This unit will ask 8
grade students to write the story of an American family in the 20
century through "primary" documents and artifacts. That is, to create newspaper articles, journal entries, photographs, drawings and letters in order to tell the story of the last five generations of a modern family in New York. This collection will have to touch upon three themes of American history: conflict, class, and migration.
These themes intersect and overlap in many ways. Conflict can relate to any of the major American wars, as well as to the conflict of encounters between different groups and interests in American history. Understanding class and this history of social mobility (or lack thereof) is vital to understanding the American condition. Migration comes up repeatedly; the first Europeans, forced African migration, Westward expansion, major waves of immigration and the Great Migration north. Migration and immigration was often dependent upon class, and could lead to conflict.
For each of their five artifacts, students will have to write a "secondary" analysis document that explains the context of the item, both in its role within the family and its connection to American history. This will be the students' opportunity to explain their thinking, and will be the basis for a brief presentation to their classmates.
This unit will be a cumulative project to be completed in June after students have spent the year studying American history. We end with the 20
century in the 4
quarter, so this will be the project that covers the span of the 1900s. Students will have the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of modern American history, the difference between primary and secondary documents and the work of historians, all while employing creative strategies. It is important to note that at this point in the year, students will have had extensive experience reading, analyzing, discussing and researching primary documents. The aim of this project is to reinforce the difference between primary and secondary documents, NOT to teach students how to read primary documents as they will have had considerable work on this all year. Similarly, this is not a project linked to the study of one narrow time period, but rather an assessment of what concepts and history students have retained from an entire quarter of teaching. The lessons in this unit assume that students have already completed units on immigration, the Progressive Era, WWI, the 1920s, the Great Depression, WWII and a brief survey of post-war America. A family history focus allows students to connect these different periods of 20
century US history together into one family's history, so that they can see continuities as well as changes over time. This project, while utilizing many of the same skills and teaching techniques as a traditional research paper, will engage students of all learning styles and abilities and is ideal for differentiation in diverse classroom. However, it is most likely to be successful in an honors level class, and would require modification for use with struggling students.