The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Author: Jillian Turbitt (page 2 of 4)

Cultivating Decision Makers after AP Exams

by Derek Reichenbecher, Choices Teaching Fellow
Howell High School, Farmingdale, NJ

I have been teaching Advanced Placement US History II for twelve years. A tricky part of teaching the class is that the American History timeline must be completed in time for the Advanced Placement Exam in early May. This leaves a full month between the completion of curriculum content and the district final exams. In order to motivate students as summer nears, I encourage them to apply what they learned throughout the year to the world they inherit. To do that I combine two Choices units: The Teacher’s Guide for the Fog of War and The U.S. Role in a Changing World. Students begin by completing background briefings in the US Role. This work and subsequent discussions help dovetail earlier class discussions with current policy and issues. We then watch and discuss the Errol Morris documentary THE FOG OF WAR, incorporating the accompanying lessons from the Choices’ Guide. After screening the film, students are asked to layout an overview of their preferred American foreign policy through a written assignment. They are expected to reference their own understanding of history as well as the issues and resources discussed through the Choices Program. Four pathways provided by the Choices unit are helpful as the students organize their own priorities and concerns. If time allows, students also explore the Choices role play at the end of the U.S. Role unit and deliberate on the best possible path forward for the United States.

It is critical that as teachers we not only provide students with facts and information, but also encourage them to think critically about their world. By using the Fog of War and the Choices Program units I aspire to create a classroom environment where students consider themselves as decision makers. Ultimately, the goal is not just to teach history, but also to support the students in making a connection between the knowledge they acquire and the country they are one day going to help govern.

The Fog of War Trailer


Choices Teaching Fellow Steve Seltz Wins National Teaching Award

9/11 Tribute Center

2014 9/11 Tribute Center Honorees

Choices Teaching Fellow Steve Seltz, from Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice high school in Brooklyn, NY was awarded a 2014 Teacher Award from the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York. The awards are given to educators who create projects that thoughtfully engaged their students in understanding 9/11 through a variety of disciplines. According to the 9-11 Tribute Center, few teachers throughout the country are supported in their efforts to teach about 9/11. The 9/11 Tribute Center has made it a priority to collect, reward and share the creativity and commitment of teachers that have taken the challenge and made tremendous accomplishments in their school.

Students in Seltz’s 12th grade Global Issues class research and debate how best to confront the issues of modern terrorism in a democratic society. The class engages in readings and debates materials adapted from the Choices curriculum unit Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy. Students are guided to recognize relationships between history and current issues with the goal of becoming responsible citizens. They identify and discuss the conflicting values and points of view that help shape history.

Seltz’s project has gown out of many years of teaching students about the broad causes and effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. By having students conduct research into Middle Eastern, European and American history, they can build a better understanding of the context of the 9/11 attacks, and are thus better able to engage in informed debate and discussion about the ongoing political and social challenges presented by the attacks. The goal is for students to talk about the challenges of terrorism particularly as it relates to the students’ lives as New Yorkers and for them to better confront the fears they might have in considering the problem.

You can read more about Steve’s use of Choices curriculum units in Teacher Conversations. (

Congratulations to Steve Seltz and his students!

Have You Developed an Innovative Approach to Teaching About September 11?

The 9/11 Tribute Center annually presents awards to teachers who have created exemplary educational projects that help sustain the memory of September 11th. Innovative teachers are honored for how they have engaged their students in the discussion of the ongoing impact of September 11th, and for their focus on humanitarian responses to 9/11. Projects selected have introduced 9/11 through curricula in the arts and humanities: history, language arts, visual, media and performing arts.  Each school receives a financial gift and framed Certificate of Merit, presented during a formal award ceremony.

Submissions should include:

  • Project description
  • The inspiration for the project
  • Examples of resources or lessons plans used
  • Photos of the students working and samples of their project(s) and,
  • Reflections on the experience.

Submissions can be emailed to Please include your name, school name and address, grade(s) involved in project, and number of class periods used for this project.

More information, including information on past award winners, can be found at  All applications are due by January 27th, 2014.

New Course in Development: Global Issues Since the Fall of the Wall

By guest Blogger Deb Springhorn, Lebanon High School, Lebanon, NH

The course I am creating during the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation sponsored Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical, “Global Issues since the Fall of the Wall,” is based on three observations that I have had as a result of my 30 or so years in the classroom:

  1. Most high school programs of study spend little time on the contemporary global situation. American history courses seem to struggle to get past Vietnam; world history courses seem lucky to get to the Cold War.
  2. An interdisciplinary approach to content is dynamic and fosters a different engagement in the material; students can be “hooked” through more avenues – history, literature, philosophy, art, music – and the depth of knowledge deepens as a result.
  3. Art is a seductive and provocative entry point to difficult material. Classroom conversation begins with “what do you see?” No one has to know anything to participate. It’s easy to raise questions about why students are seeing what they are seeing.

I have found that including currents events when there is time does not sufficiently allow for teaching the complexity of the challenges that face us now.  Not only do we need to teach more about the global community in which we live, but we have to teach about it in a way that will foster 21st century skills and a disposition to care about being active global citizens.

