Thursday, August 11, 2011

Civil War Connections

We study history to learn from other people’s mistakes and successes. More importantly than learning the facts about particular historical events, we want students to form connections with the history they are studying so they can apply the lessons to their own lives. In order to do this, we can help students compare and contrast historical characters and events to current events and people. The featured resources on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills this week employ creative techniques for the study of the American Civil War. Using these resources with some of the following ideas will help you frame the war in a contemporary way and connect the learning to things currently affecting students’ lives.

To help your students put the Civil War into perspective, it might be helpful to compare the statistics with events that have happened during your students’ lives. Without this type of comparison, the numbers and facts can seem very abstract and it can be hard for students to identify with the war. It’s hard to believe that 7,000 men died in the first twenty minutes of one battle in the war. Is there anything in our more recent history that we can use to help us wrap our mind around that number? To put it into a more current perspective, nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on September 11, 2001. The devastation of that loss in our nation is still fresh in students’ minds, and it illustrates the impact that the loss of over twice that many people would have on a small but growing nation. By the end, the total deaths during the civil war reduced the American population by 2%. Based on today’s national population of over 300 million people, a civil war today with the same percentage of fatalities would claim 6 million lives. Wow. This number is astronomical compared to the thousands of Americans killed in action in current conflicts.

Comparing statistics with current numbers can help students get a big-picture idea of how the civil war compares to current conflicts. Creating a personal connection to the events can come about when students get to know the characters involved. One fun way to do this is to have your students create a fake Facebook profile detailing the person’s life. Free Technology for Teachers, a blog I read regularly, explains three different ways to do this. Students can present their Facebook pages to the class, and they can be creative with the status updates and information they use to present their character. You can also let your students choose other ways to present information about historical events and characters. Some ideas to suggest to your students are a mock job interview or news interview, a political speech, or writing and illustrating a historical fiction story about the event.

As students begin to know and understand more about the people involved in the Civil War, they might be able to gain some empathy toward them. Today we see how tragic it is when our service members are injured and killed in conflict. This tragedy was magnified in earlier wars where the death toll was magnitudes greater. An empathy for the people and a connection to their plight will help students learn from the mistakes and successes of major historical events like the American Civil War.

~Peggy's Corner - August 4, 2011~

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