Category Archives: museum

A TOP Experience

Brandenburg Tor
Selfie at the Brandenburg Gate.

We all know that travel can enrich our teaching, provide us with experiences that we bring back to our students to will help them to better grasp historical events and far flung locales. This fall I’m bringing Germany back to my students.

Mid-July and hot as an oven outside with just under a month until we report back for another school year. Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with your family and probably too the opportunity to partake of some professional development. If you stayed close to home I bet you checked out a Kansas Impact Institute, #ksedcamp and/or Podstock.  If you decided to go a little farther afield you likely spent a week or three with the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Gilder-Lehrman or any number of programs provided by foundations and museums around the country.

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This summer, I had the honor of being selected a TOP Fellow. If you haven’t heard of the Transatlantic Outreach Program, please check them out; if you’ve attended one of their workshops or their reception at NCSS – you need to apply! TOP sends six groups of educators to Germany every summer for two week tours that are truly extraordinary. Every tour is tailored  to the interests of the selected educators and lovingly crafted by one of the TOP employees who will guide your trip.

Over two weeks and five cities I was afforded experiences that will take me a while to unpack (literally and figuratively). Most of the time when you get to travel, you do your best to hit some of the key points of interest and probably do some research to find a couple of places off the beaten path. This beauty of this trip is its access to places that the average tourist doesn’t get to see. In order to keep this blog-sized, I’m going to focus on the division between East and West Germany.

Care package
The witness who shared with us said the smell of these care packages were such a big part of the memory she recreated one.

Everyone (and it does seem like everyone) goes by Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, our group got to visit the Point Alpha Memorial in central Germany near the town of Geisa. One of the American checkpoints during the division, you can see what the border looked like and get the view from the American observation post. The House on the Border contains exhibits that tell the story of how the wall divided families and those who risked crossing. We got to hear from a woman who lived in former East Germany recount her experiences and how much the care packages sent from relatives in the West. It’s not all political, there’s a great display upstairs geared toward children that examines how the border created a green zone that allowed native wildlife to flourish.

Berlin Wall 1961-1989
Marker for the former location of the Wall.

While you’re in Berlin, the former location of the wall is marked throughout the city, but you really must try to make it to the Berlin Wall Memorial. This outdoor memorial is a thoughtful exploration of how the Wall split a city. The open space includes an excavation of where houses once stood, along with video clips of how people used these houses to escape to the West before they were demolished. A few of the buildings along the memorial have billboard-like pictures on their side showing how the streets once looked. A key element of the Memorial are the portraits of the 139 people who died at the wall, some of these individuals are also memorialized with plaques on the ground to mark the location of their death.

Berlin Wall Memorial
Part of the memorial on the location of the Wall; the green space is preserved as the no man’s land between barricades.

These were only two of the locations we visited, I’ll unpack others in additional posts and for my students throughout the upcoming year. I hope you’ve had the opportunity this summer to find some experiences of your own to bring back to your students.

Black History 365

Cross-post by Glenn Wiebe from his site, History Tech.

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The beauty of studying history is that you can never learn it all. There’s always something new to discover. A fresh piece of evidence. Another interpretation. A person or event or idea that has always been there . . . just waiting to be uncovered.

Maybe it’s a small discovery that changes how you personally understand the world. This week I learned that Paul Revere was an amateur dentist. (And if you’re like me, there’s now an image in your head of Revere on a horse – “The cavities are coming! The cavities are coming!”)

Not earth-shattering. But still cool.

hiddenfigures2And then there are those people and events that are just a bit bigger and should change how we all see the world. The movie and book Hidden Figures are like that.

Seriously? How did that slip by?

African American women calculating aeronautical and astronomical math, helping push the United States into space? In the Jim Crow South? Now that’s cool. And powerful. And part of the American story. But up until the last few years, the story of people like Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson was relatively unknown and certainly not mentioned in any of the history classes I ever took.

Which brings us to February.

And Black History Month.

I’m always a bit conflicted about the idea. The concept of a month specifically set aside for the study of Black History started back in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” That particular week was chosen because it marked the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

In 1976, the federal government followed the lead of the Black United Students at Kent State and established the entire month as Black History Month. President Ford urged Americans, and especially teachers and schools, to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

The hope was that Black History Month would provide a very intentional time for all of us to remember together the struggles of African Americans to obtain the basic civil rights afforded to others, the challenges African Americans have faced for centuries, and the contributions of African Americans to who we are. But . . . the real hope was Continue reading Black History 365

Student Action: The Power Students Have To Make Change

Students around the nation are talking about the presidential election. I remember my middle school and high school days watching presidential elections and feeling a need to take part in some way, shape, or form. It was fun to have mock elections but I knew that those votes just stayed in the classroom and would not affect the actual vote tally. I would go home those nights watching the local news seeing the individual votes go up and up and up as the polls closed but knowing none of those votes were mine.

It made me feel powerless.

No matter who your students supported, many of them will feel that same powerlessness and want to take some form of action. As history educators, we can use examples of Continue reading Student Action: The Power Students Have To Make Change

Pre-Service Teachers Contribute Curriculum

Pre-Service teachers are getting into the game and classroom teachers can benefit. The HGSS undergraduates at KU have a thriving student chapter of the National Council for the Social Studies  – the Kansas University Council for the Social Studies (KUCSS) – and they’ve been using their powers for good.

KUCSS has partnered with the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence, Kansas to create instructional materials for middle and high school social studies teachers. The Dole Institute of Politics has launched an online exhibit commemorating Dole and his service in WWII which resulted in a debilitating injury that would later largely shape his work as a Senator resulting in the Americans with Disabilities Act (1995).

If you’d like to read more about the collection and their collaboration with KUCSS you can check out the full article here.

Make sure to check out the WWII Letter Collection from the Dole Institute and follow the In the Classroom link for the lesson plan.

And if you haven’t taken the opportunity to visit the Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence it’s well worth a trip. Heck, make an I-70 road trip of it: start at the Eisenhower Presidential Center in Abilene, hit the Dole Institute, and then on to Liberty, Missouri for the Truman Presidential Library and Museum – just imagine all the government fun!

Interactive maps compare current cities to 19th century versions

dc-spyglass-viewI love the Smithsonian magazine. Both the print and online versions. The articles are incredibly cool and range all over the place, from why we incorrectly believe that carrots help us see better to what people snacked on during the 1963 March on Washington.

During a recent run through their online history articles, I ran across a very cool interactive activity that lets you look at past and present maps of six major US cities. The magazine recently dipped into David Rumsey‘s collection of over 150,000 maps to find some of the best representations of American cities over the past couple hundred years. With some simple programming, they were able to overlay images of vintage maps of some major cities onto satellite images from today. Continue reading Interactive maps compare current cities to 19th century versions