Thursday, December 11, 2014

Making Connections Across Centuries

I recently started a new unit with my class.  The theme of this unit is courage.  I try to integrate other content areas into my lessons whenever possible and since there have been many great examples of courageous individuals throughout history, this unit heavily focuses on social studies.

I opened the unit by having the class read an account of Captain Roger Locher, a pilot who was shot down during the Vietnam War.  Against incredible odds, Captain Locher survived twenty three days in deep enemy territory.  Not only were the students fascinated by the story, they caught me off guard by comparing it to Unbroken, which is due to be released Christmas Day.

Since the students have studied the Middle Passage and are due to learn about the Civil War in a few months, the plan is to spend the next several days reading accounts about runaway slaves.  We read about Tice Davids, who is given credit for coining the phrase Underground Railroad.  We started a story about Harriett Tubman and when I attempted to stop for the day despite having a few minutes of class time left, the students protested and insisted that we read until the bell.  While my students may not identify with being a slave, many of them were able to compare the journey of runaway slaves to their own journeys of coming to the United States.  The slaves feared being caught by bounty hunters and being sent back to a life of brutality and hard labor.  My students feared being caught by la migra and being sent back to a life of poverty and in some cases, violence.  They also compared conductors of the Underground Railroad to coyotes and friends to church groups that help migrants along the route to the United States.  In both cases, a successful journey equaled better opportunities for them and their families.

So far, this topic has proven to be a winner.  I can only hope that the students stay engaged and continue to initiate deep discussions.  Even though it doesn't quite feel like it, winter break is a mere few days away.