Apr 15 2011

Bear Necessity

'Civil War Sallie' travels to schools to get students excited about studying a significant milestone in the nation's history.

'Civil War Sallie' travels to schools to get students excited about studying a significant milestone in the nation's history.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, which ultimately led to the abolition of slavery. Given its historical significance, the Civil War is considered an essential component of any U.S. history curriculum. Engaging today's students in its study requires old-fashioned creativity and next-generation technologies. Civil War Sallie offers both.

Lesson Description: In filmmaker Ken Burns' acclaimed 1990 documentary, The Civil War, the late historian Shelby Foote observed that "any understanding of this nation has to be based on an understanding of the Civil War. It was the crossroads of our being."

Foote's insights offer a powerful reminder of the importance of teaching every generation of students about the Civil War and its impact on the nation they're inheriting. Web 2.0 technologies can play a major role in the teaching of America's deadliest conflict by increasing the amount of information available to today's tech-savvy students. For this lesson, teachers and their students host Civil War Sallie, a donated Boyd's Bear that travels around the United States visiting battlefields, museums and classrooms to learn about the Civil War. I created this project in 2009 to help teach students of all ages about the war and to help them develop their technology skills. During every classroom visit, Sallie Ann comes to life for students through their use of her Web 2.0 sites.

At her best, Civil War Sallie breaks down the walls of the traditional classroom by providing students with access to Civil War experts via video conferencing, behind-the-scenes photographs, and in-depth interviews with historians, curators, educators and authors. By documenting this teddy bear's travels with information-rich blog posts and Twitter updates written from Sallie Ann's point of view and through photos and videos, students visit places they otherwise would never get to see and "meet" people they otherwise might never get to know.

Teachers who wish to host Civil War Sallie in their classrooms need a computer with an Internet connection, a digital camera, and access to her blog, wikispace, Flickr photo album and Twitter feed. When Sallie Ann arrives at their school, students and teachers have a week to share what they're learning about the Civil War with Sallie Ann and with the world online. Classroom lessons and activities don't have to focus on a specific battle or event. Past hosts have taken her to nearby historical societies or museums containing Civil War artifacts, to the cemeteries where fallen soldiers are buried and even to the battlefields. Students and teachers then blogged about these field trips and posted photos online.

Once Sallie Ann arrives at a school, the host teacher and students are required to tweet news of her arrival and departure; tweet about things that happen during her visit; post at least three pictures of Sallie Ann to her photo album; post to her blog at least three times; and add something to her haversack of mementos from her visits. (These souvenirs can be anything from a pin to student-created projects.)

Subject Area: Civil War Sallie can be incorporated into history, language arts, and even math and science lessons at any grade level.

Curriculum Standards: Because Civil War Sallie can be used in a cross-curricular way, she fulfills a wide range of state and national curriculum standards.


Grading Rubric: Students should be evaluated on the quality of their blog posts. Teachers can use a standard writing rubric to assess students' skills.

Sarah Beeghley, 13, is a seventh-grade student at St. Patrick School in Carlisle, Pa. Her Civil War Sallie project (civilwarsallie.com) won first place at the 2009 Pennsylvania Middle School Computer Fair in the web page design category and won the 2009 Edublog Award for "Best Student Blog."


Teaching Tips

  • To sign up your class for a visit from Sallie Ann, go to civilwarsallie.com/signup.
  • Patriot Pete also travels around the country, helping students learn about the 50 states and historical subjects. For more information, visit patriotpete.com.
  • For more curriculum and technology integration strategies, check out Teaching the Civil War with Technology (teachthecivilwar.com).