What do you do to teach modern times? (1980-today)

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One part of a GCSE History course that I have taught over the last few years to 15-16yr old students looked at the effect of terrorism.  The unit looked at 9/11 in terms of students interviewing relatives to find out their memories of the day, where they were etc, what perceptions they have of what happened.  This was followed up by investigating the consequences for USA and GB.  We then compared 9/11 to other terrorist attacks and focussed on the question of which event was the most significant.  Students looked at the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Black Hand in 1914, the July 7th bombings in London, the IRA attacks in the 1970's.  Students were also encouraged to question whether the suffragettes were terrorists.  Students were really hooked on this unit and it helped them to question the nature of protest.  Unfortunately for us, this course has just been cancelled by the exam board that ran it which is a shame - but we will reuse the resources somewhere else.  They are available to anyone who wants them.

What I do to cover recent history is challenge my students perform an oral history project.  Students are to interview people that were teens/young adults in the 70s through 2008.  They work in groups and try determine to what extent the experiences of people their age has changed over the course of four decades.  The Chicago History Museum's Teen Chicago exhibit has some great preliminary questions, release forms etc. to get any class started.  Students also need to research the major events of the time period in which their person was a teen/young adult and ask questions pertaining to those events and what that person recalls.  They submit the following parts of the project:

1. 2 page biography of the person they interviewed.

2. Time line that shows the major U.S. events and the major events of the subject's lifetime (puts the subject life in context)

3. 1 CD or MP3 of the interview

4. Group presentation where they share their findings and answer the question to what extent did the teenage life in the United States change from 1970 to the present.

Students and parents/grandparents genuinely love this assignment.  Great way to end the year doing history rather than just reading it!


If you want more details, let me know!


Our catalogue includes the following tracks: The 70s Song, The 80s Song, and The 90s...and On Song. Each of them have a good amount of people/places/events from the respective eras. And of course you can find all the resources to accompany these at our site.

This year I have done much better in getting to modern times.  My goal is to cover up until 1990ish as history and then address 1990-present as current events.  I Like to have them go home and talk about the modenr evens and get anecdotal stories from their parents about what it was like for them.  It charges the room with a very different energy. 


I am focusing on the Conservative influence as it grew out of the politics of the 60's and 70's, the end of the Cold War, and The US involvement in Middle East events.  If I do my job well all three of those topics will be neatly intertwined.  If I do my job really well, the students will be making the connections between the three by themselves.

This is my first year teaching 20th century history and unfortunately I am only up to the early 90s. Next year my pacing will improve. The students really wanted to do a unit on modern terrorism, but alas time time time is never on our side.


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