Middle School Lesson Plans for a Unit Studying History Makers

Unit Topic:  Changing History

Unit Description: This unit is designed to teach students about people who have changed history, and to challenge them to realize that they could change history too.

Audience: Middle School students (to be conducted during computer lab time, or in a classroom where every student has access to a computer.  Some of this will be done as a homework assignment)

Lesson Topic 1:  Who Has Changed History?

Lesson Objectives:

  • Define what it means to change history
  • Identify people who have changed history
  • Generate a collaborative online resource of people who have changed history

Social Media Tools: Poll Everywhere, LiveBinder

Justification for selection of social media tools Poll Everywhere increases student engagement by asking students their opinions.  It is also used as a brainstorming tool in this activity.  LiveBinder was chosen as a platform to gather Internet research collaboratively in a simple, straightforward way.

Student Activity Introduce students to the idea that history can teach us a lot if we study who shaped it, and how they did it.   Start by telling students that we are going to come up with some definitions of what it means to change the world.

Announce a brainstorming session.  Have students go to the Poll Everywhere website and answer the following question: What does it mean to change history? Help students access the site if they need help.

Once students have had some time to contribute their voice, break the students into groups of 4-5.  Each group is to take the poll results and create their group’s response to the poll question to share with the class.  The students are also given the following questions to consider while they are creating their definition:

  • Do you have to be famous to change the world?
  • How big does a change need to be to be considered world-changing?  Can a small acts change the world?
  • How are people who change the world the same/different than others? Do we always know that we are changing the world?

Students select one member of their group to read their definition to the class.   Instructor will post these definitions on the LiveBinder that is discussed next.

Once students have shared their definitions, tell them that the class is going to spend some time studying people who have changed the world.  Inform them that we are going to create something called a LiveBinder, in order to keep track of our research.

Explain what a LiveBinder is.  Give each student the global username and password and have them access it.  Show students the LiveBinder created for this project, which has been prepopulated with an “Instructions” tab, and two example tabs.

Start by reviewing the Instructions tab, which lists the details of the assignment.

Assignment: Each student is to add a minimum of three people to the LiveBinder – one woman, one man, one child (someone under 18).  At least one of these people needs to be relatively unknown (meaning most people would not know who they were if you said their name).  Students will get extra credit for adding up to two more people.  Have students add at least two websites (as sub tabs) for each person, as sources information about this person’s life.  Students are to create a summary form for each person that is to be completed and uploaded to that person’s tab.  This summary template is available for download from the instruction tab in both a Word and PDF format.  Tell students to upload their summaries as PDF’s (Word documents show up as a link only).  Include instructions on how to save a Word document as a PDF.

Ask students to consider a variety of fields:

  • Science
  • Mathematics
  • Technology
  • Medicine
  • Politics
  • Activists (people fighting for minority rights based on gender, ethnicity, etc.)
  • Philanthropists
  • Environmentalists
  • Explorers
  • Business People

Suggest that students use search terms like these:

  • ________________________ (e.g. people/women/kids/scientists, business people, etc.) who have changed the world/made a difference
  • Unknown people who have changed history

Next, review the prepopulated tabs.  Take students through the process of adding a third tab (steps below).  Webpages will already be open on the instructor’s computer for this example.

  1. Do a web search using one of the suggested term.
  2. Select an individual.  Once a person is chosen, tell students to do an additional search for that individual’s name to access more information.
  3. Review sites and select the best ones.  Use best judgment and select websites that are interesting and full of quality information from a reputable source.  Let students know that they will be graded on the quality/reliability of their links.
  4. Create a new tab with this person’s name on it (be sure to put your name or initials after it – more on this below).
  5. Add the best websites as subtabs (again, be sure to add your name/initials).
  6. Complete a Summary sheet for each person.  Add at least one photo.  Upload this to the main tab.  This means that when someone clicks on this tab, the first thing they will see is this summary.  Feel free to include links to videos as well as websites.

Demonstrate how to add a tab and subtabs.  Point out that when students add tabs/subtabs to the LiveBinder, they need to include their name or initials in parenthesis at the end of each tab or sub-tab that they create.   This is necessary because we are using the free version of the tool, which does not allow student accounts to be established.  All students will use the same account, so if they do not put their name/initials, the instructor will be unable to discern who added what to the LiveBinder.

Show students how to install the “LiveBinder It” button on their browser’s toolbar.  Have each student install the button on the computer they are working on.  (Include instructions for adding the button at home).

Have a discussion with students about duplicates – have students decide what to do if students select some of the same people.  Decide as a group how to handle this.  For example, have students decide whether duplicates are allowed, or whether the first one to create a tab gets that person.  Add this information to the Instruction tab.

Point out the grading rubric.

If class time permits (and it probably won’t), have students get started.  Have them research and add one person.  The rest of the assignment is to be done at home.

Possible Challenges and How To Handle

There is no way to determine how students will handle these tools or activities, so the instructor needs to be flexible.  Spend more time than anticipated if students need it.

