How to use the 250th Anniversary of the American Revolution in New Jersey Resources in a High School Social Studies Classroom

How to Use the 250th Anniversary of the American Revolution in New Jersey Resources in a High School Social Studies Classroom

By: Lucille Finnegan

Abstract: This article seeks to provide other high school educators with some concrete methods for implementing the NJCSS’ resources on ordinary individuals from the American Revolution into their classroom. This article offers educators multiple ways to integrate the decision activities and the associated resources into a unit on the American Revolution.

For the past two years, educators have conducted meaningful research on the lives of ordinary individuals in New Jersey, who were present during the American Revolution. They have uncovered stories of individuals torn between the loyalties of their family members, Native Americans dealing with the aftermath of fraudulent land deals, and women trying to survive in the midst of war. These stories are engaging and illuminating, but not well known. Thus, below, I recommend different student-centered ways to implement these stories into your classroom.

Using the Decision Activities

The decision activities could be used extensively in a Revolutionary America unit centered around a question such as: “How were the lives of women, African-Americans, and Native Americans impacted by the Revolution?”  As an introduction to this unit, students could engage in inquiry based learning by investigating the decision activities of a certain group or individual. For example, one group could study women and could explore the lives of Margaret Hill Morris and Annis Boudinot Stockton. To guide students through the decision activities, students could fill out a graphic organizer similar to the one featured in Exhibit 1 (see below). After each group had read through the decision activities and completed their respective graphic organizers, students could jigsaw with the different groups to learn what other groups had discovered before culminating in a full class discussion. Stating a claim and supporting it with evidence is an important disciplinary skill in social studies.

If a teacher did not want to center their American Revolution unit solely on the question mentioned above, these activities could be very easily integrated into a unit as extension activities. For example, if students were considering how African-Americans were involved in the Revolution, they could consider the story of Samuel Sutphen, an enslaved African-American from Hunterdon County who served as a replacement soldier for his enslaver. For classrooms looking at how the American Revolution was in many ways a civil war, the Guillam Demarest decision activity would be useful. For others looking at Native Americans, I suggest using the Chief Tishcohan decision activity.

Using the Decision Activities in Conjunction with the Hamilton Education Program

Additionally, these decision activities could be used as a starting point for students participating in the Hamilton Education Program, a program run by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. The Hamilton Education Program challenges students to make a performance piece (a song, skit, poem etc.) based on a key event or individual’s life from the founding period of the United States. Since these decision activities highlight the fascinating stories of individuals from the Revolutionary War period, they would serve as excellent base material for any performance piece. Additionally, the primary sources associated with these decision activities would also enable students to conduct the necessary research the program requires (see the Annotated Directory of Resources). For more information on the Hamilton Education program, please visit this page.

Using the Annotated Directory of Resources on the American Revolution

Alternatively, teachers could integrate the primary sources gathered by this project into their classroom by having students explore the Annotated Directory posted on the website. This type of lesson could be done at the beginning of the school year, when students are first learning how to analyze primary sources. After learning how to identify the author, the author’s purpose, the intended audience, and the point of view of a primary source, students could then apply their analysis techniques to one (or more!) of the primary sources located in the Annotated Directory of Resources. Students could use a graphic organizer similar to Exhibit 2 (see below) to assist them in their research and improving their required proficiencies relating to Sources and Evidence.

Exhibit 1: Sample Graphic Organizer

EQ: How were the lives of women, African-Americans, and Native Americans impacted by the Revolution?
 What did you learn about this individual’s life?What decision did you make? Why did you make that decision?How does this decision activity help you answer the essential question?
 Margaret Hill Morris                 
Annis Boudinot Stockton               

Exhibit 2: Sample Primary Source Analysis Research Organizer

 Name of Document: ________________________________
  Who is the author? When was it written? What do you know is happening around the time it was written? 
Who is the author’s intended audience? How do you think this affects what/how they are writing? 
What is the author’s purpose? How do you think this affects what/how they are writing? 
From what perspective is this author writing from? How do you think this affects what/how they are writing? 
Summarize the main ideas of the document.           

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