Friday, March 29, 2013

Who Dunnit?? -- Recreating the Kennedy Assassination for a Critical Analysis of Evidence

As I debated whether to enter the world of educational blogging (To Blog or not to Blog . . .), one of my reservations was whether I would have time to regularly update a blog.  Over the last few weeks, this concern became a reality.  Although I have not updated Adventures in History Class for a few weeks, I am not abandoning this venture and I am going to make an effort to be more consistent in my posting.
This week I taught about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which is one of my favorite U.S. history lessons.  I enjoy this lesson because I am personally interested in the topic, but also due to the fact that it is one of the lessons that students come back years later to talk about.  Year after year this lesson piques student interest while forcing them to think critically about every piece of information.
My goal in presenting this lesson is to expose students to the controversy surrounding JFK’s assassination while forcing them to interact with historical details.  I am not trying to promote any conspiracy theories, but I do want students to recognize the reasons why as many as 80% of Americans have expressed doubts about the findings of the Warren Commission.  In the process, I am able to incorporate a review of some of the key concepts we have studied throughout our unit on the Kennedy administration.
I begin the lesson by showing the Zapruder Film.  Before showing the film, I warn students that it is a graphic video of a sensitive nature and they must be considerate of this during the video.  As we watch the Zapruder Film, I ask students to describe what is shown and to detail any evidence investigators could draw from the video.
After discussing the evidence in the video, we re-create the scene of the crime.  I display a diagram of Dealey Plaza and explain how different parts of our classroom will represent key locations within Dealey Plaza.  
Next I assign students to take on the role of witnesses to the assassination.  Each student is given a slip of paper including a brief summary of statements given by the witness they represent (witness statements can be gathered and summarized from many websites including: History Matters: The JFK Assassination, JFK Online, and Spartacus Educational).  Any combination of witness statements may be used; I usually use Nellie Connally, Bob Jackson, Harold Norman, Jean Hill, Abraham Zapruder, S.M. Holland, the Umbrella Man, and the Dark Complected Man.  Additionally, I have students take on the role of JFK, Jackie Kennedy, and John Connally, although these students are not given slips to indicate their recollections.  I recognize that the credibility of some accounts of the assassination have been questioned, but this spurs just the type of conversations that I want students to have.
The students playing each role are placed in the appropriate locations in the room to represent their vantage point in Dealey Plaza and we go around the room with each student sharing a summary of the actions and/or statements given by the person they represent.  Following each statement, students are allowed to ask questions and to speculate as to how this testimony could provide clues to an investigator.  As we discuss the various observations, I throw in additional information following each account of the assassination.  Through this process I incorporate background information on Lee Harvey Oswald, Oswald’s purported actions following the assassination, the Magic Bullet theory, Jack Ruby’s role, conflicting claims about the wounds suffered by JFK, and further information about each witness and their account of the assassination.
Lastly, I ask students to analyze one of the theories posed on Spartacus Educational (scroll down about two-thirds of the way to the section titled Primary Sources: Theories).  After analyzing one of these theories, students complete a writing assignment where they either support or refute the theory they chose to read.
Inevitability, students are completely engrossed in the conflicting evidence and various theories involving the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  This high level of engagement along with seemingly contradictory evidence and accounts results in students analyzing available data and thinking critically about all information, which is exactly what I want students to do as they study the past.


Friday, February 22, 2013

He Said, He Said -- Creating Animated Videos About Martin Luther King & Malcolm X

Today’s snow day here in Omaha gives me the opportunity to share another lesson idea.  I have used this lesson idea a few times as part of a unit on the civil rights movement, which also corresponds with African American History Month.  This lesson idea goes along with the latter part of our unit on the civil rights movement.  By this time, we have already studied events that spurred the civil rights movement as well as many of the early gains made by activists in this era.  The purpose of this activity is to illustrate the different thinking that contributes to the splintering of the civil rights movement in the mid to late 1960s.  
I begin this lesson by asking students to analyze the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) Statement of Purpose from 1960 and to compare this to an excerpt from a speech by Stokely Carmichael (Chairman of SNCC) in 1966. 
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Founding Statement, April, 1960
We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our belief, and the manner of our action. 
Nonviolence, as it grows from the Judeo-Christian tradition, seeks a social order of justice permeated by love. Integration of human endeavor represents the crucial first step towards such a society. 
Through nonviolence, courage displaces fear. Love transcends hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice; hope ends despair. Faith reconciles doubt. Peace dominates war. Mutual regards cancel enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice. The redemptive community supersedes immoral social systems. 
By appealing to conscience and standing on the moral nature of human existence, nonviolence nurtures the atmosphere in which reconciliation and justice become actual possibilities. 
Although each local group in this movement must diligently work out the clear meaning of this statement of purpose, each act or phase of our corporate effort must reflect a genuine spirit of love and good-will.

