An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Merissa Reed, Middle School history teacher

Our theme for the 7th-grade history class is "The American Dream," a societal aspiration/ideal which may be a new concept for many students. We begin with a few exercises to get them thinking about their nationality, the messaging we receive about being "American" (inclusive or exclusive), and the beliefs people have about opportunity in our nation.

We start with students interviewing members of their families and communities, asking what it means to be an American and what they believe defines the American Dream. At the conclusion of our intro unit, students are asked to come up with a phrase or sentence that sums up what they believe it means to be an American. They then design "bumper stickers" that articulate that belief. At the end of the year, they refer back to that original bumper sticker and reflect on what they've learned during the course and how their views might have developed or changed.

With all the hub-bub about this year being an election year, you would think students would be hyperfocused on the sensationalism of the presidential campaigns. Surprisingly, 7th graders are actually more interested in knowing how the Broadway show "Hamilton" connects to the curriculum and if the content of the songs is accurate. As a result, I've spent most of my September 6 a.m. dog walks listening to the soundtrack to figure out when I can insert songs into the curriculum!

Learn more about the American Dream unit in this story about studying imperfect heroes in Middle School history.