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Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Chaotic Bliss Homeschooling

Social Studies
Learning History Through Role-Playing
Category: Social Studies
Tags: history games simulation games american revolution boston massacre underground railroad cheyenne indians immigration

(Eastman Johnson (American, 1824-1906). A Ride for Liberty -- The Fugitive Slaves (recto), ca. 1862. Oil on paperboard, 21 15/16 x 26 1/8 in. (55.8 x 66.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Gwendolyn O. L. Conkling, 40.59a-b)

Learning about a historical period or event through a computer game simulation has been proven wildly popular, judging from the success of programs like Oregon Trail. There’s something compelling about stepping into a character’s shoes, and knowing that the choices you make will ultimately determine that character’s fate. And if you happen to learn some history along the way, well that’s a bonus.

Attempting to take the role-playing experience to the next level, with better interactivity and even more history thrown in, is a “documentary adventure game” called Mission US. This free series of games allows players to step into a historical setting, assume the role of a period character, and experience events as they happen. The objective is to get kids to think critically about historical events by presenting them with different perspectives, and showing how everyday people were affected.

Four separate adventures are currently available, each one emphasizing a particular historical concept. They are targeted at upper elementary through high school ages.

For Crown or Colony: This mission focuses on life in pre-revolutionary Boston, culminating in the Boston Massacre. Events are experienced through the eyes of  Nat Wheeler, an apprentice in a printing shop. The main historical concept is “multiple perspectives” -- the differing viewpoints of Patriots, Loyalists, and others during this period.

Flight to Freedom: Focusing on resistance to slavery in the years preceding the Civil War, the game’s action is experienced through Lucy, a 14-year-old slave residing in Kentucky. As the narrative progresses, Lucy escapes to freedom in Ohio, and begins to work with a group of abolitionists. The core historical concept is cause and effect, specifically, how the actions of many people in many places over time (including slaves, abolitionists, politicians, etc.) brought an end to slavery in the U.S.

A Cheyenne Odyssey: This mission explores the impact of westward expansion on the plains indians, specifically the northern Cheyenne tribe. The action is seen through the eyes of Little Fox, as the player experiences the effects of white settlers encroaching on the tribe’s homelands. Main historical concepts include an examination of the conflict between Plains Indians and European Americans, and how cultures sustain themselves during times of dramatic change.

City of Immigrants: This game focuses on immigration to the U.S in the early part of the 20th century. The main character, Lena, sets out on a transatlantic voyage to NYC from Russia. She arrives and is processed on Ellis Island, then makes her way to her brother’s apartment on the Lower Eastside to start her life. The core historical concept is turning points in history. The narrative explores how immigrants adapted to life in the U.S., the working conditions they encountered, and  how women’s roles were changing in society during this period. The narrative culminates in a women’s strike known as the Uprising of the 20,000.

The games are divided into chapters that take from 5 to 20 minutes or so to play. Register for a free account to save your progress, and you can complete a game in one day or over a series of days. Click on the image below for an example of how the games are laid out:

Each game has an educators guide that provides background information on the historical period, plus activities based on primary documents, discussion questions, vocabulary activities, and writing prompts.

Throughout each game, there are also tasks for players to complete or decisions they must make that affect the outcome of the game. For example, during the pre-Civil War game, Flight to Freedom, if you have a task to perform, such as washing clothes, you can do the task well, or resist by not doing such a good job; you can decide to send your brother north to Canada, or try to keep him with you and risk seeing him sold off elsewhere.

Since a player's choices result in different game outcomes, you can use these games in a group setting, like a co-op, and players can compare and contrast their experiences which could lead to some good discussions.

My 13-year-old son has enjoyed playing the first two Missions. He especially likes controlling the actions of the characters, (kicking a Redcoat in the first Mission; running away several times during the second Mission); and meeting various characters who present differing viewpoints. It's been a great way to get him thinking and talking about what it must have been like to live during these historical periods.

Interesting Way to Explore Languages of the World
Category: Social Studies
Tags: world languages languages of the world most spoken languages in the world how many languages are in the world

"What does Xhosa sound like?"

