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.