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  History—just a collection of boring facts? Not according to this month’s spotlight writer.


A Case for “Big Picture” History

As a child I was surrounded by adults who loved history. The stories told to me by my grandparents and parents made me feel connected to the past. For me, history wasn’t a class you took in school—it was life itself. It came as no surprise that I grew up to be a historian and teacher.

Like many teachers who have taken their love of history to the classroom, I discovered that
most students failed to share my joy of learning about the past. If asked to describe history,
most students would exclaim “boring.”  If pressed to elaborate, they would likely respond with their own question: “Why do we need to learn this anyway?” Their most immediate concern was if they
were going to be tested on this material.

I spent a long time pondering why students view history as a useless subject. I realized that to most students, history is a series of isolated “facts” grouped in something called a chapter. You finish the chapter and take a test. You then move on to another chapter and another test. The chapters are grouped into units and, of course, there is a test at the end of each unit. To students, the school year goes by in a blur of meaningless dates, events, and dead people. 

Remember the adage about not being able to see the forest for the trees? Missing from history is not the specifics but a coherent overview. I came to believe that the primary role of a history teacher is to help students learn how to make sense of all the isolated data to which they are exposed:
in essence, show them how to connect the dots so they can see the “big picture.” 

One way to do this is through the use of material culture, the study of a society through its tools, clothing, games, music, and everything else that it produces. It allows students to compare what they know (their world) with that which they don’t know (the past). Here is an example of how it
can work. All you need is a replica of a two-sided comb available through Internet reenactor
supply sites. 

The comb is made out of horn. Why horn? The answer is that horn was the plastic of the period.  When hollowed and plugged, a cow horn became the perfect waterproof container for gun powder. Horns from cattle could be carved or molded into various shapes, like a comb.

Why does the horn have two sides? Notice that one side has course teeth and the other has fine teeth. The first is for combing hair—the second is for combing lice out of hair! The existence for this type of comb says something about early 19th century Americans.  Lice were a problem with which these people had to contend.

Why were lice so common? Bathing without plumbing was a difficult chore. So was doing laundry.  Washing one’s body or clothes was not a priority in cold weather. Drying wet wool, one of the most common fabrics of the day, could take days. Then a miracle cloth appeared—cotton.

Why was cotton a miracle cloth? It was cool, colorful, comfortable, and could be washed and dried much easier than wool. More frequent washing meant a reduction in the conditions that produced lice. In addition to becoming more fashion forward, people began to get a little healthier as well. 

But there was a negative side to this development. The large scale planting of cotton wore out the soil, creating a demand for new land. Thus, a constant push westward marks the early days of the republic. Moreover, a labor force was needed to cultivate this new miracle cloth, perpetuating the institution of slavery. Although Northerners rejected slavery, they nevertheless benefited from the development of textile factories throughout New England as a new industrial age emerged. 
The evolution of two distinct economic systems in the North and the South, as exemplified by slavery, contributed to the almost inevitable rush towards civil war.

This short but broad overview started small (the louse) and ends big with a national tragedy.
It reinforces the concept of cause and effect, something that hopefully translates to their own lives.  Moreover, it enables students to develop a rationale for historic events that elevates this newly acquired knowledge from meaningless to meaningful. It adds two factors that are so often missing from classroom history—context and relevance.  

The challenge facing teachers is to break free of textbooks and mandated guidelines that present students with a streamlined chronology of unconnected facts. Present history as the grand tale of humanity in which the past, present, and future are interwoven. Tell a story in which something as insignificant as an insect holds the key to understanding big events. 


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DVT Channel

KLRN is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month 2008 (September 15-October 15) with a great lineup
of programs that entertain while examining the history, heritage and cultural contributions of
Hispanic and Latino Americans.

PBS’ children’s content continues to serve a diverse audience with series that encourage healthy exploration of cultural differences while providing opportunities to learn and grow as individuals.

On the new season of SESAME STREET, kids can follow Murray, the street’s newest friendly resident monster, as he deciphers clues from his little lamb friend, Ovejita. Murray faces a challenge, however: all of Ovejita’s clues are in Spanish! Murray uses visual hints to stay hot on Ovejita’s trail.
Maya & Miguel
On the PBS KIDS preschool destination, Miss Rosa invites children to discover new cultures and build language skills through Spanish language content, while PBS KIDS series BETWEEN THE LIONS, DRAGON TALES and JAY JAY THE JET PLANE insert Spanish words into their curricula
to help English speakers learn beginning Spanish. On PBS KIDS GO!, MAYA & MIGUEL
(also a nominee for the Imagen Awards), continues to promote the value of cultural diversity while supporting school-age English language learners by combining English and Spanish language in stories about Maya, Miguel, their family members and their friends.

Latino's 08
Airs Wed., Oct. 8, 9:00-10:00 p.m.
LATINO'S ’08 examines how today’s candidates and advocacy groups are trying to mobilize and attract this unpredictable group of voters. Will McCain manage to win back Latino defectors, in light of his party’s harsh rhetoric on immigration? Will Obama succeed in securing the votes of the many Latinos who supported Hillary Clinton during the primaries? In investigating such questions, LATINOS ’08 sheds light on an important part of America’s future.

