A Very DBQ Experience

The people of Marietta, GA celebrate the lynching of Leo Frank.

As I began thinking of topics for our document-based lessons, my mind immediately went to a topic with a strong family connection.  My great-grandfather, William Smith, was one of the lawyers involved in the trial of Leo Frank.  However, this dark chapter in the history of Atlanta, Georgia and the Jim Crow South is heavy material, dealing with racism, bigotry, prejudice and lynching.  All are certainly important issues worthy of a lesson, but the incident is not the most light-hearted affair.  I thought I might prefer to investigate in-depth a more approachable topic, but my family ties made the subject too attractive to ignore.

I was indeed correct in the difficulty of the material, and, as I dug deeper, ugliness after ugliness bubbled to the surface.  The topic also began to touch on a broad range of issues in the South, and focusing my lesson on specific documents and skills became an problem.  I decided to focus on media coverage of the event, comparing the coverage of competing local papers and the unseemly journalism that was practiced.

The most frustrating part of my research experience stemmed from the controversial nature of the topic.  As I google-searched various people and incidents, I noticed odd websites popping up.  I learned a bit more about these websites, and apparently the lynching of Leo Frank continues to be a linchpin topic for hate groups to this day.  There are several phony educational sites, published by hate groups, detailing “evidence” of Frank’s guilt and the conspiracies working to have him pardoned.  Unfortunately, these sites seemed to have hi-definition copies of famous photographs from the case, and it proved difficult sifting through the fake sights to obtain quality documents from reputable sources.

Overall, I felt the iBooks DBQ project was the most meaningful piece of work I produced in the MAT program this semester.  Not only did I learn more about my own family’s history, but I also obtained a useful new tech skill.  In fact, in my spring placement I’ve decided to have my students use iBooks author to do a project of their own, presenting a story from a revolutionary period in the form of a children’s book.  The kids will create iBook chapters, assemble them into a collection, and present their stories to an elementary school class.  Their work will then be made available for the whole school to peruse, and for next year’s 7th graders to refer to when making their own book.


What “Flipped” the US Economy on its Head?

“Breadline” by Margaret Bourke-White, 1937

The world continues to be an ever-evolving place, and, as with all things, educational strategies must adapt in parallel.  Today, the most significant change is occurring in the field of technology, and incorporating its use into the classroom is essential to aligning with the evolving needs of students.  Perhaps the most obvious use of this new resource is for delivery of content, and teachers across the world are finding it beneficial to “flip” their classroom, having students watch videos the night before class.  This frees up in-class time for interactive activities and project-based learning.

TEDed Lesson DepressionHere’s a link is to a Ted-Ed lesson on the causes of the Great Depression.  Students watch the video, answer a few questions, and are presented with additional materials to explore and space to converse with each other.  The video raises several points of debate and is largely inconclusive as to specific causes, setting the stage for the activity the following day.  In-class, students will be presented with many strips of paper, each with a different factor contributing to the Great Depression.  In groups, they will sort the strips by level of impact, discussing their rationale as they go.  Once completed, results will be collected and analyzed to produce a class-wide list generated from average list position for each cause.  A whole group discussion and debate on the list will conclude the session.

In my professional career, I fully plan to utilize the flipped lesson model quite often.  I am a proponent of project-based learning, and freeing up time for in-class collaboration is at the heart of this approach.  In my own career as a student, I found interactive tasks that generated a product offered opportunities to feel genuinely proud of my schoolwork, something strikingly absent from the traditional endless chain of worksheets.  Flipping content delivery to the night before allows for this type of meaningful exploration of the material.  Kids can learn by doing rather than just listening.

The traditional top-down-lecture model of education has been made essentially irrelevant by technology.  It is simply not practical to ask students to sit and listen to a speech when they can find the same material online with a quick internet search.  Online materials can be paused, re-watched, and used as reference, creating a useful tool where once only a fleeting lecture was available.  The new task of teachers is to teach students how to use these new tools effectively, and how to assess the sources of information they find.  These are distinct skills that must be taught directly and absorbed through repetition.  It’s a good thing there’ll be so much time in class to work on them.

Image credit: link

Reality Bytes

Prompt:  Assume you have your first full time teaching job and the principal tells you that you’ve been selected to pilot the  “1 to 1 Project.”  What are your thoughts about the opportunities and challenges that  presents?

Despite its obvious utility, the adoption of one new piece of technology into classrooms was exceedingly slow.  The main arguments against its inclusion were that it risked eroding basic skills such as writing and math, and that its presence would be a constant distraction for students.  The fear and resistance of teachers was so great, it took several years for this technology to achieve ubiquitousness.  I am, of course, talking about the roll-out of basic handheld calculators in the 1970s.

Do these arguments sound familiar?  They should.  It is the same stone-walling discourse levied against the use of iPads or laptops in schools.  Surprisingly (or perhaps not), similar anti-distraction arguments were made against the use of blackboards around 1900.  There is a pattern of resistance to innovation here that seems to be less about the technology itself than with the human experience.

