Even if these were not momentous times we are living through (does this make the ’90s seem dull–all that prosperity and pop-culture?), there are always reminders of momentous times. Last Sunday we remembered 9/11, ten years later. This year is the National Road’s bicentennial as we remember the pioneer spirit and its side-effects in expanding and founding our nation. Next year will inaugurate the bicentennial of the War of 1812. And, of course, this year marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. We study these subjects, anyway, even if there is no rounded-number anniversary, but when these moments come it is worth a little extra emphasis to put the past in perspective, both in terms of the chronology and years since the event, but also in the progress or regress in human actions from point A to today’s point B. Plus, there a wealth of opportunities and resources spring up on such anniversaries that are well worth exploiting!
In honor of the Civil War’s big birthday and the start of the new school year, Teachinghistory.org has unveiled a new free poster for classroom walls. This poster, much like their general history poster (click here), it is geared as much to exploring how we learn about the past–not as from a textbook, but as a historian doing research–and the types of questions and sources we engage for that purpose. In other words, it is about historical method. The Civil War poster also tries to tempt students, to tease them, to pull them into the investigation on their own accord. I think it may well be successful in sowing seeds of curiosity in young minds, but any teacher who posts it has to take advantage! It cannot just go up as a passive “tool”–it needs to be built upon. This is something that a lot teachers do not do. They tape it up and hope the poster will speak for itself and inspire or teach. To help with this, Teachinghistory.org provides an additional research: an interactive online version of the poster.
This is the perfect opportunity for history teachers and parents to make use of and build upon a great eye-catching, tool. At http://teachinghistory.org/civil-war, the poster’s pictured artifacts and documents are presented. Scroll over them, and click on the individual items to be linked to lesson-plans and videos for instructional ideas and resources. For example, there is a series of videos of historian Tom Thruston who explains a book of slave receipts to expound upon the realities and legalization of slavery, its regional influence and its absolutely mundane, accepted nature of its existence in American society. These are designed to assist the teacher in using the artifacts that the poster includes. Because of the different types of artifacts, one has the opportunity to make a several learning projects for small groups and build upon each group’s learning experience by having them teach the subject to their fellow classmates, either in small groups or in class presentations.
Once a teacher has used the poster as part of the active learning, the poster remains an active learning tool. Students who look up at the slave receipt and the other artifacts will be reminded of the exercise and will continue to think about it and make links that they had not thought of before every time they see it. Active, thoughtful, considering learning is the the great skill that all subject should teach, with each subject enhancing it in particular ways and bringing the subject’s value to it. History has its own particular value that, among other things, encourages self-reflection. The Civil War is one of American History’s most important moments for self-reflection. If in using this poster, teachers initiate the students in active learning of the event, it will be a great tool for educators to introduce that national self-reflection along with history and historical method. Well done, Teachinghistory.org, well done.
Tomorrow, look for my review of Teachinghistory.org’s Spotlight series.