The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Month: March 2013

Making the Most of iBook’s Features in the Classroom

By Felicia Ostrom, Choices Teaching Fellow

I love the Choices approach to teaching historical and current events, and I am so excited about the new iBooks format.  Whether you are a 1:1 iPad school, are working out of a cart of iPads, or just have a handful to use in your classroom, there are so many ways to use the iBooks Textbooks to make the material more engaging.  I’m excited to share with you some of my favorite features of the iBooks Textbooks, and some ideas for making the most of the features in your classroom.

Embedded Scholars Videos

One of the great resources of the Choices program is the Scholars Online videos.  Whether you show them in your classroom or post a link on your website for students to access, we know that they are a valuable teaching tool.  However, the videos are short and depending on when students access them, may be removed from the content.  With the iBooks Textbooks, the corresponding scholars videos are embedded in the text, along with a focus question.  This allows the students to view the video as they are reading the related material.  I believe this helps enhance the student text, and allows the students to establish connections and relevance between the text and the video.


Dictionary and Web Search

The Choices text is written at a high level, and probably contains at least a few terms with which students are unfamiliar.  The dictionary feature allows them to define a term with one click, making them much more likely to seek the meaning of a word.  This feature also allows the reader to immediately look up the term on Wikipedia or takes them to general web search results.  These tools are especially helpful if the students is seeking the meaning of a broad term, historical event or period, or person.


Media Galleries

Some students may be likely to skip the pictures in text, but I find students less likely to skip over pictures when they are “clickable” (let’s face it, students love to click and touch with technology).  The iBook version of Choices curriculum contains media galleries that allow the students to view a series of images.  For example, in the Human Rights iBook there is an image gallery of human rights throughout history.  This series of four images tells a story, and could be the source of great classroom conversation.  This may have been something an individual teacher would have had to compile in the past, but now Choices has it put together for you.


Text Selection Features

These are my very favorite aspects of using iBooks Textbooks in the classroom!  With the text selection and highlight features, students can use these tools in a variety of ways.  Highlighting is a simple feature and it is not unique to iPads, but it is a valuable tool for helping students to be active, engaged readers.  Some ideas for using the highlight feature:

  • If your students are working off an iPad cart, and you have multiple sections using the iBooks Textbooks, the highlight feature can be a tool to encourage collaboration between sections.  Assign a different color to each section.  Ask students to highlight sentences/phrases that they think are most important, and leave a note about the importance of what they highlighted or further questions.  Students get excited to see what the other students highlighted and wrote, and it is all entirely based on the text.  You can have each section comment on whether they agree or disagree with the other students’ highlighting, and have them write to each other. 
  • For Part III of the iBook, the case studies, have students choose two colors.  One color is for arguments in favor of the focus question and one color is for arguments against the focus question.  As students read the summary and primary documents associated with the case study, they can highlight important information to help form an opinion on the focus question.
  • Part IV of the iBook is the options portion.  Students can use the highlight and study card feature to help with their oral presentations.  We want our students to reference the text and have opinions rooted in fact.  This feature allows the students to highlight a quote in the text and then summarize it in their own words, write a question, or write an argument based off the quote.  It will then be generated as a study card with the text quote on one side, and the student’s note on the other side.  These digital cards will help the students during the role play.


Resources for Activities


Chapter 6 of the iBook contains many of the documents included in the Teacher Resource Book.  Your students will not require hard copies of the documents to use with the iBook material, and you will save yourself a trip to the copier.  I love that all the information is in one place, so students can combine their notes and study cards for the different sections.

The Choices iBooks Textbooks combine great features with the wonderful curriculum we’ve come to expect from Choices.  Your students will benefit and have fun learning with this interactive resource.

Teaching Human Rights in a World Affairs Course

by Mike Gleason, Westerly High School, RI

This past semester I used the Choices Program Competing Visions of Human Rights: Questions for U.S. Policy unit in my World Affairs class. This unit on its own is outstanding, especially the section on the history of human rights.  Another noteworthy activity is having the students define human rights and brainstorm a list of natural rights inherent to all humans. This led to much thought-provoking conversation among the students.

As part of the unit I used the teacher modules and short video clips from the PBS Documentary “Half the Sky“. This traces women’s oppression around the globe and was absolutely fascinating viewing for the students. The website for the documentary includes a viewing guide and lesson plans.  This documentary created student interest in the topic and when we role-played the options for the Choices unit, the students made reference of and connections to the documentary.  Using these two resources together strengthened the Choices unit and made it more “real” for the students.  They had a visual to the suffering and plight of women around the globe and then connected it to the U.S. role in regards to human rights policy.  At the end of the unit, students’ comments on the impact this unit had on them confirmed my observation that using these two resources together deepens the learning.

Teaching Human Rights: Sudan, Syria, and R2P

Josie Perry, Choices Teaching Fellow
Rising Sun High School-North East, MD

As I began teaching the Competing Visions on Human Rights: Questions for US Policy unit, I wanted to pre-assess my students’ opinions on US involvement in international affairs, so I had my students watch The Devil Came on Horseback.  The students were fascinated by the documentary because most of them were unaware of the genocide happening in Sudan.  After they viewed the documentary, we had a Touchstones discussion focusing on international intervention in human rights violations.  Touchstones is a discussion format that my district is implementing in all content areas.  It is based on the students reading a text and then discussing a central question.  It is a student-driven activity where the teacher assumes the role of observer.  My initial question was:

If you see someone mistreating another person, how do you respond:

  1. Walk away because it’s none of my business.
  2. Get someone to help me diffuse the situation between the two people.
  3. Step in and help only if I know the person who is being mistreated.
  4. Step in and help the person who is being mistreated because it is the right thing to do.


Students answered the initial question independently and then shared their responses in small groups.  Then, as a class, we read “This I Believe” by Sunita, who was an aid worker in Sudan.  In this piece, Sunita proposes that all people have a responsibility to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, which is a similar message to Brian Steidle’s in The Devil Came on Horseback.  The students had many questions about the situation in Sudan, so it was difficult for me to act as only an observer for this discussion.  I was amazed at the students’ poignant thoughts on the topic of intervention!  Students were able to see the challenges of any type of intervention and how complex international events can be in today’s globalized world.

I ended the unit by revisiting the question of international intervention in human rights issues and we focused on the current situation in Syria.  I used the AP interactive on Syria and BBC News Syria: The Story of the Conflict sites to provide my students with the background on the conflict.  Then we read “Responsibility to Protect: The Moral Imperative to Intervene in Syria” by James P. Rudolph and discussed R2P within the context of the Syrian situation.  The students’ discussions were so rich and meaningful.  It was one of those days that reminded me why I chose teaching!  Throughout the unit, students gained a greater understanding of the complexity of human rights and the existing paradox in US human rights policy.


Sunita. “This I Believe.” This I Believe RSS. N.p., 4 Sept. 2006. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.

Rudolph, James P. “‘Responsibility to Protect’: The Moral Imperative to Intervene in…” Christian Science Monitor. 08 Mar 2012: n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 03 Mar 2013.

Competing Visions on Human Rights: Questions for US Policy is available from The Choices Program website. It is also available as a Free iBooks Textbook from the iBookstore.

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