Monday, December 31, 2007

Inaugural Addresses

As the President’s first formal impression to the country, what does he address? How does he comfort? How does he inspire?

In my second year teaching United States History I, I've experimented in using inaugural addresses to summarize the events and the atmosphere of the country as expressed by the President. My essential question in using these addresses, or pieces of the addresses, depending upon time, revolves around basic political, economic, foreign, and domestic issues facing America. In understanding the nature and purpose of a President’s inaugural address, students will contextualize the events mentioned in the speech and evaluate their historical importance. Beyond the content of the speech, students can probe further and assess superficial and underlying tones.

As with most primary sources, the diction, syntax, and length of the addresses demand adjustments so that students can discover the meaning within the speeches. In addition to editing the length, providing guiding questions, and encouraging dictionary use, the content in the speech should access prior knowledge, information the students would have acquired during the previous unit. This content recognition should also provide encouragement and motivation in their work.

Furthermore, teachers should encourage students to apply their intellect in analyzing inaugural addresses during the upcoming election.

The following link connects you to the Avalon Project at Yale Law School and provides the Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Plymouth in the 1600s

This year my class is using a new (to us) textbook for our study of Massachusetts history and geography. Our previous textbooks were written for fifth grade students, and were inaccessible to most third graders, so they were not terribly useful. In using this new textbook as a framework for the curriculum, we just completed a unit on life in a Wampanoag village, which established a basic concept of the daily tasks and responsibilities of members of a village, and established that people had been living in Massachusetts for thousands of years before any European settlers arrived.
In teaching this unit, several questions came to mind about how to improve it for next year. The most obvious question our class discussions kept returning to was "how was life different for the Wampanoag than it is for us in 2007?" Asking students to think about what we value in our daily lives, or what is expected from them in terms of responsibilities and chores, and comparing that to the lives of the Wampanoag elicited many interesting responses amongst my students. We had a very interesting (and somewhat unplanned) discussion about clothing, which originated with learning about how the Wampanoag people used all parts of an animal when they hunted. Students considered how easily we obtain clothing in modern life, and compared that to how much work and energy (from various members of the tribe) went into making one article of clothing, beginning with hunting an animal, curing the skin, decorating it, etc. I would like to find other ways to create these connections to areas of life that they can understand.
Another activity we did was to compare two maps of southeastern Massachusetts (found in our textbook). One was a map with Wampanoag villages marked. The other was a contemporary map of the same area, with the current names of towns given. Students realized that many of the towns found in contemporary Massachusetts had origins that began with the Wampanoags, and some even retain the same (or similar sounding) name that the Wampanoags had given the settlement.
I hope that before I return to teaching this unit next year I am able to find more resources to use in the classroom. I have some great photographs of the Wampanoag village at Plimoth Plantation, which I took last spring. These definitely helped to illustrate some of the ideas my students were learning about, especially such ideas as making a mishoon, or burnt-out canoe. I would like to be able to find more images or objects to use in class.
When we return to class in January I am excited to see if students can take the information they know about the Wampanoag and consider how these peoples' lives were affected after European settlers arrived in Massachusetts. As we begin our study of the Pilgrims and the establishment of the colony at Plymouth, I want students to understand the complexities of the relationships with the Native Americans who already lived in the area, and how their lives had been altered by previous European exploration.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Slavery in America- Primary Sources

The website listed below is a great tool when teaching about slavery in antebellum American and its legacy. Originally created as a companion to the PBS series, Slavery in America, this website has been sponsored by New York Life and remains active. I recently used some resources from this website in class to address a question that keep being asked by the students- how could the South have possibly defended slavery? The website offers a variety of primary source photographs, political cartoons, lithographs, and contemporary artwork based on slave narratives. I used 2 political cartoons from the defense of slavery section and the National Archives and Records Administration political cartoon analysis worksheet (link provided below) in my lesson.

The worksheet helps to guide the students to look closely at the political cartoon and its accompanying text for meaning. After examining what is in the cartoon with the students, also as them to look for what is not in the cartoon- which is just as important to their understanding of the Southern justification of slavery and the reality of slavery.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Summer Institute

This past summer, participating teachers in Encounters and Exchanges in U.S. History took part in a week-long Summer Institute organized by Primary Source titled Exploring Conflict and Consensus Among Peoples from the American Colonies to the New Republic. The internationalism of the colonial world was emphasized throughout the Institute.

Guided by our course reader, Alan Taylor's American Colonies: The Settling of North America, the course addressed the history of colonial America and the early Republic with a view toward including the experiences and interactions of various peoples: Indians, Spanish, British, French, Dutch, Swedish, a mix of Africans, and others. We worked with many primary sources from the time period and traveled to Plimouth Plantation, visited the Wampanoag home site and the reconstructed Mayflower, tasted colonial foods, and observed craft demonstrations.

Topics and scholar presentations for the Summer Institute included:
  • Internationalism in Colonial America, Cynthia Van Zandt, UNH

  • Native Cultures in Early America, Marge Bruchac

  • Spanish America, John Bezis-Selfa, Wheaton College

  • French America, Bill Fowler, Northeastern University

  • Visual History of Early America, Pat Johnston, Salem State College

  • Black Founders: Africans in Colonial and Revolutionary America, Richard Newman, RIT

  • Commerce, Trade, and Events Leading to the Revolution, Tad Baker, Salem State College

  • Teaching the Founding Documents, Tom Conroy Stonehill College

To view a slideshow of images from the Summer Institute click on the following link:

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Encounters & Exchanges First Annual Conference

On Tuesday April 3rd, the first annual conference for Encounters and Exchanges in U.S. History was held at Reading Memorial High School. Elementary, Middle and High School teachers from the Danvers, Lowell, Lynnfield, North Reading and Reading Public Schools attended the conference.