Airs Sun., Oct. 12, 9:00-10:30 p.m.
JUSTICE FOR MY PEOPLE tells the story of Dr. Hector P. Garcia — Mexican Revolution refugee,
medical doctor to the barrios, decorated war veteran, civil rights activist and presidential
confidante — as he fought to bring attention to the Mexican-American civil rights movement. Returning to Texas after World War II with six battle stars, Garcia found that while Mexican-American veterans had been changed by the war, prejudiced America had not. His people faced public
school segregation, squalid living conditions in labor camps and second-class citizenship. In 1948, Dr. Garcia founded the American GI Forum, empowering Mexican Americans to fight numerous
legal and political battles against discrimination.

Antiques Roadshow


Airs Mondays at 8:00 p.m.
There is a new section on the Antiques Roadshow website developed just for educators to help integrate the study of material culture (artifacts and objects) into teaching, using objects appraised on the program. Through questions, activities, and other resources, students take a closer look at the "things" people have used throughout history to create history — their own, their communities', and the world's — and gain new insights and a sense of wonder about the people and events of the past, the present, and perhaps
the future.

Airs Tues., Oct. 7, 8:00 p.m.   
The second presidential debate between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama features undecided voters posing questions to the candidates. Tom Brokaw moderates the debate, live from Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee. Analysis from THE NEWSHOUR team anchored by Jim Lehrer with David Brooks and Mark Shields follows.


The Choice 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008, from 9 to 11 P.M. ET on PBS

Encore broadcasts: Sunday, October 26, and Monday, November 3, 2008

Download free from iTunes beginning October 15, through the end of November.

It has been called one of the most historic presidential elections in our nation’s history—Barack Obama versus John McCain. It is a race that pits the iconoclast against the newcomer, the heroic prisoner of war against the first African American nominated by a major party. FRONTLINE's critically acclaimed series The Choice returns this election season to examine the rich personal and political biographies of these two men in The Choice 2008, airing Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008, from 9 to 11 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

The Choice 2008, part of "PBS Vote 2008" election coverage, draws on in-depth interviews with the advisers, friends and those closest to these unlikely candidates, as well as with seasoned observers of American politics, who together tell the definitive story of these men and their ascent to their party's nominations.

When FRONTLINE first aired a profile of presidential candidates during the 1988 election,
The Choice
redefined political journalism on television. Now, in an unprecedented election year, veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk (Bush's War, Cheney's Law) goes behind the headlines
to tell a deeper political story about the candidates, the decisions they made, and why their nominations may indicate a historic change in American politics.



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PBS TeacherLine Tips to Evaluate Internet Resources pdf (37.6 KB) - Color
PBS TeacherLine Tips to Evaluate Internet Resources pdf (31.3 KB) - B/W

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If you’ve never taken an online course, now is the time! PBS TeacherLine's high quality, standards-based graduate-level courses offer teachers the professional development opportunities in an accessible online format that makes learning fun, flexible and collaborative. Earn training or graduate credit while gaining strategies and resources to bring directly to your classroom.
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Teacher Favorite = Teacher Favorite
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INST125 Building Critical Thinking Skills for Online Research Teacher FavoriteClassroom Link
Subjects: Instructional Technology, Instructional Strategies
Grades: Kindergarten-12th
Hours: 30
Put 21st century skills into practice as you help students get the most from their online research by encouraging their critical-thinking and information literacy skills. Explore different information search process models and strengthen your own online research skills.

INST320 Connecting Family, Community and Schools
: Instructional Strategies
Hours: 30
Learn the Action Team for Partnership (ATP) model and discover how to engage families and communities in children's education. Examine the "connection" issues, acquire tools to integrate partnership programming into your curriculum, and develop a plan that involves parents, family members, and community resources in your own classroom.

PBS TeacherLine Peer Connection

Get Connected!
In the drive to improve teaching practice and student achievement, many schools and districts are turning to instructional coaches to support school-wide improvement and enhance classroom
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At PBS TeacherLine, we support professional development from the classroom forward. Our new
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Getting Started: Step-by-Step is a new site that provides easy to follow instructions for new users to help them log-in, learn the functionality of DE streaming and/or DE Science, and encourage them to use it frequently.  With videos, training resources, integration ideas and professional development opportunities, Getting Started was built and packaged for you to pass right along to your teachers.

Discovery Educator Network Webinar Series

The Discovery Educator Network (DEN) is a global community of educators passionate about teaching with digital media, sharing resources, collaborating, and networking. With over 25,000 members providing professional development to over 250,000 educators worldwide, the DEN connects teachers both on-line and in-person. Discovery Educators have exclusive access to a wide range of resources, professional development activities, networking opportunities, exclusive Discovery Educator events and more!

