Our Land of Liberty: The Story of the United States of America presents American history in a newspaper format. The content and style of presentation makes this course ideal for students in fourth and fifth grades. I envision it working especially well coupled with historical biographies and historical fiction. While I think it works well as your core curriculum, because of the format it can also be used as a supplement alongside another course.
A teacher’s manual for the course comes in a binder while a packet of formatted handouts that serve as each student “text” comes in a folder with a Velcro closure. Parents or teachers could give the packets to students and have them pull out the appropriate handout each week. However, I think it more practical to retain control of the handouts so that none get lost. A mid-term and a final exam are also included in each student packet, so you will definitely want to remove those and keep them somewhere safe.
The full-color student handouts are each four pages in length. They present topical information in separate sections with headlines and illustrations, somewhat like a newspaper format. Lesson plans walk you through the various sections of each handout over five days. Occasionally, there is a blank line for students to answer a question; they can write directly in the handout. “Reaction Time” questions at the end of each handout can be used for research, discussion, or written responses. If you want to try to reuse the set with another student, students can write answers elsewhere, but it might be more trouble than it is worth.
The course requires interaction between the parent or teacher and student(s). The teacher’s manual provides presentation ideas alongside reproductions of each section of the text in the student handouts. You can skip some sections of the handout and lesson activities if time is limited. At the beginning of each lesson plan, a priority list numbers the topics and indicates a priority level of primary, secondary, or supplemental for each topic. Some sections of the text are already labeled as “Optional lesson” in the teacher’s manual. Clearly, priority topics should not be skipped. However, having different levels of priority clearly delineated makes it easy to flex the lessons at busy times of the year while still keeping forward momentum.
The teacher’s manual also has suggestions for field trips and other optional activities. Teachers or parents need to prepare lessons ahead of time to select which elements of the lessons to use, to gather extra resources, and to make arrangements if they choose to do special activities.
There are 32 lessons, but some lessons have two handouts and might easily be extended for more than one week. Lesson plans for weeks with two handouts generally include many optional topics so that it is still possible to get through highest priority topics within one week. However, some lessons such as those on the Civil War period might be worth extending beyond five days.
The teacher’s manual is printed in black and white, and illustrations in the handouts are not included in the teacher’s manual. Copy masters in the teacher’s manual should be reproduced for your classroom or family. Copy masters are mostly for maps, but there are others such as a “Patriotism quiz,” Communications game,” and “Natural resource activity.” Use of each of these is explained at the appropriate point in the lesson plans. While each student packet has the two tests for the course, test copy masters are also in the teacher’s manual along with answer keys.
Content is selective as is appropriate for an introductory course. However, sometimes there is more coverage of topics such as military battles than I think is needed while time could be spent on other topics. Also, the final week’s lesson covers from 1969 to the present, with the highest priority topics drawn from the earlier years. The course could use another handout on more recent events. If you are concluding your final week with only that handout, I would recommend substituting more current topics for those such as the election of President Carter, Watergate, and the 1973 Egyptian attack upon Israel. Discussion of topics such as recent presidential elections, the Constitutional challenges raised by actions of presidential administrations, developments in the Middle East, and the War on Terror might help bring the course up to date.
On the positive side, the author’s comments and suggestions for discussion found in the teacher’s manual often have to do with teaching students to think critically. The author tries to present controversial topics with an unbiased perspective, suggesting that the teacher instigate discussion of such topics by asking, “What would you do in this situation?” This encourages students to think through the situations and apply their own values and judgments, perhaps learning from the mistakes of others. While it might be tempting to simply read through the handouts with students, the suggestions and extra activities in the lesson plans probably make a huge difference in how students learn the material.
Students who might be overwhelmed by the weight and size of a textbook might find the “newspaper” format of Our Land of Liberty far more appealing. While the course does require direct teaching, the teacher’s manual makes it easy for the parent or teacher to adapt lessons to suit each situation.