Thematic US History: Pick Your Path through US Foreign Policy

Moving ahead with the theme of foreign policy in US history, we decided to allow students to choose their own path. They could opt for a more structured, chronological approach where the work would be guided by the teacher. They could opt out and dive deeply into an episode in US history, such as the Vietnam War or the Bay of Pigs. They could work cooperatively with a partner or two to look at something a little larger like US relations with East Asia.

For the last several classes, I split my time between guiding discussion for the chronological group and checking in with the individual researchers. The kids were a little concerned about how it would all come together. I am frankly not sure what the end result will be – that is a conversation for next class. But I did see things come together a bit in the last two days.

Students came to class prepared to participate in an EdCafe – a student led discussion class modeled along the lines of EdCamp, with different sessions proposed and chosen by the students. I heard some excellent conversations, despite the fact that we are only halfway through the unit. When one student was leading a discussion about the Spanish-American War and began talking about how the Filipinos did not welcome the American presence, and the Americans seemed surprised, another student noted that his research into the Bay of Pigs indicated that the US was surprised to find that the Cubans did not welcome the invasion and actually supported Castro. There I saw the beginnings of the important connections students can make, even when they follow different paths.

Giving student choice seems to have created greater buy-in from many students. Tomorrow they will let me know how they want to be assessed, and we will create a class rubric. Actually, they will create a class rubric. Stay tuned.

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