Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Civil War Walking Tour of Lowell

This year’s book group inspired me to bring the study of the Civil War home to my students. As a teacher at Lowell High School, I’m quite used to lots of history in this city. The students are very used to it as well. Throughout grammar school and into their junior year in high school, Lowell students are subject to informative trips to the mills and in-class presentations by outstanding park rangers. Every bit of Lowell history that is offered to our students is of the highest quality and executed by extremely qualified and knowledgeable individuals at school and in the community.

The Civil War touched so much of this country and that is well understood; but specifically, what about Lowell? My search for an answer to this question was inspired by Professor Robert Forrant, as well as one of the books that we read this year, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust.

In front of Lowell High School and City Hall is a magnificent monument located on a triangle in the middle of a busy intersection. Each day I drive past it and I try to gather some information from afar as I look through my moving car window. Not long ago, I realized that it was a Civil War monument from my glances. With a little bit of digging, I discovered that it was a monument and grave site of two men whose names were Ladd and Whitney. These two men were from Lowell, and were two of the first four men killed in the Civil War.

With this information, I went right to the Lowell High librarian who provided me with additional Civil War information. I learned that the City of Lowell’s library (Memorial Library) was named in honor of those from Lowell who were killed in the war. In the Library, there was a great deal art work and decoration honoring the those who serve in the war including three enormous murals pained by Paul Philippoteaux of Gettysburg’s cyclorama fame.

Armed with this information, I uncovered an additional treasure. On Jackson Street in Lowell there is the Lowell Gallery which is a framing store. The proprietor, Guy Lefebvre is a significant student of Lowell Civil War history and has created a fantastic small museum in his store. His museum emphasizes the Lowell’s native son Benjamin Butler an the Ladd and Whitney Monument.

Without hesitation, I put together a walking tour of these sites for my students. Allotting two periods for each class, we walked to the Ladd-Whitney Monument, the Pollard Library and ended up at the Gallery on Jackson St. My reward for putting the entire thing together was hearing multiple students say, “I didn’t know that this was here.”

For this year, my work is done.

(Photographs courtesy of John Wren.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Voicethread for the Civil War

At the Primary Source Institute last summer I was introduced to Voicethread. With this website a person can post pictures and make comments about the pictures. I had been wanting to use it all year, but just never seemed to have the time. Finally, at the end of the school year I was able to use it to introduce Reconstruction. I posted seven pictures from the end of the Civil War that represent the problems the United States was facing. The students then got usernames, passwords and either typed or recorded their comments about each picture. To see what was done you can go to

There were pros and cons to this activity. The students definitely enjoyed it. In our discussion of the pictures after they viewed them it was evident that the students read and listened to their classmates comments. Several of them told me that they had wished we did this earlier and more times during the school year. My one disappointment was over the quality of the comments. I did give this to ninth graders, but comments like "is that a tree?" were not particularly insightful. Next year I will give more guidance in the types of comments I would like them to make.

After doing this activity, I got to thinking that I would be a great way for students to tell a story about some aspect of the Civil War. They would create their own voicethread. As it has been mentioned already in the blog, there are a lot of photographic resources for the Civil War. Students could focus on a battle, camp conditions, or Lincoln's role in the war and relay that information by putting a series of pictures together. They would then provide historical facts and commentary on the pictures. After the projects are complete other students could view the individual voicethreads and make comments or ask questions.

I was surprised at how much this seemingly simple activity interested the students. Over the past several years I have been trying to integrate more technology into the classroom, but the response I received over this activity has proven to me that I need to make an even more concentrated effort at doing this.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Year in Review

Like many of you, I have spent the last few days winding down my curriculum and wrapping up my school year. With this comes the obligatory final exam review.

My students of course ask, what is on the exam? What should we study? Any my reaction is always- EVERYTHING! HA

In all seriousness though, as I look back on this year, spent both in my classroom and with History Connected, I am drawn back to Paul Revere's Ride.

I constantly remind my students that it only takes one person, one idea and one action to change the world.

Although recent actions in our political arena have brought up Revere's name again, my students and all of us, as History Connected participants, will never forget Revere's role in the play that was the American Revolution.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


As I was reading through the current blog page I was interested by the amount of subject areas and methods that reflect ‘today’. I pulled a few quotes from the blogs and the following are my personal reflections:

Many students question the value of studying history but comparing past elections to the “Presidential election of 2012” or even Obama’s election can bring history to life.

“As the nation remembers the sesquicentennial of the Civil War”, this topic keeps coming up on the radio and television. Many students will agree that all the issues raised by slavery and abolition have not really been totally dealt with in today’s society- there is still observable inequity. I saw a trailer for the upcoming movie “The Conspirators” about Lincoln’s assassination- hopefully many will go see it.

“Reflection: A great deal of students did not understand the idea of a paradox.” I loved this lesson because a paradox is truly a compelling problem and its important for students to understand that these things happen today as well as to our human family throughout history—what a connection to the past.

These methods allow the students to interact with history in technological ways they are very comfortable with:
“I started my blog”:
“Polldaddy and Survey Monkey”
“Create a Prezi or website about their person”
Such a wide variety of activities that can help translate history into a ‘language’ they understand

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Election Activity

With the Presidential election of 2012 about to launch into national relevance, the topic of American elections is becoming increasing important to address in the classroom. I have found myself touching on the topic in both my US History I class and my Sociology class. Civics and voter participation are topics that transcend all areas of social studies.

A lesson about American elections should begin with a question to the class: how important is to vote in America today? Most students generally consider voting to be a privilege that they do not have yet, and therefore have not put much thought into.

Last year during a HC seminar on the right to vote, we were shown an image of the election of 1852. The picture made voting day out to be a celebration, with people drinking and bringing their families. Politicians engaged on a personal level with voters, even feet from the ballot box. The picture really got me thinking, how much has voting and pride in civic responsibility changed since then?

In my US History I classes, I put two pictures on the board, one of the election of 1852, and another of present day voting procedure. Lining them up, I asked each student to draw several conclusions about each, and then to compare the two. The results were striking, indicating that modern day voting is less a celebration and more a chore that people don’t love, but might feel guilty about not doing. The lines, sterile environment, and lack of good natured campaigning sucks much of the excitement out of the institution of exercising your voice in a Democratic system. I then asked my students the pros and cons of the voting procedure in both pictures. While one fails to generate excitement, it did help to provide a fair and uncorrupted result.

Upon completion of the compare and contrast exercise, I then proposed a statistic to my students that only 40% of all eligible voters between the ages of 18-24 actually vote. Immediately afterwards, my students began to brainstorm how to bring interest and excitement back into Election Day. To key was to attract more voters to the polls, not to have a party. With that in mind, students engaged in an open discussion about how to achieve this elusive goal of increasing voter participation.