Justine Gamble first published a series of activity guides to use with the American Girls books that are published by Pleasant Company. (I review the Girls of American History Curriculum here.) Gamble’s next series of historical studies, Historical Stories of Survival, is based upon the “I Survived” series of historical novels from Scholastic. The idea with both series is that children will find the stories intriguing enough that they will become interested in the historical period, related science, or other topics that arise from the stories themselves.
Time periods and events of the available studies are:
79 AD - Pompeii
1863 - The Battle of Gettysburg
1871 - The Great Chicago Fire
1906 - The San Francisco Earthquake
1912 - The Titanic
1916 - Shark Attacks
1937 - The Hindenburg
1941 - Pearl Harbor
1944 - Nazi Invasion
1980 - Mount St. Helens
2001 - September 11, 2001 Attacks
2005 - Hurricane Katrina
2011 - Joplin Tornado
Some studies such as Pompeii, Shark Attack, and Mount St. Helens, go further in depth on science while others are more history-oriented. Nevertheless, all studies are based on particular historical events as portrayed in the “I Survived” historical fiction novels.
The publisher recommends these studies for grades two through five, but parents might adapt them for younger and older children.
Studies from this series are intended to take about six weeks each. They seem best suited to serve as supplements, probably alongside either world or U.S. history studies. Since they target individual events, the studies provide only minimal instruction for history itself. However, each study expands over many subject areas, providing multi-sensory learning for science, geography, reading, and language arts—essentially a unit study approach.
Alternatively, you could also use about six of the studies for a year-long unit study—serving as the core of your curriculum. At this point, there are enough studies available to do this for about two years. However, trying to use these studies as your core, then supplementing to add, for example, more science for some studies or to adapt language arts activities for different ages might prove challenging.
Yet another option might be using just one or two of these studies as short-term fillers such as over the summer or as a way to try out the unit study method.
As I write, 13 studies are available, and more will be added. Studies are all delivered as downloadable PDFs. You can choose a family license (for only one family), a teacher license (to be used only with students taught by one teacher), or a co-op/schools license for group classes. Licenses do not expire.
Each study follows a similar format. During the first week for all studies, students are expected to read the book, work on creating a lapbook as directed in the guide, and make a few craft projects. The next five weeks will then shift focus to various topical areas depending upon the story itself.
Studies require additional resources, most of which should be available through your library. Recommended books are shown in the guides as well as on a “Resources” page for each study on the publisher’s website so you can check out what is recommended for each study before buying a guide. While suggested resources are mostly books, there are some DVDs, craft kits, and links to websites with other activities.
For example, the Pompeii study has links to books on volcanoes in general and Pompeii in particular. It also has links to books about ancient Rome, the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, and gladiators plus links to a web page with Ancient Roman games and another web page with authentic recipes for creating a meal such as ancient Romans might have enjoyed.
The study on Pearl Harbor uses books on the event itself, but it expands to broader study of the Second World War by including books on topics such as Japan, internment camps, Hawaii, and Hiroshima. There are also links to crafts and activities having to do with airplanes and submarines plus a book on origami.
I’ll go into more detail on one particular study, the Great Chicago Fire, to give you a clearer idea of what these studies look like. The Scholastic book, I Survived The Great Chicago Fire, 1871, launches the study. While students learn about that event, the study also addresses forest fires, weather and fires, fire safety, survival science, and tree and plant sketching and identification. Geography expands beyond Chicago to the state of Illinois as well as Minnesota, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and the Dakota Territory. Some geography activities contrast maps of both past and present. Field trips are recommended to a local fire station, a forestry center, the Fire Museum of Greater Chicago, and a train ride.
Language arts get quite a bit of attention. In this study language arts activities encompass reading comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, letter writing, writing a comparison/contrast piece, writing a research essay, and writing a short biographical essay.
There are plenty of hands-on activities. Creation of a lapbook (from templates included in the guide) is a centerpiece activity that students work on throughout the study. Students will also draw maps, a buffalo, a horse and buggy, and a prairie scene. There are craft activities such as creating a diorama of the Great Chicago Fire and creating a model of the Chicago skyline.
The second week, you will need to choose another book on the Great Chicago Fire from a number of suggested books. Students will continue to work on some projects begun the previous week. They will add language arts activities and learn about labor safety changes. For the third week, you will choose from recommended books about other fire disasters and learn more about other devastating fires. During the fourth week, students will watch “Safety Smart Science” with Bill Nye the Science Guy and complete a number of activities related to fire science and safety. The fifth week shifts to look at firefighting both past and present while the sixth week shifts to fire trucks and firefighters.
In addition to templates for creating the lapbook, the 63-page guide includes many activity pages that help students dig deeper. One page has them fill in a worksheet as if they are interviewing the main character from one of the books that has been read. Another has them compare life in the past with the present. Yet another has them sort out historical fact from fictional details in one of the books. Instructions are added for those who might want their students to create a notebook or a portfolio.
Guides provide instructions for creating lapbooks in case that is something new to you. It provides charts showing what will be accomplished each week. There are separate lists of activities and resources, so you’ll have to jump back and forth through the pages as you sort out your own choices. You will also need to gather supplies, but what you will need depends upon which activities you choose to use.
These studies should work best for the parent who want to provide more multi-sensory learning activities and for those students who find it difficult to engage with traditional textbooks or who prefer the variety of learning methods. Some choices and adaptations will be required to fit individual students and your situation, so this type of study will probably appeal most to parents and teachers who appreciate flexibility rather than those looking for step-by-step lesson plans.