Bringing heroes to the classroom


Recently in the online community run by our partner, Verizon Thinkfinity, an educator asked how members of our history teachers group “connect the classroom with the outside world.” An avid Skyper, this teacher often finds opportunities to bring experts to his students via the Web. One way that the museum has tried to make the outstanding programming and experts here more accessible to a wider school audience is through live and archived webcasts, including the upcoming National Youth Summit on the Freedom Rides.

FreedomRides300X250 On February 9 at noon EST, the Museum—in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, Smithsonian Affiliations, and American Experience/WGBH—will bring together secondary students and Freedom Rides veterans Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), Diane Nash, Jim Zwerg, and Rev. James Lawson for a discussion on the history and legacy of the Freedom Rides. The program will be webcast live; teachers may register at and submit questions for possible inclusion in the program. Be sure to visit the Freedom Rides page on the museum’s website to find more information and a teachers guide with suggested activities for before and after the webcast.

The museum piloted this model last year with a Youth Town Hall on the Greensboro sit-ins. The archived webcast from last year’s program is available on our website. You can read what students said about it in the blog post, “Powerful Lessons from the Greensboro Four”. Or, hear how teacher Amy Trenkle prepared and discussed the program with her students in “A Teacher’s Perspective on the Greensboro Sit-in Youth Town Hall.”

As Amy noted:

“These…experiences open gateways for students and encourage them not to be passive readers of history but to be engaged in the world around them. It also encourages them to think about the impact that not only one person can make, but what a difference they can make in their own community and for larger movements.”

In an effort to emphasize that larger lesson, we are inviting classes who participate in the program via the webcast to create a short video response to the program. Teachers may upload these videos to YouTube and email the link to the museum before April 30. Selected videos will be featured in our newsletter, on our Facebook page, on our Twitter feed, and on this blog, too! Topics are included below and details are available in the program’s teacher guide.

Video Topics: 

Option 1: Reflection
Create a video montage of students reflecting on any of the questions below, based on their participation in the National Youth Summit program and webcast. The video should include at least one student, and can include as many as is appropriate for your class or school. 
• What was the most important lesson you took from the panel discussion? 
• What did the Freedom Rides accomplish, broadly speaking? 
• What issue today matters to you? What would you do to address it? 
• What is the importance of civic engagement? How do you participate in public life?

Option 2: Local History
Create a video interview with people in your community who were alive during the civil rights movement or who were active in it. Topics to discuss could include their thoughts on the time period and their activism, including reasons they became involved or not, and their thoughts about the movement’s influence on their life choices afterward. Be sure to ask them to reflect on the methods used by the Freedom Riders. Or, examine a civil rights protest or related event in your area that occurred around 1961, and consider the following:
• The practice of active, nonviolent civic engagement during the event.
• The degree of local sympathy, civil unrest, or apathy, if any, associated with it.
• Any changes that occurred immediately or soon after the event.

We hope you will join us for the webcast on February 9 and we look forward to your videos! You can also find more resources for connecting the outside world to your classroom, including a variety of scholarly lectures and panel discussions, through Smithsonian’s History Explorer.

Naomi Coquillon is an education specialist at the National Museum of American History.