Showing posts from 2011

US Currency Links


Useful Constitution Websites

Students will begin their study of the US Constitution this week. This important document can be challenging for students to understand and here are some links to help:

Ben's Guide to Government:

The United States House of Representatives:

The United States Senate:

The Supreme Court:

The Executive Branch/The White House:

Students, please take some time to become familiar with these sites so that you're comfortable with them before we visit them online in class.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a time to share with family and friends. It's also an opportunity to think about all that we have in our lives. My students wrote letters of gratitude today to an influential person in their life and they'll be giving those letters to them this weekend. Enjoy your break and we'll see you on Monday!
I've found a history of Thanksgiving from The History Channel--here is the link:

Veterans Day

A Veterans Day tradition continued today during 8th Grade History classes. Students were once again able to hear from people that protected and served our country in World War II, the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. The students were fascinated by stories about boot camp and military police operations and also asked insightful questions.

Please take time out today to remember the sacrifices our service men and women have made for our country.

Constitutional Convention Experience

Learning about the Constitutional Convention is often a challenge for students. They sometimes struggle with the different plans discussed and the concept of balance of power. This year my students will be learning about this very important event by completing a simulation. Students are taking on the role of delegates at the Convention and will be attempting to compromise on the plans and, hopefully, come up with a government that is beneficial to all involved. Learning by doing is a powerful way for students to deeply learn material (and they get to have some fun at the same time).

Let the debate begin!

Revolutionary War Spies

Students previewed the American Revolutionary War this week by watching an excerpt of "America: The Story of Us" created by The History Channel. My students felt that one of the most fascinating parts of the video was about the American spy network during the war. The University of Michigan has an online collection devoted to this topic and students will be analyzing primary sources and researching methods used to spy on the British while we study the war. Here is the link to the collection:

Declaration of Indpendence


Writing Organization

Students have spent time this week learning Powerwriting. This form of writing will help them organize their writing in History in a clear and concise way. Two strategies I implement that greatly ensure success with Powerwriting are the pre-writing outline and the use of highlighters. The outline enables students to formulate their thoughts easily. The use of highlighters is an organizational tool that allows students to see the flow and progression of their introductory sentence, examples, supporting details and conclusion. Powerwriting will get easier with practice and will help my students become adept at writing in History.

Interactive Timeline

The American Revolution Center has created an interactive timeline of events surrounding the American Revolution (and related modern historical events about the Revolution) that I wanted to share with my students and their families. Students will be creating their own timeline of Pre-Revolutionary War events and this is a wonderful way for them to preview next week's area of study.

The Roots of Representative Government

Students will be learning about the roots of representative government and the events leading up to the American Revolutionary War this week. These concepts are "Big Picture" ideas in American History--the lack of freedoms and rights colonists experienced in the mid-1700s gave rise to rebellion and a war against the greatest military force in the world at the time. Students will create a timeline this week that will illustrate these events.


I would like to welcome all of you to US History!
The first day of school went very well--we spent the morning discussing, among other things, materials needed for class and tomorrow we will do an activity to get to know one another better. Students will also receive their textbooks and begin a a textbook preview.

I'm looking forward to getting to know all of you and to a successful and exciting year!

The Declaration of Independence

Happy Independence Day! In honor of the holiday I found a short link from the History Channel about the Declaration of Independence:


The final topic my students are studying this year is Reconstruction, the time period after the Civil War. I am linking this era to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s in order to allow students to compare and contrast the efforts made and the progress that still needed to be made in the South and in the United States.

Next week we will be examining many primary sources using the song "We Shall Overcome" as our overriding theme. It's a powerful and impactful way to end the school year.

Gettysburg Documentary

A few of my students mentioned to me that there's going to be a new documentary on The History Channel about Gettysburg and it's debuting this Monday, Memorial Day, at 9pm. DVR it students, it's past your bedtime! :)

Here's a link if you're interested:

Please enjoy this Memorial Day weekend but remember why we have a long weekend--we are honoring our troops and their service to our country.

Have a great weekend!

Civil War Documents

My students recently examined important documents related to the Civil War. Groups analyzed the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, the order to allow African-Americans to enlist in the Union Army and the Gettysburg Address. Students used the SmartBoard to examine the original document from the National Archives website as well as a paper copy of the document.

These young historians learn a lot from primary sources and get an opportunity to make their own conclusions from these resources, as opposed to only reading the opinions of textbook writers.

Civil War Day

Eighth Grade students in my district spent a day at our city's historical museum experiencing the Civil War. Students learned about camp life, communications and telegraphing messages, boot making, marching and drilling, the life of Sojourner Truth and how to dance the Virginia Reel. (This is always my favorite session!) The day ended with an Abraham Lincoln re-enactor reciting the Gettysburg Address.

