Choices Teaching Fellows

"The Choices Program provides

that rare opportunity when students simultaneously master rigorous academic content and engage in dynamic historically-based activities—a winning combination for any history course!"

Karen Green

Aspen High School
Aspen, CO

Aspen High School (CO) is a small public school of 550 students. Approximately 95% of its graduates go on to college. We are also an IB World School.

What course do you currently teach where you use Choices material.

I teach IB Global History II and American Democracy and use Choices curriculum materials in both courses. My goals for IB Global History are to thoroughly cover the prescribed topics/subjects and fully prepare my students for the IB exams held in May. Students study 20th century wars, the Mexican Revolution, Cold War, and Arab-Israeli Conflict. Students also examine the origins and development of authoritarian and single-party states. IB students are required to demonstrate extensive analytical written skills in their final history exams. The Choices Program provides that rare opportunity when students simultaneously master rigorous academic content and engage in dynamic historically-based activities—a winning combination for any history course!

How do you use the Choices unit(s) in the course?

Teaching the Cold War in IB History requires a close examination of historic elements in context. I use the lessons from Cuban Missile Crisis: Considering its Place in Cold War History to illustrate how Ex Comm worked and the policy options available at that time. The background reading provides students with an excellent review of early Cold War issues: Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, NATO. The history provided clearly establishes why Cuba posed a concern for the U.S. in the 1950s and gives pertinent background on Castro. It also reinforces the idea that America wasn't afraid to use its new powers in other nations like Guatemala.

Student reading prepares them for the Choices Role Play where students advocate three different options when the crisis occurs: Option #1-Pursue Diplomacy, Option #2-Blockade Cuba, and Option #3: Airstrike & Invade. Each option is presented within a specific historical framework complete with beliefs/assumptions, supporting arguments, and historical references that inform the discussion. The last option argued (Kennedy's option) is advocated by the remaining students. Students evaluate the groups and the pros/cons of the arguments used. Student engagement in this role play compels them to behave and think like the members of Ex Comm, the Joint Chiefs, and President Kennedy. The unique position of each group's argument is portrayed as students present their case—and eventually come to believe—in the virtue of their position. Students evaluate the merits of each argument to conclude the lesson.

I follow this lesson with student analysis of Robert Kennedy's memoir Thirteen Days.

How do you use the Scholars Online videos and Teaching with the News Lessons to supplement the unit(s) you use in the course?

Scholars Online and Teaching with the News are excellent tools for students conducting their own research. Full IB diploma candidates are required to research and write a 4,000 word "extended essay" on a selected topic. I advised an IB student to access Scholars Online in researching the issue of torture as practiced by U.S. policy officials. This student located a wealth of online material that informed her knowledge base more fully. In reviewing Competing Visions of Human Rights: Questions for U.S. Policy, she watched an interview with Paulo Sergio Pinheiro that explored America's international role by asking the question: How do other states view the U.S. human rights record? Captivated by his response, the student enthusiastically developed a thesis question that challenged the practice of torture within the context of defined U.S. human rights policy.

This same student also accessed an important film via Choices (Torturing Democracy) that explains how the U.S. government adopted harsh interrogation tactics as official policy after 9/11. Teaching with the News showcased Interrogation Tactics in the News and highlighted the film. The Choices Program developed the Study Guide for the film—I have used Torturing Democracy and the accompanying study guide in my American Democracy and Civics class as a way to explore the politically charged process of policy change.

What do you like most about these materials?

I am able to adapt virtually any interview or activity to established lessons because these "stand alone" units are exceptionally versatile. The Scholars Online interviews are superb and serve to introduce students to world class professors and foreign policy experts in a student–friendly format.

What do your students say about Choices units?

Initially students don't appreciate the serious work associated with preparation for a role play activity–but over time they come to value the importance in learning varied aspects of history and linking it to more contemporary issues. Some traditionally quiet students complain about the role play because their participation exceeds their comfort zone, but overall student response is positive.

Teachers are always pressed for time. How do you fit Choices into the course?

Choices doesn't need to "fit into" a course because all the preparation work has achieved the task of integrating the material into a larger framework. I think it's essential to approach the Choices lessons as "a way of teaching" what we already do. Choices packages complex history and current issues in a manner that frees teachers from cumbersome "cut and paste methods." The Choices Program offers outstanding content, context and clarity—teachers may adapt any aspect of the curriculum to their teaching style. Choices will give teachers back some of that time they sorely need—and will improve classroom instruction as well.

How do Choices units help you teach 21st century skills?

All Choices units promote deliberate, thoughtful collaboration by students that require critical thinking in the Choices role play. Although debating allows students to learn "one side" of an issue and hold fast to that belief, I prefer using a role play that directly engages students in the decision making moment of history. The mindful approach that guides collaboration is part of a teamwork dynamic students will encounter in considering contemporary work and life issues.