The Room Where it Happens

This week’s blogger is Joe Zlatnik, 8th grade American History teacher in the Basehor-Linwood school district near Kansas City.

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hamilton-logoThe Broadway musical, Hamilton, is everywhere! In the past year, the musical has become a cultural phenomena that has taken the US by storm. As a lover of history, I was quick to jump on the Hamilton bandwagon. History tied in with incredible music and lyrics is a powerful medium for telling a story that many Americans are not familiar with.

I always understood Alexander Hamilton as the antithesis to Thomas Jefferson. He was the “bad guy” in the story who favored strong, British-style governmental institutions and industrialization while Jefferson favored smaller government and a more agrarian society. After listening to the Hamilton soundtrack and doing some research, I discovered that this popular version of history is not entirely accurate.

But while it is true that not all details in the musical are historically accurate, the overall story is one worth listening to and one worth introducing to your students.

Now that we are halfway into the school year, I know that my students LOVE Hamilton! Initially, however, I was very hesitant to introduce the musical into my classroom. There is some inappropriate language, the story is not 100% factual, and I was not sure if my students would appreciate it. I am very glad to report that introducing the Hamilton musical into my classroom has been one of the best decisions I have made as an educator.

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I even have a handful of 8th grade students attempting to read the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton, as they are interested in the history surrounding the man.

I spoke with my administration about bringing the musical into my classroom to discuss issues of adult themes and language. I also sent an email home to parents assuring them we will be using the lyrics to study history. I shared that I believed there was much to be gained from using a culturally relevant musical in history class and that I believe students will really get into it. The response from parents has been incredibly positive!

I first introduced my students to the musical when we were beginning our study of the American Revolution. I told them about the musical, the awards it had won, and I shared how much I enjoyed it. We then occasionally listened to applicable songs and discussed the lyrics and the story they tell.

In my building, we have 1-to-1 iPads so it is easy to kick out lyrics to students so they can follow along. Thus far we have used the following songs:

  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Aaron Burr, Sir
  • My Shot
  • Farmer Refuted
  • You’ll Be Back
  • Right Hand Man
  • Guns and Ships
  • Yorktown
  • What Comes Next?
  • Non-Stop

All of these songs are just a few minutes in length and can provide a great opportunity for class discussion that dives deeper into content. I have also collaborated with an ELA teacher who has used the lyrics to show examples of figurative language.

On my end of semester student surveys, I had multiple students mention their favorite thing from the first semester was when a fellow teacher came into the room and we played out the Farmer Refuted debate between Hamilton and Samuel Seabury.

I’ve pasted several links to help you implement the Hamilton musical into your classroom. I believe your students will really enjoy being in the room where it happens! Please contact me if I can help in any way.

About Kori Green

I teach 8th grade social studies at El Dorado Middle School in El Dorado, KS. I enjoy U.S. history, dabble in British history, and love incorporating technology in the classroom.

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