Note to Self

Advice to Future Self on Undertaking a DBQ Project:



  1. Start with the document(s) first. Learn about it (or them), and place that document in a time period and look at everything that surrounds it. Follow the rabbit trail from MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” to Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” and see where it takes you. The themes will show themselves sooner or later. Humans are programmed to seek out patterns and find the stories. But starting with a theme and hoping to find documents to undergird that theme is risky. It could work, but it could also lead you on a search for something that doesn’t exist.
  2. Be careful about trusting your crazy brain. Sometimes it does magic tricks when you least expect it. Sometimes it lets you think it can do the impossible. This is when you need to reach out to, and listen to, the friends who will be bluntly honest with you and tell you when you’re headed out onto unfruitful waters.
  3. Don’t try to answer philosophical questions with a DBQ project. Yes, there is an inherent discrepancy between perception and reality. Great. But a DBQ is probably not the correct avenue to explore such an idea. However, don’t be afraid to present the unanswerable questions. Part of life is learning that not all questions have answers.
  4. If you know how your brain works best, go with it. I tried to learn how to design a DBQ while simultaneously trying to figure out how to use Learnist and Evernote with my brain balking at me all the way. When I finally relented to how I learn best (paper and Pilot G-2 pen), my brain finally began to kick into gear. If I had accepted the truth of how my brain works sooner, I could have just gotten the work done and copied and pasted my work into these new programs afterwards. Trying to learn a design process while attempting to learn a new computer program was too taxing and, ultimately, unproductive.
  5. Don’t let your heart get broken, don’t lose anyone you love, and don’t get ill. These will all interfere with your work.
  6. Don’t be afraid to suck at something the first time you try it. Scarred knees are simply reminders that you now know how to ride a bicycle. Embrace the suck. Listen to Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Image credit: Private collection of Karen Elaine Parton

America is this Correct?


“Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army” by Irving Berlin

In 2006, I was riding in a friend’s car down a major thoroughfare in the town in which we lived. We had grown up down the street from each other, had both entered the Army, and had recently ended up as roommates. On this day, a large group of protestors had gathered in the parking lot of a large grocery store near a major intersection. The messages on their placards enraged my friend, who had served in Kuwait, and she rolled down her window to engage in a less-than-friendly conversation with the protestors. One sign in particular grabbed my attention because it stated that soldiers should come home where they belonged, and not be off fighting in a war. What on earth do they think soldiers do? I wondered. War is what we train for, it’s why we spend weeks on end at the range perfecting our marksmanship skills, it’s why we study land navigation and push ourselves to our physical limits during training. It’s not what we want to do, but it’s what we are prepared to do on behalf of our country. How could they say they support soldiers without an awareness of what soldiers do?

I had forgotten about this memory until I began working on a topic for a DBQ project. Initially, I was interested in exploring the theme: What is American manhood? However, after spending time sharing ideas with my fellow classmates, I honed in on a slightly more specific theme to explore: Who is the American soldier? Some of the related questions that came to mind were:

  • How are soldiers expected to behave?
  • How are soldiers viewed (public perception) and treated?
  • How has race changed the makeup of the American military force?
  • How has gender changed the makeup of the American military force?
  • How do socioeconomics relate to the composition of the American fighting force?

As a veteran of the United States Army Reserve, I believe I am uniquely qualified to address this line of questioning. I am well versed in military jargon and familiar with the structure of Field Manuals and other TRADOC (training and doctrine) materials. I am neither embittered or in love with the U.S. military. I also remember many of the early sources of my own information on what it means to be an American soldier. It is an image created from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues, and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. It is an idea informed by Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square and John Filo’s photographs of Ohio National Guard troops firing on student protestors at Kent State. It is a picture that first formed after watching an Army advertisement on television as a small child, when I misheard the lyrics, and thought that the happy faces of young soldiers were being accompanied by a song that said “be all that you can be, you can lose your life in the Army,” and wondering if the soldiers in the ad knew what lie in store for them.

As I begin assembling this project, I don’t have an established answer in mind. My plan is to follow the documents to see where they lead. Thus far, I have found a wealth of sources related to popular culture, in the form of movies, songs, articles in Time magazine, and Disney and Looney Toons animated cartoons. I plan to explore political cartoons, newsreels, speeches, and newspaper articles. I have not set a specific time frame, but there is such a plethora of documentation for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that it may be extraneous to include the Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, and the Spanish-American War.

Dr. Seuss on Domestic Security

A mini-lesson on WWII cartoons by
Kristi Anne McKenzie
Historical Content: World War II (home front)
Historical Skills: Contextualization, sourcing
Intended Grades: 9-12


Use the source information, your knowledge of history, and the video and political cartoons to answer the questions below.


Document A is an animated short film written by Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and P.D. Eastman and produced by Warner Bros. for the War Department as part of the U.S. Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit. Documents B, C and D are political cartoons created by Dr. Seuss for PM, a New York City daily newspaper.



Document A:  Private SNAFU in Rumors


Question 1: When was the film produced?

Question 2: Which two of the facts below might help explain why the author wrote this screenplay?