The question came up while my kids and I were reading aloud The Viper’s Nest, Book 7 of The 39 Clues series, which takes place in South Africa. Amid the adventure aspects of the stories, which make for a fun read -- the secret messages, escapes from enemy strongholds, and various close calls the characters experience -- the series also manages to sneak in some history, geography, and cultural information -- tidbits that, if spark an interest, we explore further.

On this particular occasion, my kids’ interest was piqued by two languages that are featured in the story: Afrikaans and Xhosa. My kids are somewhat familiar with Afrikaans because they’ve heard my son’s Boyscout leader (who’s from South Africa) shout at his two boys in Afrikaans plenty of times. But they never heard Xhosa, and were curious about the clicking sounds that are part of that language.

While it's easy enough to do a search on Xhosa or any other language, it's even easier to go to this website I came across that enables you to pull up information and audio files for all the world’s living languages -- nearly 7,000 of 'em. The site, called Langscape, from the University of Maryland’s Language Science Center, presents language information through an interactive map. Zoom in on any spot on the map to see a location's native languages and hear them spoken.

We tried it out with South Africa. We zoomed in and found Afrikaans and Xhosa. Click on the name of the language and a window pops up showing where it’s spoken and latitude/longitude. Scroll down under the map, and see all kinds of other information on the language, including dialects, related languages, and a linguistic sketch which tells you about a language’s grammar and phonemes. Click on the musical notes icon under the map, and you can have fun listening to common words and phrases like, "All the knives are sharp;" "You need five chairs;" and "How does this thing work?" If you want to get even more in depth, there are links to further resources and language experts.

A couple of other cool things about the site: there’s a language ID game where you listen to a language sample and have to identify the language by clicking on a flag. There’s also a 40-page, downloadable K-12 educator’s guide with instructions for using the site, and suggested activities. Some examples:

  • Use the map for a scavenger hunt, and have the kids find out how many speakers French has worldwide; how to say "hello" in Vietnamese; what language is spoken at (6.28, -1.25); etc.
  • Take a language like Spanish or German and compare how it's spoken in different places.
  • Explore Native American populations, comparing where they once lived to their linguistic distribution today. Click on different areas of the map to compare the sounds of different Native American languages.

Great site if you’re working on a nation notebook, or studying a particular language, or including information on languages as part of your other geography and social studies lessons -- or just satisfying a curiosity.

Industrial Revolution: Project Ideas and Resources
Category: Social Studies
Tags: industrial revolution

These projects, focusing on different aspects of the Industrial Revolution, can be used with any curriculum and adapted to various grade levels:

Captains of Industry Activity: This activity contains short biographies of four influential Americans: Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and J.P. Morgan. Fill out charts that explain how each man’s area of expertise contributed to America’s economic growth; their formative experiences, attitudes towards labor, and interactions with government.

Inventions Project and Presentation: Research an Industrial Revolution Era invention by answering a series of questions describing pertinent facts about the invention. Create a written or visual report. This project can be expanded into a group debate activity by having each person develop and present an argument explaining why their invention was the most influential. For help with structuring a persuasive argument around three main points, use this graphic organizer.

 
Webquest on Child Labor: This activity contains brief descriptions and links for researching what life was like for several types of child laborers: factory workers, miners, sea food and farm hands, and newsboys. Fill out worksheets answering  questions such as where the children lived, how they dressed, good and bad things about their jobs, and what reforms were needed. For historic photos, visit The History Place's Child Labor in America.
 
 
Factory Life Comparison/Contrast: Find three pictures depicting factory life in the 19th century, and three pictures depicting factory life today. Make a slide presentation using Google Slides. On each slide, explain how factory life today is different than it was in the 19th century. If you’re in a homeschool co-op, this can be turned into a group project, with individual slideshows being shared, or everyone collaborating on the same slideshow.

Additional Resources:

This Industrial Revolution CrashCourse video can be viewed as a TedEd lesson with questions and discussion topics. Download a one-page worksheet to go along with the video.

Industrial Revolution OverviewLonger video with quiz at the end.

Victorian BritainChildren in factories.


 

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

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