Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Pearl Harbor Remembrance

BioofAm_22_wwii_screenOn December 7, 1941, a Japanese air armada attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, leading the United States to officially enter World War II the next day. The war ended in August 1945 after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Historians discuss the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath in A Biography of America, program 22, “World War II.” This program also asks you to consider whether or not the wartime internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans was appropriate.

Writer Lawson Fusao Inada, featured in The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, session 8, writes about his experiences in the wartime internment.  Read an interview with Inada, and listen to the author read poetry from Drawing the Line that explores themes of dislocation and American identity.

Celebrate Diversity in December: Teach Spiritual Literacy

SSinAction_CelebrationsofLightDecember, a time for holidays and observances of different faiths and cultural traditions, is also Spiritual Literacy Month. Broadening your understanding of religions and cultures from around the world and throughout history can give you a better understanding of students’ diverse backgrounds and help you promote respect in your classroom. Learn about the history and traditions of many religions and belief systems using the following resources:

Between 600 BCE and 1200 CE, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam continued to develop as their followers spread out to new communities. Bridging World History, unit 7, “The Spread of Religions,” discusses the political, cultural, and intellectual influences on these religions in motion.

In program 8, “Celebrations of Light,” of the Social Studies in Action K-12 Library, watch as Eileen Mesmer teaches her young students in Salem, MA the traditions of St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Mesmer relates these traditions to a Cherokee legend about the winter solstice.

Compare early communities around the world and their spiritual and moral connections with nature in Bridging World History, unit 5, “Early Belief Systems.” Shinto, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and the ethical and philosophical codes of Confucius and Greek thinkers are discussed.

More resources related to spirituality and cultural practices around the world:

Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’ program 9, “A First Impression of Judaism

The Western Tradition, program 11, “Early Christianity”

Out of the Past, program 7, “The Spirit World” (Mayan culture and spirituality)

Art of the Western World, program 2, “A White Garment of Churches—Romanesque and Gothic”

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices, program 22, “Happy New Year!”  (Japanese New Year’s celebration customs)

Artifacts & Fiction, unit 8, “Ceremonial Artifacts” (Native American culture)

U.S. Thanksgiving Day: Historical Perspective

quakersimagenovupdateThe first Thanksgiving was celebrated by Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors and allies in 1621. While the holiday is often depicted as emblematic of the American experience, historical records tell a different story about relations between native peoples and European settlers.

The first theme in America’s History in the Making, unit 3, “Colonial Designs,” delves into the period between the 1580s and 1680s when European nations and trading companies competed to establish colonies in North America and define colonists’ relations with Native American tribes.

Learn about the early American settlers, including Puritans and Quakers, and their optimistic plans to create utopian societies in the New World in the video for American Passages, unit 3, “Utopian Promise.”

To spark discussion, questions about conflicting early views and persistent stereotypes of Native Americans can be found in the Context Activities section of this unit.

Authors covered in this unit include William Penn, William Bradford, and Anne Bradstreet.


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Annenberg Learner is pleased to partner with StoryCorps and to announce The Great Thanksgiving Listen. 


On Thanksgiving weekend 2015, the acclaimed oral history project StoryCorps will work with U.S. history teachers across America to ask their students to record an interview with a grandparent or another elder using the free StoryCorps app. With permission from the participants, each of these interviews will be uploaded to the StoryCorps archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Also, download the free The Great Thanksgiving Listen Teacher Toolkit to find program details, including guidelines and recommendations that can easily be made into lessons that address state standards for social studies or history curricula.

The Great Thanksgiving Listen will use near-universally accessible smartphone technology to foster meaningful connections within families, communities, and the classroom while also creating a singular and priceless archive of American history and wisdom. This 2015 pilot is expected to result in the single largest collection of human voices ever gathered.

Watch David Isay, the founder and president of StoryCorps, talk about The Great Thanksgiving Listen!


Watch Steve Inskeep, host of NPR’s Morning Edition, provide useful tips for students who are conducting interviews.


