Saturday, April 26, 2014

Teaching History Through The National Parks

As a year-end, wrap-up social studies unit, my class is about to embark on an exploration of America's National Park system. 

My plan is to use this to talk about the expansion westward before and after the Civil War, a bit of Native American history, immigration, the Industrial Revolution and the environmental movement that grew in response to it.  It is a LOT of ground to cover for an end of the year discussion, so I'm trying to wrap it in the cloak of something really interesting for the kids by using the National Parks as my bait on the history and geography hooks.

After scouring the internet, I have found some lesson plans and materials available online through the Library of Congress, PBS and the Ken Burns' National Parks documentary series, and on the National Geographic website as well.

Most of the material, however, is not quite what I wanted.  So I'm having to cobble together an entire unit plan, pulling all the disparate pieces together into a more coherent whole, and adding my own material to them as I go along. 

Why, oh why, do I get these ideas and then do this to myself every single time? 

It's a gift and a curse, I suppose, but I do think the kids will learn a lot about American geography and history and even get to see a bit of beautiful scenery and wildlife (on film and in photos, at least) in the process. 

My plan is to have the kids put together a report in the form of a travel brochure for a park of their choosing.  Am taking a bit of time this weekend to throw together the framework that I want them to use, and we'll work on this in class, bit by bit, talking about research and informative writing and citation and bibliography format and all sorts of other glorious bits and pieces.

But along the way, we'll also be watching a few nature documentaries on the various parks, which I think my kids will really enjoy.

As I put the finishing touches on this unit, I'll try to post bits and pieces going forward.  If nothing else, we'll spend the last few weeks of school talking about how the clash American ideals -- free market economy, fairness, democracy, independence, and interdependence -- all come together in the formation of the wonders we preserve in our nation's park system.

Not too bad as a discussion jumping point for a bunch of 11 year olds, right?

(Gorgeous photo of the Yosemite Valley via Tom Bricker.  Love this shot!)


Pat Hays said...

WOW! Sounds like a great lesson plan. So proud of you. The class is lucky to have you.

Christy Hardin Smith said...

Thanks, the kids are having so much fun learning about the various National Parks. So many things to see and learn about them, it has been a pleasure just showing them what is out there to visit across the country. We'll see if that "fun" continues as we begin to discuss bibliography formatting. LOL