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Showcase Americans from Alexander Hamilton to Michael Jordan in this thematic American history unit by challenging your students to examine and decide what makes an American hero, then nominate a living hero of their own!
While studying these compelling story, students also learn a variety of source evaluation skills.
2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom cohort
Madam CJ Walker
Dust Bowl survivors
Members of the Greatest Generation
Past Medal of Freedom recipients, including John Glenn, Joe DiMaggio, and Georgia O’Keeffe
Culminate students’ learning with
- Document-based essay, supported by an outline template and sentence stems, that requires them to encapsulate their understanding of the entire unit by arguing their answer to the simple question, “What makes an American hero?”
- Nomination statement and thank you card, supported by rubrics, models, and skill builder mini-lessons, that challenges students to brainstorm, research, and nominate their living hero to the President of the United States to receive the next Medal of Freedom and show their genuine appreciation to their hero
Check out the Preview for a detailed look at this compelling unit or download the FREE Unit-At-A-Glance
Greatness is realizing and seeking inspiration from the commonalities among successful people in order to leave one’s own impact on the world.
No nation is founded more on the idea that the commoner has the ability to be great than the U.S. Centuries have proven that hard work, passion, and a few good ideas all mix to form the American hero. Take your students on a quest through our revolutionary foundations and the last century, exploring various spotlights on individuals and groups and asking students to decide, “Are they heroes?”
Leave the boring chronological textbook behind and head straight to the compelling sources that make this question central to our imagination and inspiration as Americans, and empower your students to engage in real conversation with real audiences.
The beauty of a thematic unit is your freedom to mix-and-match, add-and-subtract: each activity is self-contained, allowing for complete customization to meet local standards, time restraints, and interests.
This unit can be done well in anywhere from 6-8 weeks.
Included in this complete unit:
>>> Teacher Materials <<<
- 2-Page Unit-At-A-Glance to provide your administrator or parents
- Unit Overview & 5 pages of Daily Lesson Plans from the hook to the project assessment
- Teacher Keys & Rubrics, both CCSS-aligned and generic
- 60-slide editable PowerPoint slideshow with images, links, and student directions
- 5-page editable Word file of sample student projects and cover letter for you to mail off your class's nominations
>>> Student Materials & Activities <<<
Focused Skill Mini-Lessons and Handouts
- Annotating a text
- Categorizing sources as Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary
- Writing appositive clauses sentences
- Maximizing various search databases
- Creating annotated citations
Note Taking & Schema Building Activities
- Scatterplot Notes graphic organizer sheet for deeper unit-long understanding
- Concept Definition sheet to develop a nuanced understanding of "hero"
- Unit Hook meet a young boy who's doing amazing things with cardboard and packing tape
- Quote Mixer get inspired by the wise words of others in this social activity
6 Historical Spotlights
- Modern Day learn the criteria in earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom with the 2016 awardees ceremony
- Foundations Era learn the backstory of Alexander Hamilton
- Progressive Era meet Madam CJ Walker, a business woman and social activist
- Great Depression see the struggle in surviving the Dust Bowl
- WWII hear the stories of the Greatest Generation
- Post-War explore PMF recipients, from John Glenn to Georgia O'Keeffe
- Document-Based Essay, supported by outline template, sentence stems, and rubrics (CCSS-aligned and generic), answering the not-so-simple question, “What makes an American hero?"
- Presidential Medal of Honor Nomination Project, supported by step-by-step planning and guide sheets, sample, and rubrics (CCSS-aligned and generic), researching a one’s own hero, writing them a genuine thank you letter and submitting them for consideration for this year’s ceremonies!
Note to Homeschoolers
Though the included teacher lesson plans and PPT slides are written to fully support a traditional classroom teacher, this unit is also a great fit for your teenage homeschooler:
- the inquiry, thematic structure of this unit is driven more by critical thinking, reading, and writing skills and a central high-interest question than any one set of state-specific, grade-specific content standards
- a wide age and ability range can easily access the rich variety of sources utilized in this unit, making it perfect for a multi-grade group
- your student’s voice is central to each activity, through talking out their learning, maximizing the one-on-one
- activities can be completed independently and aren’t solely reliant on group or whole-class work
- all utilized resources are included, linked, or easily found at your local library or inexpensively from Amazon
- this unit is independent of a textbook, though one could be used for greater background knowledge
- any activity can easily be left out to customize for your student’s skill level or personal interest
Only have a week or two? Try the mini-unit version!
Who is My American Hero?: include concept definition sheet, quote mixer activity, 2016 PMF activity, and complete project. Makes a fantastic end-of-the-year project!
Want more U.S. History PBL Units?
Six Degrees of Separation: kick off a study of our country’s geography features with a “Flat Stanley” style project
1600-1800s American Values: explore the founders of America, from the Puritans to the Nez Perce, and their core values in order to develop one’s own goal and motivational plan of action for the school year
1900s American Immigration: explore the American story of diversity and hard work through the words and statistics of immigrants, Ellis Island to Angel Island, to create and preserve an oral history of their own
1900s Protest Movements: be inspired by Silent Sentinels to Alcatraz Occupiers to develop one’s own statement of protest or support
What to go entirely PBL?
U.S. History PBL Course Mega Bundle: get all posted PBL resources in one download and save big!