by Helen Beyne
Did you know that the holiday often referred to as Presidents’ Day is officially designated Washington’s Birthday? No matter what you call it, the date offers us an opportunity to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of the forty-four presidents to date. It’s also a chance to look at the important role that the American presidency has played in the development of our national character.
This holiday is a chance to help students deepen their engagement with civics and history in a meaningful way. Learning about the leaders of our country can go beyond memorizing dates and names. The key concepts that we highlight on President’s Day—our history, our government, and our leaders—have rich, complex narratives of their own, and there are many great online tools you can access to help your students better understand the legacies of our country’s most important leaders.
The following short list of resources is a starting point. Use these to encourage students to write biographies, author and star in short plays, examine and compare primary sources, put together timelines, or do any other kind of project that suits your classroom! These resources, which include primary and secondary sources, can be a great way to begin a fuller discussion with your students about our country and our history by examining the most revered and most challenging position in our government.
- Help your students investigate the history of the holiday at the National Archives. Check out the article about George Washington’s Birthday in the Featured Documents section. Students can view and download images of original documents relevant to Washington and the origin of President’s Day.
- The Smithsonian’s “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden” offers a wealth of information about the position and the individuals who have served as the leader of our nation. It includes a variety of student activities, and provides lesson plans for grades 4–6, 7–9, and 10–12.
- Green Light Learning Tools’s interactive eBook The Presidency (Android available at Amazon and iOS through the iTunes store) offers an overview of our country’s government, the president’s powers, and the election process. It also provides a close examination of the 2012 election. Built in collaboration with the AP, this tablet-optimized eBook includes videos, charts, graphs, maps, timelines, and quizzes that help students better understand the intricacies of getting elected and serving as the country’s leader. There is also a similar, but simpler IWB lesson available through SMART Exchange.
- University of Virginia’s Miller Center hosts the Presidential Classroom, a site where you can access presidential documents, oral histories, images, transcripts, audio recordings, and videos. The audio recordings should be reviewed for appropriateness before sharing with your students.
- PBS’s American Experience includes a documentary series on the presidents of the United States, several of which—including those on FDR, Nixon, and Clinton—can be streamed online.
Do you have a favorite site, document, or lesson plan that you teach on Presidents’ Day? Leave us a comment and let us know!
Helen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.