American History: A Story of Courage, Conflict and Freedom takes a very unusual approach for a high school history course. While the softcover coursebook has lesson plans and activity pages, the instructional content is online. That content consists of readings from an online textbook, videos on YouTube and other websites, online quizzes, online map animations, information from other selected websites, and optional movies to watch (e.g., Roots and Glory). Students are also required to do independent research for various assignments.
In addition, purchasers of the course are given access to a large number of essential files on Google Drive. These downloadable files include PowerPoint® “lectures” (slides without narration), activity pages, maps, tests, answer keys, notetaking tips, instructions and forms for various evaluation options, and more. Because a variety of learning approaches are used, including creative projects, this course is likely to work well for students with different learning styles.
The course covers the time period from 1607 through President Barack Obama’s presidency. The content is presented in a course introduction, six units, and a culminating activity.
Author Mike Zietsma has written this course for Christian students. As he says, "While creation confirms the existence of God, history reveals the need for a Saviour" (p.3). While most of the content is not obviously Christian, the activity at the end of the course, where students go back and outline key themes and events for each unit, definitely is. In this activity, students also derive an “enduring truth” from each unit and support it with an example from the unit and a Bible verse or story. This unusual activity teaches students to analyze history on a deep level that is beyond the scope of most history courses.
By incorporating input from many sources, the course exposes students to a variety of viewpoints. Many assignments require students to research and analyze viewpoints on different topics, sometimes completing graphic organizers or writing essays to express their opinions. However, there is underlying support for patriotism and a slight tilt toward a conservative point of view. However, the course assigns many sections from the online textbook U.S. History: Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium, a textbook that generally presents a viewpoint slanted toward progressivism. The YouTube videos used with the course also reflect a variety of viewpoints.
Zietsma clearly has concerns about our country’s fiscal situation. The course introduction has students watch and discuss the video “I.O.U.S.A.” that paints a dismal picture of the continually mounting debt being incurred by our national government. In the unit on Franklin D. Roosevelt, students watch a satirical video on debt and complete a comparison activity regarding past and present national debt that reinforces the message that rising debt is a huge problem. Zietsma also introduces the idea of the American Dream in the course introduction and revisits it at the end of the course.
The course is directed from the coursebook, and students can use it to work independently, for the most part. At the beginning of each unit, the textbook has charts that list all of the activities in order. Students can check off a box when each activity has been completed. Online quizzes give students immediate feedback telling them how well they’ve learned the information. (You can preview the online quizzes here.) Two tests, a final exam, and answer keys are available in the Google Drive files. Parents have tools and rubrics for evaluating other student work as well.
The organization of the course is a little confusing at first, especially in instances where the name of a Google Drive file is slightly different in the book from the actual file name. But since most of the Google Drive files are organized by units, you’ll generally know where to look. Zietsma plans to eventually put the coursebook online, adding hyperlinks that will take students directly to each component.
There are options for evaluations to fit different types of learners, although all students are to complete periodic evaluations that require writing skills. For example, within the first unit, students can choose either a twitter activity or one of four project options: drawing, story writing, artwork critique, or research and writing. Midway through that same unit, they will begin work on a written evaluation, choosing from three essay options: research, movie critique, or document-based question. (Guidelines, forms, and instructions for writing the essays are found either within the book or online.)
You should plan for American History: A Story of Courage, Conflict and Freedom to take a full school year. According to a chart on page v, the course should take a minimum of 106 hours. However, I can’t tell whether or not this includes the course introduction, exams, and culminating activities. It doesn’t include the time for optional extension activities, many of which include watching movies. Since high school courses should take from 120 to 180 hours, there might be plenty of content to satisfy requirements for a complete course. If not, to acquire enough hours, you might want to use the extension activities or additional choices from the evaluation options for students.
The coursebook is the only physical item you need. Parents might find it useful to have their own copy, and each member of a family or group class definitely needs his or her own copy. Additional copies are available at a lower price than that for the initial coursebook.
American History: A Story of Courage, Conflict and Freedom should have a strong appeal to students who like the multi-media format. In addition to an interesting format, the course has content that requires students to think and analyze. Then it challenges them to form and express their own opinions. I think this is a great combination.