Student Project Response

This assignment was nice because I got to watch and listen how other students worked their ways through creating their digital projects.  Erin Bush’s project encompassed an entire semester of reading and analyzing documents and how those were impacted by that point in history.  One day I wish to be able to create courses like that, especially using Sam Wineburg’s approaches.  Nate Sleeter was informative, largely due to that he owns up to the fact it’s not exactly how he would’ve imagined it and it’s harder to explain the breakdown of how we think as historians to students than he originally thought.  Sleeter is honest and that’s refreshing as I start to really focus my project and how I want my students to think about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Jeri Wieringa and Celeste Sharpe had a project on a much larger scale, but they still underwent the same process of drafting and asking “how much work is too much, both on the students and us?”  I think the overwhelming advice was to break down how historians think about things, so we can better teach the students how to critically think, as well as to draft and re-draft, while honing in on the final message to present.

I will absolutely take their advice into consideration as I really start to hone in on my final message for my project.  I’ll keep rethinking how things are explained and presented for my students, while also trying to give them the best chances for thinking critically about the information.

Sixth Piece of the Puzzle

For my final project, I want to present the Cold War to my students in a geographic format, allowing them to research the events, people, and places of the Cold War through a map.  In the greater picture, I’d love to make this about the Cold War as a whole, starting with the formation of the Soviet Union and stretching to its collapse.  Due to the time constraints of this course, I will be focusing on a small piece to start with: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Many students don’t realize the importance of the Cuban Missile Crisis, they simply associate it as an event of the Cold War they are required to memorize.  I want them to know where the major players in the Cuban Missile Crisis were, and why the Soviet Union was so upset about the U.S. missiles in Turkey, and why the U.S. got so upset about the Soviet missiles in Cuba.  The students will be able to see all of this through a map format, with information linked to specific places.  When they are done looking through the map, they will have to write a thesis statement and an essay response on who they think was more to blame for the Cuban Missile Crisis: the U.S. or Soviet Union.

The Malleable Past

When presenting information to my students, I usually think about how they can access the information.  Thankfully, we live in an age where the Internet is highly accessible, and students can regularly research things they have questions on.  When I was in high school, the Internet was not as accessible as it is today.  We were just really starting to use the Internet for research possibilities, it was mostly reserved for the library.  Today, my students can research in the middle of class on their smartphones.  This can allow me to vary the way I teach different lessons.  Instead of relying on the limited school library, I can simply give the students laptops or allow them to use their smart devices to research in class and they can teach the class about what they’ve learned.  So many new lesson ideas are available to them thanks to the growth of technology.  It also enables me to fact-check myself if they have questions in class that I don’t know the answer to (for example, the origin of the phrase “out of left field“).

In museums, visitors can also “fact check” or ask questions as they see fit in exhibits.  Museums can harness this by using various technological tools to add more information to an exhibit without changing the physical exhibit.  They can use QR codes to allow individuals to read, view, or hear more about a topic.  They can also use a recording system that the visitor can listen to as they walk through the exhibit.  The growth of technology shouldn’t be considered damaging to schools or museums, it should be considered a fantastic resource to be utilized at every available chance.

Fifth Piece of the Puzzle

Continuing with conceptualizing my project, I want to work with the Cold War and mapping through that.  That is ambitious for the short amount of time this class provides, so I am simply picking one event from the Cold War to map and have students analyze: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I have already chosen an image and a video clip that I think will be used within my project.  To add to this, I have found a text document that I would also like to include.  It is a New York Times article from October 23, 1962, titled “U.S. Imposes Arms Blockade on Cuba on Finding Offensive Missile Sites; Kennedy Ready for Soviet Showdown.”  It describes what was going on in the United States at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  This is valuable for students because they can read exactly what American citizens were reading at the time.  They can also see how this is framed from an American point of view.  They can start to ask historical questions about the document as they read through it, and continue their research based on their historical questions.

Fourth Piece of the Puzzle

The image that I want students to analyze in relation to my project is an image of missiles in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  At first glance, the students may not understand exactly what they are looking at, but if they look further, they can see that the locations of the missiles and launch equipment is marked, thanks to the Department of Defense.  I would want them to analyze the photograph and examine why exactly the United States would be upset about finding them in Cuba.  What does this mean for the greater context of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union?  This helps them come to their own conclusions about the situation, prior to really discussing the details.

PX 66-20:16 Medium Range Ballistic Missile Launch Site 1, San Cristobal Cuba, 25 October 1962. Briefing board #16 of Secretary of Defense McNamara's Special Press Briefing on Cuba, 06 February 1963. United States Department of Defense photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

PX 66-20:16 Medium Range Ballistic Missile Launch Site 1, San Cristobal Cuba, 25 October 1962. Briefing board #16 of Secretary of Defense McNamara’s Special Press Briefing on Cuba, 06 February 1963. United States Department of Defense photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

A video I might want to include is the following newsreel footage from the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I might show this to them after discussion on the image above.  They would need to analyze the perspective of the footage, as well as the greater message that is being conveyed as part of the Cold War.  Students tend to struggle with perspective or bias, so having them examine how this might be biased would be an interesting exercise for them.

