The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Month: April 2013

Resources in the Public Domain

The Public Domain Review is a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation and features resources that are free and available to the public. Known for highlighting “the most interesting and unusual out-of-copyright works,” the Review may provide a set of images or old texts that will intrigue your students and get their creative juices flowing as they think about history. You can explore the site by topic (literature, science, history, etc.) or by medium (text, images, video, and audio). Within a few minutes of clicking around, I was able to find images from the first expedition to the South Pole, illustrations of The Odyssey, a collection of rare world  maps, and excerpts from Phillis Wheatley’s writings. The other great thing about this resource is that it constantly changes–contributors add to the site as other pieces of history outlive their copyright date.

Review the site before using with students as some resources may not be appropriate for class!

Meet the Choices Staff: Andy

Andy-Curriculum Development Director

Tell Us a little about yourself & your background.

I’ve lived in Rhode Island for the last eighteen years. I love the history of the state and the value that people here put on preserving and living amidst history. I live in a very old house (built in 1790) in Pawtuxet Village. Pawtuxet Village was the sight of a little-known, but according to Rhode Islanders—very significant—moment of armed resistance against Britain prior the Revolutionary War. The burning of the HMS Gaspee is celebrated with great enthusiasm by many thousands of Rhode Islanders every June. It all happens right down the street from me.

Being in interesting places has definitely stimulated my interest in history and international issues. I’ve had the privilege to live and work in several countries. For example, I spent time in the Soviet Union as it moved from perestroika to unraveling and witnessed some incredible things. I taught high school in Brazil from 1990-1992. These places and others created an interest in understanding the dynamics of those societies, which eventually led me to grad school and on to Choices.


What is your favorite Choices Curriculum Unit? Why?

My favorite is usually whatever we are working on revising or creating. The information is exciting and engaging and we are in contact with scholars who are excited about the topic too. That said, I am proud of materials that introduce new interpretations of history, provide access to topics not commonly covered, or help students wrestle with all sides of complex contemporary issues.


Tell us something interesting about yourself?

I worked as a maple sugarer in Vermont for a few seasons. In addition to hauling sap out of the woods, my job was to keep the fire stoked with the right balance of four-feet pieces of hard and soft cordwood. Hot maple syrup and sour dill pickles are a shockingly unexpected tasty combination.


What is the best part about working on the Choices Staff?

My colleagues are all super talented and committed to collaboration. Fortunately, they all like a good laugh as well.


If you could trade jobs with any other person on the Choices Staff who would it be and why?

I don’t think I have the talent to do what other people on staff do. I really enjoy what I do and wouldn’t want to trade.


What is your favorite period in history/Topic in social studies?

I am really interested in those moments when a society experiences a profound shift or upheaval. Revolts and rebellions, from the individual to the societal level, interest me. In addition, I also like drilling down to understand the experiences of non-elite members of a society


What are you working on now?

My writing colleagues and I are working on five major projects rights now. We are revising Russia’s Transformation to include the effect of Putin’s return to the presidency. We are well into a new curriculum on decolonization in Africa that will examine case studies in Ghana, Algeria, Kenya, and Congo. We are nearly finished with a major revision of our materials on Indian Independence that will reflect new scholarship on the topic. These three are all likely to be done by summer 2013. These two next projects will take a little longer. We are developing a new curriculum on contemporary Turkey. Finally, we working on a major update of our curriculum on American Revolution and Constitution. This too will reflect new scholarship and incorporate more social history.


What is the most interesting part of the curriculum design process?

There are lots of phases that are interesting and even fun. Collaborating with a scholar and hearing their views of what’s essential to cover provides shape to the research we do. Researching and discovering important and new interpretations of events is great, especially as all of us enjoy sharing this kind of thing with each other. We all sit in the same room and it’s not unusual to exclaim aloud about a new discovery or idea. As we do our research, collect sources, produce the Scholars Online videos, and develop the student text, there are some interesting moments when the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together. This is when there is a high degree of collaboration and vetting of ideas. It’s pretty interesting most of the time.

Virtual Exhibits

Teachers from all disciplines should check out the Google Cultural Institute. The institute partners with museums across the world to create virtual exhibits on topics including the Holocaust, Apartheid in South Africa, the Cold War, and the civil rights movement. Each exhibit paints a visually compelling story with the use of primary sources: photographs, posters, pamphlets, documents, etc. Exhibits also include short paragraphs that provide useful (and interesting) information, but the historical artifacts take center stage. The Civil Rights Movement in the Bay Area is one of my favorites. The Nelson Mandela Digital Archive Project is also fantastic. All in all, the Google Cultural Institute offers a dynamic lens into history. Watch the institute’s video below for further information on how to best navigate the website. Enjoy!


Meet the Choices Staff – Mimi

Mimi – Professional Development Director

Tell Us a little about yourself & your background.

I grew up in New Jersey and attended undergraduate school there, before moving to New England for graduate school. Since 3rd grade, I have always loved social studies, maps, and international travel. No one else in my family had or has any interest in these things — they are not sure where I came from!

My Masters degree is in International Development, but by the time I completed the program I realized I wanted to work in the U.S. changing people’s perceptions (or lack of) of the rest of the world, as opposed to working oversees. I feel grateful to have work that allows me to read and think about international topics.

