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A People’s History for the Classroom

By: Steve Bergman

Facilitator:Lindsey Ziglar

Our group has spent the semester reading “A People’s History for the Classroom by Bill Bigelow. The book incorporates excerpts from Howard Zinn’s seminal work, “A People’s History of the United States” intermingled with classroom activities intended to teach students about major historical events from perspectives other than the dominant narrative. The book provided an interesting insight into some of the many ways teachers have tried to teach alternate narratives to major U.S. and global events. Our group, however felt the book was lacking in one key area that has to be addressed, especially for new teachers.

The one negative aspect of Bigelow’s book that we kept citing was the lack of explanation of how to fit these alternative lessons into the school year or into the traditional lesson plans with their tight timelines. We agreed over and over again that we’d love to lead/see classrooms where multi-day activities such as a role-playing trial of Columbus, the King/Queen of Spain, and the Pope can take place, but none of us could think of a world in which an instructor has the luxury of teaching such engaging lessons. Instead, extra days that teachers get are spent in wrap-up sessions, preparing students for examinations or testing. This concern was repeated over and over again, throughout the semester as great ideas sounded good in theory but impractical or even unfeasible in reality.

Our critique is not all negative, however. Each of our group members felt the lessons provided were useful in ways Bigelow probably didn’t intend. We all saw possibilities for truncated lessons on Vietnam, the labor movement, and U.S.-Mexico relations both past and present that could be created using some of the ideas raised in the book. Another positive of the book was the content itself. Zinn’s original work was a damning indictment of America’s “holier than thou” approach to things such as rights and freedoms that it takes on the world stage. To have the author put a spotlight on those items provides teachers an interesting method of culturally relevant teaching.


In all, our feelings on this book were mixed. The lessons were great, the content was great, but the applicability left a lot to be desired. Instead, our group really focused and ran with the final piece on incorporating technology into the classroom in a way we never felt we could with the book.

Social Media in the Classroom (Continued)

By: Mckenzie Vass

Facilitator: Cady Childress


Social media gives people today a new way to experience history in real time. Using the recent terrorist attacks in Paris as an example, we discussed how social media such as twitter not only gives the public instantaneous access to events happening worldwide, it also provides an avenue for the public to react and responds to the events.

For instance, under a post by the Huffington Posts on twitter for November 13th during the attacks, there were thousands of retweets and comments. This gives social media immense power over how historical events are told; news outlets and the general public can receive information and share it instantaneously, regardless of whether or not it is wrong or biased. It also has the power to engender critical thinking and discussion, because it is news from the people and not biased news outlets. It can be analyzed in two different ways.

Using social media for current historical events or past ones can be great in the classroom, because they actively engage student thorough a platform that they genuinely enjoy. An idea we had for a classroom activity with social media was having students complete a project in which they have to recreate what they believe a social media website would look like during an historical event. They could tweet what famous people, news outlets, the public, etc. would say in that moment the event was happening as if they had access to social media at that time.

Social Media in the Classroom

Facilitator: Lindsey Ziglar

Note Taker: Cady Childress

Social Media and Technology in the Classroom

“Students communicate research, collaborate, create and publish online with or without the help of parents or educators. These same students then hop on social media to promote, discuss and share their thoughts with the world. The digital environment is offering us some of the greatest learning opportunities that young learners have ever had.”

We are in a new age where technology changes every day, and it is one aspect that is beginning to link every generation from the millennials to the baby boomers. However, we continued to discuss the use of social media in the classroom to teach.

As a preservice teacher and studying historian, I have given a lot of thought to social media and technology in the classroom. They are great ways to get students involved and excited about their education but students could also abuse the purpose of them or become too dependent on them. There are both pros and cons to using them in classrooms, and as a group, we discussed them.

I brought to the attention of the group videos made by the YouTube channel “historyteachers” which is an actual group of history teachers that make videos to popular songs to teach their high school students certain aspects of history from William to Conqueror (Sexy Back) to Black Death (Hollaback Girl) The videos we watched had us all laughing hysterically at the surprising cleverness of them. However, a great point was brought up in our discussion, how much are the students paying attention to the information being presented.

We agree that the videos are a perfect way to introduce a new unit and get the students excited but not to solely rely on the videos to teach the students. You could also get students to participate more with having them make their own videos on certain events in history and share with the class. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Next Week: Continue Discussion on Social Media and Technology in the classroom

Incorporating Technology into History Classrooms

Facilitator: Mckenzie

Notetaker: Steve

Video Link:

This week our group discussed a TedX talk on incorporating technology into the classroom. The TedX talk focused on how one former history major devised methods for using sites like Twitter and games like Minecraft to improve student learning. The examples used by the speaker were:

  • Twitter: Using twitter to do a multi-day lesson on London’s “Great Smog” event from the 1950’s.
  • Minecraft: A student who used Minecraft as a tool to practice his Latin by creating a Roman bath and then giving virtual tours of his bath using Latin vocabulary.

