In February, we celebrate all of the 45 presidents we have had for the past 200+ years. It’s a great time to integrate technology, trivia, and our standards while increasing student learning about our leaders. There are interesting and funny stories to be told about each of the presidents, and each one has made decisions that defined our country.
Here are some ideas for getting students engaged and interested in American history through Presidents’ Day activities.
Gathering Basic Knowledge
Students often need basic, surface-level knowledge to link their thinking to something they already know. Here are some places that are accessible to students where they can start:
- History.com: The History Channel's site has a vignette about each of the presidents. The video helps the information come to life, and there are also short articles about each president that can help support ELA standards.
- Wikipedia: Though not a “source” that we want students to run to when they need to complete research, Wikipedia is a great starting point for learning quickly about a topic. The presidential information has been vetted enough to trust the accuracy for our students to learn from.
- White House History: This site is curated by the White House Historical Association and has great summarizations of each president written by historians. The vocabulary in these is challenging, so this site would be better for secondary students, but each one provides a great, quick understanding of the scope of each presidency.
- C-Span: The C-Span site has a great library of their “Life Portrait” series, which documents the life of each president in great detail. Many of these are longer videos that the students won’t be able to watch from start to finish, but they can use the reference points in the videos to learn about different parts of each president’s life.
Going Beyond the Basics
Once students have a basic level of surface knowledge about a president, they can move to integration projects that will help them to gain a deeper understanding of the context in which he served. Here are some ideas for deepening and integrating that learning:
- Most important photo: Have students research a president and the period of history in which he lived. Then, have each student select what they feel is the most important photo from his era. Each student’s selected photo can be inserted into a collaborative Google Slides presentation. They can either describe the photo through an oral presentation or put a short description of why the photo is important in the notes section. If each student is required to select a different president, by the end of the activity, there is a timeline across the history of our country of the important events that each president completed.
- Living museum: Most students have probably been to in a museum before, and those students probably have an opinion about how exciting that experience was—or wasn't. Students can create a presidential museum with the challenge of incorporating an exciting and interactive display by using technology. Older students should have a broad background of skills to include games, augmented reality, QR codes, and other presentation software tools. In our district, we have younger students come and tour the museum to learn from the displays, while the older students who created the displays have the experience of presenting in front of a live audience.
- Letters or gravesites: Teaching History has a great resource for students to use to take their learning to the next level. The site links authentic letters to each of the presidents. Students can learn from these primary sources (which is a standard) and work to understand the context of each letter.
The diverse history of the great men who have lead our country is very interesting for students of all ages. It is a great teaching tool as we teach about all phases of American history. Each president left his mark on the country in his own way, and as Presidents’ Day approaches, we can connect those impacts with our current work to help students learn from the past.
For more teaching tips, lesson ideas, and to connect with fellow educators, consider joining MimioConnect™, our interactive teaching community.