March 19
3 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

Before the invention of the railroad, people used local "sun time" as they traveled across the country. With the coming of the railroad, travel became faster, exacerbating the problems caused by the hundreds of different "sun times." At the instigation of the railroads, for whom scheduling was difficult, the U.S. Standard Time Act was passed, establishing four standard time zones for the continental U.S. On November 18, 1883, the U.S. Naval Observatory began signaling the new time standard.

After learning about different time zones, ask your students to plan a video conference with a class from a different country or from a different time zone in the United States. As they plan, ask students to:

  1. Use the World Time Engine to find the best time to schedule this meeting.
  2. Research the country or state of the students with whom they will video conference and brainstorm a list of questions and topics for discussion. The place selected can be coordinated with topics they are currently studying.
  3. Brainstorm a list of topics about their own town or country that they would like to discuss. Alternatively, they could brainstorm a list of questions they think students from the other time zone might ask them.
  4. Use a time zone map to figure out how many time zones they would have to travel through to have this conference if video conferencing hadn't been developed.

If you decide not to carry out an actual video conference, alternatively, divide your class into two groups and allow them to conference with one group playing the role of the class from another time zone.

On this day in 1918, the United States passed the U.S. Standard Time Act.

This page from the Library of Congress' American Memory site offers excellent information and primary documents about the history of standardized time.

Students take a journey from ancient calendars and clocks to modern times, at this NIST Physics Laboratory website.

This site provides a clickable map that gives the official time for each time zone in the U.S.

BBC News looks at time zones--how they are worked out, why they cause so many arguments, and how they affect us all.

November 26
5 - 12
Holiday & School Celebration

According to the Wampanoag and the ancestors of the Plimoth settlers, no oral or written account confirms that the first Thanksgiving took place between them in 1621. The Wampanoag, and other Native Americans, did participate in daily and seasonal thanksgivings for thousands of years prior to the Pilgrims’ arrival. This process of thanksgiving continues today.

Provide students with a selection of texts about Thanksgiving. Invite students to partner-read their selected books, considering these questions:

  • From whose perspective is the story told?

  • Whose voices are active and passive?

  • What words are used to describe the groups?

  • Whose story has the most detail?

  • What details were offered or implied in the text or illustrations about Thanksgiving and each group’s lifestyle (e.g., food, clothing, beliefs, and traditions)?

  • Are the illustrations accurate? How do you know?

Next, share with students texts that are #OwnVoices. Oyate and American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) both provide critical analysis of Indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books.

Select one of the #OwnVoice texts to read, like Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, a children's picture book, by Chief Jake Swamp. This version of the Iroquois Thanksgiving Address, or Ganohonyohk, is written especially for children who want to know more about Six Nations Iroquois spirituality. The Thanksgiving Address is one of the key speeches of the Six Nations Iroquois.

End the session by allowing students to share "What are some things you are thankful for and where do they come from?"

The United States celebrates Thanksgiving Day today.

Oyate is a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed with honesty and integrity, and that all people know that our stories belong to us.

American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) provides critical analysis of Indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books.

The words in this book are based on the Thanksgiving Address, an ancient message of peace and appreciation of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants, that are still spoken at ceremonial and governmental gatherings held by the Six Nations.

November 15
7 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

In 1804, at the request of Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from St. Louis with their 33-member team to explore the American West. By mid-November of 1805, guided and aided much of the way by a young Shoshone woman named Sacagawea, they arrived at the Pacific Ocean. Their accounts, describing the American Indians they met, the wildlife they saw, and the physical environment they withstood, paved the way for the great western expansion.

Think for a moment about how descriptive Lewis and Clark needed to be in their writings for an audience back East who had never seen, or imagined, what they were seeing. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice descriptive writing with your students.

