“I want to learn more about the experience of Native Americans and how Manifest Destiny and the Removal Act affected them?”
“I wonder what smaller, less studied events happened that led to major events ie the Civil War”
“How is Manifest Destiny a reflection of human desire?”
“Why did Washington’s vision of an undivided nation die so quickly?”
“Why are/were there only two powerful parties?”
“What effect did Reconstruction have on the civil rights movement?”
“I wonder how American art and literature changed from the Civil War era to the Industrialized era?”
“I wonder about the pursuit of equality (gender, race, etc) over time.”
“I wonder what was happening here in Baltimore during the Gilded Age.”
These are some of the responses from my students when I asked them what they wanted to learn more about now that we are halfway through our chronological overview of US history.
Although we are teaching a thematic US history course this year, we decided to begin with a chronological overview. We chose to use Paul Boyer’s American History: A Very Short Introduction for the first unit of the course. In nine classes, we will have taken the kids from the colonial era to present day. The book is small, with nine chapters that are fifteen pages long each. We are having the students identify key themes and events from each chapter, and we are crafting a timeline that will anchor the rest of the course.
Students have recognized the significance of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Spanish-American War, both of which they feel have been absent from their previous courses in American History. They are beginning to identify topics they want to investigate further when we dive more deeply into our themes. But they are also able to see the change and continuity over time. In four more class periods we will be chronologically at the present.
Then, we will begin our first theme – American Immigration. Students are identifying times, episodes and laws they want to investigate when we get there in about a week and a half.
While I am committed to inquiry and to thematic teaching, I think the time we are taking to build a basic chronology will make thematic teaching and learning even more powerful.