Posts Tagged ‘Cold War’

Cold War Learning Stations

May 14, 2010

One lesson format I use again and again for my high school classes is “learning stations.”  In groups of 2-4, depending on the class, students work with primary and secondary sources to answer questions.  I usually structure it so they can go to the stations in any order.  I never do it on the first day of a unit to introduce a topic, but rather on the third or fourth day, so they can use what the prerequisite knowledge they’ve learned to interpret the documents.

I am including the learning station documents as a PowerPoint.

Sputnik and the Space Race Learning Stations

This set of learning stations was designed for an 11th grade US History II class.  It includes oral history, photographs and newspaper excerpts about the Space Race and how it impacted ordinary Americans.  The PowerPoint slides were printed out and stapled into packets for students to use at each cluster of tables.  For some classes, I have given each group all the stations at once, but for most classes it’s nice for them to move a little bit and have a change of scenery.  I am including the student worksheet questions below.



Cold War Assessments

March 29, 2010

Not everyone is good at expressing what they know through a timed test.  Everybody knows that, but most classes still rely on tests.  I designed these assessments for my 11th grade US History II classes, both honors and standard level.  The results were mostly quite good, especially the oral history assignments.  I did have students complete an open-notes pop quiz (they were warned in advance, but did not know the exact date) to hold them accountable for their notes and classwork.

Positives: Students had a choice, and some students absolutely threw themselves into their work.  One student in my honors class brought in a diary twice as long as the minimum requirement with detailed descriptions of her character’s family and personal life, in addition to the required historical elements.  Another very shy boy in the standard-level class brought in an excellent oral history paper based on an interview with a Korean War veteran he worked with.  A few students interviewed their grandparents, several watched “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” although by far the diary was the most popular option.

Negatives: As I began teaching halfway through the year with these students, this was the first non-traditional assessment I did with them.  A handful of students did not complete the assignment and had various excuses, many of which did not hold water.  I had cautioned students that the film paper was not actually the “easiest” assignment but many students chose that, thinking it would be easy.  Two students said they could not find any of the films or any other suitable ones, and another said that the film was too boring to watch all the way through.  One student copied a synopsis of the film from Wikipedia.  These were exceptions, but I wish I had done more to support them so they could have completed the assignment as planned.

The Assignment: I am including the text of the assignment sheet I gave to students.  Feel free to modify this and use it for your own classes.  I am also including the text of a “tips” sheet that gives extra guidance and suggestions, as well as a template of the film paper.


You’re invited to a 1950s Party!

February 19, 2010


From: Ms. Nielsen

Time to meet and greet some of the biggest names of the 1950s!  There will be authentic 1950s music and entertainment, as well as refreshments.  Be prepared to rock around the clock!

Date: Tuesday 3/17, E period

You need to Bring:

  • Yourself in character (see back of invite)
  • Notes on your character
  • Food or drink to share (make it 1950s appropriate, look for products or recipes that were available in the 1950s)
  • Costume or prop for your character (5 pts. extra credit)


The Cold War through Music

February 3, 2010

I love using popular music to explore history.  I have found quite a few gems in my grandparents’ record collections and in a trip to the Smithsonian Archives.  Here are three songs I have used during a unit on the Cold War.  I used them each on a separate day to show the changes in attitudes about the war.  I am including the lyrics, but you would probably want to get a recording (iTunes and Amazon are great for that) to play for your class as well.

The songs I use:

“Atom and Evil”  by the Golden Gate Quartet

“Talking Atom Blues” by Pete Seeger

“99 Luftballons” by Nena (I use the German version and have translated the lyrics to English because they’re deeper than the English lyrics)

Positives: It feels like a break, although the students are still doing work.  It’s also fun to look at popular culture and ordinary people’s lives instead of just “important” people in history.

Negatives: The musical styles can be off-putting to some students.

The lyrics and question worksheets can be found below.


What should Nixon do?

February 3, 2010

I had no idea I was so interested in Richard Nixon until I had to each a Modern US History course.  Instead of just showing him as a one-sided figure, I wanted my students to really think about the choices he made.  I did this by putting them in his shoes and then having the class discuss what they decided to do and why.

Positives: It got students to think about historical decisions in their own context and exercise historical empathy.  Being forced to look at the political motivations made some students understand Nixon and Kissinger as men who made difficult decisions rather than just flat stereotypes.

Negatives: It was difficult for some students to get started.  I tried this initially with honors 11th graders and it worked well with most most students in the class, but I don’t think this would work with less mature students.  There would probably be a way to modify it, but I haven’t had a chance to do it yet.


Start your own Red Scare! Find the Communists…

February 2, 2010

I love the Cold War.  I was only alive for a few years of it (one of my first TV memories is watching the Berlin Wall being torn down), but I love exploring the culture, politics and emotional fervor of the Cold War.  When one of my colleagues told me about the Witch Hunt she does each year with her AP US course, I was inspired to create my own 1950s version.

Find the Communist!


Atomic Cafe

August 22, 2009

The Atomic Café is a fabulous piece of film history and I really wanted to bring it into my Cold War unit, but I couldn’t quite figure out how.  Made late in the Cold War, it mixes newsreel footage, military training films, advertisements, popular music and other primary sources to show the depth of American Cold War paranoia and how the Cold War was a part of everyday life for Americans.  The film is 88 minutes long, and while I know some teachers who showed the entire film, I showed a long clip from the middle (chapters 3-11) to take up most of a block class.

Positives: The actual footage is fabulous.  Students doing bomb drills, families creating bomb shelters, and actual footage of nuclear tests are images students will not easily forget.  It is also a great piece of dark humor, showing the absurdity of the times and the destructive power of the bomb.

Negatives: It is made with a very particular political aim and basically makes Cold War-era Americans look crazy and misguided—it will need to be accompanied by a lot of explanation to put it in perspective.  It is also not divided up into clear chapters, so deciding what to show and what not to show can be difficult.  Finally, it is black and white footage, which many students find off-putting and inherently boring.

Read chapter descriptions and discussion questions

“Korean War Stories” (PBS)

August 22, 2009

“Korean War Stories,” hosted by Walter Cronkite, uses interviews with Korean War veterans and real war footage to paint a vivid picture of an often overlooked war.  I have shown segments of this video to juniors in a US II course.  Forced to cover the Cold War relatively quickly, I used some brief homework reading and this DVD in class to cover the entire war.

Positives: It is broken up into thematic segments, so it’s easy to pick and choose what topics you want.  Students seemed to remember the video vividly and used material from it on their test essays.

Negatives: It can be a little slow at times, and many of the segments focus heavily on military strategies.  For some people this could be a positive, but for my students, we just didn’t have the time.

Read Chapter Descriptions and Discussion Questions