Founded in 2003, the nonprofit organization StoryCorps has given more than 100,000 Americans the chance to record interviews about their lives, pass wisdom from one generation to the next, and leave a legacy for the future. StoryCorps shares edited excerpts of these recordings with millions each week through popular weekly NPR broadcasts, animated shorts, digital platforms, and best-selling books. StoryCorps helps us recognize that every life and every story matters.2015_05_01_StoryCorps_012

Dave Isay, founder and president of StoryCorps, is the recipient of the 2015 TED Prize, awarded to an individual with a creative, bold vision to spark global change. With the proceeds of the TED Prize, StoryCorps released an app that walks users seamlessly through the StoryCorps interview experience, from recording to archiving to sharing their story with the world. The StoryCorps app, and its companion social media platform at StoryCorps.me, make a large-scale and historic undertaking like the Great Thanksgiving Listen possible for the first time ever.


Read about the impact that storytelling has on students and teachers in “How telling stories can transform a classroom” by Amy S. Choi on TED Blog.

Immigration: Push, Pull, or Both? (Part 3)

immigration_123 View “Part 1: Ancient Immigration” and “Part 2: U.S. Immigration: Legal v. Illegal” of this series on immigration.

We’re all familiar with teaching the topic of immigration in the context of push and pull factors: what factors drive people to leave their own countries (push) and what factors attract people to new countries (pull)?

Push factors include war, injustice, lack of economic opportunity, religious persecution, etc. Pull factors include equal opportunity, jobs, toleration, peace, safety, etc. But what happens when pull factors are missing, and push factors continue to occur in the new land immigrants reach?

The plight of the Syrian refugees fleeing the war in their country is an unfortunately clear example of this blurring of push-pull lines. They are fleeing the usual push factor of war. But they are not pulled into Europe by the promise of freedom, safety, jobs, and acceptance—those things are currently lacking in many European countries. In fact, the refugees will encounter further push factors in those destination countries: prejudice, violence, lack of jobs, lack of housing, lack of goodwill.

In this case, people running for their lives from terror are turned into “masses” and “waves” of “refugees”—negative terms used by European countries to describe their perceived threat of being overwhelmed by immigrants. It is all too easy to see people who left everything behind to find safety as fundamentally poor, dirty, and just too “foreign” to be desirable new immigrants. Thus they are denied immigrant status and remain refugees.

When immigrants are not welcomed in a new country, they can end up embarking on a long odyssey of immigration, moving from place to place in search of acceptance and security. This in turn can make the original problem worse: countries that might have accepted the immigrants the first time around become wary of accepting people who seem like rootless migrants, unable to “settle down” and establish normal lives. A vicious circle is drawn as withholding of pull factors pushes immigrants on to new destinations, where they are likely perceived as being pushed out, mistrusted, and denied pull factors.

The key to breaking the cycle of nonstop push and no pull is to remember that no country has the same status all the time. The same European countries that are now pull destinations were once push countries that sent millions of people to the United States because the nations were poor and lacked equal opportunity. Syria itself, to continue our example, was for many generations one of the richest and most stable countries in the Middle East, while Hungary, for example, was one of the poorest nations under Soviet occupation and control. Hungarians would have liked to be able to live in Syria!

This understanding that people’s status as living in a pull nation or fleeing a push nation is changeable and determined by factors outside their control should provoke more sympathy and understanding for the immigrants so often dismissed as chaotic “waves” of refugees.

Classroom Activity 

There is a great exercise demonstrating this random assignment in Social Studies in Action. View the full activity and explanation in the program “Population and Resource Distribution.”

When students are suddenly separated from their friends and peers by nothing more than artificial lines on the floor, it helps them to realize that national boundaries are just lines drawn on the ground that separate people who are not fundamentally different from each other. Once you’ve established your students’ “nationalities” by armband, try putting the names of the countries into a box and randomly pulling one out: it will be devastated by war. Students living there will have to leave it and move into neighboring countries. Now you and your students can simulate the disruptions to resources that occur in both the push and pull countries, and see how attitudes might harden against refugees who seem to threaten resources.

There are multiple ways to keep this simulation going over time: switch countries, so the previous push nation at war becomes a pull nation, and the previous pull destinations experience problems that force their people to emigrate. Have multiple countries at war at once. Allow students to work through various solutions to their problems until they feel they have reached a just and workable conclusion—then mix things up again. It’s a good way to learn about a real-world problem because it mimics the ever-changing political process of push and pull we see taking place around the world. The activity asks students to consider what actions citizens of the world can take to rectify inequities.

