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Mr. Lee Goes to Washington

Mr. Lee Goes to Washington

By: Ernie Lee, 2017 Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access- Council for Chief State School Officers Teacher Fellow; 2016 Georgia Teacher of the Year

This summer, as the 2017 Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) Teacher Fellow, I had the opportunity to research Manifest Destiny and the Indian Removal Act for a series of lessons I’m currently developing. Being in Washington, D.C., was a high school I.B. history and U.S. government teacher’s dream. I learned that the Smithsonian is far more than “the nation’s attic.”  So much of what I discovered in person is available to me online when I am back in my classroom in Savannah. In addition to the t-shirt, coffee mug, and requisite posters I bought, here are just a few of the resources I am taking home to share with my colleagues and to bring history to life for my students. 

Protest songs of the Civil Rights Movement. Did you know there are a series of protest songs, including “We Shall Overcome” from the Civil Rights Movement, available through Smithsonian Folkways? Music will hook my students right from the start of a lesson about the 1960s while showing that music was an essential tool in the African-American struggle for civil rights and equality.  

Visualizations of the Presidents’ own words. When I visited the National Portrait Gallery, I encountered a temporary installation in the “America’s Presidents” gallery of a series of “data portraits” by Luke Dubois titled “Hindsight is Always 20/20.” These will serve as strong visuals in my U.S. government class on American political dialogue. This installation showed word clouds of U.S. Presidents’ State of the Union addresses all the way from George Washington to George H.W. Bush.

Photographs of historic aircraft. At the National Air and Space Museum, I found photographs of many historic aircraft such as the “Enola Gay” that dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan, and the Concorde, the first supersonic airliner to enter service that flew from New York to Paris in 3.3 hours. 

Online Exhibition of “George Catlin and His Indian Gallery.” This Smithsonian American Art Museum online exhibition tells the story of Catlin's journey west in the 1830s to paint the Plains Indians and their way of life. Convinced that westward expansion spelled certain disaster for native peoples and seeing the devastation of many tribes, Catlin came to regard the frontier as a region of corruption. He portrayed the nobility of these still-sovereign peoples, but he was aware that he painted in the sovereignty's twilight. A balanced way to teach about Manifest Destiny while integrating art into your classroom. This gallery has content links, teacher guides, and student activities in addition to lesson plans and links to the artworks.

Essential question exploration: "How did we become US?" Being a social studies teacher, I spent a lot of time at the National Museum of American History and was thrilled to learn that many of the exhibitions are also available online.  One exhibit I found fascinating was “Many Voices, One Nation,” which explains how people of North America came from many cultures and spoke different languages long before the founding of the United States, even before European contact. This essential question, "How did we become US?," will help students' critical thinking skills in examining 500 years of history.

Native Knowledge 360° teaching framework. The National Museum of the American Indian's national initiative to inspire and promote improvement of teaching and learning about American Indians is now available online. I found lesson plans titled “American Indian Removal: What Does It Mean to Remove a People?” This museum also cares for one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native objects, photographs, and media, covering the entire Western Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego, and many of these are available online.  

National History Day resources. I was excited to see that the National Museum of African American History and Culture has created a collection grid of objects and images that could help students brainstorm their National History Day topic or expand their selected project. This year’s theme is “Conflict and Compromise.” Don't miss the article by the museum's educators on page 38 of the theme book complementing the collection grid of resources!  

Library of Congress teaching resources. Although it is not part of the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress site is invaluable. You can search for classroom materials by Common Core, state content, or by organization--very handy when you are looking for content for a specific lesson. I was able to visit the Library and will now be including the actual transcripts of the debates on the 1830 Indian Removal Act and Andrew Jackson’s State of the Union Address to help my students better understand the thought processes behind this legislation.

Smithsonian Learning Lab. I saved the best for last. This very powerful online platform and tool allows you to make your own collection of digital resources or use collections assembled by others. I also used its open architecture format to store webpages, digital images, video, and sound clips to teach lessons or to give assessments to students. I could also supplement what I found by searching its database with materials from such sites as the Library of Congress. 

I have had a blast in D.C. with this fellowship and I realize now that most of the Smithsonian museums have many of their past and current exhibitions online to help teachers use the information in their classrooms, as well as the artifacts, primary sources, and more that help make history more real for my students. So if you did not have the opportunity to go to Washington like I did, let the Smithsonian come to Thank you to both the SCLDA and CCSSO for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Postcard of the U.S. Capitol at Night

Image: Postcard of the U.S. Capitol at Night (detail), Smithsonian Archives-History Division
Color postcard of the United States Capitol Building at night. The building is lit, and a full moon is visible through a break in the clouds. The postcard is unused, but the message side has a printed note about the Capitol: "The United States Capitol, set on a height overlooking the amphitheater of the Potomac, is one of the largest and stateliest buildings in the world. It is 751 feet in length and 350 feet in width, covering three and a half acres. The Statue of Freedom on the dome towers 307 feet above the esplanade. The corner-stone was laid by President Washington in 1793; the central building was finished in 1797; and the extensions were first occupied by Congress in 1857 and 1859." The front of the postcard has a white border.