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Showing posts from 2011

The History Behind Memorial Day

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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 Worl…

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

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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 dec…

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

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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 sa…

Turning History Students into Detectives

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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 analy…

Caring for Our Veterans: Lessons from WWII and Today

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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, i…

Are You Wearing Green Today?

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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.

Lincoln's Assassination: A Nation's Emotional Response

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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 p…

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 BĂ©langer 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 …

Colonial America... In Plain English!

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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…

An American Empire

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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…

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

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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 s…

Using John Booker's Civil War Letters In the Classroom

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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 Confederat…

Louis XIV Podcasts from Freshmen Students

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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.
http://kerryhawk02.podbean.com/