Posts Tagged ‘US History’

Dred Scott Dossier

June 29, 2010

In high school I only got a very basic summary of the Dred Scott case, but in a Constitutional Law class at Boston College I really got to dig deeper into it.  Teaching a summer African American Experience this summer, I wanted to use case studies for each unit to give students a chance to really look at something in depth and do college level work.  The result was this assignment which breaks the case into several parts and gives students a chance to make their own legal decisions and assess Justice Taney’s.

Dred Scott Dossier

American law is based on precedent, meaning that each decision is based on not only the written law, but also previous legal decisions.  That is why lawyers must spend so much time studying law and why there are extensive legal libraries.  In this activity, you will examine a historical legal case and make your own legal decision based on the facts.  Read the documents carefully, and render your decision at the end.



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.


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!


Vietnam War Assessment

November 28, 2009

In addition to a quiz, I assessed my honors US II class on the Vietnam War through a project about the legacy of the war.  They worked with a partner to create a memorial to the war in the form of a poster using images and quotes, as well as through a speech they presented to the class.  It was very interesting to see how young people perceived the Vietnam War in very different ways after we had been learning about it for several weeks.

Positives: It was a good way for students to be creative in different ways.  Some students put a great deal of effort into drawing beautiful, detailed pictures, while others dreamed up a three-dimensional, interactive statue that they planned out on paper.  No two projects were alike.

Negatives: Some students struggled conecting the facts they had learned about the war with its legacy.  They were able to say the war was good or bad, but not able to justify it using events that occurred during the war.


Library Scavenger Hunt: Revolutionary War

November 16, 2009

As a new teacher in an unfamiliar school, I thought having lunch in the staff room would give me an opportunity to get to know my colleagues. Through these lunches I met one of the librarians who was also new to the school. Inspired by her and with her assistance, I created an assignment to help my freshmen get to know the library and become experts on one aspect of the unit we were studying: the Revolutionary War.


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