Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Finding Jewels in an Oyster - Pearl Harbor Lesson Ideas

With tomorrow being the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor I’ve been thinking about strategies for teaching the “day of infamy.” My goals in teaching about Pearl Harbor have always been for students to discover the reasons for the attack, to recognize the shock and fear many Americans felt as a result of the attack, and to realize that despite its devastation, this attack did not cripple American efforts, but instead united the country behind the war effort.

Alston, Charles Henry. "REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR - WORK - FIGHT- SACRIFICE!!" / "WE'LL REMEMBER - AND BY GOD, YOU WONT FORGET!!" Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. N.p., 7 Oct. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2016.
It is essential for history teachers to include primary sources in lessons to give students a chance to experience the role of a historian. Primary source analysis provides an important opportunity for students to practice critical thinking skills and to learn how to piece together information for themselves. I’ve utilized several different approaches for teaching Pearl Harbor with primary sources, but one of my favorites is simply asking students to analyze sources to determine why Japan chose to attack the United States. This creates a sense of a mystery for students as they attempt to discover the reasons for the attack.

I have searched and compiled primary source sets in the past, but there are many pre-assembled primary source sets available on this topic. I enjoyed using the set put together by the DBQ Project as part of their Why did Japan bomb Pearl Harbor Mini-Q (although this does require purchase of the mini-q). I find that DBQs are an excellent way to gather primary sources for class activities. The sources in DBQs are already excerpted to a short, manageable size and can easily be adapted to a number of classroom lessons. A quick search for “Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor DBQ” yields many results with a number of valuable primary sources that can be used with the DBQs they were compiled for or for other classroom activities.

I also like to have students analyze firsthand accounts of the attack. I want my students to realize that history involves real people who aren’t all that different from them. Eyewitness accounts help to reinforce this reality. One such source is Ginger’s Diary. I like this account because it is written by a 17-year-old girl, making it something students can relate to.  Essential Pearl Harbor includes several other similar accounts, this website also has a number of other valuable resources for teaching about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Remembering Pearl Harbor includes accounts of sailors who witnessed the attack. Thanks to Richard Byrne, I just discovered The 1941 Project, which is an interactive map featuring stories of survivors of the attack.

Student analysis of these firsthand accounts may be done in a variety of ways. Depending on the dynamics of a class, I might have students simply read and discuss these sources. Other times we’ve compared and contrasted different views of the attack, and still other times, I’ve asked students to read firsthand accounts and write an entry as if they’ve just witnessed the attack. This allows them an opportunity to be creative and express feelings similar to those they’ve read about. 

Unknown Navy Photographer. A navy photographer snapped this photograph of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, just as the USS Shaw exploded. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. N.p., 2 Nov. 2007. Web. 6 Dec. 2016.
I also like to use activities similar to the deliberative strategies that are common in the Choices Units by Brown University. I like these activities because they generally require students to take on a role and/or a specific perspective as they view a key decision or event in history. Students must analyze and synthesize information to support a point of view. In this case, I ask students to imagine they are part of a congressional committee tasked with investigating the attack on Pearl Harbor. I divide the class into groups and assign each group a topic to investigate as they prepare to testify before the committee. Groups include a report on the attack itself (what happened), why Japan attacked, did FDR know about the attack, did Churchill know about the attack, and was the attack a success. Additionally, one group takes the role of committee members and they must develop questions to ask each group as they testify.

Today I discovered another good lesson for teaching about Pearl Harbor. In Pearl Harbor & Hawaii during World War II, students predict why Japan might have attacked, conduct research on the attack, and take part in a Google Expedition to gain background knowledge on Hawaii. Students then use My Maps to create an interactive map illustrating the attack. This is obviously a more involved and more time consuming lesson plan than some of the ones I mentioned above, but it seems to do a nice job of incorporating different skills and utilizing technology to create a student-centered lesson. I like the inclusion of Google Expeditions (Expeditions is a virtual reality app that allows users to view 360-degree panoramas, creating an immersive experience that makes users feel as if they have travelled to different locations. This app can be used with or without virtual reality headsets, such as Google Cardboard.). I also like the integration of My Maps, which I discussed in Finding Your Way - Using Google Maps in the Classroom.



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