Depending upon your school's technology, you can have students look at Kenneth Holder's paintings of various scenes from the Lewis and Clark trail, available here. If this is not possible, print out landscape scenes-or slides from your own vacation-that are vivid in their details. Then, ask students to write words and phrases that describe what they see, what they imagine they might hear, etc. Remind them that they are writing for an audience that has never seen these pictures before. Ask students to transform their notes into a descriptive paragraph as if they were a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Last, ask students to return to a piece that they have already written this year and revise it by adding more sensory words and phrases.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Pacific Ocean in 1805.

This portion of the PBS website dedicated to the Lewis and Clark expedition is an interactive story where portions of the journey are recounted and students are expected to make a choice about what Lewis and Clark should do next.

This is a short, easy-to-read article on York, William Clark's slave, who played a vital, but underappreciated, role on the expedition.

This National Geographic site tries to uncover some of the mystery surrounding this teenage Shoshone woman who acted as an interpreter and guide for the expedition.

This site, dedicated to Lewis and Clark, includes an interactive journey log, timeline, games, and information about supplies used and discoveries made by the Corps of Discovery.

April 07
9 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

One of jazz's most influential singers, Billie Holiday was born in 1915 in Philadelphia. "Lady Day," as she was later to be known, sang with such intensity and emotion that she made every song her own, whether she wrote it or not. Unfortunately, the blues she sang of were also her reality–she was a terribly unhappy and insecure person and died prematurely in 1959 due to a life of drug and alcohol abuse.

Holiday's most popular and influential song is probably her 1939 recording of Strange Fruit, a haunting depiction of the lynchings of African Americans that were occurring throughout the Jim Crow American South. The link allows you to read the lyrics and also listen to part of Holiday's rendition of the song. Because of the subject matter and the vividness of the song's images, this activity should be reserved for high school or mature middle school students.

The song is a perfect text to use to teach tone. Before explaining the context of the song, have students read the lyrics or listen to the song and identify the most powerful or descriptive images.

Next, share some facts about the lynchings in the South during this period, such as, "Between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 lynchings of African Americans occurred in the U.S." Ask students to try to determine Holiday's attitude toward this issue, which you can then define as the tone of the song. Have students compare the tone of Holiday's song to that of Langston Hughes' poem on the same topic, Song for a Dark Girl. Then apply the concept of tone to another piece you are currently reading.

Jazz and blues singer Billie Holiday was born in 1915.

This comprehensive site on Billie Holiday includes a biography, photos, quotes, and more.

 

This page provides links to a variety of artist showcases. Audio and video files are provided along with biographical and historical information.

 

These pages from the Library of Congress' America's Story site offer information and images. See also the Library's additional Billie Holiday information, on its American Memory pages.

 

As part of its Independent Lens series, PBS presents the role that protest music has played in American history. The site contains protest music from the days of slavery to the present protests against the war in Iraq.

 

March 15
3 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

In Julius Caesar, a soothsayer warns Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March." Caesar ignores the warning and is, in fact, murdered on March 15, called "the Ides" on the Roman calendar. Over time, the date has become associated with doom and momentous events-particularly ones with disastrous effects.

In addition to teaching your students a famous Shakespearean play, you could use the Ides of March to explore the role of superstitions in our lives and culture.

  • Begin by asking students to list the superstitions they know: the number 13, spilling salt, breaking a mirror, finding a penny, etc.
  • Next, have them try to categorize these superstitions. For example, which ones relate to good luck, bad luck, death, happiness, etc.?
  • After they have categorized them, ask students to define a superstition. What is their purpose or role? What do they tend to relate to?
  • Finally, have students think about superstitions and proverbs. Share a list of proverbs from around the world. Which ones on the list also sound like superstitions? What are the similarities and differences between proverbs and superstitions? You can use the ReadWriteThink Venn Diagram interactive for this activity.
Beware the Ides of March!

Turner Classic Movies creates sites for educators on several of their most popular films. This one on Julius Caesar includes activities and resources for the play and the 1953 version of the film.

This National Geographic article describes the events leading up to the assassination of Caesar, including a discussion of Plutarch's, Shakespeare's, and Dante's treatments of the leader.