A wiser man than me once said, “The only constant in the world, the only thing that never seems to change, is that the world is constantly changing.”  Make no mistake about it, in our lifetimes the agent of change in the world is technological innovation.  These changes are dynamic, rapid, and socially revolutionary, and such comprehensive change creates vast uncertainty.

For we measly humans, dealing with uncertainty is an emotionally trying experience, especially for those of us born well before the full swing of innovation.  These emotions are particularly heavy for people uncomfortable using new technology, and breed aversion and resentment in those feeling left behind.  It is easy to see where resistance to change might arise among people who have developed a comfortable routine (cough cough *teachers* cough cough).

However, consider for a moment if you were not born so long ago.  Consider if you were in fact born right on the crest of this wave of change.  Your frame of reference would not consider this environment a tumultuous one, but simply business as usual.  The rapidly evolving dynamics of social change due to innovation would be your normal state of operations, not an aberration.  As future teachers it is essential that we understand this to be the reality for our students.

Children today are born into a world where the regular use of technology is the status quo.  They are born with a “silver iPad” at their fingertips.  For these kids there is no novelty to using technology, it is simply the way they interact with the world.  It is not just how they entertain themselves, but also how they communicate with friends and family, conduct business (banking, shopping, etc.), and, most importantly for we future teachers, it is how they learn.

Today, we live in a “just Google it” society with anything you’d possibly like to know literally at our fingertips.  There is now more information in the pocket of a child in sub-Saharan Africa than was available to the President of the U.S. just 15 years ago.  There is immeasurable power in this capacity with potentially revolutionary consequences.

So, what does this mean for our classrooms?  A recent study indicates that developing healthy relationships with students is vitally important to academic success.  Cultivating these relationships inherently involves finding common ground with students and creating interactions that feel natural to them.  Considering the digital reality in which kids now live, the absence of technology in today’s classrooms creates a foreign and unrelatable environment, with the teacher as its focal point.  This is a core structural element of the classroom that can fundamentally alienate students.  In essence, teachers who don’t fully embrace technology may find themselves increasingly unable to understand and connect with their students.

Image: link

The Death of Blackbeard

A Lesson for 8th grade U.S. History Students


Content:   Sourcing and Corroborating Primary Documents

  • Students will review 3 different accounts of The Battle of Ocracoke Inlet,  which resulted in the death of notorious pirate Edward “Blackbeard” Teach.
  • In groups of 2-3 they will read and discuss each document, creating a Venn Diagram to help process the similarities and differences in the primary sources.
  • Benjamin Franklin, who was 13 years old at the time of the battle, penned a ballad about the death of Blackbeard.  His poem will be presented on the projector and read to the class.
  • Essential question :   Which author’s work could have influenced the young Benjamin Franklin when he wrote his ballad about Edward “Blackbeard” Teach?
  • Students will write a short argumentative piece answering the question above, defending their choice with evidence from the texts.


  • Questions to think about while reading:
    • For whom is each author writing their document?
    • Did the author have any ulterior motive while writing their account?
    • What conflicting accounts can you identify between the documents?
    • How does each document characterize Blackbeard?
    • What other type of source/document would be useful for a comparison?


Account #1:  The Governor’s Letter


Account #2:  Newspaper Article

Published in The Boston News-Letter, dated “From Monday Feb. 16 to Monday Feb. 23, 1719”:

“… Governour Spotswood of Virginia fitted out two Sloops, well manned with Fifty pickt Men of His Majesty’s Men of War lying there, and small Arms, but not great Guns, under the Command of Lieutenant Robert Maynard of His Majesty’s Ship Pearl in pursuit of that Notorious and Arch Pirate Capt. Teach, who made his escape from Virginia, when some of his Men were taken there, which Pirate Lieutenant Maynard came up with at North Carolina, and when they came in hearing of each other, Teach called to Lieutenant Maynard and told him he was for King GEORGE, desiring him to hoist out his boat and come aboard. Maynard replyed that he designed to come aboard with his sloop as soon as he could, and Teach understanding his design, told him that if he would let him alone, he would not meddle with him; Maynard answered that it was him he wanted, and that he would have him dead or alive, else it would cost him his life; whereupon Teach called for a Glass of Wine, and swore Damnation to himself that he either took or gave Quarter.

“Then Lieutenant Maynard told his Men that now they knew what they had to trust to, and could not escape the Pirates hands if they had a mind, but must either fight and kill, or be killed; Teach begun and fired several great Guns at Maynard’s Sloop, which did but little damage, but Maynard rowing nearer Teach’s Sloop of Ten Guns, Teach fired some small Guns, loaded with Swan shot, spick Nails and pieces of old Iron, in upon Maynard, which killed six of his Men and wounded ten, upon which Lieutenant Maynard, ordered all the rest of his Men to go down in the Hould: himself, Abraham Demelt of New York, and a third at the Helm stayed above Deck.

