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.