Teaching Day-by-Day: Black History Month
February is Black History Month, a celebration of African American heritage, culture and accomplishments. Let's spend the month learning!
Help your students define some of the following terms: citizen, The Bill of Rights, slavery, discrimination, segregation, equality, civil rights, race and ethnicity. Explain how African Americans have faced many challenges through the centuries, from slavery through Jim Crow.
Review geography with your students to identify Africa, the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and North America. Why did African Americans come across the ocean in the past? How did they get here? Resources can be found at www.pbs.org.
Take students to the library or computer lab to research the life of Carter G. Woodson, an African American writer and father of Black History Month. What is his story? Why did he study history?
Talk to your students about what it means to be fair and equitable as an introduction to the Civil Rights Movement.
African American history has been influenced by the Supreme Court. Introduce students to the key court cases from Dred Scott v. Sanford to Brown v. Board of Education. Have students identify important moments in the careers of Justice Thurgood Marshall and Justice Clarence Thomas.
Take a few minutes each day this week to read a short story or poem by an African American author. A good book to use is 101 African American Read – Aloud Stories by Susan Kantor (Black Dog and Leventhal, 1998).
Make a matching game of famous African American musicians, past and present. Make one set of cards with the name and photo of the musician and another set of cards with the names of songs and other interesting facts about the musicians.
Jacob Lawrence was a famous artist who chronicled the African American "Great Migration" to northern cities like Chicago after World War I in his work. His book The Great Migration (HarperTrophy, 1995) is a great resource for younger students.
Play music from great artists such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday or Dizzy Gillespie during independent study or center time. Visit the "Jazz" site at www.pbs.org.
Brainstorm a list of African American heroes and role models in society today. They could be politicians, actors, teachers, doctors, athletes and others. Have each student select one person and write a story or draw a picture of how that person influences the student's life.
Invite a storyteller to your classroom or school to share traditional African stories and folk tales with your students, or have students act out the stories themselves!
Explore how the lyrics from songs such as "Follow the Drinking Gourd" and quilts of different patterns were used as signals to help guide slaves to freedom. The book Hidden in Plain View by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard (Anchor, 2000) provides further information on quilts.
Benjamin Banneker invented North America's first mechanical clock during colonial times and also wrote his own almanac. Learn about almanacs and how meterologists make weather predictions today.
Garrett Morgan invented the gas mask. Ask students to brainstorm ways they apply Morgan's work in the event of a fire (soaking towels to seal doors, etc.). Invite rescue workers to show students firefighting equipment, including the masks the firefighters wear.
Have students learn about Bessie Coleman, the first African American airplane pilot and Dr. Mae Jemison, the first female African American astronaut. Ask how their stories are similar and how they are different.
In addition to being an astronaut, Dr. Jemison also founded an international science camp for kids. Have students make lists of fun science activities they'd do if they ran a science camp of their own. What science experiments do astronauts perform on the International Space Station?
Elijah McCoy was a popular scientist with over 50 inventions to his name. People would ask if an invention was "the real McCoy." Students should think about inventions that are used for many purposes – like how a sprinkler (a real McCoy invention) can be entertainment on a hot summer day.
Rufus Stokes is an inventor who, in the 1960s, helped clean up air pollution from the smokestacks of trash incinerators and coal – fired power plants. Have students find out how power is generated in their community. Where does the community's trash go?
The autobiography Gifted Hands (Zondervan, 1996) is a great book for middle school readers; it describes the childhood of pediatric brain surgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who began life in Detroit's inner city and who is now a world–famous doctor.
W.E.B. DuBois helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. Have students research how the goals and strategies of the nation's oldest civil rights organization have changed in 100 years.
Give each student a piece of paper with the words, "A Tribute to Rosa Parks" written at the top. The student should then use his or her creativity to write a tribute to the woman who refused to give up her bus seat and thus helped to expand the Civil Rights Movement.
Who are famous African American leaders in your community or state? Have students investigate local history and current events to find out and share with each other.
Ralph Bunche was a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was appointed Under Secretary General of the United Nations. Have students identify organizations that promote conflict resolution, including groups solving disputes among regions, nations, ethnic groups and within families.
With your students, brainstorm a list of people who have led and inspired such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, A. Phillip Randolph, Medgar Evers, Muhammad Ali, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Take the list you created with your students yesterday and engage them in a scavenger hunt using library and Internet resources to learn about the leaders and their time periods. Encourage students to work together while researching.
In 2004, Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate, the only African American in this legislative body. In 2008, he was elected the first African American President of the United States. Ask students to identify other African American leaders who have run for president. Can they think of others who should run?
Ask students to compose a letter to the editor or an e-mail to a government official to show their support for a specific cause promoted by African American leaders today and one they feel is particularly important. Show students how they can make their voices be heard in government.
Have students plan a period or day – long event celebrating Black History Month. Activities could include performing short skits that portray a famous African American, giving short speeches, playing trivia games or creating signs and posters.
Week One – What is Black History Month? Why do we study it in school?
Week Two – African Americans have always contributed to American culture. Let's learn about famous artists, musicians and writers!
Week Three – Let's learn about famous scientists and inventors!
Week Four – A civic leader works to make the world a better place. Let's learn about African American civic leaders!
Week Five – Let's wrap up what we have learned about Black History Month!
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