Tuesday, August 25, 2009

History Week, Day 3: Using the Film 1776 to Teach the Declaration of Independence

As a history buff (and major), it shouldn't surprise you that one of my favorite films of all time is 1776, an adaptation of the award-winning Broadway musical. The film covers the initial debates, writing, and eventual signing of the Declaration of Independence. It does this with sharp writing, humor, and of course, several rousing musical numbers.

When I started teaching history, using this film in class as part of our study was a no-brainer. The challenge was figuring out how to fit it into one class period: The 1776 "Restored Director's Cut" DVD clocks in at 166 minutes! Besides the time considerations, there was also a lot of subplots and background on Jefferson and Adams that while interesting, wasn't something they needed to know.

So I watched the DVD over and over again in order to create this annotated 40 minute version of 1776:
Chapters 2-3: Sets the scene (the summer heat of Philadelphia). John Adams discusses independence, but no one will listen to him. (4.5 minutes)

Chapter 5: Ben Franklin and Adams discuss how to get Congress to agree to independence. Since no one likes Adams, they need someone else to propose. Key terms: Common Sense, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, House of Burgesses. (4 mins)

Explain: George Washington says the troops aren't ready for war. Congress isn't convinced about independence despite Adams's arguments, especially Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina and John Dickenson of Pennsylvania (who we'll see later). They agree to formally write down their Declaration before voting, and now need to decide who will write it. (2 mins)

Chapter 8-9: The Declaration committee is formed. The song "But Mr. Adams" explains that Jefferson will write it. (8 mins)

Explain: While Jefferson writes, Adams and Franklin convince the key state of Maryland that the army can win.

Chapter 18: - The Declaration is read. Key terms: preamble; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (1 min)

Explain: Not everyone is happy, and they make plenty of changes, but the issue that will make or break independence is slavery.

Chapter 21: South Carolina and southern colonies want the anti-slavery language removed, threatening to vote against independence. Adams says it must be included, but he also doesn't want to kill independence. (4 mins)

Explain: The final vote must be unanimous.

Chapter 26-28: Congress votes and makes their final arguments. Key terms: unalienable rights, July 4, 1776. (about 15 minutes)

The parts that say "Explain" are for you to take a few seconds before you skip ahead to the next scene to let them know what they might have missed. The short time allows you to set up your video equipment, complete a Do Now activity and wrap things up if you have a standard 50-55 minute period.

Here are some quick review questions you can use as an exit slip, homework or your Do Now for the next day:
  1. Who drafted (wrote) the Declaration of Independence?
  2. When was the Declaration adopted (signed into law)?
  3. Who was the leader of the Continental Army?
  4. Did the Declaration of Independence abolish slavery?
  5. The Declaration is the document which states...
As a follow up project, I had students write their own Declaration of Independence.