Prove Your-Selfie

Question: How can you get your students to prove they have analyzed and understand a primary source?

Answer:  Selfies.

It's time to teach the Monroe Doctrine, the 1823 document that is still the basis of United States international relations to this day, to a classroom of 25 sixteen year olds.

Part 1: Monroe's Woes
There were three issues facing President James Monroe.

First Woe: Russia had staked it's claim on the northwestern coast, an area critical to America's Asian trade.
Second Woe: European superpowers were meeting to discuss a possible invasion of newly independent Central and South American nations.
Third Woe: Britain wanted an American alliance.  Americans still fundamentally distrusted the European mindset.

Part 2: The Solutions
I gave students three excerpts from the document.  In small groups, they read the excerpts and determined which of Monroe's Woes each applied to.  They also determined what the solution was.

Part 3: What Did the World Think?
Next, the sophomores had to determine what the international community would think of Monroe's declaration.  Should the newly formed United States of America be taken seriously by the well-established traditional European empires?  Students were assigned one of three perspectives: Russian diplomat, Latin American revolutionary, and U.S. Congressman.  In order to evaluate whether they understood the international mindset that existed almost 300 years ago, I asked them to use a very contemporary technique:


Students had to choose a short excerpt from the Monroe Doctrine.  Then they had to take a selfie while wearing the expression that demonstrates the reaction of their assigned international role.

U.S. Congressman reacting to Monroe's decision to avoid alliances with European powers:
Click the image to see Lily's full blog post.
Russian diplomat's reaction to the U.S. declaration that they would defend newly independent Latin American countries, which Russia and other European powers wanted to bring back under monarchical control:
Click the image to Gabrielle's full blog post.
The 20 minutes in class that I gave students to talk about, think about, and take selfies was really fun.  Kids were laughing at themselves and each other, making faces, snapping photos, and asking me really great questions about excerpted quotes from an 1823 document.

All in all, it was a successful lesson, Me Thinks!

Note: This lesson was adapted and adjusted from an original lesson developed by Kara Gleason and Caroline Allison at Reading Memorial High School.  I'm very lucky to work with truly scholarly historians who are passionate about history and education.

The idea to use selfies as part of a lesson assessment came from my experience in a class exercise in Expanding the Boundaries II with John Doherty.


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