Students will be disengaged if the exercise is overly structured and formal.  Keep the emphasis on student involvement.  Allow the evolution of ideas and enthusiasm, while keeping the process flowing.

Make sure that the LiveBinder is set up correctly.  Practice in advance.

Unforeseen issues can arise, instructor must remain patient, flexible and adaptable to whatever comes up.

Evaluation The activities themselves are the evaluations.  The polls give the students the opportunity to think critically and express their unique voice and personally engage with the subject.  Students again demonstrate critical thinking and practice collaborative skills while creating their own definition of what it means to make history.  Instructor observes students as they walk through the example and evaluates how well students are grasping the process.   Instructor will check the LiveBinder daily to monitor the student’s progress.  If a student is not following the assignment, the instructor will coach that individual as needed.

Lesson Topic 2: My Favorite History Maker

Lesson Objectives:

  • Compare history makers and select personal favorite
  • Construct an online poster that demonstrates why the student favors this history maker
  • Evaluate other students’ projects to build collaborative and social networking skills

Social Media Tool: Glogster EDU

Justification for selection of social media tools Glogster EDU was chosen because of it ease of use, and because students can include virtually anything – text, photos, videos, graphics, sounds, drawings, and data attachments (the last two are only available with a subscription).  This tool facilitates creative expression and allows students to demonstrate personal understanding in a way that is exciting to most (if not all) students.  This tool also allows commenting, thus enabling instructor and peer assessments.  Finally, it is free.

Student ActivityOnce the LiveBinder assignment is complete, students are asked to review the entire LiveBinder, and then select their favorite history maker.  Their next assignment is to create an online poster that demonstrates why the student chose this history maker.

Have students access the Glogster EDU site.  Ask students how many are familiar with this tool.  Explain briefly what it is.  Have students click on the “Best Glogs” tab at the top of the page, and let students explore some of the glogs created by others.

Next, outline the assignment in more detail (give to students as a handout and post on the class website along with the grading rubric):

  1. Review the LiveBinder and select the person who inspires you the most (the person you would most like to be like).
  2. Give your Glog an attention-grabbing title
  3. Include at least one picture of the person
  4. Include at least 5 facts about their life
  5. Describe their contribution(s) that changed the world – what they did and how it changed the world.
  6. Keep text sections brief – people will not want to read too many words in one place.
  7. If design inspiration is needed, review other Glogs and ask yourself which ones are your favorite – and why.  See if you can use the same techniques on your Glog.
  8. Tell us at least two reasons why they are your favorite.  Let students know that this is the most important part of the assignment.  Encourage students to give this a lot of thought.  Let students know that just saying, “she’s cool” is not good enough.  Have students ask themselves, “Why is she cool to me?’  Other questions to ask:  What do her actions motivate me to do?  How has this person inspired me?  Do I want to change something because I learned about this person – if so, what?  Has this person caused you to think differently, if so, how?  What qualities do they have that you think are important?
  9. You are required to comment on at least three of your classmates’ Glogs.  Give students commenting guidelines (be nice/polite, begin with a compliment, ask a question or say what you liked about their work, write in complete sentences, and proof read before you send).

Show students a sample Glogster – the instructor’s favorite history maker.

Have students play around on an actual poster to get used to adding media.  Have then practice adding a photo, adding a video, changing colors and type, selecting a background, adding sounds, etc.

If time permits, allow students to begin the process of reviewing the LiveBinder and selecting their favorite.

Possible Challenges and How To Handle

Some students may need help with how to do screen captures, find audio clips, etc.  Let students know that you will help anyone who needs it.  Survey students to get an idea how many may need help.  Allocate more class time to work on this project if needed.  Students can also be encouraged to help other students.

Make the deadline for posting comments after the Glog deadline since many students will probably turn them in at the last minute.  Class time could be allocated for commenting.

Determine how to set up student accounts since the free account does not have s student account generator.  Either students can sign up for their own account and share their url’s with the class (more challenging), or a new account could be created for the class, where everyone goes into the same account and creates their Glog.  If this option is chosen, students will have to make sure that they sign their names to their comments, so others know who the post is from.  A third option is paying for a subscription, as this would make the process easier, and is not too expensive ($30 per year).

Evaluation The Glogs and the students’ comments graded according to the rubric will serve as the main evaluation instrument.  Students’ skills in capturing and uploading media, as well as accessing and using Glogster will also be evaluated along the way to make sure that students have the technical ability they need to create the project that they desire.  This exercise adds to digital literacy, stimulates creativity, requires critical thinking and builds social networking skills.


Lesson 3: How I’d Like to Change History

Lesson Objectives:

  • Reflect on what has been learned about people changing history, and develop a presentation about how to personally change history
  • Evaluate other students’ projects

Social Media Tool: TED.com/YouTube Videos, Voicethread

Justification for selection of social media tools TED.com and YouTube videos show us that the world is full of people who have great ideas.  These videos show examples of people working on their ideas and making them real.  These videos are to inspire students to search for and pursue their own good ideas.  And of course they are free.

