Teach American History Blog

All Sorts of Fun

For this blog entry, I have been collecting a plethora of online sources and computer programs that could be very useful in your classrooms. I will start with an online game: "A Sailor's Life for Me", created by the USS Constitution Museum. Players start off by enlisting in the US navy just before the War of 1812, and get to be a part of the crew on "Old Ironsides." You start off as a cabin boy, but by performing well at your tasks, one can be promoted through the ranks. And who wouldn't want to virtually scrub the deck with holystones, smash bilge rats with a club, and be a powder monkey? (Although, to be honest, having to carry the officer's chamber pots to the head every evening can be a bit tiresome.) Players can gain the respect of their fellow crew as well, through sharing rations or playing games; however, being a snitch or troublemaker or liar can cause morale problems as well. All in all, a good game to explore the rough-and-tumble life on board an early nineteenth century warship. If you are lookin for more than a game, but think naval material would still be useful, the same museum has created lesson plans that explore the ship, the war, and other historical themes that can be found on their website, "All Hands on Deck" . If you are looking for other ideas about the War of 1812, the TeachingHistory.org website has a new special section devoted to it.

Looking for iPad, iPhone, or Android apps that could be used in your classroom? Here are two suggestions. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has created two that involve using all sorts of primary sources. The first is primarily for iPads, and the link to iTunes for it can be found here. It is called the DocsTeach App, and is an extension of their website, DocsTeach.org. The website provides thousands of documents and activities (after registering, of course). The free app does something similar, in that users can browse through topics connected to the various historical eras and examine documents and images. In one of the civics lessons, for example, users must match up primary sources with the section of the Constitution that applies to them. Very interesting stuff. The second NARA app works not only on Apple products but also has an Android version, either of which can be found here. The app is entitled "Today's Document"; the NARA researchers have pulled one document dated from every day to feature some important event from American History. Yesterday's document (April 12) was a letter that Harry Truman wrote to a family member just hours before FDR died. Today's document is a letter from an elementary student in 1989 expressing her anger over the Exxon Valdez oil spill (remember that?).

Finally, if you are looking for more "content," or a refresher college course (without the pressure of papers and exams), check out Yale University's Open Courses. They have selections from History, but they also have Literature, Economics, and a host of others. Browse around; each course has video-taped lectures, transcripts, suggested readings, and more, all without charge. There are all kinds of interesting things that can be found, even in topics that may not seem directly applicable to US History. For example, one course is on Epidemics since 1600. Some of the lectures are on smallpox, which might be useful for colonial studies, but there is a later lecture that I found very fascinating: Lecture 21, The Tuskegee Experiment. This was a government-funded program that lasted from 1932-1972; the purpose was to examine the untreated progression of syphilis withing the African-American male body. The study was partially founded on the (racist) belief that the progression would be different for blacks due to their less-developed mental capabilities. The men pariticipating in the program believed they were receiving treatment for "bad blood," but were, in fact, receiving nothing other than aspirin to insure that the disease (easily treatable with penicillin after the 1940s) had free reign. A very tragic and disturbing story. Under African American Studies, there is another course that is full of civil rights history and racial issues that might provide added content for your classrooms. All of this is in addition to the course on the American Revolution and Constitution and the course on the Civil War and Reconstruction (this one taught by Dave Blight, the author of Race and Reunion, which 5th and 11th grade teachers received earlier this year). I fully enjoy listening in on these lectures - no pressure, at my own pace, when I want. A great opportunity from a top-of-the-line University.

When you have a chance, check out some of these sources. When you do, if you figure out a way to use some of them in your classroom, won't you share it with the group? Remember, posting a lesson plan or idea on the wiki or making a significant comment on this blog below will earn you precious PD hours!

Posted by Jason Mead - Friday, 04/13/2012, 08:52 AM - Comments -