Black Power Address by Stokely Carmichael (SNCC Chairman), Oct. 1966 
Now we are now engaged in a psychological struggle in this country, and that is whether or not black people will have the right to use the words they want to use without white people giving their sanction to it; and that we maintain, whether they like it or not, we gonna use the word "Black Power" -- and let them address themselves to that; but that we are not going to wait for white people to sanction Black Power. We’re tired waiting; every time black people move in this country, they’re forced to defend their position before they move. It’s time that the people who are supposed to be defending their position do that. That's white people. They ought to start defending themselves as to why they have oppressed and exploited us.
And then, therefore, in a larger sense there's the question of black people. We are on the move for our liberation. We have been tired of trying to prove things to white people. We are tired of trying to explain to white people that we’re not going to hurt them. We are concerned with getting the things we want, the things that we have to have to be able to function. The question is, Can white people allow for that in this country? The question is, Will white people overcome their racism and allow for that to happen in this country? If that does not happen, brothers and sisters, we have no choice but to say very clearly, "Move over, or we’re going to move on over you."

This opening activity allows for practice analyzing primary source documents while also introducing the growing debate among activists over the best method to achieve their goals.  After walking students through their analysis of these documents and leading a discussion about different views on civil rights, students are prompted to predict possible reasons that some civil rights activists began shifting away from nonviolence as a means of achieving change.
This discussion of the merits of nonviolence vs. the appeal of violent resistance leads us toward the two people most associated with these divergent views on civil rights; Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.  To further understand the beliefs of these two leaders, students will analyze primary and secondary sources and develop a fictional dialogue between the two men.  
Each student is assigned to play the role of either Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr.  Students will analyze a secondary source to gain background knowledge about the figure they were assigned (I have used as a source for background information -- Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X).  Each student will also analyze a primary source to further explain each man’s opinion of the best way to advance civil rights for African Americans.  Students assigned to Martin Luther King Jr. will read The Power of Nonviolence and those assigned to Malcolm X will read A Summing Up: Louis Lomax Interviews Malcolm X.  When I have done this activity with my AP U.S. History class I leave the documents as they are, but for my honors 9th grade U.S. History class I have edited the readings to allow for improved comprehension.  These readings could take a while to complete, so depending on the amount of class time available, they could be assigned as homework.  It may also be beneficial to utilize think-pair-share or another strategy to allow students to discuss their readings with other students who had the same person in order to clarify key concepts.
Next I pair each student with one of their classmates who had the opposite person.  This pair of students is instructed to develop a fictional dialogue between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.  This dialogue must include a discussion of the goals of each man, their views as to the best way to achieve their goals, and the conversation must include at least four differences between the two leaders.
When students finish their dialogue and I can see that they understand the different points of view concerning civil rights, then they are instructed to create an animated video that illustrates these differences.  Xtranormal is a great source for this, it allows students to easily create animated videos in a short amount of time (GoAnimate offers a similar service as Xtranormal).  Students will need to set up a free account (or the teacher could set up accounts ahead of time).  Students may then choose a scene and characters (the free account limits these options somewhat, but there are still a number of choices).  Xtranormal does have a Martin Luther King Jr. character, but there is no Malcolm X, so I suggest that students either choose different characters to represent these two men or that they shift their dialogue so that it is not Malcolm X and Martin Luther King talking, but rather different people discussing the views of these two.  Students can then type their dialogue into Xtranormal and it will turn the text into speech.  Students also have some limited options as to actions of their characters.  I have found that many students get very interested in this lesson in part because they enjoy the opportunity to create animated videos on Xtranormal.
Through this lesson idea, students gain a better understanding of the differing views of civil rights as personified by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, they practice the skill of analyzing primary source documents, and student interest is piqued through the creation of an animated video that demonstrates the divergent views on civil rights.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Think Outside the Box – Creating Virtual Cubes about the Civil Rights Movement

