Thursday, April 11, 2013

Using Jackie Robinson's Story and Primary Sources to Learn About Civic Ideals

5th graders throughout the nation engage in a study of the U.S. Constitution.  Conceptually, students are engaged with learning that involves digging into three essential civics concepts:
1. the purpose of government
2. the structure and function of government
3. citizenship

We're also fortunate to have the release of 42, the story of Jackie Robinson as the first Afircan-American to play in the American Major Baseball league.  As part of the movie's release, Stephanie Greenhut has taken some time to dig into the Library of Congress to identify a few primary source treasures.  Stephanie's blog posting includes the following primary sources so students can investigate the documents on which our history is built:
1. Court -martial order from the military personnel file of Jack "Jackie" Robinson, 8/23/1944, from the Records of the Army Staff
2. Robinson's letter to President Kennedy, 2/9/1961, from the Papers of John F. Kennedy, Presidential Papers

So, how is Jackie Robinson's history connected to a study of the U.S. Constitution? 

When students explore the concept of citizenship, students should know civic ideals (including freedom, rule of law, civility, cooperation, respect, responsibility, and civic participation).  In terms of skills, students should be able to relate individual and group actions to civic ideals. Finally, taking this factual learning involves helping students to understand that "actions illustrate our commitment to civic ideals" by exploring the essential question, "What are ways people might demonstrate commitment to civic ideals?"

Instructionally, our goal is to create learning experiences where students think conceptually and critically analyze (21st century skill) a variety of resources, including primary source documents.  What about trying it this way?
  1. Present the learning objectives to students.
  2. Present a brief biography of Jackie Robinson.
  3. Discuss how historians read primary sources critically and ask questions.
  4. Ask students to answer these questions:
    • How do these sources reveal actions of people connected to their beliefs about civic ideals?
    • How are the actions of people, today, similar or different than the actions of the past?
    • What are you beginning to understand about civic ideals? (Know) 
    • Now, how might you answer, "What are ways people might demonstrate commitment to civic ideals?"
This type of learning experience involves critical thinking and analysis, primary source analysis (part of the historical process), elevation of what kids should know, elevation of what kids should be able to do, and conceptual connections so students can transfer their learning to a modern context. 

Give it a shot, let me know what you are thinking about related to civics, backwards design, instructional design, or concept-based instruction?  We only grow as teachers if we begin to think AND TEACH in new ways.

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