  1. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dr. Seuss, like many Americans, developed a concern for national security and a fear of foreign enemies.
  2. Private SNAFU cartoons were only shown on military bases; they were not allowed to be shown to the general public. As they were a product for the use of the War Department, the films did not have to comply with standard censorship regulations in regards to decency or colorful language.
  3. In order to keep the animation studios open during the war, companies like Warner Bros. had to produce military training films.
  4. The goal of the Private SNAFU films was to teach lessons on secrecy, military protocols, and disease prevention to soldiers with poor reading skills.


Question 3. Now compare the film “Rumors” with the three political cartoons. How is the intended audience similar and different? How is the intended message similar and different?


Document B: War Monuments No. 3, published January 8, 1942



Document C:  Waiting for the Signal from Home, published February 13, 1942



Document D:  Funny… Some People Never Learn to Keep Their Barn Doors Locked, published February 16, 1942


Lesson Goals: Students should be able to situate the film and the political cartoons on a timeline of World War II events, primarily around the bombing of Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) and President Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 9066 (February 19, 1942). Students should recognize the difference between making an animated film for enlisted men in the military and drawing political cartoons for the general public. They should also note that the message of the cartoons and the film are quite similar, but the difference in the intended audience has an effect on the context.


Possible extension activity: Compare and contrast Carlos Mencia’s 2002 stand-up routine for Comedy Central Presents with Dr. Seuss’ cartoon “Waiting for the Signal From Home.” What themes emerge?


Reflection:  This was a fun project. It seemed to me that it should have been a more difficult task to assemble a lesson on primary sources using a medium that was new to me (Google Presentation), but the Stanford History Education Group’s assessment model was so clear that this lesson came to together almost effortlessly. In fact, it came together so well I thought I must have done it incorrectly, or left something out. My thanks to Sam for thoroughly examining my first draft and offering his insight and support. This is the kind of lesson that makes me feel like I am doing what I am meant to be doing, and moving in the right direction.



Document A, Private SNAFU in “Rumors,” is now in the public domain.

Document B: War Monuments No. 3, published by PM Magazine on January 8, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library.

Document C: Waiting for the signal from home…, published by PM Magazine on February 13, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library.

Document D: Funny… Some people never learn to keep their barn doors locked., published by PM Magazine on February 16, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library.

Dots Not Feathers: Ancient India for Sixth Graders


The following is a lesson study for part of a 10-lesson unit on ancient India that I will be teaching in October. For the purpose of my work sample, I will likely focus on Hinduism, the caste system, the life of Prince Siddhartha, and Buddhism.

Lesson Study (The Life of Siddhartha)

Content (knowledge, skills, course curriculum/standards)

Ss were assigned a reading in advance of the lesson: chapter 16 from History Alive! They were also instructed to make a chronological list of what they believe are the most important events that occurred in Prince Siddhartha’s life.

Curriculum: Ancient India: Buddhism: The life of Siddhartha Gautama. This lesson will serve as a precursor to a lesson (or two) on Buddhism.

Process (materials, procedures, CW/GW/PW/IW*)

Ss will share their list of what they believe to be the most important events from the life of Prince Siddhartha (IW), first with a partner (PW). Then as a class (CW), we will compile one master list of the scenes the Ss believe are the most important to know/cover, as well as how many Ss need to be in each group, and what roles need to be played. Ss will then create tableaux to illustrate the life of Prince Siddhartha in groups (GW; the same # of groups as our agreed upon list of life events).

Product (produced to demonstrate learning)

Tableaux: In small groups, Ss will create tableaux scenes (one per group) highlighting the pivotal moments/main events in the life of Prince Siddhartha.

Evaluation (assessment)

Formative assessment of their performances in the tableaux, participation in the class conversation, and their individual lists of the important events in Siddhartha’s life.

What kinds of thinking will students need to do to participate in the lesson?

Evaluation: what were the pivotal moments in the life of Siddhartha?

Demonstration/illustration (kinesthetic): how do I show this event clearly through a visual scene created with my body and the bodies of my fellow group members?

To what extent do students have options or choices regarding these lesson components?

Ss get to help create the list of “scenes” (important moments in Siddhartha’s life) that will be performed in the tableaux, and Ss have to decide (in small groups) how to demonstrate/show their scene.

Personal Reflection:

Initially, I did a lesson study on the entire ancient India unit, which is the document I brought to our peer review session.  It was important to me to explore everything I wanted to cover. However, the lesson study format turned out to not be the best method for me to explore these options. To fit an entire unit on one page, I had to pick and choose from various threads of thought, which contributed to a lack of cohesion in the document. My thanks to Andy for supporting my use of visual and kinesthetic activities and encouraging me to continue in that direction. My thanks to Erik for helping me focus in on what topics I really want to address and providing follow-up peer review support.

* These designations are Individual Work (IW), Pair/Partner Work (PW), Group Work (GW), and Class Work (CW), terms I acquired at the Paris Teacher Training Centre whilst working on my TEFL certificate.

Image: “Lady in Blue,” taken by the author in New Delhi, India, in October 2009. Available on Flickr.