Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Past, Present, and Future
The American History curriculum that I teach to nine and ten year olds is basically the same course of study students receive in high school. The state assessments include questions that would give most adults a run for their money.
Dealing with students who begin the year thinking Robin Hood fought the American Revolution with help from SpongeBob and Gary the Snail and a belief that woodland creatures often broke into song with Pocohontas because "Disney says so" also makes my job daunting since "the test” is how I’m judged regarding my teaching capabilities.
That being said it is certainly an understatement to say that I love teaching history. History is one subject where small bits of knowledge can be used to review content as well as extend content in order to meet up with future content.
Let’s take John Quincy Adams and one little day in his life as an example. Let’s say we are discussing the presidency of John Quincy Adams and I want to get students to connect with him on the eve of his inauguration. Perhaps I’m attempting to get kids to write a journal entry from the point of view of Adams regarding his thoughts upon taking the nation’s highest office. We’ve talked about the hard fought election of 1824, so students have this as a base of knowledge to formulate their journal entry, but I’d like to take it one step further since past events shape our lives as much as current ones do.
I pull up an image on the classroom screen for student to view. Hands go up. That’s a good sign since they haven’t seen the image for several weeks. Students are able to tell me that the painting they see is John Trumbull’s Battle of Bunker Hill which depicts the death of Dr. Warren. I wrote about it some time ago here. We discuss the importance of the battle and then I bring up the image you see above with this post.
Is it just a big old pile of rocks?
No, it isn’t. The image is the Abigail Adams Cairn. A cairn is a heap of stones set up for a monument, landmark, or tombstone of some kind. With this knowledge students usually decide from the name that Abigail Adams is buried there.
No, she isn’t, but it does mark a particular spot.
It was from that spot where Abigail Adams and a seven year old John Quincy Adams witnessed the burning of Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill. It would seem that even in a seven year old mind John Quincy would understand the importance of what he witnessed that day especially knowing that his father was away at the time serving with the Second Continental Congress.
To help students connect even further to the events John Quincy Adams witnessed that day I add in the fact that Abigail Adams was keeping Dr. Warren’s children on that fateful day he lost his life. Later in the day after receiving word of Dr. Warren’s death, Abigail Adams along with John Quincy and Nabby, Dr. Warren’s oldest child, went up on the hill to view the battle.
Can you imagine their thoughts?
This sentence from from the National Parks Service website for the Adams Family homeplace says, John Quincy Adams was literally a child of the American Revolution. He absorbed in his earliest memories the sense of destiny his parents shared about the United States and dedicated his life to the republic's consolidation and expansion.
It’s only after this point that I bring students forward to the eve of the inauguration of John Quincy Adams and remind them that they are to write a journal entry regarding his feelings upon taking an office held by his father for a country birthed by his father and many other Patriots including Dr. Warren.
If you were writing the entry what would you say?