A Note from the Editor

Creative Commons LicenseAll content on this site is offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

“My name is Thomas Kenning.  I am the creator of Openendedsocialstudies.org.  I am an educator with approximately fifteen years of experience in classrooms ranging from preschool to university, though my primary focus is on grades six to nine in the field of social studies.  I have a bachelors in secondary education from Indiana University and a masters in history from American University.  I started this website because it is the kind of resource that I am always looking for myself – digestible lessons that expand the too limited American notion of “world history,” accompanied by questions that help students to process and apply (not just regurgitate and forget) what they are reading.  If the idea is to build bridges to a broader view of the world – not wall our students in – then I hope this website is one of those bridges, rickety as it may be.

author photo

I am a firm believer that the best teachers are creative and resourceful, making dynamic use of the tools they have at hand. In that spirit, some of the basic text on this website is adapted from open sources (like Wikipedia), but every bit of it has been fact checked and cross-referenced with academic sources.  I’ve made every effort to ensure accuracy, as well as balance, across this website.  I stand by everything I have posted here – I use many of these lessons in my own classroom on a regular basis – but if you see something that strikes you as inaccurate, by all means, please let me know in the comments section of the page in question.

Thank you for choosing to use Openendedsocialstudies.org in your classroom.”

Thomas Kenning is an author, educator, and adventurer. He has written extensively about Washington, DC, including in the recently published Abandoned Washington, DC. Mr. Kenning is the creator of the award-winning Openendedsocialstudies.org, a library of free lesson plans and travel writing designed to foster a sense of wonder about the world and our place in it. When he is not travelling to some far flung corner of the Earth, he resides with his wife and daughter (a DC native!) – planning his next improbable adventure and trying to leave the planet a little bit nicer than he found it.

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Educational and Documentary Films

 


The Museum of Industrial Culture – Moscow, Russia

for use with The Material Culture of the Soviet Union: The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and with it all of the state-run industries that held a monopoly on the ordinary consumer and commercial products that make up the Museum of Industrial Culture in Moscow, Russia. The Soviet system of government was gone, for better or worse, and so too was the material culture that had defined Russian life for generations.


The Maya: Collapse at Ek Balam

for use with the The Maya: Illuminated Offspring of the Makers lesson.  Take a tour of the ruins of the Maya city of Ek’ Balam, in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This haunting marvel begs the question: what led to the collapse and dramatic restructuring of this ancient civilization?


Uxmal: Thrice-Built City of the Maya

for use with the The Maya: Illuminated Offspring of the Makers lesson. Take a tour of the ruins of Uxmal, one of the largest and best preserved cities of the Maya. Located in Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula, the ruins of Uxmal are comprised of the Pyramid of the Magician, the Nunnery Quadrangle, the ballcourt, the Governor’s Palace, and the Great Pyramid. Learn about the history and function of each of these impressive structures, as well as what they can tell us about the Maya world and culture.


What Happens in a Mosque?

for use with the The Gulf States: Cosmopolitan Crossroads lesson.  What are the basic teachings of Islam, and what does it mean to be a Muslim?


The Inca: Andean Civilization in the Realm of the Four Parts

for use with the The Andes, the Inca, the Spanish, and the Making of Modern South America lesson. The Inca were one of the great civilizations of the world, no matter how you measure it – in art, technology, wealth, military power, population, area controlled, or influence on world history.

You and Your Family Are History, Too.

This isn’t your father’s family tree.


 
Captain James Parker arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634.  Before I discovered that he was my ancestor, I assumed that my family had been in the United States no longer than a century or so.

History isn’t only what you read in books or see on YouTube.  It’s not just big men, and they’re not all from Europe, even if mine were… 

History isn’t just famous people.  It’s your family, too.  In that spirit, this assignment asks you to document your own family history – what kind of interesting stories lie back a generation or more in your family tree?  

Often times, young people don’t ask because they assume their elders are boring – that’s just dad, just grandma, and they’ve never done anything interesting.  And their elders don’t share out of modesty, or because they assume that young people aren’t interested anyway.

When my own grandfather died, it was with tons of stories – of his young years as an orphan, as one of the first Americans into Nagasaki after the bomb, as a police officer during the 1960s in the racially divided and restive city of Gary, Indiana…  And now I think of all of the tragic hours that we spent sitting in the same room, some football game that didn’t really matter blasting, drowning out any potential for conversation…  When I was young, I didn’t think to ask, he didn’t think to share – and now that he is gone, all I know of any of this is the barest of sketches.

The goal here is to give you a reason to document your family before it is too late…  To put it in the form of a book or something else (not an over-sized poster destined for the recycling bin) that can be tucked into a drawer or a closet – until you’re old enough to care yourself…

Your family history book will include three key components: 

Family Tree – stretching back in history as far as you can go, including birth and death dates.  This information should be presented graphically.  Along one axis of your page, include a timeline marking out key events in US history as they roughly align with your family’s.  That will look something like this.

Biographical Summary – Compose a brief biographical blurb for each person including information like: profession, military service, interesting facts, etc.  These can be as short as a few complete sentences.  Include pictures (or your own drawings) if available.

Biography – Choose someone other than a member of your nuclear family on which to write a more detailed biography, preferably a few pages in length.  (12 point font, double spaced, Times New Roman)

 

Sources for this project can include:

  • Family members (duh)
  • -Documents and artifacts held in your family’s possession
  • http://usgenweb.org/
  • ancestry.com (This costs money, but with your parents’ help you can sign up for a free trial.  Just make sure you cancel your membership before the end of the trial or you’ll be charged.)

You should include a works cited page in your book.

Alternatively, you may create a website that meets all of the criteria outlined above.  This need not be publicly searchable on the web.

Suggested questions if you’re having trouble interviewing someone and can’t quite get started…  You should listen more than you speak, but here are some questions to get the ball rolling…  Be authentic and natural, and the stories will come:  

  • Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?
  • What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
  • Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
  • Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
  • What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • What is your favorite memory of me?
  • Are there any funny stories your family tells about you that come to mind?
  • Are there any funny stories or memories or characters from your life that you want to tell me about?
  • What are you proudest of?
  • When in life have you felt most alone?
  • If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
  • How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • What are your hopes for what the future holds for me? For my children?
  • If this was to be our very last conversation, is there anything you’d want to say to me?
  • For your great great grandchildren listening to this years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
  • Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?

What is Openendedsocialstudies.org?

Open Ended Social Studies collects and presents original and dynamic classroom materials focusing on parts of the world neglected by traditional world history textbooks in the United States.  The middle and high school lessons hosted here aim to foster critical and historical thinking, greater cultural awareness, and a sense of wonder about the world and our place in it. Open Ended Social Studies is free, always growing, and collaborative – please check back and contribute often.

Browse all of the free texts, activities, and lesson plans – all of the chapters missing from your conventional textbook.

Check out the library of travel writing and photography from previous adventures in the field.

Uxmal: Thrice Built City of the Maya

Check out this new Openendedsocialstudies documentary short, shot on location at Uxmal, a Maya ruin in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.  This tour of the city is a great introduction to Maya culture and can be enjoyed by the casual viewer, the history buff, or in the classroom, in conjunction with our brand new (and totally free) unit on the ancient Maya.

The Maya City

This lesson was reported from:
Adapted in part from open sources.

Continue reading “The Maya City”

The Ancient Maya in Time and Space

This lesson was reported from:

Adapted in part from open sources.

Continue reading “The Ancient Maya in Time and Space”