They are dead; but they live in each Patriot’s breast,
And their names are engraven on honor’s bright crest.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to take AP US History. I was accustomed to being in advanced classes in high school, but the reason for me taking this rigorous class ran deeper than my desire to earn AP credits. AP US History was taught by Rick Gill, and still to this day he is one of the best teachers I have ever had. He knew everything there was to know about history, and more importantly he cared about his students. Looking back I remember saying to him, “Mr. Gill, I am going to be the student that gets a 1 on the AP exam.” He would always respond with a smile and say, “No you won’t!” Behind his lie, he was probably praying my score would be much higher, but looking at the scores I recieved in his class he knew what I was destined for… a 1. I never turned out to be a huge history buff and I only earned a B in his class, but I walked out of his room with love for a teacher and an appreciation for the powerful and dedicated country that we live in every day.
I enjoy teaching 4th grade US history because it allows me to convey the love I have for my country, and believe it or not 4th graders are able to have in depth and thoughtful conversations about the United States. This past week I told my students we were going to reflect on our entire year of learning by answering one BIG question, “Is the freedom that we enjoy every day given to us freely, or did some one have to earn it for us?” For two days the students worked at four stations to investigate this question and come up with a decision. Common Core Information Reading Standard RI.4.9 states, “[Students need to be able to] Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” I thought this three day study would allow my students to integrate many different types of texts that addressed one key idea, Freedom.
They had a station with a copy of the Declaration of Independence and a You Tube video we watched earlier in the year playing on multiple IPads. Although we read The Declaration as a group, it can still be a hard document for a 10 year old to read and understand, and YouTube has a fantastic reading of the document below.
A second station held numerous additional primary sources such as “The Gettysburg Address”, “The Bill of Rights”, and a speech by Patrick Henry. The third station housed multiple poems and songs including “The Star Spangled Banner”. The students’ favorite station was a group of political cartoons and quotes by famous leaders throughout history. I sat with the students at the political cartoon station and helped create and scaffold conversations around the different comics and quotes. You can listen to one of these conversations below.
The students visited these four stations for two days, and on the third day we reviewed the different documents they had studied. I asked them what they thought was important about each document and their favorite quote from each. I was amazed with the responses I received. As a class, we finalized our studies for the week with the students’ two favorite quotes of the week:
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” -Thomas Jefferson”
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – Ronald Reagan
When I asked them what the quote by Thomas Jefferson meant, Antonio thoughtfully responded by saying, “The American Revolution won’t be the only war we will have to fight to have freedom.” When asking about Reagan’s famous quote another student responded by saying, “We must continue to fight for this countries’ freedom every day because it is not guaranteed.” (Yes, this was an advanced student). The most rewarding moment of the entire study on freedom came when I asked them who was fighting for our country now, “Soldiers,” was murmured throughout the room. “Well, what about the next generation. According to Reagan’s quote freedom has to be protected and fought for by the different generations, so who will have to fight in the coming years?” I asked with anticipation. “We will,” “It’s going to be us,” “It’s our turn.” Responses rang out from the classroom. I knew this class had taken this big ideas into their hearts and responded to it. We ended class with the video below and misty eyes.
I don’t teach my students just so they can take a test and be pushed out of my door on June 6th. I teach my class, so they can become hardworking citizens of tomorrow. I hope that this Memorial Day weekend they are able to reflect and be thankful for those men and women who already fought for our freedom. Who knows how many students I will teach over my lifetime that will serve our country. To those men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom my class says, “Thank you.”
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