Made with Picture Cube
I can’t believe we’re already more than half way through February.  I had planned to have a series of short posts outlining lesson ideas for African American History Month, but I’ve gotten busy and here we are over half way through the month and I’ve yet to post any of these ideas.  I’m still going to try to post some of these ideas and hopefully they will still be useful.
Today’s lesson idea is actually one that I have not tried yet in class.  I subscribe to Richard Byrne’s blog Free Tech 4 Teachers (which is a great source of free resources for teachers), this week Richard posted about Brainy Box.  Brainy Box is an online presentation tool that allows users to create a six sided cube that can include text, images, videos, or links.  As I was reading Richard’s post about Brainy Box it brought to mind cube foldables, which I have used a couple of times in the past as a form of graphic organizer that allows students to record information in more of a hands-on way.  Brainy Box allows for the creation of a virtual foldable.  
I envision using Brainy Box to study key events from the civil rights movement.  I think I will assign small groups of students different events from the civil rights movement, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Integration of Central High in Little Rock, Sit-ins, Freedom Rides, Integration of the University of Mississippi, the March on Washington, and the March from Selma to Montgomery.  Each group will be responsible for gathering information on their assigned event and recording who was involved, what happened, where the event occurred, when the event took place, why the event took place (the cause), and how it affected the push for civil rights (the effect).  Along with the who, what, where, when, why, and how information that students gather, they will also find images to incorporate into their cubes.
My goal in this lesson idea is to allow students to practice gathering important information to learn about key historical events.  I think the use of Brainy Box will help to pique student interest as it is a new tool that students will perceive as more interesting than creating paper foldable cubes.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Write Stuff -- Using Creative Writing to Learn about Life in the 1950s

The benefits of student writing have been championed by people much more qualified than me.  Countless research studies support the benefits of having students regularly write.  Although I have not conducted specific research studies, I have noticed that writing helps to increase student understanding, further develops thinking skills, improves communication skills, and promotes reflective thinking.

Despite the numerous advantages, it can be a struggle to get students to write.  I have found that allowing a measure of creativity helps motivate students to write.  Traditional five paragraph essays, research papers, and other forms of expository writing play an important role in a student's academic advancement, but they often turn students off from writing.  Allowing students to incorporate their own thoughts, opinions, and imagination can be a great motivator.  There are a number of ways to allow students to personalize their writing; I have done this with daily journals, RAFTs, letters, diaries, dialogues between historical figures, and many other methods.
Recently I utilized a writing strategy to allow students to creatively express things they learned about American life in the 1950s.  In developing this lesson idea, I wanted to give students a chance to use their imagination while still demonstrating understanding of important concepts related to American lifestyles in the 1950s.  I decided to give students a choice of writing a diary as if they were living in the 1950s, a fictional story set in the 1950s, or a script for a 1950s sitcom.  Regardless of which option they chose, students needed to include an explanation of at least seven aspects of American life in the 1950s.  I gave them a list of potential topics including the following:

Suburbs (Levittowns)
Cars (and automobile culture)
Baby Boom
Beat Movement
Teenage Culture
Changes in Workplace
Rock ‘n’ Roll
Women’s Roles
Revival of Religion

Students were instructed to begin by completing a small amount of research on these topics.  This research could be completed either by using our textbook (American Nation in the Modern Era) or online (a few useful sites include The 1950s: Happy Days, Society in the 1950s, and The 1950s: Lifestyles and Social Trends).  I stressed to students that they did not need extensive information on each topic, rather just enough to offer a brief explanation of how the topic affected American life in the 1950s.  

After completing their research, students were instructed to find a way to creatively depict the effects of seven of these topics on American life in the 1950s.  This portrayal of American society could take the form of a diary, a fictional story, or a script for a 1950s sitcom, but it had to include an explanation of the significance of seven items from the list above and these topics had to fit seamlessly into the context of the writing.

This lesson helped students to better understand American life in the 1950s while allowing them to practice the skill of gathering information and further developing their writing skills.  It also piqued student interest by allowing them to be imaginative and creatively express their own ideas through writing.

For further information on writing in a history/social studies class see Writing in the Social Studies Classroom, Writing to Learn History, and Creative Writing in the History Classroom.