Voicethread is a tool for sharing presentations and conversations, so it is an appropriate tool to use for the final project in this unit.  Voicethread is easy to learn/use, and lends itself well to the topic of this project.  Allowing so many ways to respond, as well as showing all responses on one page, makes this a more personal project.  The Voicethread site indicates that every voice is great and worthy of the world’s attention.  That is exactly the message that this whole unit is trying to convey.

Student Activity Once the Glogster assignment is complete, students are ready to reflect and apply what they have learned to their own lives.  Their next assignment is to create a presentation (using PowerPoint or video) that describes how, if there were no limits, the student would like to change the world.

Ask students what good it does to study people like this if it does not cause us to look inside ourselves for our own greatness?  Does it do any good to look at these people and then feel small and insignificant in comparison?  Is it better to notice that these people are the same as you and me – regular people who took action in the direction of their ideas?  There are great ideas inside of everyone, but so many people seem content to complain.  Complainers don’t solve problems or make the world better – they are part of the problem.  Other people feel weak, small, or afraid.  All these people that we studied had these same feelings at some point, but they took one step, then another, then another in the direction they wanted to go.  So what holds you back?  Never thought about it before?  No ideas?  Too young?  No money?  Fear?

In this next assignment, you get to think about how you could become a history changer – in a small or large way.  Let’s look at a few videos for inspiration. Videos will be projected on class SmartBoard.

Video 1: This is a video about kids taking five minutes a day at school to make the world a better place.

Change the World in Five Minutes Every Day at School

Video 2: This is a clip from the movie Pay It Forward.

You Can Make a Difference (Clip from the Movie Pay it Forward)

In this movie, 11 year old, Trevor, started by doing three favors for people and asking them to do favors for three other people (asking them to do favors for three others.  This project ends up with the name “Pay It Forward.”   It’s a simple idea that could really make a big difference if it catches on.

Video 3: If you have a good idea, here’s a quick video that will show in a fun way, how to start a movement.

TED talk by Derek Sivers entitled, How to Start a Movement


Create a presentation that describes how you would make a difference in the world if you had no limitations.  Pretend that you have everything you need – nothing stands in the way – what would you do?  Use PowerPoint, or create a video.

In addition to describing the change that you would make, include at least two things that you could do right now to take a step in this direction.  Could you do research?  Or find people on the internet who have the same idea?  Perhaps you could join a group that is already working on something like this?  Write an email to someone who could help you?

Once you complete your presentation, upload it to Voicethread.  Have students visit the Voicethread website.  Give students a few minutes to explore the website and look at a few Voicethreads.  Next, walk students through the process of uploading a Voicethread by uploading a sample assignment.  Students are also required to comment on at least three of the Voicethreads posted by their peers, using the same guidelines from the last assignment (review the guidelines with students).  Give students time to view the sample assignment and ask each student to leave a comment on it, so that they can practice.

Provide a handout for students that are struggling with the assignment that contains prompts like these:

What makes you angry about your life?  About the world?  How do you think it could be better?

So many people want to complain.  If you see something that you do not like, instead of complaining, ask yourself, what do I want instead?  Is there anyone doing this now?  Can I imagine how this could happen?

What issues do you care about?  What are your ideas about how to change them?  What are people doing now?  How about these issues?

  • Poverty
  • Hunger
  • Bullying
  • Gay Rights
  • Improving Schools
  • Recycling
  • Saving the Rain Forest
  • Animals

Would you like to invent something or start a business?

Would you like to change yourself in some way so that, if you were successful, you would inspire others to do the same?

Think about this quote attributed to Margaret Meade? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Possible Challenges and How To Handle

Some students will probably need help with the creation of their PowerPoint or video.  Additional class sessions will be allocated for working on these projects, and help will be available to any student who asks.  Students will be encouraged to help each other during class times as well.

To use Voicethread in an educational setting, it will be necessary to subscribe.  The cost is $60 per year (or $15 per month).  There are also school-wide and district-wide plans.

Make the deadline for posting comments after the Voicethreads are due, so students can have more choice as to whose Voicethread they comment on.  Class time could be allocated for commenting.

The instructor must have experience with Voicethread, PowerPoint, and basic video recording/editing skills in order to help students.  These tools must be available in the classroom.  It is important to stay aware of where students are with their projects and to help those who are falling behind.

Be aware that some students may not have PowerPoint or access to a video camera at home.  Survey students and find out whether students have access to these tools at home.  Add additional class time as necessary so that students can work on the project in school.

Evaluation The main evaluation instrument is the Voicethread itself as well as the students’ comments, graded according to the rubric.  The process of selecting the topic requires self-reflection.  The process of creating the presentation and uploading it to Voicethread builds computer literacy skills.  Student commenting improves students’ social collaboration skills.

A Kirkpatrick-style evaluation will be administered at the end to gather feedback from the students regarding their reactions and learning during the entire unit.  The results will be used to improve the unit in the future.


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