Our group had a number of observations about technology. First was how technology can be so hit or miss. So many schools have this idea that technology can revolutionize the classroom, but without proper oversight and well-thought out application, technology runs the risk of reducing classroom outputs. Without careful application, the technology becomes a distraction or reduces classroom learning time, thus making it less effective than traditional book/pencil learning. The second observation was that technology, when applied properly, can provide a plethora of exciting new learning opportunities and provide methods for students to learn using tools that are native to newer learning/communication styles. Third, and this one is particular to history teachers, technology enables teachers to incorporate primary sources at a rate like never before. Through sites like Twitter, teachers have access to countless first-hand accounts and primary source material that they either 1) didn’t know existed, or 2) wouldn’t have found as readily using traditional teaching methods.

Moving beyond the technology in the TedX talk, we thought about larger applicability for technology including opportunities to view events from different angles, heretofore unattainable. Technology can help facilitate conversation across cultures, locations, and physical boundaries. An example shared in our PLC was a video/Skype conversation between American students and Chinese students.

Our PLC also discussed the difficulty of technology use for students without the means to computers and smart phones. We had no easy answer for this because there are so many reasons why students can/cannot access such technology resources, even within schools. Ultimately, we agreed that technology is a valuable resource for teachers and students, but the integration of technology resources is still open to debate.

Our PLC group will be finishing our book next week, reading the chapter on Terrorism. We will be bringing in artifacts, items, or materials related to the chapter.

Teaching the Desegregation of Schools in the U.S.

Note Taker: Mckenzie

Facilitator: Steven

For this week, we looked at a chapter in our book titled, “A School Year Like No Other.” This chapter went over the desegregation of schools in the United States in the 1950’s.  We discussed how teaching desegregation would be a challenge in schools, especially at the elementary level, because we feel as though it would be hard to get students to understand why segregation was ever practiced in our country’s institutions.

We talked about the methods the author procures for teaching this politically-charged subject. One of these methods was watching videos of the students experiencing the hate of white people as they walked onto the schools bus or into the school building to desegregate for the first time. We liked this because we feel as though it gives students a conceptual understanding of what took place, because without visuals this topic is hard to fully comprehend. However, we disagreed with the pausing of the video to talk about certain book, because we said that it would be aggravating to us as students. We feel as though it would be more beneficial to just show a shortened clip that would be sure to foster a rich class discussion. Or, to have prompting questions for students to think about as they watch the video. These questions would be a stronger scaffold for his second lesson idea, which is giving the students the choice to write about or artistically express their opinions or thoughts on the video in the platform of their choice.

We also agreed that focusing on the tenacity and dedication of certain Civil Rights leaders and those who led the segregation movement is a great focus for teaching this material, because it focuses on such a hard time from a positive outlook. Approaching it from the viewpoint of “this is what segregation was and this is what desegregation did to stop it” is overdone and analyzing this point of history from the point of view of strong, dedicated African American leaders would be more beneficial and provide a fresh way to learn the material.

Lawrence, 1912

Note Taker: Lindsey Ziglar

Facilitator: Cady Childress

Summary: We read a chapter in A People’s History for the Classroom called “Lawrence, 1912: The Singing Strike.” The chapter outlined an activity for students do to in order to understand the experiences that the strikers in Lawrence, Massachusetts went through. The activity sets up a distinction between the American Federation of Labor and Industrial Workers and union organizers. Each student is given a role to play as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, and in groups they work through problems faced by strikers and make decisions on how they want to organize and carry out the massive strike.

Discussion: To be perfectly honest, all four of us agreed that this was our least favorite chapter so far. One member made an interesting point that this might be a touchy subject, especially for those in public schools, with the inclusion of advocating for labor unions. Some parents and teachers might view labor unions as a negative thing, and this entire lesson is focused on being part of a labor union, so it could be a hot button issue. This could also make teachers seem biased to labor unions even if they aren’t, although this is inevitable whenever you talk about anything in a certain light. We also did not like how this seemed very question-answer based, as it would not be as exciting to do in class because there didn’t seem to be much room for the students’ thoughts since it was pretty planned out. The activity also felt pretty long, so we were skeptical that it could be completed within the span of one or two class periods. One member had the idea that the teacher could tie this activity into the concept that, even though the strikers got what they wanted, the government started slowly taking things back away, and eventually the government got what it wanted.

Questions: How would a practicing teacher actually go through this lesson with the time constraint of a shorter class period than it seems the author acknowledges?