This day was fun and educational for all involved. Countless hours of preparation were spent by the presenters and students showed their appreciation by being attentive and asking questions.

Civil War Report Card

Students created a report card evaluating Union President Lincoln, Union Generals Grant and McClellan, Confederate President Davis and Confederate General Lee. I use this report card activity often throughout the year because it's a really effective way for students to analyze and synthesize material. It also helps students see "the big picture". Students must give a grade for each topic/person and justify the grade. Students need to argue, for example, why someone earned a B but also why that person did not earn an A. It's a higher-level activity and it generates terrific discussions.

The consensus was that, two years into the war, Lincoln, Grant and Lee earned Bs or As but McClellan had grades that ranged from Bs to Es because of his inability to consistently engage Union troops in battles and the students haven't forgiven him for not finishing off the Confederates after Antietam. President Davis earned a B, on average, but students want to learn more about hi…

Guest Speaker from the Secret Service

Students learned about the United States Secret Service from a retired Agent, one that's protected President Kennedy-President George H.W. Bush. It was a quite a privilege to hear his stories and see photos that only an Agent would have. Secret Service Agents must have characteristics such as integrity and patriotism and our guest speaker is the embodiment of both. Thank you for your time today!

Civil War Exhibit at The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford Museum is hosting an exhibit of Civil War artifacts from May 21-September 5, 2011. This in and of itself is very exciting but the true highlight is that, for a few days, the Emancipation Proclamation will be removed from the National Archives and brought to The Henry Ford!

The Emancipation Proclamation will be ready for viewing from 6pm on Monday, June 20th through 6am on Wednesday, June 22nd. The Museum will be open continuously during this time period and admission during this time is free.

Here are some links for more information:

The Civil War Exhibit link:
Emancipation Proclamation link:

Why are We Discussing the Berlin Wall Today?

Today students are learning which states made up the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Each class pointed out how difficult (impossible) it would have been for Lincoln and the Union Government to conduct business in Washington DC if Maryland hadn't sided with the Union. I then decided to briefly interject modern history and liken this situation to what actually happened in West and East Berlin during the Cold War.  The students had a good review of a 7th Grade Global Studies topic but could also appreciate American History in a different way through this comparison.

Lincoln Line Graph

Students viewed a biography of Abraham Lincoln this week and took notes, with a twist. Instead of writing notes traditionally, students were given sixteen topics about Lincoln's life (two examples are his childhood and his role as Commander-in-Chief during the Civil War). Each student wrote down facts for each topic and then ranked them on a line graph that ranged from +5 to -5. When students were finished with their notes and graphs they then reflected on their graph and wrote conclusions about their rankings and justified their opinions.

Compromise of 1850

Students in my History classes are now studying the events that lead up to and contributed to the Civil War. One attempt to settle the issue of slavery in the newly acquired western land was the Compromise of 1850. Today students dissected an excerpt of this document and answered four questions to better understand Congress' point of view:
What does the author assume to be true? What do I agree with? What do I want to argue with? What do I aspire to?History shows us that the Compromise of 1850 was an unsuccessful attempt to appease the North and the South but analyzing this document will allow students to better understand the efforts that went into keeping the country united.

Link to the Compromise of 1850:

"Waiting on the World to Change"

Music is a powerful way to generate student interest in the classroom. One of today's goals was to link the contributions of Reformers such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Dorothea Dix and Elizabeth Blackwell to the meaning of the song "Waiting on the World to Change" by John Mayer. Students were asked to relate these lyrics to the work of the people that tried to better American society in the early to mid 1800s. One interesting student insight was that the lyrics are actually calling on people to not wait, but rather look around and right injustices today.
Here's the link to the song:

Was Your School Founded During the Reform Movement?

Today students started studying the Reform Movement. The time period from the 1820s to the 1860s brought about many changes in American society and one of these changes was the emphasis on higher education. We researched the creation of Michigan State University and the University of Michigan and determined that MSU was founded during the Reform Movement but U of M was founded right before.

As an extra credit assignment, students can research another college or university tonight and tell us tomorrow whether it was part of the Reform Movement. I will post our findings here. (First hour, you will get this same opportunity tomorrow.)

*****UPDATE***** Many students, including Jesse, researched schools and while some, like his example, were founded during the Reform Movment others were created later. Here's a list: Oakland University, 1957 Stanford  University, 1891 Central Michigan University, 1892 Harvard University, 1636 Princeton University, 1746

"American Progress"

One of my favorite activities is to critique and analyze artwork with my students. Today we studied "American Progress" by John Gast and this provided students a great review of Manifest Destiny and the changes it brought to our nation.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Students started today's class listing examples of the causes of the war with Mexico, then determining which of these causes are still in effect today. One example is the then-disputed Texas/Mexico Rio Grande border.
        Student groups spent the rest of the hour analyzing the treaty that ended this war, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Each group recieved a translated excerpt of the document and used it, along with photos of the actual treaty, to determine why the document was written and to make inferences as to what life in the early 1800s would have been like. More information and pictures are available at the National Archives link:

Living History Day:Lewis and Clark

Mrs. Rita Ward came in to my classes today to present artifacts and materials related to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Corps of Discovery. Students dressed up as President Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Sacajawea and her husband Toussaint Charbonneau, and the Shoshone Native Americans and re-enacted key aspects of the journey.

