I have been very pleased with the professional growth that I was able to attain as a result of my experiences through the Teaching American History in South Carolina Summer Midlands Institute. Since I am a 5th grade teacher, all of the material we covered over the course of the institute was of value to me. The South Carolina standards that we are expected to cover in fifth grade encompass American history from Reconstruction to the Present. I have utilized much of the information from the cultural institutions and our Master Scholar, Paul Anderson, on several occasions.
Paul provided us with information and insight into many areas. The information that Paul provided in his lectures allows me to have one more source of information to draw from. This helps me to make my Social Studies lessons more interesting to students because I am able to provide them with information that they can’t find in their textbooks. It was especially helpful to have notes and information regarding history after World War II. The information has provided me with more confidence in this period from the Cold War through the present and will allow me to cover this material more thoroughly when I teach it this year.
The cultural institutions provided a wealth of information that has allowed me to refer students to local landmarks in our state and even in our city that directly relate to topics we discuss in class. Some specific, recent examples include discussion of the Woodrow Wilson home in downtown Columbia when we were doing some research on the president. We have also recently discussed Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, which has given me the opportunity to refer students to Sesquicentennial and Greenwood State Parks as New Deal, Civilian Conservation Corps projects. We even spoke about the gate at the entrance to Greenwood State Park being left unfinished because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Ultimately, I believe what makes Social Studies interesting for 5th graders or anyone is the little tidbits of information that allow them to make connections to their own experiences. The institute has been a great resource in that respect. I enjoy collecting the stories of history - the quirks of individual’s personalities, finding out who didn’t really get along with others, any juicy piece of information relating to intrigue or scandal, etc. Learning some of that background information helps my students to understand the motivations of countries and leaders. It makes Social Studies fun and interesting. I have discovered that when I can find a good story to use when introducing a topic or period of time I discuss with my students, they retain the information better and are more likely to share the information with others. I have had several parents tell me that their child really enjoys my class and then go on to explain how he or she has come home and related one of the stories I have shared. The cultural institutions and my research for these lessons have given me the opportunity to find more stories to share with my students.
The lesson I chose to teach for the portfolio assignment was “Lines Behind the Lines.” Students already had some background knowledge of the subject of World War I prior to beginning the lesson. This lesson was taught as a part of our discussion of the war in December. I began the lesson with the presentation and discussion of a streaming video on World War I.
In this lesson, students were asked to analyze a collection of letters written by a soldier, Cornelius Kollock, who was from South Carolina and was stationed for part of his training at Camp Jackson (now known as Fort Jackson) just before the U.S. became involved in the Great War. In the beginning, I gave each group only the letters with no transcripts and asked them to try to make as much sense of them as possible. Since 5th graders are a more capable bunch, I prefer to give them some time with the primary documents before giving them transcriptions. During the time they are viewing and attempting to decipher the originals, I provide little help to them because I like to see what they are able to discover about a primary document on their own.
After they had languished over the letters for a few minutes, I provided them with the transcripts and asked them to pull important facts from the letters. Students used this information to create a timeline of Cornelius Kollock’s experiences. Students then used their Social Studies books and notes from the video to create a timeline of important events related to World War I. Groups used these two timelines to create a “master” timeline on Timeliner software that merged the information from the two. This program offers several options in the type of timeline you can use. Each group was given the freedom to choose the type of timeline that best displayed the information they had gathered.
I believe the value of this lesson and activity lies in its ability to show students the human face of the war. Students were able to see how one soldier and his family were affected by the war. They were able to understand that life continued at home in spite of the war going on. Many of my boys were surprised to find mention of college football games between the Citadel and the University of South Carolina in one of the documents. When they constructed their timelines we were able to discuss how long the war had gone on before the United States got involved, how quickly the war ended after the U.S. entered, and how the events of the war related to this soldier’s life.
The lesson met my expectations over all. I was pleased with the product my students were able to create using the software. I believe, however, that I would have been just as pleased with a “paper and pencil” type of product. There was a high level of interest on the part of most students as the activity ran its course and that usually translates into a very good final product.
I will modify a few things when I teach this lesson again. Students had a difficult time understanding that the letters were written by different people, so I will spend some whole group instructional time analyzing selected documents the next time I use the lesson. I also chose not to use the extension activity of writing a letter from the perspective of a South Carolinian soldier to someone at home. I see that it would be beneficial to use this part of the lesson as a way for students to further synthesize the information they glean from the various sources they use during the course of instruction.
It is quite possible there are other things I will change the next time I use these lessons. I never teach the same lesson exactly the same way twice. I know I will find more resources through the cultural institution contacts I have made and continue to improve the way I teach Social Studies.