Friday, February 17, 2012

Curriculum Resources: Presidents Day and Black History Month

Looking for a fun and educational way to celebrate Presidents Day this weekend?  Check out some new interactive educational video games on American history produced by WNET, the public broadcasting channel for New York City, geared specifically for middle school students.

Entitled Mission US, these FREE games allow students to see pivotal periods in American history through the eyes of a young person at the time.   In each chapter, the character has some tasks to perform, which cause him or her to interact with a number of other characters that provide contrasting viewpoints.  However, there are multiple pathways through the game.  What the character will experience will vary from game to game, based on the decisions made by the students directing the action.

The first game is entitled "For Crown or Colony?"  In this game, students play the role of a young printer's apprentice in Boston during the rising conflicts between British authorities and American revolutionaries.  The game provides the perspectives of people both for and against Independence, until the students are required to choose one side or the other.

The second mission is "Flight to Freedom."  This time, students play as Lucy, a 14-year-old slave in Kentucky, as she attempts to escape to Ohio.  Even if she makes it, there are plenty of challenges even in the supposedly "free" colonies.  This game presents the ethical dilemnas and viewpoints from all around (such as, is it OK to steal from struggling farmers as you travel along the Underground Railroad?)

While these two missions are the only ones completed right now, there are two more that will be released in 20123 and 2014.  Mission 3 covers the time of the transcontinental railroad and is entitled "The Race for the Golden Spike, while Mission 4, "The Sidewalks of New York," allows students to become muckraking journalists in early 20th Century New York.

While the first two games don't feature George Washington or Abraham Lincoln per se, they are great vehicles for a more nuanced exploration of their times than many curricular materials.  Mission 2 is also a great tie in with Black History month.  And there are some related games you can play, such as "Think Fast! About the Past," a timed historical knowledge game, and a music game.

Here are trailers for the first two missions:

The bottom line is, if your children enjoyed the "Liberty's Kids" PBS cartoon series on the American Revolution as much as my son did during his elementary school years, then you'll definitely want to check out Mission US.  And if they didn't, maybe this will do the trick of turning them on to US history.

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