Dickinson College / Gilder Lehrman Institute

Author: Rebecca

Others Like Me…?

This course has been a wonderful experience in many ways.  At first I was unsure of how I could keep up with the gurus out there in online course world.  I still prefer the classroom setting with direct human interaction, but I feel much more empowered having taken this course and will very likely take another online course in the future.  The vast amount of information that has been given is at first glance overwhelming as I know many others have stated in other blogs.  In my notes I’ve tried to keep track of what will be useful in a 4th and 5th grade classroom.  As an elementary teacher, much of the information will not make it to students but expanded my knowledge of the civil war which helped build my background knowledge on the subject.  The variety of technology possibilities has really excited me.  I can’t wait to dive into each of these over the next coming weeks.  My school district has undergone a major curriculum change and my school has a new principal that also brings about changes.  Change is good.  So my goal for this year is to expand my use of technology with the changes.  I of course will take baby steps.  Watching Chris demonstrate the amazing things that can happen made my head swirl but I am not one to shy away from a challenge or anything new.  One of the best parts to this online community has helped me connect with others who are like minded.  I don’t know about the other participants but in my school I’m known as the resident history geek and most people just don’t understand what I find so fascinating about historical documents.  Having collaborated with others at Monticello while working on the Liberty Today project and now blogging with others about the Civil War confirmed my belief there really are others like me.  Those who have a love for history, a desire to dig deeper, and to find the true human stories behind all the dates and dead people.  So to that… I say, Thank You! for all of the great information, wonderful ideas, and I hope to continue this line of communication on teaching the Civil War.

Mind Maps of the Civil War

Civil War Mind Map

Earlier today Matt mentioned the use of note taking in picture form (sorry I can’t remember exactly how it was stated).  However, it immediately reminded me of Concept maps and Mind Mapping.  Concept maps tend to be boring and dull to my students and I agree with them on that issue.  Simple bubble maps with words connected to other words to show a list of information in a graphic form.  Blah!  Mind Mapping however is much more pleasing to the eye, can be colorful, may include words and pictures, but is best seen as a tool a student can make to use for their own understanding of a central topic.  These are very similar to word clouds where it focuses on the big ideas but should be expanded down to minor sub-topics. Most of the time students hand create these.  Above I have put together (created mine in MSWord, roughly I might add) the Virginia Department of Education’s state objectives for teaching the Civil War.  Even if you do not teach in VA, I’m willing to bet you could figure out the topics to be taught based on the diagram.  My central image is that of the United States as a clue that whatever this is, it happened here.  If you begin in the upper right hand corner with the words “north and south” and work around the map clockwise it will directly follow the objectives.

  1. A Nation Divided – North vs. South
  2. Virginia once included West Virginia
  3. Battles (in VA)
  4. People involved:  whites, enslaved, free, and American Indians
  5. Reconstruction
  6. Jim Crow laws
  7. Change in economy through – railroads, industry and growth of cities

I have used Mind Maps as both a pre-assessment and a final (summative) assesments.  Simply by giving students the central topic they are to then show what they know in picture and/or words.  After pre-assessing students, I would share the unit overview in Mind Map form where I actually draw on the Promethean Board as I outline the unit.  Students can draw in their notes and add their own comments to help them remember.  We would then proceed to take each sub-topic and expand further into the study.  I’ve found by teaching this way students are first given an outline that is easily understood by the elementary student and secondly keeps me from leaving my objectives! The Civil War is one of those areas that a teacher could spend an entire year on and still not scratch the surface if they weren’t careful.  I appreciate each time Matt points out the “best part to include” when teaching this information.

Mind Mapping is one of several note taking methods I teach my students.  We use it across all content and sometimes even make posters of them to put up around the room as a resource to come back to for review.

“Big Words” from Word Clouds

Historical documents are always a challenge for the elementary student.  They love to look at the images and attempt to read the script, but when it comes right down to reading the text more often they will give up too easily feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the document.  I recently saw an episode on television where an interviewer was asking random people on the street if they knew what important words were in the Declaration of Independence, most of the comments were funny, but all in all it was down right disturbing to watch.  I would venture to say that many people just don’t know what is written in most of our historical documents that govern us today.