“Teach seeing so few on the Deck, said to his Men, the Rogues were all killed except two or three, and he would go on board and kill them himself, so drawing nearer went on board, took hold of the fore sheet and made fast the Sloops; Maynard and Teach themselves then begun the fight with their Swords, Maynard making a thrust, the point of his Sword went against Teach’s Cartridge Box, and bended it to the Hilt, Teach broke the Guard of it, and wounded Maynard’s Fingers but did not disable him, whereupon he Jumpt back, threw away his Sword and fired his Pistol, which wounded Teach. Demelt struck in between them with his Sword and cut Teach’s Face pretty much; in the Interim both Companies ingaged in Maynard’s Sloop, one of Maynard’s Men being a Highlander, ingaged Teach with his broad Sword, who gave Teach a cut on the Neck, Teach saying well done Lad, the Highlander reply’d, if it be not well done, I’ll do it better, with that he gave him a second stroke, which cut off his Head, laying it flat on his Shoulder, Teach’s Men being about 20, and three or four Blacks were all killed in the Ingagement, excepting two carried to Virginia: Teach’s body was thrown overboard, and his Head put on the top of the Bowsprit.”


Account #3:  Lieutenant Maynard’s Letter

Printed in The Weekly Journal, or British Gazetteer, 25 April, 1719:

“I sail’d from Virginia the 17th past, with two Sloops, and 54 Men under my Command, having no Guns, but only small Arms and Pistols. Mr. Hyde commanded the little Sloop with 22 Men, and I had 32 in my sloop. The 22d I came up with Captain Teach, the notorious Pyrate, who has taken, from time to time, a great many English Vessels on these Coasts, and in the West-Indies; he went by the name of Blackbeard, because he let his beard grow, and tied it up in black Ribbons. I attack’d him at Cherhock in North Carolina, when he had on Board 21 Men, and nine Guns mounted. At our first Salutation, he drank Damnation to me and my Men, whom he stil’d Cowardly Puppies, saying, He would neither give nor take Quarter. Immediately we engag’d, and Mr. Hyde was  unfortunately kill’d, and five of his Men wounded in the little Sloop, which, having no-body to command her, fell a-stern, and did not come up to assist me till the Action was almost over. In the meantime, continuing the Fight, it being a perfect Calm… I boarded his Sloop, and had 20 Men kill’d and wounded. Immediately thereupon, he enter’d me with 10 Men; but 12 stout Men I left there, fought like Heroes, Sword in Hand, and they kill’d every one of them that enter’d, without the loss of one Man on their Side, but they were miserably cut and mangled. In the whole, I had eight Men killed, and 18 wounded. We kill’d 12, besides Blackbeard, who fell with five Shot in him, and 20 dismal Cuts in several Parts of his Body. I took nine Prisoners, mostly Negroes, all wounded. I have cut Blackbeard’s head off, which I have put on my Bowspright, in order to carry it to Virginia. I should never have taken him, if I had not got him in such a Hole, whence he could not get out, for we had no Guns on Board; so that the engagement on our Side was the more Bloody and Desperate.”


Benjamin Franklin’s Ballad:

Benjamin Franklin never published his ballad, only referring to it in his autobiography.  However, in his collection The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Leonard W. Laboree provides one stanza given to him by George Hayward, a Boston physician and contemporary of Ben Franklin:

“So each man to his gun,
For the work must be done,
With cutlass, sword, or pistol.
And when we no longer can strike a blow,
Then fire the magazine, boys, and up we go!
It’s better to swim in the sea below
Than to swing in the air and feed the crow,
Says jolly Ned Teach of Bristol.”

  • 13 year-old Benjamin Franklin


  • As they read, students will fill a Venn diagram with information about the battle.  They should focus on the supporting details and characterizations given in each document.  This diagram will be used to help them choose which text they’d like to write about.
  • In their 1-2 page essays, students will argue for their chosen account, defending their position with details from the text.  3-4 examples should be included, and comparisons should be tied directly to Ben Franklin’s poem.
  • Upon conclusion of writing, designate a corner of the classroom for each primary source, and have students move to the corner of the piece they chose.  Discuss the class distribution as a group, focusing on the reasons why each student chose their text.  Encourage them to share specific examples and make note of common threads among the class.


I am excited to have an opportunity to teach this lesson, as I think it has great promise to generate some interest.  The swashbuckling affair that was the Battle of Okracoke Inlet takes advantage of the inherent coolness of pirates, and is balanced nicely by tying in the impact on Benjamin Franklin.  This helps ground the fanciful world of the golden age of pirates in reality, and demonstrates that these people and events had a real impact on American society in the 18th century.

I would like to have found online documents for the Boston-Letter article and the printing of Lt. Maynard’s Letter, however my internet research skills did not prove proficient.  Regardless, in this case the content of the documents is the interesting part, as it’s never too difficult to get kids to read about dramatic battles, even if they are written in Olde English.

I found the process of creating this lesson very exciting as I became more of an expert on Blackbeard.  The investigatory nature of sifting through the accounts gave me a real “history-detective” feeling, and stimulating similar sensations in students will help make this lesson more impactful.  If students can learn and participate in detailed investigations of primary sources while being entertained by the novelty of pirates, I think my work here is done.


coming soon


“Capture-of-Blackbeard” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – link

Image: “Blackbeard the Pirate” link

Black Beard’s head on the end of the bowsprit”.  Image: United States Library of Congress.  Prints and Photographs Division.  Digital ID cph.3c16074