How would a practicing teacher be able to incorporate other aspects of the Lawrence 1912 Strike to take bias off of labor unions?

Next Reading: “A School Year Like No Other,” A People’s History for the Classroom

Teaching Conflict through Personal Stories

Facilitator: Cady

Notetaker: Steve

Date: 30 Sept 2015

Overview: This week, our PLC group undertook a two-part program. The first was the material we assigned ourselves on 21 September. The second part was the multimedia piece we were assigned in class on 28 Sept.

Note: multimedia incorporation was assigned, we selected our own multimedia piece.

Summary Part 1: We read a chapter of A People’s History for the Classroom focusing on Vietnam. The chapter and subsequent supporting material demonstrated methods for encouraging students to think about the underlying causes of the Vietnam War and the intricate interplay of international politics and economics with regards to France, the United States, Russia, and the post-WWII future of Europe as they relate to France’s reoccupation of pre-WWII colony in Indochina.

We found this interplay to be particularly interesting, and also surprisingly difficult to address in a classroom setting. The competing interests of all of the countries above and their desires for Europe are as much at play as France’s desire to have its colony back. Simply saying France wanted it’s free labor in Vietnam back and the U.S. wanted to sell goods to France so the U.S. intervened in Vietnam, as the author states, does as much of a disservice to the other factors as the point the author ridicules when he quotes from the American Adventures textbook saying, “Later in the 1950’s, war broke out in South Vietnam.” The difficulty in teaching this conflict is that it is easy to be oversimplified, especially given the historical context and the volume of primary sources currently available.

Connecting to Other Materials: We talked about a book called Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides by Christian G. Appy. Appy’s book consists of personal memoirs of men and women who were involved in the various aspects of the war at different times. Memoirs come from Vietnamese military advisors to the U.S. during WWII, from French and Vietnamese who fought one another during the 1950’s, and from policy makers, both Vietnamese and from the U.S. as well as civilians and soldiers from both sides of the conflict between the U.S. and Vietnam.

We felt that Appy’s book did a better job of getting Zinn’s point across about alternate views of history because it provided greater context across time and across interests. We think that taking the sample lesson from A People’s History for the Classroom and using Appy’s material would provide a greater level of understanding of the conflict in Vietnam while also being able to demonstrate the longevity of the conflict all within the few weeks that are allotted to the study of the subject in a typical history class.

Questions to pose to practicing educators: What kinds of primary sources are being used to show the competing viewpoints of the war, not just within the U.S., but in Vietnam and elsewhere. None of the interested parties were monolithic in resolve so how are alternative viewpoints presented, if at all? The next question is how much context is provided? Seeing as how it ties back to Europe, the Marshall Plan, the Warsaw Pact and NATO, area teachers making those connections to larger conflicts or is this simply taught as the U.S. trying to stop the expansion of communism?

Along those same lines, do classes talk about the hypotheticals of what would have happened if we’d have won? Would France have tried to re-exert claim given that traditional colonialism was dying? Would the puppet government in South Vietnam survived an attempted coup? What about Russia and China’s involvement?

Summary Part 2: Our PLC group decided to continue the topic of conflict by watching a video produced by Newshour on PBS. The video, titled Learning History to Honor Fallen Heroes of D-Day focuses on a classroom where students follow in the footsteps of a soldier who lived and died in the Normandy invasion on D-Day. The students are tasked with finding out all they can about a soldier from their community who died in the battle by seeking out official documents, living relatives, and others who can shed light on the deceased individual.

The program that these students participate in is very moving and involves trips to the National Archives to search out documents, interviews and stories from D-Day veterans, and finally by a trip to Normandy, France where the students visit the famed sites of WWII. Throughout the video students and their teachers share how the program has changed their perceptions, with teachers referencing how they intend to teach wars differently in the future.

Connecting to Other Material: Our first thought was that this program was similar to the Appy book mentioned above, in that both are attempting to personalize war in a way that makes the conflict less monolithic. The second thought we had was that this lesson plan would be a lesson plan we’d imagine seeing in A People’s History for the Classroom. Howard Zinn was a populist historian and his material focused on the everyday citizen so this lesson is something we’d imagine seeing in our PLC book.

Questions to pose to practicing educators: How would you carry out this program without the funds provided by the sponsor organization? What would small town schools do when the war may not have impacted that community as directly due to lower casualties? Would you teach about the Russian side and the approximately 20,000,000 casualties inflicted by war, murder, and subsequent famine arising from WWII?

Has our Mission Changed: No, our mission remains unchanged.

Next Week’s Reading Assignment and Rationale: Next week, we are reading about the Singing Strike – and probably about the greater labor movement. We felt this topic was useful because it is another large and important conflict in American history to go alongside the major wars we’ve read about thus far.