Using word clouds is a fun learning tool that students of all ages and abilities can use and make sense out of what they have created.  Wordle is one type of word cloud tool that makes understanding a large document easier by starting out with what I call finding the “Big Words”.  Students can begin by looking at the cloud images first and decide why the big words are important before they even know what document the words came from.  Starting out with a challenge that gives the students instant success before tackling the more difficult is a great way of motivating them into deeper understanding.  Comparing multiple word clouds is a great way to see the big picture over time.  How did one document influence another?  Which came first and what evidence can one find in the word cloud?  Students can easily find overlapping evidence and begin to understand the importance in the big words.  Small groups can then tackle the document(s) together and look for those big words and read them within the context it was written.  Now what does it mean and why is it so important that these words were repeated so many times?

A few documents I had not thought to compare but did so for this blog are:

Gettysburg Address

Emancipation Proclamation

Declaration of Independence

Virginia Declaration of Rights

In Virginia, elementary students begin their Virginia Studies with Jamestown 1607 and quickly travel through time to the 21st Century.  By the time a 5th grade student begins to study the Civil War, they would have rapidly covered many documents.  Using the word cloud tools would be a great review of the documents and help students to find the connections with each document.  I myself found it interesting to compare and contrast the above four documents.

Another thought I had about the use of word clouds with historical documents would be to see if students could organize them in a timeline just based on the big words presented.  Would this be beneficial in understanding the document itself or even the progression this nation has taken based on what each generation has seen as important?

Wordle, Tagxedo are excellent tools for creating word clouds.  I have also used www.abcya.com/word_clouds.htm which is targeted towards K-5 students.

Elementary Understanding

As an elementary teacher in Virginia, the Civil War is primarily taught from the borders of Virginia with very little expanse outside of the state.  This proves to be very difficult for students to get a full grasp of the war without at least taking a look at the bigger picture.  The second challenge is taking what I’ve often referred to as “dates and dead people” and making it interesting and worth studying to a 10 year old.

I’ve used a similar method as given in the Dred Scott powerpoint by taking a look at images and allowing students to analyze them for what they see.  Majority of the images I have used have come from the Mathew Brady collection.  I carefully select images that don’t give it away that we’re talking about the Civil War, but just photographs with a variety of items in them that students can identify.  First students view the photographs, listing items, people, and the geography they see.  Then they share with partners their images and discuss what they believe is happening, where was the picture taken, when and why along with what evidence can they use to support their findings.  When students share in small groups they discuss more indepth about what is seen in the photos and can begin to make connections between photographs.  It’s fascinating to watch as the students begin to create their own stories behind what they believe is happening and by matching up items or places in the photos they begin to see a bigger picture, the significance and the problems.  More photographs are added as the activity continues as if adding more pieces to a puzzle.  Eventually I will include images of soldiers which gets those who thought this was a war excited because it’s their personal confirmation.  The discussion is rich and questions begin to come out rapidly.  Midway through the activity there are about 50 to 75 photographs scattered around the room and students are moving about to view them all.  Some students will carry around a favorite to compare with other photos to find a link that they feel will answer the ultimate question – When did this take place and why?  More often than not, students eventually can get that this was a major war, there was a lot of destruction and one of my favorite questions is when someone asks… Did they have a choice or were they forced to fight?  From there I can begin to introduce letters from soldiers both Union and Confederate and try to uncover the reasons.  At this point I’ve officially hooked their interest and have them wanting so much more information that our lessons, both required and extensions, become engaging, interactive and leaving everyone, (myself included) wanting to know more about the Civil War.

Pamplin Park in Petersburg, VA has a museum that inspired me to follow soldiers through the war with my students which is how I got the idea of looking at soldiers letters.  James McPherson’s book For Cause & Comrades is going to be an excellent source for future activities. From what I’ve read so far, this book has done what I have been hoping to find in research for a while.  The Gilder Lehrman site in both History by Era and Primary Sources will help springboard this very simple activity into a more 21st century style of learning all of which I’m looking forward to using.

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