Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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A Teachable Moment: Returning Sacred Artifacts to Their Owners

Pomo basket_AFAnnenberg Foundation trustee Gregory Annenberg Weingarten has purchased sacred artifacts to return them to their Native American owners. Twenty-one of these items will be returned to the Hopi Nation in Arizona, and three artifacts belonging to the San Carlos Apache will be returned to the Apache tribe. Laurel Morales of Fronteras reports that “The Hopi call the ceremonial items friends and believe them to be living spirits.”

For a perspective of the importance of ceremonial items to the tribes they belong to, look to two resources from Annenberg Learner—the educational media arm of the Annenberg Foundation—that describe the ceremonial and cultural significance of native artifacts.

In session 8, “Ceremonial Artifacts,” of the workshop series Artifacts & Fiction, teachers pair religious items with literary texts when teaching students about different cultures and how those cultures change over time. See how two intellectual products produced by members of different Native American tribes—two Pomo Indian gift baskets and Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony—are used to help students better understand the beliefs and values of two distinct Native American cultures.

The worldwide art history series, Art through Time, unit 4, “Ceremony and Society,” features an installation of religious items created by members of the Skokomish Indian Nation to conduct a soul recovery ceremony. An explanation of the ceremony and items used begins at 20:00 in the video. Use this video as a point of discussion with students about the importance of preserving these artifacts and how nations use the items for healing, teaching, and reconnecting with their communities.

Constitution Day: Opening the Door to Civic Understanding and Engagement

Democracy in America_2The law establishing September 17th as Constitution Day was created in 2004 with the passage of an amendment proposed by Senator Robert Byrd to that year’s Omnibus Spending Bill. The law renamed the observation formerly known as “Citizenship Day” and before that as “I Am an American Day.” Whatever its moniker, the day is devoted to celebrating the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. The 2004 law not only renamed the day, it also mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions provide instruction on the history of the Constitution on that day.

I doubt that anyone would argue that one day is sufficient time for achieving full understanding of the four-page Constitution crafted in secret by 55 men during a hot Philadelphia summer. However, it could be just enough time to instigate further explorations that lead your students to understanding the document’s historical context, and its connection to current issues and events. That’s an excellent step toward civic engagement.

Annenberg Classroom, presented by The Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics, offers several points of entry to hook your students on the Constitution. For example, the first segment of the video Key Constitutional Concepts is a lively look at the state of the nation in 1787 that led the Framers to that stuffy hall in Philadelphia. It explodes the heroic mythologies that have grown up around the Constitution’s authors and portrays them as ordinary people who were trying to resolve ongoing conflicts within our new nation that the Articles of Confederation failed to resolve. The states were at odds over issues such as state sovereignty, taxation, land claims, and slavery. States threatened each other with war and behaved as sovereign nations. The Federal Convention participants went into Independence Hall thinking they were going to do a bit of tinkering with the Articles to make them more durable. Instead, they essentially threw out the existing, failing government and, through statesmanship and compromise, developed the document that defines our current system of government.

Another approach is to look at the Constitution within the context of current issues. A Call to Act: Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. tells the story of Lilly Ledbetter, who sued her employer when she discovered that she had for years been receiving lower wages than her male counterparts. Her fight for equal pay is a compelling case study of the three branches of government. If your students tuned in to the 2012 election campaign and the Democratic convention, they might remember that Ms. Ledbetter spoke at the convention and the law that has her name on it–the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009—was frequently cited as a victory for Obama’s first term in office.

Constitution Day is a good time to involve students in current conversations on Constitutional issues. Annenberg Classroom’s Speak Outs feature provides blog posts on topics from wiretapping to government regulation of sugary drinks to whether or not the president needs Congress’ approval to use force in Syria. The blog posts provide background on controversial topics that are making news or being considered in the courts. Students are then invited to share their views. Many of the student posts could serve as models of expository writing for your students.

Search learner.org for even more resources for Constitution Day. Your students might enjoy diving into an aspect of the Constitution that keeps judges, pundits and the rest of us up all night—the vague language that is open to interpretation and fuels ongoing arguments about immigration reform, gun control, and health care reform. Many of today’s court rulings, Senate debates and Facebook rants are based on how individuals interpret the language in the Bill of Rights and other Constitutional amendments. View the first segment of Democracy in America, program 2, “The Constitution: Fixed or Flexible?” with your students about what American society might look like if our Constitution was not open to interpretation.

Constitution Day can be the day your students begin lifelong study of and participation in civic life. What will you do to get them started?

‘Common Sense’ for the Common Core

Primary Sources_wkshp2If you are a high school English/language arts or American history teacher, chances are that you are actively involved in developing curriculum guides and teaching strategies for addressing the Common Core State Standards for reading and understanding primary source documents. While the standards don’t specify instructional approaches, the end goal is clear:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.9 Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense is considered a key exhibit in our nation’s collection of founding documents and the CCSS authors list it as an exemplar text for 11th and 12th grades. Historians credit the document with launching the movement to seek independence from the British monarchy sooner rather than later. It is a tightly structured and forceful argument that provides educators with a platform for guiding students through the process of critical analysis.

Workshop 2, “Common Sense and the American Revolution: The Power of the Printed Word” of the series Primary Sources: Workshops in American History places the 48-page document in a powerful context that amplifies its significance in events leading to independence.

Did you know that Thomas Paine had been in the colonies only a few weeks before he took pen to parchment? Prior to the publication of Common Sense, the colonists were seeking reconciliation with England, not independence. The first published argument for independence, Common Sense became the 18th century equivalent of an international best seller. Consider how the events leading to independence might have been different if Benjamin Franklin had not persuaded a 39-year-old former tax collector to seek work in the colonies.

Take a look at how teacher Andrew Sullivan adapted what he learned from the workshop to create an activity that engages students with key concepts within Common Sense.  You will also find links to additional primary source documents such as the James County, Virginia, Statement of Independence. These documents encourage thoughtful comparison of Paine’s argument to, and open a window onto colonist’s involvement in, decisions made by the Second Continental Congress.

What instructional strategies are you employing to help your students use and understand primary source documents such as Common Sense?

Primary Elections Begin

The news is buzzing with information and opinions about GOP candidates as they compete in primary elections across the United States. How do presidential candidates focus their campaigns during primary elections? How can citizens influence a primary election to follow their positions and interests?

The video for Democracy in America, unit 13, “Elections: The Maintenance of Democracy,” answers these questions by examining two cases: Senator John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign and the Neighbors for a Better Montgomery County (MD) grassroots movement.

This video, used as professional development or as a classroom tool, illustrates the importance of primary elections and the role of public involvement.