Voted the best professional development website in 2007 by the Association of Educational Publishers, this website is a place to connect to other educators across the globe. Here, all users can read the blogs and discussion boards. Discovery Educators (any educator that has a Discovery account) have the ability to comment on the blogs, post to the discussion boards, and register for Discovery Educator Network events.

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Lesson Plans and other resources for the classroom

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American Experience: Website and Educator Resources
Search or browse over 1,500 features from more than 110 American Experience Web
sites —including timelines, primary sources, teacher's guides, maps, galleries, interactives,
video, and more to find history, civics, and other social studies resources for your classroom.

From the NOW Classroom
Because the American public is so inundated with news, commentary, and spin regarding the 2008 presidential race, it's vitally important to help students understand the truth and core values behind American political campaigns and elections. Use the lessons and activities from the NOW Classroom to inspire understanding, critical thinking, and opinionated expression in your classroom and beyond.

Access, Analyze, Act: A Blueprint for 21st Century Civic Engagement Curriculum Guide and Web Resources

Vote 2008: Access, Analyze, Act
KLRN and PBS Teachers are proud to offer a new, elections-related curriculum, Access, Analyze, Act: A Blueprint for 21st Century Civic Engagement, which includes a rich collection of standards-based readings, discussion questions, and lesson plans for students in grades 7-12. These are complemented by three video modules for teachers and an interactive political personality quiz for students. All materials are designed to promote students' media and information literacy skills and civic engagement. The curriculum is available online at

Media Infusion

Each month guest experts discuss and invite you to share your ideas about using multimedia resources to address common instructional challenges. These practitioners live and work in your standards-based, resource-challenged world. They share your commitment to creating rich, engaging learning experiences for students and are pioneering methods for infusing their instruction with media to improve learning across grade levels and curriculum topics. Pull up a screen and join us!
This month’s topic: Using Social Media to Promote Civic Engagement, with Kristin Hokanson, (Multidisciplinary, 6-12). Continue reading is a weblog that explores how new technology and Internet culture affect how educators teach and children learn. It will offer a continuing look at how new technology such as wikis, blogs, vlogs, RSS, podcasts, social networking sites, and the always-on culture of the Internet are impacting teacher and students' lives both inside and out of the classroom. also wants to hear from you, and welcomes your participation on the site and your feedback.

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Conversations, KLRN’s public affairs program, raises awareness about the talent, energy and commitment of people who make a positive difference— in the quality of life, in the social and economic well being of the city, and in the prospects of the city as a place where our children will want to have careers and raise their families. It is about stories and sharing ideas with our audience. Click the link to watch a recent edition of Conversations, featuring Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education and Dr. Robert Durón, Superintendent of the
San Antonio Independent School District, as they discuss 21st century skills for educators and how SAISD is utilizing PBS TeacherLine Capstone courses for integrating technology in the classroom.

Wings Over the Alamo

The Wings Over the Alamo Educator’s Guide— Teachers interested in San Antonio History
in their lessons on Texas history will find the Wings Over the Alamo documentary
produced by KLRN to be packed with a lot of great information surrounding San Antonio’s
long history in military aviation.

Visit the Wings Over the Alamo website!

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High School Teachers:

Are you looking for an opportunity that showcases your students’
exceptional academic talents?

KLRN, the public television station that serves San Antonio and South Central Texas, is pleased
to announce the production of BrainGames — a new, televised quiz show that celebrates student achievement and teamwork in a spirited academic competition.

Showcasing 16 high school academic teams from KLRN’s viewing area, BrainGames also presents schools a unique opportunity to engage their students, families, and educational community. BrainGames will begin production in January 2009 (before a live studio audience),
with episodes airing on KLRN throughout the spring.

Your school can be a part of this exciting academic competition, and could walk away with individual scholarships for students’ college expenses, a trophy to display at your school,
and the bragging rights of having the very “best and brightest” in South Central Texas!

Your school principal will be receiving a packet for BrainGames in the mail this week!
Talk to your Principal or visit for an application and further information.
You can also contact KLRN’s Director of School Services, Malinda McCormick, at 210-270-9000
ext. 2251 or

Remember only 16 high schools will be chosen to compete!
Get your applications submitted ASAP!

Let the Games Begin!

Zoo BOO!

Zoo Boo will be held on Thursday, October 30th and
Friday October 31st. from 6 to 9 p.m.

Come Visit KLRN’s Early ON Booth at the 22nd Annual San Antonio Zoo Boo
The 22nd Annual San Antonio Zoo Boo will take place on Thurs., Oct. 30 and Fri., Oct. 31, 2008 from 6-9pm at the San Antonio Zoo. Zoo Boo is a non-scary Halloween event for all ages, complete with a costume contest for kids. KLRN will host an Early ON booth at the event with free resources and fun, educational giveaways. The San Antonio Zoo is located at North St. Mary's Street in Brackenridge Park. Make plans to come out to this fantastic family event. We look forward to seeing you there!

ALL Participants need to pay ZOO entrance fee.

For more information visit

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Article written by: Dr. Richard
Bruce Winders

Historian & Curator at the Alamo

Read his biography

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Director of School Services