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Posts tagged ‘civil war’

Academic discomfort and the problem with history classes

More than several years ago, I asked my daughter, a fourth grader at the time, to work her way through the very cool Plimoth Plantation’s You Are the Historian simulation. It’s a wonderful online tool that asks kids to answer a very simple question – what really happened at the first Thanksgiving. Using evidence and video clips from experts, elementary students develop a thesis and create a final product that addresses the problem.

And I wanted a product review from a true end user. Used to these sort of requests from her history nerd father, Erin plunged in. During the in-depth debriefing over milk and cookies, I asked her a variety of questions about her experience. Much of the conversation is now forgotten but I still remember what she said when I asked her to tell me one thing that she would share with her teacher the next day.

The past is what really happened. And history is what we say happened.

I couldn’t have been prouder.

Of course, Read more

Two of my favorite things: Gettysburg and maps

I missed it.

The 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg? I missed it. I suppose it would have been too crowded anyway. But I do have the latest Gettysburg book by Allen Guelzo and am working my way through the Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, Martin Sheen movie version of the battle.

And now thanks to Patrick’s suggestion, I’ve got some absolutely awesome maps. Two of my favorite things – Civil War battles and maps.

Some quick context. There has been a lot of discussion over the years concerning the different decisions made by leaders on both sides during the battle. Particularly the decisions made by Confederate general Lee on both the second and third day. Did Lee’s orders to attack the Union left flank on the second day and the frontal attack on the Union center on the third day make sense?

We know how the battle turns out. Confederate defeat. And often, because Lee is seen by many Confederate supporters to be infallible, Lee’s subordinates – especially Longstreet – get most of the blame for that. But the question remains. Why did Lee order attacks that with hindsight seem so wrong?

The Smithsonian might have the answer. Read more

Interactive Civil War maps and digital storytelling tools

It’s always a great day when I get to spend time with people who love talking history. That was my day yesterday. Strategies, resources, what works, what doesn’t.

Good times.

Part of the time involved what I call “play time.” Most teachers have a limited time during a typical day to just play around – browse for resources, chat about scope and sequence, argue about Kennedy’s response to Soviet missiles in Cuba.

You know. The part of the day when real professional learning happens.

It was during this period of sharing and browsing that a teacher found an awesome site that she passed on to me.

Read more

Visualizing Emancipation

We’re deep into the third day of our Teaching American History summer session and are busy uncovering all sorts of handy resources and materials. Part of what we’ve been learning is that African Americans of the 1800s played a huge part in their own gradual emancipation.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education highlights and supports that sort of thinking:

Edward L. Ayers, a historian and president of the University of Richmond, calls the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War “the least-understood social transformation in American history.” A new interactive map he helped build shows that emancipation didn’t occur in one moment, he says, but was “an unfolding,” happening from the very first years of the war to the very last. And, he adds, it happened because of African Americans, not merely for them, or to them.

Titled Visualizing Emancipation, this interactive map is an ongoing project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, that sheds light on when and where men and women became free in the Civil War South. It tells the complex story of emancipation by mapping documentary evidence of black men and women’s activities – using official military correspondence, newspapers, and wartime letters and diaries – alongside the movements of Union regiments and the shifting legal boundaries of slavery.

A very cool Web 2.0 way of helping kids see that there was way more to the Emancipation story than just Lincoln, his Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment.

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Ken Burns – Telling stories and manipulating your kids

One of my earliest memories of useful discipline-specific staff development was not organized by my school district or building. It wasn’t organized by my building or department chair.

It was designed by Ken Burns. Yeah. That Ken Burns.

The guy who directed and produced the awesome Civil War documentary that first aired in 1990.

I learned more about the Civil War and how to teach about the Civil War by watching that nine part series. Ken used amazing images, poetry, oral history, biography, and music to tell an incredibly interesting story. I began to realize that a big part of being a highly effective teacher of history is the ability to tell a great story. And more importantly, I realized that a big part of my job was to help my kids learn how to tell their own stories.

A recent article highlights a video that has Ken describing a bit about the process of telling great stories. It’s a sweet five minutes. Two things that stood out for me.

1. Ken says that a great story is the same as a mathematical equation. One plus one equals three: 1+1=3. A great story is greater than the sum of its parts.

2. Ken also uses a word that I’ve been using for years. And it’s a word that bothers some teachers. The word is manipulate. I love that word and I think we need to use it more when we talk about teaching and learning.

I starting thinking about manipulating the brains of history students several years ago while reading a great book by James Zull titled The Art of Changing the Brain. Zull suggests that a teacher’s job is to re-wire the brains of students so that new learning takes place. One way to do that is through positive manipulation of emotion.

So when I heard Ken Burns talking about using really good stories to manipulate how people respond to content, I got this deja vu / heard this before sort of moment.

The video is a nice reminder of what teachers can be working on between now and the start of school next fall – researching and perfecting great stories. Creating an emotional connection between content and kids so that their brains are re-wired.

Manipulation. It’s not always a bad thing.

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Tip of the Week – Three social studies iPad apps I just fell in love with

I haven’t had a lot of time in the last few weeks to spend searching for great mobile apps. But with a hat tip to Jaime H. and through a conversation with a couple of great teachers in Illinois, I did run across three that I really like. I think you will too.

The first is called Pocket Law Firm. It’s a free app based on the very cool iCivics website championed by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Using  knowledge of the Constitutional amendments, players act as lawyers, go to court, and fight their cases.

Decide if potential clients have a right, match them with the right lawyer, and win the case. The more clients you serve and the more cases you win, the faster your law firm grows. Grow your Pocket Law Firm by winning constitutional cases. You’ll earn perks like:

– More lawyers to handle more cases
– A coffee machine for extra pep
– Waiting room upgrades for impatient clients
– Ads to drive more clients to your office

I had a class play the Do I Have a Right? game and I was amazed at how much they enjoyed it. I had 12 and 13 year old boys and girls begging me to let them play it. As a former lawyer, now 7th grade social studies teacher, I loved it as well–especially the touches of being able to caffeinate the attorneys for more productivity—and that the students really did learn the amendments.

NY 7th grade social studies teacher

The second is also free and is called Gettysburg Battle App. (The same company also makes apps for the battles of Fredericksburg, Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Malvern Hill.)

The app is designed specifically to be used as a virtual guide while you are actually on the battlefield. It uses the GPS in your iPhone, iPod, or iPad to help direct you from one spot on the battlefield to another. But it has so much handy info like interactive maps, video clips, photos, facts, order of battle lists, and short articles, that you can use it as a teaching and learning tool no matter where you are.

Clicking on any of the embedded “virtual signs” will provide you with a wealth of historical information, expert videos, and the voices of the participants who fought here in July 1863. Learn the true history of the battlefield as you “stand” at the Sharpshooter’s Den, the Slaughter Pen, the Devil’s Kitchen, Vincent’s Spur, or the crest of Little Round Top.

The third app, Barefoot World Atlas, is $7.99. Based on the hardback book of the same title, it is bit expensive but very cool.

It’s an interactive 3D globe that invites children to explore the regions and countries of the world, discovering hundreds of fascinating features and immersing themselves in the rich wonders of our planet. This app is optimised for the new iPad and is compatible with earlier iPads. The rich and beautifully detailed graphics take full advantage of the amazing new high definition retina screen.

Fly at will around a beautiful 3D globe. Explore the world’s continents, great oceans and changing environments. Meet different people around the planet and find out about their way of life. Encounter amazing wildlife, discover landmarks, natural features and famous buildings. Delve deeper to discover a wealth of facts and insights including live data for every country from Wolfram|Alpha.

Have fun!

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