(Image Copyright: doomko / 123RF Stock Photo)

U.S. Immigration: Legal v. Illegal (Part 2)


[IMMIGRANT FAMILY LOOKING AT STATUE OF LIBERTY FROM ELLIS ISLAND] (ca. 1930) courtesy of Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-50904].

View “Part 1: Ancient Immigration” and “Part 3: Immigration: Push, Pull, or Both?” of this series on immigration.

We’re used to hearing about “illegal immigration” in the U.S. today. Emotions run high as people attack and defend modern immigration to the U.S.

All this clamor can hide the fact that this is really the first time in U.S. history that there has been a problem called “illegal immigration.” Yes, Chinese immigration was halted by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” of 1907 allowed the U.S. to stop Japanese immigration by having Japan outlaw emigration. And the Immigration Act of 1924 was an attempt to sharply lower the number of Jewish, Catholic, and Asian immigrants entering the country.

But the very success of these measures meant there were no “illegal immigrants” in those periods. Unwanted groups were effectively kept out or their numbers lowered—they did not continue to enter the country in large numbers. The immigration “issue” was how to manage existing (legal) immigration populations.

Today, there are no groups targeted as “unwanted” in the way those earlier groups were: people from all nations are welcome to emigrate here—the only caveat is they must do it legally. But the definition of “doing it legally” has been fundamentally changed over the decades since WWII.

For the majority of our history it was just very easy to enter the U.S. legally. If you were not part of an “excluded” group, gaining permanent residence in the U.S. was simple and quick. There were no written exams. The tens of millions of people who came here through Ellis Island only had to have their name appear on their ship’s register and pass a physical exam so brief that the doctors giving it called it the “six-second exam.” Some had to show the address of a person already living in the U.S. who they could stay with. That’s it. Those immigrants were free to live the rest of their lives in America, and become citizens by passing a civics and history test.

That easy entry began to change after WWII. By the late 20th century, gaining permanent residence required a permanent visa, and citizenship required having a visa, a full-time employer who would pay to sponsor you, and other requirements that cost money, required good English skills, and took years of dedicated effort to fulfill.

This means that people today who claim that immigrants back then “followed the rules” while (illegal) immigrants today don’t are on pretty thin ice. When it’s easy to follow the rules, people do it. When getting into the U.S. legally is very difficult and expensive, people either don’t or can’t do it.

When you’re teaching the topic of immigration, consider discussing these points with students:

  • Beginning with Irish immigrants in the 1840s, there has always been a “bogeyman” immigrant group that native-born Americans were told to fear: Irish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, Eastern European, Mexican, etc.
  • Most of those who stirred up panic about and/or violence and laws against new immigrants (Nativists) were themselves immigrants or first-generation Americans trying to find a way to move the negative focus from their own group to another.
  • Fears about immigrants were usually religious: Irish, Italian, and Eastern European Catholics sent Nativists reeling with terror that the Pope would take over America. Eastern European Jews were not welcome either. This is because the majority U.S. population up until the late 1800s had been Protestant, and change always scares people.
  • All originally “unwelcome” groups eventually gained acceptance in the U.S.; our history is one of continually expanding our welcome, and emigration to the U.S. continues to grow.

Engaging students in a conversation about the role of immigration in their families (past and present), in their town, in their state, and in their region is a good way into the topic. Everyone in your class is touched by immigration; if it is a politically charged topic in your school, town, or state, it’s important to look at the history of immigration in your area to see that new groups are often feared at first but find acceptance as time passes. This can help students see that immigration has often caused controversy but always improved our nation.

Most Americans don’t know a lot of facts about immigration past or present. For a historical overview, see American Passages,  “Coming to America: Immigrants at Ellis Island.” For the present, go to the Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States, 1960-2013 by the Pew Research Center.

Additional Resources for Teaching About Controversial Topics:

Should schools allow discussions of controversial issues?

The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice, session 5, “Feelings Count- Emotion and Learning

Social Studies in Action, “Dealing With Controversial Issues

Teaching About Columbus and the New World

Christopher Columbus, bust portrait: Published by W.H. Lowdermilk and V.G. Fisher c1892 (Paris), LC-DIG-pga-03191

In the United States, the Columbus Day holiday was created to commemorate Christopher Columbus’s landing in the New World in 1492. While this was an achievement, Columbus has also come to negatively represent conquest and colonialism. The following resources provide a multi-faceted view of Columbus’s New World encounters.