This is a site where people have sent in visual depictions of a superstition or urban legend. Be sure to preview the images to ensure they are appropriate for your students. Students might try a similar activity using photography or other media.

The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal offers information about common superstitions. They also offer ideas for a Superstition Obstacle Course.

December 17
3 - 6
Historical Figure & Event

Wilbur and Orville Wright's landmark flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, was the realization of their dream of powered human flight. Although their historic achievement lasted only 12 seconds, it continues to symbolize—even after more than 100 years—human determination, imagination, creativity, and invention.

The anniversary of the Wright brothers' amazing flight offers a great opportunity for a highly motivational learning experience. After your students learn about the Wright brothers, have an anniversary party to showcase their creative work. Remember to include a cake in the shape of an airplane!

In addition, the following activities for elementary school students can be used as extensions to the lesson plans listed below:

  • Students can create a multimedia timeline presentation on the lives of the Wright brothers or on aviation over the last 100 years.

  • Ask students to compare the Wright Flyer, which Wilbur and Orville flew, with the planes we have today. Have them imagine what airplanes will be like 100 years from now and design or illustrate a future model.

 

The Wright brothers made their phenomenal flight!

This website provides information about the Wright brothers' development of the first powered aircraft; included are interactive experiments, an electronic field trip, and information on the restoration of the Wright Flyer.

 

The Franklin Institute provides an excellent multimedia resource for students interested in learning more about the Wright brothers and seeing film clips of early flights.

 

This page from Scholastic celebrates 100 years of flight with a biography of the Wright brothers, information on how they invented their plane, and an activity that walks you through making some of the decisions you'd have to make to build your own plane.

 

NASA provides this site for kids, which includes information about the history of flight, how flight works, and how jet engines work. Also included is an interactive game about the Wright brothers.

 

September 04
5 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

Prior to Google, Web search engines ranked search results according to the number of times a key word appeared on a page. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin revolutionized the Internet search process by ranking pages based on the number of other pages to which they are linked. Since incorporating in 1998, Google has grown in popularity as a preferred Internet search engine and information application provider. In 2006, the verb "google" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Working with your librarian/school media specialist, engage students in an overview of developments in information/reference search technology. Guide students in an exploration of the following search tools (or others that provide a similar sense of contrast and development):

  • card catalog
  • Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature
  • library Web site
  • Google or other search engines

After students have had a chance to become familiar with the different search technologies, lead a discussion about the purposes, benefits, and disadvantages of each.

Encourage students to think beyond the notion that the newest technology is always the best. Remind them, for example, that information they find through an online search may not have the same credibility as something they might have found through the library card catalog. Or point out that while an online search engine may offer faster, more refined results, it may be keeping track of what you searched for without your full knowledge or permission.

Google was formally incorporated this week in 1998.

Part of Google's official site, this timeline covers the company's lifespan from 1995 to the present, including thorough links to more recent developments in Google services. The timeline also lists the April Fool's Day jokes for which Google has become famous.

This frequently-updated blog includes information about new developments at Google, as well as innovative ways to use Google tools for work or leisure activities. Here you can also find links to other blogs about web technologies and blogs written by Google staff.

Offering an extensive history of search engines, this site puts Google in perspective as one of the industry leaders in the market. The site also includes an extensive list of links for further reading and exploration on the topic.

November 20
1 - 12
Author & Text

Children's favorite Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was published on this day in 1974. While Silverstein's rhymes may have been simple and catchy, his complex and thoughtful themes stick with his readers long after childhood. Silverstein was also a songwriter of such hits as "A Boy Named Sue" and "The Cover of The Rolling Stone."

Everyone remembers Shel Silverstein. Ask seniors in high school who their favorite poet is and half will give his name. This activity can begin for middle and high school students by asking them what they remember about Silverstein. For lower grade levels, introduce them to a short verse of his poetry like the one below, and ask them for their general impressions: If you had a giraffe . . . and he stretched another half . . . you would have a giraffe and a half . . . One quality of Silverstein's work is that even though it is often fantastical, it tends to be quite visual. Ask students to draw what they imagine when they read such lines as "If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire" or "Some whatifs crawled inside my ear."