     The classes reviewed their knowledge of this important historical event and learned a lot about the contributions these people made to American History. Mrs. Ward's extensive knowledge and numerous artifacts allowed my students to experience this time period in a meaningful way.  Thank you, Mrs. Ward!
***Pictures from today's classes will be on the school website in a few days***

Project Reflection

The students and I really learned a lot from this project. The final budget presentations allowed students to not only expand their technology capability but also their social studies skills and were able to present their findings the same way a real city council would during a city council meeting. A test on the material would not have had the same impact on students because it’s not a real-world example like the presentation was.
Students found the iPads to be user-friendly, but still take some getting used to. They said the touch screens were what they liked most about them but the screen’s sensitivity was also frustrating at times. Learning how to use the Numbers, Pages and Keynote applications will greatly benefit my students, should our district decide to purchase more iPads in the future. Students are now familiar and comfortable with this form of technology and they will have an easier time applying the computer skills learned with me to their use of the iPads in oth…

Student Ideas to Generate Revenue

My students had some very creative ways to generate revenue for Peaceful Pines.

One idea was to install parking meters in city lots. The students researched this and found that it was relatively inexpensive to purchase and install the meters and the revenue generated would make the purchase worthwhile.

Other students thought that eco-friendly street lighting would benefit the city and solar timers would ensure street lights would be shut off when it became light.

One group came up with the idea of installing wind turbines. Student research showed that these are very expensive to purchase and the idea was abandoned. It should be noted that all three of these ideas share the concept of a "start-up" cost that would later be recouped by the city. This long term thinking strategy is very insightful and proof that creative budgeting should be open-minded and considerate of all possibilities.

Budget Cuts

There were a few commonalities among students regarding areas to cut in the budget. Street lighting, the animal shelter, downtown renovation and employee benefits were the areas the majority of groups decided to focus on.

Most groups decided that street lighting was something that could be changed. Even though students stated that unsafe streets were a concern they felt that it was an area to cut in order to balance the budget. Many groups decided that the animal shelter's funding would have to be cut and some groups eliminated the shelter completely, choosing to pay another city to handle Peaceful Pines' animal issues.

Downtown renovation was something that quite a few students felt was unnecessary in times of economic hardship, even though they realized that a revitalized downtown could attract new businesses. A group voted to suspend the renovation until the economic outlook improved.

Employee benefits was by far the most common area for cuts among all of my classes. Studen…

Real-World Application

The students are finishing up their city budget presentations but we started class reading an article about Governor Snyder's budget proposal, which was released today.  The students are much more prepared to discuss the Michigan budget now that they have completed their budget simulation and they feel confident in expressing their opinions.  They also feel a greater stake in the outcome of the final Michigan budget and its ramifications.

I am very glad that we've done this project because a goal in teaching is to provide students with meaningful opportunities for learning and I feel that was accomplished.  This activity was challenging because it called on students to think and create, both on an intradisciplinary (economics and political science) and interdisciplinary (math, technology and language arts) level.

I will be compiling information about students' budget cuts, student ideas to generate revenue and thoughts on the project and on the iPads in my next several pos…


The students are anlayzing their data and creating their Keynote presentations.  Keynote is really user-friendly and some of the features are comparable to Numbers.  One example of this is saving and renaming work.  I am excited watching students navigate these similarities with confidence.  The day we saved our data tables in Numbers was a big event--I needed to stop helping students early and make sure I walked around the room before the hour ended to look at everyone's iPad to make sure they'd saved and renamed correctly (and show them how if they didn't know how).  In comparison, students already knew how to do these tasks our first day using Keynote and I was impressed with their knowledge.  We're becoming iPad savvy!

Finding clip art photos for Keynote presentations is, in my opinion, easier than in Powerpoint.  The students find an image, press on the photo, select "Save", go back to Keynote and it's right there under "Saved Images".  Eas…


My students are finding it difficult to balance the budget.  The feeling is that everything should be kept in the budget because all of it contributes to the security and well-being of their citizens.  Every time a student makes a suggestion there are other students pointing out the consequences.  Their frustration echoes the frustrations of government leaders all over the county, state and country.  I am eager to see what they decide to do and how they expect to raise revenue for next year.

