Monday, April 23, 2012

Teaching Historical Fiction

There seemed to be a consensus at the last book club that there is a place for historical fiction in the history classroom. We teachers greatly enjoyed reading Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation and logic dictates that our students would also enjoy this book.

Personally, this was the perfect year for me to read this book for the TAH bookclub because this past September I used a similar work of historical fiction with my class. We begin our USII course with the massive wave of immigration to the United States at the turn of the 20th century.  I have always used a chapter from Anzia Yezierska's Bread Givers.  This is the fictional story of Sara, a polish Jewish immigrant to New York City during the late 1800s.  It deals with the themes of Americanizaion, the generation gap, and issues of assimilation and education.  Much like Kwok and Girl In Translation, there were many similarities between the character Sara and the author Anzia.  

This September I decided to extend this activity and I read the whole novel with my students.  They spent the rest of the year asking for a new novel.  While I was not able to make time for anything else, I could not resist ending the year with Girl In Translation.  It really allows the course to come full circle. 

As for the obvious problem of making time for such an activity, I find the chapters to be perfect at the end of a class period or as homework reading.  I cannot recommend these two books enough for the USII classroom. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reflections on “Designing a Smithsonian Exhibition on the U.S. Dropping of the Atomic Bomb Simulation” Lesson

In my year two project, I created a lesson plan in which students debated how the U.S. dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be remembered. This year, I conducted that lesson plan and would like to share my reflections.

Overview of lesson: Students examined the idea of historiography, as well as historical content addressed in the MA state frameworks (US.II 16). The three days of the lesson plan included a day for instruction, student preparation and simulation and reflection. There was not enough time for the lesson to be conducted properly over the course of three consecutive days, so it was suggested to be spread out over the course of at least seven days. It centered on content from “The End of World War II and the Use of the Atomic Bomb” seminar, along with the use of Prezi. It is assumed that students have a prerequisite knowledge of using Prezi, as a presentation tool, as the lesson does not include instruction on using that software. Students learned the content of U.S.II 16 from teacher instruction during day one, then analyzed a primary source document from the 1994 Senate hearings about an upcoming Smithsonian exhibition on the dropping of the atomic bomb, and during day three they will have a simulation of a similar hearing set in the present day, for a fictional upcoming exhibition to debut during 2015. For the simulation, students were assigned different perspective to represent (WWII Veterans, Congressional Representatives, scientists, historians, Japanese-Americans, Japanese survivors, Pacifists, Holocaust survivors, families/decedents of prominent individuals from that era, etc.) or were committee member that would be responsible for making the final decisions about the content and design of the exhibition. This lesson plan ideally fits in at the end of a World War II unit and the start of a unit on Cold War unit over the course of a seven day period.

Results: You can view students work here: their reflections, students indicated they both enjoyed and learned from this project. They took pride in their work and some students even began using Prezi for other class assignments, both in my class and in other disciplines. Personal Reflections: These experiences have helped my professional growth tremendously. I used new content knowledge, a new instructional strategy and integrated a new type of technology. Most importantly, I taught the “Dropping of the Atomic Bomb” in a completely new way and I believe my students benefited from that. In the past, I just had students debate the issues. This year, I had students examine the legacy of that historical event and use a real-life application (designing an exhibit). It also fit with my theme for the year “War and Society” with a sub theme of “Public History.” In this way, my final product helped me synthesize all the ideas I gained and get them out to my students. After doing this project with my students, I also made notes for revision for next year. I would have liked a more in-depth reflection that was weighted more. I also found that some students were confused about what a primary source “document” was and the idea that the needed the audio of an oral story (some just found texts of an interview). Thus, I think I could improve my instruction and be a little more clear about what I was looking for. Lastly, as with most assignments, I would have liked more time. We were rushed in our presentations at the end and next year, I will allot more class time for synthesis.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Using my school's internet database, and a program called Issues and Controversies (which gives two viewpoints about a number of important historical events) I created a Weebly project for my Honors US History I class to create their own issue websites. The results are coming in after vacation and I am excited to see students interact with this new medium. This is the handout given to the students:

1. First Select a Topic

a. Go to

b. Select “Library Databases”

c. Select “Issues and Controversies in American History”

d. Select “View All Periods” under “Chronological Index” in lower left hand

e. Pick a topic from “Civil War and Reconstruction.”

2. Next go to

a. Enter your username and password

b. Take tutorial on Weebly program

3. Please Include the following pages on your website:

a. Home Page (Introduce the Issue/Generate a Thesis)

b. In support of the issue

c. In opposition of the issue

d. Discussion Questions/Activity

e. Conclusion (Stating your opinion/Which side was more persuasive)

f. Bibliography Page

4. Whatever topic is chosen, everything you need is on the Issues and Controversies website. The topic page will provide not only a subject to cover but also a question about the issue.

a. Read all links on the topic’s page, decide what material is most useful

b. Use that information to address each of the discussion questions. Understanding how to answer them will be vital to writing your paper

c. Use at least 6 footnotes. Cite at least 3 primary sources for each side of the issue (6 total). Footnotes are used for quotations, statistics, or to acknowledge someone else’s original idea. Footnotes are listed in the order of the citations with the Author’s first name listed first. Footnotes numbers are listed without periods or parenthesis.

d. Include a Work Cited page (Bibliography) with the author’s last name listed first. The Works Cited must have at least 10 entries, including the 6 primary sources used, as well as 4 secondary sources

e. Pictures do no count towards your works cited total requirements, but must be attributed if used. Put a parenthesis at the bottom of the page to correspond with any pictures used. Wikipedia is a great site for borrowing pictures, they are already in the public domain.