Film and Historical Images in the Classroom

Images and film are powerful messengers for historical information.  How they are portrayed helps influence how the public perceives that information.  Frequently, the public is so engaged by the film or image, that they fail to question the historical accuracy, merely being entranced by the method of storytelling.  As a social studies teacher, it is my job to help students analyze what the sources are telling them and to determine the accuracy of the sources.  Even though images can be doctored and films tend to err on the side of watchability as opposed to factuality, I still think that both are highly valuable in the social studies classroom.  They just need to be framed appropriately through discussion and analyzation.

In my history and government classes, I already show my students the film Iron Jawed Angels.  In history, we discuss the women’s suffrage movement as part of the general civil rights movements.  In government, we discuss its relation to the Constitution and the civil rights movements.  In both classes, I can have the students analyze the film and work to understand the historical accuracy.  In order to do this, I need to frame the film for the students, first introducing the women’s suffrage movement to them through lecture and activities.  Then, I can show them the film.  Afterwards, we can discuss what they took away the most from the film.  I can also have them analyze primary source documents from the women’s suffrage movement, including newspaper articles, pictures, political cartoons, personal correspondence, meeting notes, etc.  Through these media, the students can analyze a complete story of what happened in the women’s suffrage movement, who was involved, and how the rights came to be.

Students are absolutely able to come to their own opinions of what happened historically, framed through their own moral context.  As previously stated, every man can be his own historian.  My job as a history teacher is to help hone the analytical skills of my students, so that they can use them in their own future endeavors.  As the year goes on, we can gradually build from analyzing a single image or document, to combining analyzing primary sources with film.  By the end of the year, they should be able to think critically about what they see, and question the authenticity and accuracy, while demonstrating analysis of the item (be it document, image, film, etc.).

Third Piece of the Puzzle

The audience I have in mind for my project is my own classroom of 10th grade students.  I came to this audience because I wanted my project to be applicable to my life, and engaging my students is something that I want to be able to do on a regular basis anyways.  This project is a perfect way to blend those two needs.

Second Piece of the Puzzle

I’m still considering geography one of the biggest struggles that students have right now.  In order to teach geography, a heavy reliance on maps is necessary.  In using the maps, I plan to show by example.  I would have to show them the maps and “walk” the students through them step-by-step.  Another way to get them to understand the relative location of places on the map is to let them explore the map and have them make connections between different nations.  In exploring for themselves, they get the hands-on experience of seeing where that location is on a map.  If I’m able to use digital tools, I could use Google Maps or Google Earth to help them see the relative locations of the places they’re looking for.

History of Teaching History

At the heart of history teaching, the idea of sharing history with younger generations remains. No matter how much the standards might change over a given period of time, the focus of history education is passing on the history of the world and nation to the younger generation in the hopes that they will be better citizens. Teaching students to think critically about history and try to understand history from the perspective of someone in the time period has been a part of history teaching for many decades. Having the students examine primary sources and try to understand what was happening in the country/world has been a part of history teaching as well.

External expectations have governed what history gets taught and how, for the most part, over the last hundred years. Over the last few decades, the state governments and national governments requiring teachers to teach to those standards have mandated standards and the students to all are able to pass those standards. Prior to this, the College Board and Educational Testing Service governed what were on the college entrance exams. While teachers maintain some academic freedom, they still are required to make sure their students know the required standards. The digital turn makes testing more digital and interactive, and not simply a paper and pencil test. Theoretically, digital testing is easier on the students and teachers, and grading comes back much more quickly. This does not account for the fact that many schools do not have enough in the budget to ensure that the testing environments are equal. 150 students may be taking a different version of a history test in a library at the same time. This taxes the servers, the computer equipment, and the students in such a high-pressure environment. Some schools, on the other hand, have classroom sets of laptops, in which students are able to test in the relative comfort of their classrooms. Hopefully, the digital age will help increase equity in testing, but until all schools receive equal funding for such technology, the gaps will continue to exist.

First Piece of the Puzzle

One of the biggest problems I’ve seen in my social studies classroom is that students don’t know geography.  And there is less and less time in the year to cover the non-standard-mandated geography lessons.  So students don’t understand basic map-reading and geography skills, much less the locations of states or countries.  I want my project to focus on some of these geography skills in conjunction with the world history curriculum.

In the basic levels of education, there are more and more state requirements, but less time.  And that spreads up to the higher levels.  Teacher see it on a regular basis that basic skills get forgotten or passed over for the state-mandated information that the students will be tested on.  Examples include poor writing skills and lack of knowledge of basic multiplication tables.  In the social studies realm, basic map skills have gone by the wayside.  There is a strong focus on the facts, but not necessarily how all the facts fit on a map or timeline.  So I want to focus my project on helping to build those map skills, in addition to the knowledge about the events that are able to fit on that map.