Data Analysis

The students in second and fourth hour are starting to analyze their data. (First hour is a day behind due to a meeting during their class this week).  The difficult decisions a city goes through to balance their budget are weighing on students' minds today.  I can see that they're really debating how to cut as little as possible and still maintain the services citizens are used to.  Their final budget also has to benefit the common good. 

My role is to advocate for the areas that are going to be cut to really allow students to carefully consider and reconsider their decisions.  There are no correct answers and no easy answers.

Sample Revenue Table and Graph

This is a example of a student's Revenue Table and Graph.  (It's small but you can still see what the students have been working on for a few days now.) Students needed to learn how to create a subtotal formula in order to accurately reflect categories with subtotaled revenue, much like a real city budget). There are many more subtotaled sections in the Expenditures table for them to practice this skill.
(Thank you, Jeremy, for emailing your work to me.)


The best laid plans...

Data entry is going to take much longer than I first thought, and that's okay--it's part of the process of implementing a project for the first time. The students need to create a simple formula for all of the subtotaled categories I've created or their budgets won't calculate properly and the expenditures budget has a lot of subtotaled sections.

Students also had to think about why one of the expenditure categories (Public Safety) has a negative balance.  (That was intentional--students may have to lay off some Public Safety employees or make cuts in other parts of their budget to keep their citizens safe).

Students were once again helping meteach other classmates today when questions arose.  I enjoy watching these "computer experts" feel confident in their skills and assist their peers.

Monday we will continue data entry and I will patiently wait for groups to be ready to analyze their budgets.

Data Entry

We started entering our Revenue and Expenditures data today (we'll finish tomorrow) and the students are becoming more comfortable and proficient with Numbers.  Saving documents to Numbers is something the students were unfamiliar with so we are learning how to do it together. 

Another issue today dealt with widening cells.  One of my fourth hour students figured it out and taught the class.  I enjoy having the students show their classmates what they know--it makes the "teacher" feel good and their peers appreciate it, as well.

Tomorrow is the beginning of what I've been waiting for: discussions and debates about the budget.

"This is so cool!"

That was pretty much the phrase for the day. 

My classes worked with their iPads today for the first time and were really impressed with them.  They used the Keynote and Numbers tutorials and I like how much there was for them to learn and work with--the tutorials are very thorough.  They kept students engaged and they were helping each other with the practice activities while I monitored and provided assistance, as well.

Interestingly, the room was quiet every class period as my students were engrossed in learning.  This technology kept them very focused and they really appreciated being able to use it.  I am pleasantly surprised by how smoothly it all fell into place. All in all, a terrific start!

The "What" and "Why" of our Project

Tomorrow my students will be receiving the specifics of our project.  The objective is that students are members of the (fictional) Peaceful Pines, Michigan City Council and they must balance the city budget.  I will give them data that shows a budget that's approximately 2 million dollars in the red and they must analyze it and determine how to either generate more revenue for the city, make cuts to city services, or (most likely), both.

We're doing this simulation for many reasons.  Students will be using reasoning skills to justify their final budgets.  I expect there to be great discussion and debate amongst group members as to how to rank what they view as important to city residents.  They will have to use critical thinking skills when they persuade group members to see their viewpoints and to explain to their residents why they must make cuts.  The students will also use the iPads to create spreadsheets, prepare a Keynote presentation of their findings and write about t…

Pages, Keynote and Numbers Videos

Today my classes finished viewing all three of the application videos from Apple.  Seeing what each app could do made my students feel more comfortable with the programs and more ready than ever to get started. Keynote seemed to be the favorite app--they loved all of the animation it provided.

I also pointed out to my students that I would be asking them throughout our experience for insight as to why iPads are useful in a classroom and what makes the iPad different than a standard laptop or desktop computer. I look forward to their thoughts.

Introducing Pages

I spoke to each of the classes today about the project and the apps we'll be using.  Some of my students have little to no experience with iPads, others not only are familiar with them but own one.  We started watching the Pages video today and the students couldn't wait to work with it!  They are particularly impressed with its ability to wrap text around pictures.  They were also excited about the touch-screen capability, unlike typical computers.  Tomorrow we will examine Numbers.

Preparing Students for the iPads

The iPads will be in my classroom soon and I'm trying to decide how to help the students in my classes that (like me) haven't had a lot of experience using them.

I think I will do this by downloading the videos of the apps we will be using (Pages, Keynote and Numbers), have them watch the videos and write down their thoughts.  My district Moodle page has many links to resources and tutorials to help me. After my preview students will get a feel of how iPads work and all of the new and interesting features available to them. They'll have a bit more prior knowledge and that will shorten the learning curve so that we can dive in and get to our project.


After watching the app videos I am very excited to start working with the iPads! I know my students will be, too, and we're going to make the most of the time they're in our classroom.