I was also lucky enough to travel quite a bit before starting a family,

and I think that has also helped me feel well-prepared for my work.


What goes into planning a summer institute?

Lots! I begin by searching for and securing scholars who enjoy working with educators and can present their expertise in a manner that is accessible and interesting to teachers who work with younger students. I also need to work with a few Teaching Fellows from previous years who can help me develop and present the curriculum piece of the Institute.

It is important to select a good mix of educators who will “gel” during the week. We look for a diverse group in terms of school setting, number of years teaching, familiarity with Choices, etc. This is both an art and a science. We invest significant time and resources into the Institute, so we pay careful attention to each application we receive. I also strive to be clear about the outreach requirement of the Institute. While we want participants to experience a top-notch, program that is valuable for their own professional development — and they do — the leadership institute is just the first component of our Teaching Fellows program. Participants need to take what they have learned at the institute and share it with other educators. I hope that they want to do this not just because we require it, but because it is ultimately up to educators themselves to keep the social studies profession vibrant and strong by peer sharing of rich, effective social studies materials and strategies.

Luckily, planning the annual institute is a team effort. I turn to the writing staff for ideas on scholars, and our administrative manager handles the institute logistics. The director helps with the applicant selection process, and our social media/web person covers the publicity for the Institute. Working as a team, we are able to offer teachers an outstanding experience!


What is your favorite Choices Curriculum Unit? Why?

That is an impossible question to answer. Maybe Competing Visions of Human Rights, because the topic is so important and it can fit in every classroom. I also love that unit because it does such a great job of taking a complicated topic and making it accessible to students without trivializing it. Hmmm that would probably describe all of out units. The U.S. in Afghanistan is also a favorite because I have always had Afghanistan on my list bucket list of places to explore. Our Civil Rights unit is another favorite, because I am learning things from that unit that I never ever learned in school.


Tell us something interesting about yourself?

  1. I have two sons, 10 and 15, that I try Choices materials out on. Anything less than an A in social studies gets them in trouble, as does any peep about social studies being “boring.” I’m pretty sure their teachers are glad when they finish the class and move on to the next teacher…
  2. I think Providence is one of the greatest cities in the world, and if I didn’t work for Choices I might have to send my resume to the tourism department at Providence city hall.
  3. The worst job I ever had was in high school when I worked at a hard-boiled egg factory.

What is the best part about working on the Choices Staff?

In addition to the fact that I believe 110% in what we do, I like that we support each other. We gave our Director a surprise Apple Party, complete with a cake in the shape of an apple, when she was working hard to get our materials in iTunes. We had a surprise chocolate party for our front office person because…. well just because she loves chocolate and works hard to keep the front office humming. But beyond the parties, there is an understanding that everyone works hard, and we work as a real team. I can go to anyone and say “I am stuck on this, what do you think?” and I will get the feedback I need. I also appreciate that I can float a new idea, get feedback, and make it happen — such as our geography institute. Nobody ever says ”Oh we don’t do that here!”


If you could trade jobs with any other person on the Choices Staff who would it be and why?

I actually love my job, and I don’t think I’d want anyone else’s.


What is your favorite period in history/Topic in social studies?

My favorite topic in social studies would have to be geography, and I’d have to say the Islamic world. Seriously, how could anyone not love geography?


What are you working on now?

I am excited to be working on our geography institute that is coming up in June. This is the first time that Choices is offering a program specifically for this audience. Our materials are perfect for a geography teacher who is interested in helping students develop geographic questions and analyze current issues with a geographic lens. But at first glance, this fit may not be apparent. I look forward to introducing our materials to geography teachers and helping them think about ways to use our approach to promote geographic literacy.


Interesting Talk on North Korea

Choices recorded this talk to teachers by Jonathan Pollack, a leading expert on North Korea. The talk was in 2009, but most all is extremely relevant given the events there right now.

The talk has six parts, each fairly short, but packed with interesting information.

A History of North Korea
The Two Koreas
A Nuclear Timeline
Concerns About North Korea’s Nuclear Program
Where Do We Go from Here?

We also have a some additional resource suggestions here and a short curriculum with a roleplay, Conflict on the Korean Peninsula: North Korea and the Nuclear Threat.

Evolution of the Recent Conflict in Syria

Two years after popular demonstrations began, an estimated 70,000 Syrians have died and several million more have been displaced from their homes. As Brown University Professor Beshara Doumani remarks, “The optimism of the Arab Spring…has been replaced by the horror of protracted military conflict.” In this interview from the Watson Institute for International Studies, Professor Beshara Doumani, director of the Middle East Studies Program at Brown University, discusses the conflict with Emerson University Professor Yasser Munif.

Professor Munif explores the history of Syria in the region and the evolution of the recent conflict. Munif maps out major domestic and international players, explores the potential for political change, and envisions what conditions might bring about an end to the conflict. We recommend this interview for teachers, or advanced students that are familiar with the current state of affairs in Syria.

For a free online lesson that challenges students to explore the perspectives of domestic and international actors in the conflict, see The Conflict in Syria.

For more in-depth materials on the history of the region and the emergence of the Arab Spring, see The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy.

Beshara Doumani is a faculty fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies and director of the Middle East Studies program.


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