The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Month: February 2013

Expanding on Westward Expansion

By Guest Blogger Brian Schum, Choices Teaching Fellow

My favorite Choices unit to use is Westward Expansion: A New History because it does such a good job of making the complex relationships that existed on shifting peripherals of expansion so tangible to students. While the case study approach is excellent for diving deep into the topic, I always stress about providing enough “coverage” for the rest of the standards involved in the topic. This year I balanced the need for both while incorporating technology and project based learning.

I took an approach to the unit where I started with a very broad overview of the topic so that students developed an idea of how all the events were connected. Instead of lecturing I had students complete a Western Expansion Webquest that was created using Thinglink which allows the user to add interactive links and notations to pictures. I added some interesting sources (they enjoyed the Donner Party video the most) to get students curious about the topic and to spark some questions. I also purposely added biased depictions of Native Americans to fuel our later conversations about historical perspective. Students accessed the webquest and accompanying webquest questions through Edmodo.

Once students completed the webquest we were able to start having discussions and they SOAPed the American Progress picture based on what they had learned. From there we worked through the Choices lessons including the analysis of the Kiowas Meet Smallpox myth, Maps from Four Perspectives, and O’odham Calendar Sticks to slowly narrow our focus on southern Arizona before culminating in the role play activity.

The Choices unit contains an interesting project idea for designing an exhibit for a visitor center that explains the different perspectives that led to conflict in southern Arizona. However, I wanted my students to take the history skills they had practiced and apply them while also addressing historical perspective in the broader picture of other Westward Expansion events. I designed a new Western Expansion Exhibit Project (note the embedded hyperlinks with individual project instructions) that allowed students to have a great deal of choice in the topics and project types that they completed to showcase their learning.

Students did an amazing job creating interesting projects and wound up being able to share them with an authentic audience of fellow middle school students from Australia that we communicated with through Edmodo. This also led to some further discussion and comparisons between the “silent histories” of Native Americans and the aboriginal people of Australia.


Westward Expansion: A New History is available from The Choices Program website. It is also available as an iBooks Textbook from the iBookstore.


Teaching About North Korea and Nuclear Weapons

North Korea’s recent nuclear test is a reminder of the serious challenges facing the United States and other countries in the region. The video shows high school students doing the role-play simulation from Conflict on the Korean Peninsula: North Korea and the Nuclear Threat. Although the video was made before the February 13, 2013 test, it illustrates how well a role-play simulation engages students with a complex topic.

In addition, in the coming weeks Choices is preparing to release a revised edition of The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons. The edition will help students consider President Obama’s  goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Globalization in a Modern Asian Experience Class

by Guest Blogger Sophia Bae, Syosset High School


Robert Scoble

One of the main topics I address in my Modern Asian Experience class is globalization and the interconnectedness of the world. It is a topic of relevance that has many manifestations – whether we are discussing the explosive popularity of Psy’s Gangnam Style, comparing the benefits and drawbacks of our education systems in relation to China and Japan, or exploring the disappearance of a manufacturing base in America, in order to reflect on our societal and economic interdependence.

The Choices Unit, International Trade: Competition and Cooperation in a Globalized World, provides substance and enrichment to our class discussions. The student readings provide a valuable background in setting up the historical context of trade and globalization as well as introduce key definitions of important economic terms such as comparative advantage, protectionism, and World Trade Organization (WTO), etc.

For this unit, I use Mardi Gras, Made in China, a 2006 documentary by David Redmon that follows the life-cycle of Mardi-Gras beads from a small factory in Fuzhou, China to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

I also utilize Thomas Friedman’s 2004 documentary, The Other Side of Outsourcing, which explores the impact of globalization in India. In addition, the class examines numerous current events articles that address issues of labor in the United States and China, as well as controversies involving working conditions at Foxconn, which manufacture many familiar products such as iphones and ipads. The activities and role-playing options from the Choices Unit is an excellent way to engage in an in-depth discussion of the role of values in creating economic policies, whether from a U.S. perspective or the perspective of other countries.

While I used the presentation of options suggested by the Choices unit, I created my own approach to option 5. For the concluding activity, the students work in small groups with the goal of producing an agreed upon option 5. This exercise requires them to actively articulate their key values and use their negotiation skills while encouraging students to reflect on labor laws and policies regarding corporate and individual responsibilities. It also allows the groups to recognize the limitations of what America as a single nation can do for other countries. Inevitably, the recognition of these limitations promotes discussions about national sovereignty and the need for workers in other countries to resolve their own problems. What I find particularly valuable about these discussions is that they become a concrete way for a student to argue his/her stance on economic and philosophical perspective of positive sum vs. zero sum game.

While this unit was used in my senior elective in regards to contemporary issues in Asia, I was also able to apply the assignment as part of an election project in my 9th grade AP World class that investigated the presidential candidates’ positions on economic and political issues. Furthermore, my colleagues plan to incorporate the materials in their senior economics classes, Economics of Inequality and AP Microeconomics


International Trade: Competition and Cooperation in a Globalized World is available from The Choices Program website. It is also available as an iBooks Textbook from the iBookstore.

iPads as Collaborative Student Tools

The classroom is a dynamic space, and iPads can be powerful tools for students to interact with one another. In this video from EdTechTeacher,  Greg Kulowiec shares six ways that students can use iPads to collaborate on projects. See his post on Edudemic for a breakdown of each way.

In every Choices curriculum unit students work in groups to have collaborative discussions, build on others’ ideas, and formulate persuasive arguments.  The apps mentioned in the video above would easily support this type of group work.

Learn more about Choices iBooks Textbooks and try one free here.

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