Global trade started with Columbus’s arrival in the New World. America’s History in the Making, unit 2, “Mapping Initial Encounters” details the trade practices that occurred between native peoples, Europeans, and Africans in theme 1 of the video. This unit also presents primary sources that illustrate different perspectives of these initial encounters.

Examine how archaeological and scientific evidence has changed the way Americans think about Columbus Day in Bridging World History, unit 2, “History and Memory,” video part 1, Commemorating Columbus. Columbus’s early image as an explorer and civilizer is contrasted with resulting conquest, colonialism, and the destruction of peoples and habitats.

American Passages, unit 1, “Native Voices,” Stories of the Beginning of the World presents the literary voices and oral traditions of Native Americans.  How did the New World encounters influence the lives of Native Americans?

A Biography of America, program 1, “New World Encounters,” looks at the beginnings of American history from west to east, following the first Ice Age migrations through the corn civilizations of Middle America, and the explorations of Columbus, DeSoto, and the Spanish.

Native Americans had established a rich and highly developed tradition of oral literature long before the writings of the European colonists. American Passages, unit 2, “Exploring Borderlands,” explores that richness by introducing Native American oral traditions through the work of three contemporary authors: Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), and Luci Tapahonso (Navajo).

In Social Studies in Action, grades 3-5, program 9, “Explorers in North America,” see Rob Cuddi’s lesson on the theme of exploration in North America. The lesson poses three essential questions: How have people in history affected our lives today?; How do the human and physical systems of the Earth interact?; and What role do economies play in the foundation of our history?

How to Incorporate the Arts in All Subjects

PuppetsArt is a valuable tool for students to learn how to express themselves, work through a process, work cooperatively, and gain respect and understanding for others. How can we teach the arts in all subject areas so that students benefit from the learning opportunities that art affords them? For more ways art instruction benefits students, read “Ten reasons why teaching the arts is critical in a 21st century world” by Elliott Seif.

Below are examples of the arts blended with other curriculum areas, helping students to draw out a deeper understanding and appreciation for both familiar and unfamiliar concepts.


See art as a tool to make meaning of our relationship with the natural world in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Seventh graders combine science, dance, and language arts as they compare the anatomy of a frog and a human and then debate whether a frog can join a ballet company. Connecting With the Arts Library, program 11, “Can Frogs Dance?” has the video and student materials.


Mathematicians understand symmetry differently than the rest of us, as a fundamental aspect of group theory. Learn more in Mathematics Illuminated, unit 6, “The Beauty of Symmetry,” which includes a symmetry interactive. Students can manipulate a wallpaper design to practice common geometric motions such as rotation and reflection.

Language Arts

Students explore Greek myths using puppets in Connecting With the Arts Library, program 2, “Breathing Life into Myths.”

Artifacts & Fiction, session 1, “Visual Arts,” shows how visual art, paired with literature, can be used to enhance students’ understanding of the predominant culture and historical setting of a work of literature.

World Languages

Latin students learn the difference between translating and interpreting the language using music and literary works of Mozart, Vergil, and Cicero. See Teaching Foreign Languages K-12, program 24, “Music and Manuscripts.”

In Teaching Foreign Languages, program 29, “Interpreting Literature,” students discuss “Dos caras” (Two faces) by New Mexico author Sabine Ulibarri. They act out scenes and make comparisons to a painting by a local artist.

In program 27, “Interpreting Picasso’s Guernica,” students write and deliver radio newscasts interpreting the scene in the famous painting.

Social Studies/History

Fifth graders in The Arts in Every Classroom, program 6, “Teaching Visual Art,” view portraits, looking beyond the face for historical cues. They continue the lesson by creating new portraits that reveal clues to the lives of their subjects through clothing, expressions, and background.

Use the Focus In tool with middle and high school students to analyze photographs curated by topics such as “Protest and Politics” and “Economies and Empires” in Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. Also, hear a photo editor at National Geographic and a professional photographer discuss their work in the video “Story.”

Music and Art

Start a music program at your school based on the El Sistema program or borrow ideas from the programs presented in our new series The Power of Music: P-5 Teaching Inspired by El Sistema. The El Sistema philosophy presents music making as a collaborative process—one that teaches individual self-confidence, creates caring citizens, and builds cohesive communities. The program includes ideas for teachers of all subjects, not just music.