After students have presented their drawings, ask them to write a line or two of their own that continues the passage and matches the flow and style of Silverstein's work. Then have students paraphrase the author's purpose in writing the poem. This is where they will find that though the words of a Silverstein poem are easy enough, the ideas are often difficult to communicate.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was published in 1974.

This entry from the Academy of American Poets includes a biography, bibliography, and samples of Silverstein's poetry.

This site includes resources related to Silverstein's poetry for parents and teachers, as well as an area "For Kids Only!"

This site includes an easy-to-read biography of the author and analysis of his work.

HarperCollins, publisher of Silverstein's books, offers a guide to using Silverstein's poetry in the classroom. The guide includes printable sheets for students.

January 31
7 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball, was born on this date in 1919. Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and played for the team for nine years. He was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1949, and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Robinson died October 24, 1972.

In addition to his role as an athlete, Robinson fought publicly to end racial discrimination for others. The U.S. National Archive collection Beyond the Playing Field-Jackie Robinson, Civil Rights Advocate includes messages Robinson sent to the White House from 1957 to 1972. After reading these messages, have students discuss Robinson's attributes as both an athlete and a civil rights activist. They can use the interactive Bio-Cube to organize the information about Robinson. More tips are available for use with the Bio-Cube.

Once your students have a sense of who Robinson was, expand your discussion to the more general issue of the role of athletes in society. Brainstorm a list of attributes important to being a good athlete in any sport at any level of play. Then, in groups, have students select one of the attributes and write about how that character trait would be useful in other areas of life. For instance, a high degree of dedication certainly translates outside of the sports arena. In what other walks of life might dedication be an essential characteristic?

Jackie Robinson was born on this day in 1919.

This Library of Congress site presents information about the life and career of Jackie Robinson as well as highlights from a century of baseball.

This Baseball Hall of Fame Web page offers statistics about Robinson's career and his other contributions to baseball.

Jackie Robinson and many other extraordinary athletes had been playing in the Negro Baseball League for years before Robinson broke the "color barrier" in the Major Leagues. This site offers information about the history of the Negro Leagues, as well as information about the museum itself.

Read about the life of Jackie Robinson in this interview with his wife, Rachel Robinson, from Scholastic. Robinson answered questions from students during a 1998 live interview.

September 07
3 - 12
Holiday & School Celebration

The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on September 5, 1882. It became an official federal holiday in 1894 and is now celebrated on the first Monday of September. Born out of the rise of unions as part of the American labor movement, the day is marked by parades, picnics, and other celebrations—and it marks the unofficial end of summer.

Students tend to know little more about Labor Day than it's a day off of work and school. Encourage them to learn more about the American labor movement by giving them time to research one of the figures from the list below. In paris or small groups, they can locate print and Web based resources about their lives and contributions to labor reform. Groups can use the Biocube Interactive to organize and share what they learn.

  • Jane Addams
  • Sarah Bagley
  • César Chávez
  • Samuel Gompers
  • Dolores Huerta
  • Mary Harris Jones
  • John L. Lewis
  • Lucy Randolph Mason
  • Luisa Moreno
  • Leonora O’Reilly
  • Albert and Lucy Parsons
  • Franics Perkins
  • Esther Peterson
  • A. Philip Randolph
  • Walter Reuther
  • Rosina Tucker
Labor Day honors the labor movement in the United States.

This page from the US Department of Labor explores the legislation behind Labor Day and the controversy over the identity of its originator.

 

The History Channel's section on Labor Day offers articles, videos, and speeches related to the holiday.

 

This Time Magazine article offers an accessible introduction to the history and significance of Labor Day.

 

The History Channel's section on the Labor Movement offers an overview of key figures in labor reform.