The content of my course is reflected by the following themes:

  • The New World [dis]Order of the 1990s: Nationalism, War, & Genocide
  • America After 9-11: The Single Story of Afghanistan, Pakistan, & Iraq
  • Frustration & Hope of “The Arab Spring”
  • Globalization: The Crisis of Consumption of Resources

The structure of the course will be built around the 21st Century skills identified by the Common Core State Standards: Critical Reading, Information Literacy, Effective Oral & Written Communication, and Citizenship (problem solving, collaboration, & leadership).

The approach will be interdisciplinary so that, in the unit, “After 9-11” for example, when students study the historic roots and the current challenges of the situation in Afghanistan they will read one of Khaled Hosseini’s books such as Kite Runner; discuss possible exit strategies and their geopolitical ramifications using the CHOICES curriculum, The US in Afghanistan; and examine photographs taken by James Nachtwey, the pre-eminent war photographer of our time.  I will also use Choices Teaching with the News materials on “The Cost of War” and “Debating U.S. Drone Policy.”

I hope to make the course extremely flexible so that it could be a full year or half year offering. Alternatively, individual units could also be added to existing courses in world studies. Once more of the course is written, I will begin designing a website to accompany the course where I will include most of the materials I am developing.  Any teacher could use it either as a model/resource or as a complete curriculum.

If you have ideas, resources, or articles you think I should be aware of, please email me. Deb Springhorn, springhorn@aol.comIf you would like to be notified when the course is completed, feel free to contact me as well.

Meet the Choices Staff – Tanya – Video and New Media Producer

Tell Us a little about yourself & your background.

I grew up in Hong Kong, went to high school in Switzerland and came to the U.S. for college. I received a B.A. in Modern Culture & Media from Brown, after which I moved to New York City and took a 5-week digital filmmaking course at the New York Film Academy. I started working as a temp for a television/advertising production company that did commercials for clients like the Food Network and HGTV. I worked my way up from production assistant to coordinating producer and editor. It was long hours, demanding clients, crazy deadlines and a lot of fun. After 7 years, I decided it was time for a change so I moved back to Rhode Island and was lucky enough to find a position at Choices as their video producer.

What is your favorite Choices Curriculum Unit? Why?

The Civil Rights unit is one of my favorites because it takes an iconic moment in American history that we’re all familiar with and looks at it through the lens of the local communities and ordinary people (many of whom were high school and college students) who were the real driving force behind the movement. I also like this unit because I interviewed some amazing people for the Scholars Online video portion (former SNCC activists, Brown history professors and Congressman John Lewis) and heard some incredible first-hand accounts of the daily realities of organizing in the South during the 60’s.

I also really like our “Revolution Series” units – French Revolution, Haitian Revolution and Russian Revolution. Revolution itself is such a dramatic and intense event but the back-story that leads up to it is even more fascinating and often full of twists and turns (much like a good narrative film!).

Tell us something interesting about yourself?

Favorite TV shows (currently): The Wire, The Americans, Downton Abbey, Foyle’s War, pretty much anything on PBS Masterpiece.

Favorite food: Anything Japanese. Oh, and bacon.

Favorite sound: My 10-month old son giggling.

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

We all do very different work within Choices and I find that I am always learning new and interesting things from my colleagues. We are also very good at finding any opportunity to celebrate with baked goods at our staff meetings.

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

I love my job – why would I trade? (Tough luck for anyone who said they want my job – I’m not giving it up!)

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

I don’t really have a favorite. I enjoy learning and I’m always learning something new when I’m working on Scholars Online videos no matter what the topic.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently editing videos for our upcoming unit on India and Pakistan. I also just finished filming a round of interviews for our Vietnam War unit, which has been without videos for far too long. I interviewed some really interesting people (including JFK scholars/historians and Vietnam war veterans) so I’m really looking forward to begin editing. I’m also planning to do a behind-the-scenes video of the making of a Choices unit.

Tell us a little about your video production process for Scholars Online.

I work with the curriculum writers to identify scholars who would be interesting to interview and whose field of expertise is relevant to the unit. We have a wealth of faculty at Brown, but I also travel to interview scholars from other institutions and I always keep an eye out for visiting speakers (Congressman John Lewis, for example, was at Brown for a day to receive an honorary degree and we were able to get an interview with him for our Civil Rights unit).

My filming setup includes two cameras, a mic and a light kit and the interviews themselves usually last about an hour (although I’ve had a few that have come close to two hours!). I then edit the media into short videos. Sometimes the editing process takes a couple weeks, sometimes it takes many months – it really depends on the scholar, but I often have to distill a 10 minute answer into a 2-4 minute video, while still making the material accessible to high school students (which, when you’re dealing with college professors can be challenging!). I try and find as much imagery as I can to add to the videos to make them more engaging and to help illustrate what the scholar is saying. I also sometimes create animated graphics for the same purpose.

I then do a screening with the writers to make sure the way that I’ve presented the content is accurate and the videos work with the unit. After making any changes, I send the final videos to the scholars to review and they get posted to our website.

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.

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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