Thursday, December 04, 2008

Voices Rising: Helping Students Think Like Historians

On December 4, 2008, teachers at the Madeline English School in Everett, Massachusetts continued their development of document-based lessons to use in their classrooms. These lessons focus on a specific essential question and utilize primary source document(s), helping to bring history to life in the classroom.

Additionally, the questions posed to the students within the lessons are inquiry-based, meaning that students construct their own learning by researching, analyzing, and interpreting documents and other resources to reach conclusions and form opinions.

For example, Mr. Donohue is developing a lesson titled:
Issues and Arguments Surrounding Slavery

The lesson focuses on the economics of Ancient Rome, the American South, and the American North before the Civil War and how each economy impacted laborers (slaves and mill workers). Mr. Donohue’s lesson also explores the justification of slavery and working conditions of the disenfranchised by those in power.

Students are encouraged to explore specific websites, books, and primary source documents such as the Statistics of Lowell Manufacturers (see below). They will use such documents to try to understand the conditions of mill workers in the Northern United States, compare those conditions with those of the slaves in the South and Ancient Rome, and create their own opinions of whether slavery was truly an economic necessity.

The final product will feature podcasts of the students’ findings and opinions.

Because the Voices Rising program includes the school districts of Everett, Malden, and Medford, teachers are given the opportunity to develop lessons and units cooperatively.

Manufacturing Statistics
University of Massachusetts Lowell

Examples of lessons’ guiding questions:

• How did the lives of Native Americans change with the arrival of the colonists?
• What changes occurred on Beacon Hill from the late 1700's-1860 for men, women, children (black and white)?
• What motivated abolitionists’ in the North?
• How did Irish Americans react to the abolitionist movement and the quest for African American Rights?
• What were the characteristics of social equality of the postbellum struggles women faced in 1830-1870?

Teachers will continue to refine their lessons with the guidance of historians at Suffolk University in Boston. As well as providing insight, resources, and general suggestions on the lessons’ topics, the historians’ feedback ensures historical accuracy.

Everyone involved is excited to see the positive impact these document-based lessons have on our students’ understanding and appreciation of history!

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