Honoring the Past


The Cold War: a complex event that lasted over forty years with a wide variety of players and foreign policies. An event that has lasting-effects that we still witness and experience. So as a teacher with the school year coming to an end, I was torn on how to cover such a complicated event with one project.

The year before I would have just lectured about the Cold War, which was easy for me and painful for the kids. Besides, nowadays "if we have an Internet connection, we have fingertip, on-demand access to an amazing library that holds close to the sum of human knowledge," as said by Will Richardson in Why School? So obviously that wasn't a viable option. But how could I expose students to the variety of events in the Cold War without just telling them all about.

Of course, I started doing research on ways other #pbl teachers have used the Cold War, but either I wasn't inspired by the project or I had already done something similar with another project. I searched and tried to find a common theme that events in the Cold War had in common, some connecting thread that I could use to tie everything together. And then I found it: almost all the major events have memorials.

This may have been common knowledge to me but there were so many more Cold War memorials all over the world that I never knew about. I ensured that there were enough events and their memorials for each group:

Bay of Pigs
Berlin Airlift
Berlin Wall
Chernobyl
Cuban Missile Crisis
Iron Curtain
Korean War
Malta Summit
Rosenbergs (Cuba)
Silent Heros of the Cold War
Space Race
Trinity Test Site

I accidentally launched the unit when students watched parts of The Bomb, a documentary that discusses the development of the atomic bomb as well as the social effects until the end of the Cold War. This allowed us to discuss atomic fear, Bert the Turtle, and how it continues to affects our lives. To ensure that students knew the absolute basics of the Cold War, I did a Pear Deck where went over basic vocabulary with some political cartoon analysis. In retrospect, I wish that I launched launched the something more exciting like a clip from Red Dawn; next year my goal is to work on the kickoff of projects to get students excited.

From there, I let students choose their partner and their event. To ensure that work was divided fairly, I created a presentation template to follow and one student focused on the history of the event while another analyzed the memorial itself for symbolism.


Now you may have noticed that I forgot a vital and controversial event in the Cold War: Vietnam War. I chose to do this because it has been a traditional to have my father, a Vietnam Veteran, to come and talk to my students about his experiences in the war. It has always been a favorite and valuable activity for my students and I wanted to ensure that all students had a basic understanding of the war. So I did a quick Prezi going over the basic timeline of the Vietnam War then I modeled how I wanted students to analyze their memorials.



Fun Fact: I never realized how much symbolism and controversy there is about the Vietnam War Memorial!

After my dad's visit (I'll make a separate blog post) and my need to have enough time for students to complete their final projects, I ended up having students do a screencast instead of in-class presentations; this idea came after Kim Calderon's CVCUE session this Spring. 

Let's just say, I learned SO MUCH from my students screencasts. Many of these events, like I mentioned, I didn't realize existed. Their research allowed them to give very thoughtful analysis of the memorial and discuss whether it was effective or not. Here are some exemplars:

The Rosenbergs Memorial from Madeline Finnegan on Vimeo.


Berlin Airlift from Sophia Manning on Vimeo.

Iron Curtain Memorial by Hallie Righter

My original intention was to have my students design a memorial to honor the alumni who have served in the military; a discussion that the principal and I have had. With timing, I wasn't able to make it the final part of the project, but I made it a Pro Point opportunity. I got some great ideas that would make for awesome SLE projects!

Even though this was one of the projects that I struggled to create, it ended up being one of my favorites. It made me realize that a great project doesn't have to be overly complicated with lots of steps and lots of confusion. As long as there is meaningful learning behind it, it will be powerful.

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