The day began with a keynote address from D. Brenton Simons, the President & CEO of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Mr. Simons spoke on the research and content in his newest book Witches, Rakes, and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder and Mayhem in Boston, 1630 - 1775. Using the stories from his book including accused witches in Boston and the poisoning of the Whittier children, Mr. Simons tied the brief glimpses at the lives of colonial Bostonians to the greater themes of the time period and mentioned what they can tell us about 17th & 18th century Puritanism, women's roles, and social networks. Utilizing the Historical Thinking Benchmarks of the American Historical Society, which drive the Encounters and Exchanges in U.S. History program, Mr. Simons enlightened participants on how a historian conducts his/her craft.

Morning and Afternoon breakout sessions included Critical Thinking and Decision Making in U.S. History, Interdisciplinary approaches to Teaching U.S. History, Using Revolutionary War Records, Making Choices: Multiple Perspectives of Revolutionary Events, A View from the Participants at Lexington and Concord, Primary Sourcebooks, and the Continental Congress and the Signing of the Declaration of Independence. Presenters included representatives from the Boston National Historic Park, Adams National Historic Park, Bristol Community College, UMass Lowell, Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School, Minuteman National Park, and the National Archives and Records Administration. All of the breakout workshops included work with primary sources and utilized pedagogical approaches that require students to use historical thinking to think critically about the past.

Teachers were also treated to a performance by Joan Gatturna titled Petticoat Patriot: Soldier Girl of the American Revolution. In this performance teachers learned more about Deborah Sampson, a young woman who disguised herself as a boy and served as a Continental soldier in the American Revolution. In her performance, Ms. Gatturna described the different roles available for young men and women in the 18th century while also discussing the history of the American Revolution. Teachers received a teaching guide with lessons requiring analysis of primary sources including soldiers' orders and a young woman's diary.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Technology in the American History Classroom

During January, February, and March teachers met with FreshPond Education facilitator Rob Ramsdell in a workshop that focused on integrating technology into the American history curriculum. Discussion topics included evaluating technology-enhanced activities and resources, and the benefits that technology brings to the classroom.

During the two-day sessions, teachers researched and harvested Internet resources, and utilized functions related to Social Studies classroom applications in Inspiration, PowerPoint, and Microsoft Word.

At the end of both sessions, teachers shared mini-lessons that they created in which they incorporated the skills and resources gained from the Technology in the American History Classroom sessions into the U.S. History curriculum. Lesson plans included using primary sources found on the Internet to teach immigration, using a 17th century folk song found digitally on the Internet to teach about colonial life, and using Inspiration software to compare and contrast the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

History Book Discussion Study Group - The Unredeemed Captive

In January, teachers from Danvers, Lowell, North Reading and Reading met to discuss John Demos' The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. Despite some initial frustration with Demos' style, most participants agreed that the discussion flowed very easily.

Topics for discussion included the march from Deerfield and the treatment of the captives as a necessary evil versus an absolute inhumane attack. Women's roles in Native American culture versus Puritan New England society were discussed with participants assessing Eunice's reasons for remaining in Canada. Puritan values and norms were studied particularly through Reverand William's actions and writings. Conflict and consensus between Native Americans, French Canadians, and English Puritans guided participants to review the broad historical context of the 1704 raid on Deerfield.

Lesson plan ideas included utilizing the Raid on Deerfield website with students, comparing and contrasting Native American, French Canadian, and Puritan society, utilizing the primary sources Demos' refers to throughout, and using Eunice's story as a starting point for examining the broad themes of religion, gender roles, family, and war in Colonial America.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

History Book Discussion Study Group - Founding Myths

Throughout December teachers from Danvers, Lowell, North Reading, & Reading met for the first official meetings of the History Book Discussion Study Group. Dean Bergeron, Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Patricia Fontaine, Associate Professor of Education at UMass Lowell led the groups in a lively discussion of Ray Raphael’s Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past.

In Founding Myths, Raphael uncovers the “truth” about a number of stories from the American Revolution. He argues, for instance, that Patrick Henry never said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” that there was no Molly Pitcher who delivered water to soldiers on the battlefield, and that the American Revolution did not actually begin with “the shot heard round the world” at Lexington in 1775 but in numerous towns and cities throughout Massachusetts where the people forced government officials to surrender political control as early as 1774. Clearly, Raphael’s book provided much fodder for debate and discussion; participants agreed that it was an excellent selection to begin the book discussion series.

Part of the discussion allowed teachers to think about how various topics in the book could be implemented in the classroom. Many teachers noted the importance of teaching historical thinking skills, especially inquiry and analysis, so as to guide students in questioning the sources they are presented with. Teachers also discussed the importance of using primary sources to study history and cited the many documents Raphael used including the numerous “declarations” of independence created prior to the congressional and official “Declaration.” In addition, teachers referred to the famous works of art that Raphael studied, including John Trumbull’s The Declaration of Independence and Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, as being useful in guiding students to question visual sources of information. Finally, several teachers spoke of the importance of using reenactments and debates with students.

Participating teachers found that the book group provided a valuable opportunity to meet with colleagues to discuss the study of history and historical methods. Teachers were particularly excited to work with other teachers across grade levels to see how history is being taught in elementary, middle and high school classes.