Watch art, dance, and theater teachers use scaffolding as they help students gain knowledge and fundamental skills while fostering creativity and active self-directed learning in The Art of Teaching the Arts, workshop 2, “Developing Students as Artists.”

Additional Resources:

To learn more about why arts education is important and how to connect the arts with big ideas in other subject areas, view Connecting With the Arts, program 2, “Why Integrate the Arts?”  and program 5, “What Are Connecting Concepts?”

These ideas just scratch the surface of all they ways arts instruction can be incorporated in other curriculum areas. Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments.

Ancient Immigration (Part 1)

Original caption: Viking trading ship of the 8th century leaving on an expedition from Dawn Ladir Cliffs, Norway. ca. 1901-1933

Original caption: Viking trading ship of the 8th century leaving on an expedition from Dawn Ladir Cliffs, Norway. ca. 1901-1933

Immigration is a hot topic in the U.S. today, loaded with political meaning and characterized by heated debates over who is coming to this country and why, and who should be allowed to come here and who shouldn’t. It seems like a very modern problem, but immigration has always been a part of human life.

From migration to immigration

Of course, in prehistoric times, there was no immigration, only migration. The “im” means “into”, and was adopted once kingdoms and then nation states were created and people had a political identity based on where they were born. If they left the state they were born in, they weren’t just moving to unclaimed land; they had to move “into” another political state. Before this political in-migration, there was only migration—moving from one territory to another—and that’s what humans did, constantly.

As we’re learning with each new fossil discovery, moving over long distances did not start with homo sapiens: very early human species were leaving east Africa and covering thousands of miles to move into Asia and northwest Africa. This travel wasn’t just something we did, it’s likely what made us who we are. The “Human Migrations” unit of Bridging World History explains how traveling and encountering new climates, landscapes, animals, foods, and challenges led to the development of the first human cultures. Language, music, tool-making, and social organization were all responses to the needs and challenges of migration.

Why did we move so far and so often?

Anthropologists believe that climate change was the key motivator. During the Pleistocene Era which lasted from about 2.6 million years ago to about 11,700 years ago, there were a series of ice ages. Each one drove humans to leave the places they were in as they became colder or dryer, following familiar livestock or searching for new sources of food. We can never know what really happened then. Did people communicate with each other about their growing problems? Did advance groups travel and return to tell about better lands elsewhere? Did people compete with each other, racing to be the first to reach better territory?

What we do know is that over tens of thousands of years, moving became ingrained in the human lifeway. City-states, empires, kingdoms, and nations with borders you have to get official permission to cross are all recent, upstart ideas invented mere seconds ago on the historical scale. When the Sumerian city-states were formed in the fourth millennium BCE, they were a sharp rebuke to millions of years of free human travel. Creating Great Walls, sentry posts, border crossings, citizenship tests, and passports were all steps away from the old human tradition of free migration.

How do we begin to teach about immigration?

Knowing that free, long-distance migration is in our genes and our blood, how do we teach it today to students who will likely never experience it for themselves? First, we introduce them to this part of their human heritage by studying the past. Anthropologists have debated the date for the first arrival of humans into the Americas for decades, but now they are also questioning long-accepted timelines for human entry into Asia, Australia, northwest Africa, and Europe. Homo sapiens were not the first humans to enter these regions, and different species of humans did not fight each other to the death, leaving only homo sapiens to inherit the Earth. Different types of early humans mingled and produced new generations of mixed humans, who then mixed with homo sapiens. We all carry Neanderthal, Denisovan, Erectus, and other human DNA. Different types of early humans lived and worked side-by-side. Migration was not a threat but an opportunity to the first humans.

We can study how that attitude changed over the millennia, as human societies became richer and more organized, and humans began to claim land as their own and fight anyone who tried to enter it. This eventually leads to the history of city-states, empires, and kingdoms, and right up to the modern nation-state. That’s where we’ll pick up in our next post on the topic of immigration.

View “Part 2: U.S. Immigration: Legal v. Illegal” and“Part 3: Immigration: Push, Pull, or Both?” of this series on immigration. 

