers who struggled with the fact that they did not know when they would die and were therefore denied ars moriendi.

“Sure knowledge – even of death – seemed preferable to persisting uncertainty, for it restored both a sense of control and the possibility for the readiness to central to the ars moriendi. …Early in the war W.D. Rutherford of South Carolina remarked to his fiancée upon ‘how we find ourselves involuntarily longing for the worst.,’ so as simply not to be caught unaware. Rutherford confronted three more years of such uncertainly and ‘longing’ before he was killed in Virginia in October 1864.” (p. 19-20)
I might also use a passage to illustrate the point that this uncertainty affected the loved ones of the soldiers at home as well, especially when they couldn’t bury their husbands or sons ‘properly.’

“Redemption and resurrection of the body were understood as physical, not just metaphysical, realities, and therefore the body, even in death and dissolusion, preserved ‘a surviving indentity.’ …Jeremiah Gage of the 11th Mississippi… As he lay dying at Gettysburg, he wrote to urge his mother not to regret that she would be unable to retrieve his body. With his last words, he asked ‘to be buried like my comrades. But deep, boys deep, so the beasts won’t get me.” (p. 62-63)
The burial ceremonies and huge numbers of citizens in attendance for the burials of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Abraham Lincoln demonstrated the overwhelming desire of the public to compensate for the time they lost when denied ars moriendi. The compositions of Walt Whitman about Lincoln are especially expressive of this mourning that the whole nation shared. While the lines are outwardly about Lincoln, they seem to hint at the hopes and dreams of all soldiers who fell before him.

“Sing of the love we bore him-because you, dwellers in
camps, know it truly.

As they invault the coffin there,
For the heavy hearts of soldiers.”(p. 159-161)
The entire book is difficult emotional reading.  Probably too much for the average teenager to handle.  But a few carefully selected excerpts put in the right context could help our students gain some much-needed perspective on the value of life and the great suffering others have endured so that we have the opportunity to live.

Please Note: This reflection was completed as part of the author's participation in the History Connected program. Please see the History Connected Wiki or the History Connected Official Website for information on the federal grant that provided the opportunity.

Cover Art:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Using John Booker's Civil War Letters In the Classroom

John and James were born to John Booker (1797-1859) and Nancy Blair Reynolds Booker (1796-1859) on October 10, 1840, and both enlisted in the Confederate Army on May 24, 1861, at Whitmell, Virginia, in Company D 38th Virginia Regiment, Infantry (also known as "the Whitmell Guards"). They began writing letters to their cousin soon after enlisting, and they continued until they were both severely wounded in the Battle of Drewry's Bluff near Petersburg, Virginia, on May 16, 1864. John died of his wounds in August 1864, but James recovered, married Martha Ann Fulton ["Pat"] (?-1923) of Pittsylvania County, on October 31, 1867, and lived until 1923. (Click here for the source of this summary)

The John Booker letters are great examples of the realities of participation in wartime. They demonstrated that the initial enthusiasm and adventure-seeking that motivated young men to volunteer and enlist faded away when the realities of war became evident. Booker, a Confederate soldier, probably enlisted with his brother and friends to preserve their way of life and defend their homes and families. Over time, he realized that war is not always about these heroic intentions. It may start out that way, but when it comes down to doing the work of war, it is unpleasant, unfair, and isolating.

Booker's participation was punctuated with frustration and disillusionment. He was frustrated with his officers and his family and friends at home as well. His officers seemed unaware of the importance of fairness among their men.

Christmas is close by and I see no chance for me or James to get home. I would like the best in the world for one of us to get home by Christmas if we could ans I think one of us was to get a furlough and if the officers would do right we would get one. But if they can get home whenever they please, they don't care for us.

Furloughs were obviously highly valued, and granting them in a fair way was essential to maintaining the loyalty and motivation of the men. Additionally, Booker saw right through the governor's strategy to give the men an impossible choice when trying to get them to reenlist in the Confederate Army.

The Governor came out the other day and made us a speech an tried to the get the men to re-enlist for the war, and when he had quit speaking the Colonel had us all in line and then the Colors carried to the front and then told all the men he wanted all who were determined to be freemen to step out on the line with the Colors and all who were willing to be slaves for their enemies to stand fast. ...I didn't wish to be in either line. ...I believe that as long as we will stay here and express a willingness to stay here our leading men will keep the war up.
Booker argues that he wants peace and seems to believe that the officers and political leaders do not, but they need young men like him to fight their war for them. Our students might look at this and try to connect it to the strategies that politicians use today to convince their constituents that their legislative agenda/campaign platform/party tagline is the best.

Most interesting, and sad, to me was the fact that Booker seemed truly upset that the letters from family and friends did not arrive often enough.

I am sure there is nothing that affords me more pleasure than to receive a letter from any of my friends or relations at home. But it's seldom I get a letter. I had been expecting a letter from you two or three weeks before I received it.

I take this opportunity of responding to your most kind and interesting letter of the 10th of last month which was so long coming to hand I had begun to think that you had given out writing to me anymore or had written and I had failed to get your letter, though I suppose your letter were on the road longer than it ought have been.

This point would not be lost on our students given that American men and women are serving in Afghanistan and all over the world. There are many opportunities for them to send their thoughts, well-wishes, and even a few tokens of gratitude to these people who make great sacrifices.

Students might draw from these primary source documents that participation for an individual can change over time. Booker is a hero, but is story is not an ideal one. It would be a great way to show students how true heroics are achieved.

Please Note: This reflection was completed as part of the author's participation in the History Connected program. Please see the History Connected Wiki or the History Connected Official Website for information on the federal grant that provided the opportunity.

Louis XIV Podcasts from Freshmen Students

My freshmen are studying 17th Century European absolute monarchs. In an effort to keep them on task before the much-anticipated winter holiday break, they are recording podcasts about Louis XIV of France.

Click the link below to hear what they wrote and recorded. I think they did a pretty decent job with both the history content and writing. Feel free to comment. They would love to hear from you! Thanks for listening.