The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Month: May 2013

The Costs of War Project

by Josie Perry, Choices Teaching Fellow, Rising Sun High School, MD


Whenever I am in need of new resources for my Contemporary World Studies course, my first go-to site is always the Choices website.  As I was nearing the end of my unit on Afghanistan, I came across the Costs of War Project in Teaching with the News.  The Costs of War Project allows students “to explore the domestic and international costs and consequences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  The project allows students to go well beyond the financial and human costs of the wars.  Students explore statistics on the wars’ impact on the political, social, and economic lives of Americans, Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis.  The project provides students with a different perspective on war and it highlights how the wars have changed things in those countries as well as in the US.

As this was my first time using the Costs of War Project, I followed the lesson plan provided on the Choices website.  Rather than having all students research every topic, I had the students work in cooperative groups to research the various main topics.   Each group member was assigned a subtopic from the website and they worked together to prepare a presentation to share with the class.  As the groups presented, the class took notes on the graphic organizer provided with the lesson.  I used the discussion questions provided within the lesson plan to review with the students what they had learned from the presentations.  As a closure activity, after reading “The Alternatives to A Military Response to 9-11,” I had the students respond to the question “Was military action necessary after 9-11?”  The Costs of War Project and the accompanying lesson are great teaching tools that I will definitely use again!

The Costs of War lesson is a good supplement to A Global Controversy: The U.S. Invasion of Iraq also available in the iBookstore.

The Drone Wars

President Obama spoke today on an aspect of U.S. foreign policy that arose in the years after 9/11: the use of drones to attack suspected terrorists.

Choices has a Teaching with the News lesson that helps students analyze the issues and controversies surrounding the U.S. use of drones. The lesson draws on three videos of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Rohde explaining some of the issues.

Until now, the United States has not acknowledged that they conduct these drone attacks. But it has been an open secret that the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) runs the drone program, which officials claim is one of the most successful programs against al Qaeda. Supporters argue that the attacks have forced al Qaeda to operate more cautiously.

There were many areas where we once had freedom, but now they have been lost…. We are the ones that are losing people, we are the ones facing shortages of resources. Our land is shrinking and drones are flying in the sky.” 

—Ustadh Ahmad Farooq, al Qaeda’s media chief in Pakistan, January 23, 2011

Because the program is secret, the method for determining who or what is a legitimate target is unknown. Critics argue that any U.S. government program designed to kill people should receive more public scrutiny.


Meet the Choices Staff – Leah – International Education Intern

Tell us a little about yourself & your background

I grew up in North Carolina and began working for Choices after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In college, I worked for an education non-profit at the NC General Assembly and studied education policy while living in Chile and Argentina. Both of these experiences continue to impact my work and research interests today.


What is your favorite Choices Curriculum Unit? Why?

When Maya and I arrived at Choices, the writing team was in the process of editing Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. I immediately felt connected to this unit having spent time in Mississippi over the last few years and taken classes on the movement in college. I love this curriculum because it provides an intimate look at the experiences of activists and explores civil rights challenges that remain today. Plus, who wouldn’t be captivated by these amazing Scholars Online videos?


Tell us something interesting about yourself?

In high school, I worked at an old-fashioned soda shop for a few years. I can make a pretty great milkshake!


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

There are so many great things about the Choices Staff, it is hard to narrow it down to one. But I’d have to say the best part about working here might be the fact that I am surrounded by people who are interested in what is going on in the world and also have a passion for education.


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

Much of the history I’m interested in revolves around the 1960s and ‘70s. Ever since reading The Things They Carried in high school, I’ve been interested in the Vietnam War. In college, I enjoyed taking classes on the civil rights movement and, most recently, I’ve been trying to learn more about Latin American politics during this time. I enjoy learning about 1960s Latin America most through literature and art.


What are you working on now?

Maya and I are currently revising the unit, India’s Independence and the Question of Partition. The revised curriculum will focus on the experience of partition in the province of Bengal (modern day Bangladesh). I am thrilled about the revisions we’ve made based on our discussions with scholars at Brown and other universities.


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

I really enjoy working with the writing team to brainstorm unique ways we can present history, whether it’s through images, songs, or primary source documents. There’s a creative element to the process that makes writing Choices curricula exciting.


Meet the Choices Staff – Maya – International Education Intern

Tell us a little about yourself & your background.

I always find this question difficult to answer, but here is my best attempt. I am half-Swedish and half-American and grew up in Dubai, U.A.E and Stockholm, Sweden. I moved to the United States to attend Macalester College and ended up staying after I graduated. This August marks my first year at Choices.

What is your favorite Choices Curriculum Unit? Why?

Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. I really like the unit’s lessons, especially “Voices from Mississippi,” a collection of primary sources that detail the experiences of female student activists in Mississippi.

Tell us something interesting about yourself?

I love bike riding! I picked it up as a hobby when I lived in the Twin Cities, which has one of the most extensive networks of urban bike paths in the country.

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

From day one, everyone has been very welcoming!

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

Tanya, Choices’ Video and New Media Producer, provided she is willing! I would appreciate knowing how to edit the footage for our Scholars Online Videos.

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

Either the immediate aftermath of World War II in Europe or women’s history.

What are you working on now?

Leah and I are working on an upcoming unit, India’s Independence and the Partition of 1947. It will examine the era of British colonialism in India, the struggle for independence, and the legacy of the 1947 partition.

IB 20th Century Course: Cold War Historiography

by Melinda Gale, 2012 Choices Teaching Fellow

I’m reading through my student’s policy papers directed at President Truman as IB 20th Century students conclude their study of the Origins of the Cold War. I am again inspired both by the level of detail in their knowledge (given that we spent less than 3 weeks on the topic), and the grace and commitment with which they infuse their own values into these policy directives.  No doubt actually assuming the roles of key players and debating the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. potential policy options has made the subject both more concrete and heightened their awareness that consequences of these decisions are both powerful and germane to the world we live in.

This year, as an extension of this unit, students considered an element from the IB Curriculum: the role of Cold War historiography. While considering various historians’ perspectives, students categorized each perspective as orthodox, revisionist, or post-revisionist. The lesson culminated with students working in groups of 3 to design book jackets on a Cold War topic from each of the three perspectives. Each group had to produce 1 orthodox, 1 revisionist and 1 post-revisionist book jacket on the same topic.

The book jackets themselves had 4 sections:

  1. Cover with image and byline
  2. Event summary (inside front)
  3. About the author (inside back)
  4. Reviews (back).

The assignment also served as a review for Cold War topics as students were assigned to “write their book” about one of the following topics:

WW II, Tehran, Yalta, Potsdam, Kennan’s Long Telegram, The Iron Curtain Speech, the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, Soviet Occupation of Eastern Europe, the Czech Coup, the Berlin Blockade or Leadership Styles of Truman and Stalin.

The level of humor in their texts indicates to me that students are very comfortable with the concepts, and I attribute this level of comfort directly to their well-grounded understanding of the origins of the Cold War.


Meet the Choices Staff – Kathie

Kathie – Administrative Manager

Tell us a little about yourself

I was born and raised here in Rhode Island and am considered the unofficial tour guide for out of towners that want to see a bit of our great state. I truly love RI!

I worked for a local public school system for over 20 years. That experience has served me well here at Choices and provides a different perspective of what schools may be looking for and how they operate.

What is your favorite Choices Curriculum Unit?

I have to pick one??!! While I don’t really have much spare time here to read, I do poke through our titles. I found the history of China very interesting and am now learning more on the Middle East and the conflicts in that area.

Tell us something interesting about yourself?

I am a big goofball who loves a good laugh. I also firmly believe you can change someone’s day with the way you interact with them, so I don’t sweat the small stuff and concentrate on being happy and kind. I am also a decent soccer player, love to garden, quilt and be outdoors (oh the list is endless!).

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

I could score some great brownie points on this question 😉 Seriously though, I have never worked with such a great group of people. Collaboration is a central part of how we operate. There is a tremendous amount of mutual respect and never any finger pointing. If something isn’t right, it’s more the question on how we fix it then who is to blame.

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

Jillian (not that I really want her job) but I see what she outputs (amazing stuff!) and would love to have time to explore and play with more visual design stuff.

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

It is no joke when I say in my interview with Choices I was very clear that I hated history in high school (my worst subject and felt I should be up front and honest). I really feel if I had been taught with Choices materials it would have had a lot more meaningful. I learn something new here all the time and will continue to read through our titles to broaden my knowledge.

What does a typical day in the life of Kathie look like?

No day is the same here at Choices. My goal is to provide great customer service and keep the staff happy. My mornings always start with a cup of tea and then I dive right in to the normal admin stuff, answering thousands of emails (okay, maybe not thousands but a lot!) checking orders through our webstore, etc. At 10:30 I round staff up for our morning walk around the city. It’s a great opportunity for some fitness and fresh air! Once I return my day is a blur. I work closely with our student workers and other staff to ensure things run smoothly. If weather and time permit, an afternoon walk is squeezed in as well. Once my day here at Choices ends, it’s off to school where I am working on a computer degree. Somewhere in all of that I do manage to find time for family, friends and sleep ☺

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