How to Teach Negative History

Distant view of crowds during mass demonstration of students and workers during general strike in Paris on May 13, 1968. Picture was taken on Rue De Turbigo with the Place de la Republique in the background. (AP Photo/Eustache Cardenas)

Distant view of crowds during mass demonstration of students and workers during general strike in Paris on May 13, 1968. Picture was taken on Rue De Turbigo with the Place de la Republique in the background. (AP Photo/Eustache Cardenas)

We all know that uneasy feeling you get when you have to teach a difficult topic or time in U.S. history. How do you stand in front of a classroom of students and talk about slavery, the Indian wars, Jim Crow, Japanese internment, the Red Scare, lynching, the Trail of Tears, the Chinese Exclusion Act, resistance to women’s suffrage, the Know-Nothings, and more low points in our history without a) embarrassing students, b) making students whose ancestors may have been the victims of these actions feel singled out or victimized themselves, or c) leaving students with the feeling that the U.S. is a pretty terrible place?

The good news is that teaching negative history has very positive results when it’s done well. It’s only by thoroughly understanding why negatives happened that we reassert our national commitment to ending them and preventing them from happening in the first place. Every injustice committed in our history produced a backlash from Americans who would not accept that injustice. The knowledge that our founding principles demanded something better—liberty and justice for all—drove Americans to fight every injustice you can list in American history.

There’s a good basic approach to teaching negative history:

  1. Provide context: Too often historical events are depicted as coming out of the blue—“in 1892 Congress passed an act to ban all Chinese immigration.” But every action is a reaction to long-term trends, debates, tensions, and changes in society. An objective, non-cynical yet unapologetic explanation of the historical context of even the most horrible events gives students a way to understand how it could have happened that isn’t just “people are just racist/sexist/xenophobic”, etc.

Example: Essential Lens, “1968, Year of the Barricades,” uses historical context to explain the political protests that rocked America and Europe at a time when the young people protesting seemed like they had nothing to be upset about—they were living in some of the richest nations in the world.

  1. Let the actors speak for themselves: Why should you have to parrot the beliefs of proslaveryites to explain them to your class? Let students hear their awful beliefs from their own mouths by giving them primary resources to read. And, on the flip side, why should you paraphrase the arguments of Americans who resisted slavery? Let them speak for themselves, too, through their own documentary record.

Example:Slavery and Freedom,” unit 7 in American Passages, provides a list of antislavery and abolitionist activists; click a name to get a background essay, then click the Activities box on the right to go to artifacts about and writing by that person.

  1. Acknowledge subjectivity: The historical record is not perfect. Often it has more records from one side of a debate than the other (for instance, we have a lot more documents from 17th-century white colonial settlers than American Indians). Sometimes both sides of a debate are equally represented, but they say such wildly contradictory things that it’s hard to tell which side was right or if both sides were confused or just plain lying. For instance, there were Cherokee groups who left the southeast willingly and maintained that the agreement they signed with the U.S. to give up the Cherokee nation was fair—but that’s not what the Cherokees who were physically removed from their homes, kept in cages, then put on a forced march west said. And sometimes the historical record changes: for instance, in the 19th century the Puritans were depicted as heroes. By the 21st century, they are most often depicted as harsh and destructive people who started the Indian wars. Which is the truth? Acknowledging that the historical record does not have all the answers actually inspires students to read both sides and empowers them to construct their own interpretation of history.

Example: “History and Memory,” unit 2 from Bridging World History, offers a roadmap for teaching students about interpreting history, and helping them to see the historical record as not carved in stone, but a living, breathing, evolving organism.

  1. Put students in someone else’s shoes: It’s easy to sit back and judge our ancestors in hindsight. But they weren’t making decisions based on careful research and study—they were reacting to events as they happened. This means they often did not have all the information they needed to make the right decision. Interactive websites that allow students to make choices based on limited data help them to understand that they are just like the Americans who came before them: doing the best they can with the information they have, likely to make mistakes, and then likely to try to fix them.

Example: “World War II,” program 22 of A Biography of America, has a “You Decide: Japanese American Internment?” feature that starts with one sentence of information and asks students “Was the wartime internment of Japanese Americans appropriate?” Students click to get started, and are offered a choice of clicking Yes or No. Clicking either one takes them to a new page that gives more information that could make them rethink their decision. This helps battle the judgments that hindsight makes very easy and shows students how people can make the wrong decision with the best of intentions.

Please share ways you teach the negative side of history in your classrooms in the comments.


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