U.S. History~ a project for the beginning of the year

Someone on the APUS listserv asked for some ideas for a beginning of the year project involving groups~ here’s what I came up with. I’m sure there are better ideas out there, so feel free to post them:

I envy your having time to begin the class with something fun and not totally related to AP. We begin the day after Labor Day,so to me it seems like a great luxury:

Here are a couple of ideas that might or might not work:

1/ you could have students work in groups to find out and present the origin, effects, and cure or melioration (or eradication) of severeal diseases in the US:
Yellow Fever (1793 in Philadelphia)
Hookworm in the South (Rockefeller Foundation– early 20th century)
Polio in the 20th Century (Sabin and Salk~ mid twentieth century )
HIV~Aids in the late 20th century (NIH and WHO)

You’d give the students a couple of days to research and then have presentations which would include information on the biological cause of the disease (If you had a partner in the science department, you could make this quite technical); the effects of the disease –both on the individual and on the larger society– and how the disease was treated, or eradicated, or attempted to be eradicated, or abated. And, its significance in American history.

What I do in these group projects is to have specific pieces. Each individual is responsible for one piece and that piece is graded, though the group as a whole gets a grade as well– So if you followed this plan you might have each group produce a PowerPoint, a class presentation, a brief paper with bibliography, a class handout, a poster, and a quiz — if you need another job.

I’ve done this sort of thing working with a bioloogy teacher, who is always willing to go above and beyond, and the results have been pretty good. It certainlyhelps students see that US history can be very germane to their lives.

2/ You could have students look at the primary sources connected with some enduring mystery, for example, why did Alexander Hamilton fight the duel with Aaron Burr that resulted in his death?

There are a ton of documents about this on the web (though I’d advise that you find them and assemble them)
Did Hamilton have a death wish as some have suggested? Did he feel that he had to do so to protect his honor as apublic man? Did he really fire in the air?

If you assembled the letters leading up to the duel as well as others ( I know some of them used to be in the first pages of Gorn et al “Constructing the American Past”, though I think they are no longer in the later editions– mores’s the pity) and then various secondary accounts including Joanne Freeman, you’d have an interesting project that you could use for years.

If your class is large, you could assemble a bunch of other documents on the subject of what Burr was doing afterwards that landed him with treason charges?

Each student would produce a three-page paper justifying his or her conclusions and you’d culimate with an interesting class discussion or debate.

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