Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Homeschool History: Create Elementary Lessons on Germany and Berlin Wall for Elementary Homeschoolers

Homeschool history lessons are far more entertaining and memorable than a classroom lecture and textbook reading assignment. "Open your 700 pound book and turn to page 7276 and read the chapter on German History and the Berlin Wall" (zzzzzz - snore -zzzzzz - snore) doesn't have to start your child's day when you're homeschooling. Instead, your kids can wake up to you in your jammies staring over them with an excited wild-eyed look holding a steaming hot cup of coffee in your hands screaming and cheering "let's make like the Germans today and knock down a wall!" while ripping the blankets off their comfy warm body and sounding a bugle horn with your spare hand. Okay, truthfully, we know nobody would do this until at least one cup of coffee was finished. Does anyone else get this excited over lesson plans? Neither do I. But in my wistful images of myself being a homeschool maniac mama I do imagine myself getting excited over larger-than-life homeschool projects on Germany and the Berlin Wall.

I remember picking up my highschoolers' social studies textbooks and reading and thinking (yes, I can read and think at the same time), how on earth do they expect kids to learn from reading nothing but one bland fact after another? I read my elementary school daughter's friend's social studies books and have the same disbelief. Haven't we gone beyond the 1950's textbook learning methods? Are we not in the 21st century? Why do we even have textbooks? I thoroughly understand why I found history boring when I was in high school, and why my kids either hated it or struggled with it during their highschool years. However, I love history now and find it fascinating - probably because I found out there is life beyond textbooks.

The kids are growing up in a global world. In order to bring up open-minded children, I feel it's important for them to learn about the "big wide world" (all countries, not just America) while they still have an open mind and a big imagination. I envy my sister who taught her kids the alphabet by naming a country for each letter before they were even close to entering Kindergarten. I was lazy and sang the traditional A is for Apple instead of A is for Afghanastan. (Usually because I was falling asleep while singing them to sleep with the alphabet and I knew more names of foods than I did names of countries. My kids are in college now. We're still workin' on the abc's.)

Technology and media have created extraordinary opportunities to meet the learning styles of different students. Homeschoolers can blend hands-on history activities with learning technology to bring history to life and make it memorable. Is your child going to learn more about the Berlin Wall from reading about it in a textbook, or by using an easy art lesson to build a wall that divides two towns created by the student, creating grafitti, putting up soldiers and townspeople, drawing maps, cooking German food, and watching videos of the Berlin Wall?

Forget textbooks, an exciting interesting story on the Berlin Wall from a kid's point of view, is more likely to be read with interest, and a Caldecott Honor Picture Book will at least get a non-reader a visual glimpse of the event. A Berlin Wall lesson can be lengthened to include a compare and contrast lesson on all the famous walls, and videos can be watched to support realistic interpretations of the event.

Granted, public elementary school classes do have more hands-on classes than highschoolers, but time doesn't allow projects to be ongoing, personal, or to develop into bigger, smaller or different subjects. Not only can a homeschooler build a wall for social studies class, they can determine the walls structure and physical properties and examine basic structural components for their science class, and study how the Berlin Wall was broken down to be recyled for new roads. Then of course there are measuring (the wall was 103 miles) opportunities, word problems (the 103 mile wall blocked in 103 million people), percentages (261 people died trying to cross - names available at the Internet Archive), and other mathematical elements that can be blended into math lessons. Here's some metric figures to work with from a University of Berlin professer and his personal webpage of (dry, but informative) facts on the Berlin Wall and Berlin:

* The border between West Berlin and East Berlin and the GDR had a total length of 166 km, and there was a deeply staggered system of barriers. There was a wall with a length of 107 km at this border. Finally, the border area looked about as follows: First, there was a wall which was made up of concrete segments with a height of 4 m, usually with a concrete tube on top of it. Behind it (at the "eastern" side) there was an illuminated control area (also called death area). Refugees who had reached that area were shot without warning. A trench followed which should prevent vehicles from breaking through. Then there was a patrol track, a corridor with watchdogs, watchtowers and bunkers, and a second wall.

* On August 13 1998, a wall memorial was inaugurated at the Bernauer Strasse (at the corner to the Ackerstrasse, city districts Wedding/Mitte). It consists of a remainder of the Berlin wall with a length of 70 m, provided with slits in the inner wall and steel sheets at the ends.

* The border cut through 192 streets, 97 of them leading to East Berlin and 95 into the GDR.

From the EU Infrastructure website page on the Construction of the Berlin Wall:

The Wall was expanded into a staggered system of barriers; firstly there was the primary wall which stood 4m tall and was topped with a smooth pipe, intended to make scaling it more difficult. Behind it on the Eastern side, there was a control area, dubbed the 'death area', in which over 116 watchtowers were built. Anyone found to be there trying to escape were shot without warning. Trenches followed to stop vehicles break through and this was further protected by 10,000 border guards on patrol tracks, bunkers and a second wall.

The Wall that ran through the city center was 43.1 kilometers long, but further border fortifications separating West Berlin from the rest of Soviet-controlled Germany totalled 111.9 kilometers long. In the 28 years that the Wall stood, over 239 people were killed trying to defect across the wall.

The EU Infrastructure Construction of the Berlin Wall webpage has an interactive infograph that you can click on and it will highlight more detailed facts and diagrams. For instance:

It took 45,000 separate sections of concrete that were 12 feet high and 4 feet wide and was topped with a long pipelike channel.

There were 302 watchtowers and 20 bunkers staffed by 2 to 5 soldiers around the clock.

If you have a budding builder or future scientist, mechanic or architect, it might be worth your time to bop around the EU Infrastructure website to get some ideas on real-time news events to build lessons around.

The architectural construction of the wall, the security, and the methods used to cross the wall might be interesting for international spy wannabes, and attempting to jump or climb a wall would be an interesting gym class or lesson on basic physics.

The BBC has an exquisite collection of archived videos, pictures, transcripts and documents on the Berlin Wall. I actually found that link from a tutor2u blog that has extensive links on historical information and resources - albiet for adults and highschoolers - it's still a good resource for parents to read up on what they're teaching before they teach it.

For further studies that can incorporate geography and graffiti, the graffiti.org website has an incredible compendium of graffiti artwork from around the world, including a link to graffiti in Europe, Germany and Berlin. You and your kids can flip through some of the artwork, then you can interrogate your child - er, I mean, discuss with your child - the social rules of graffiti and the artistic elements of graffiti. A great outline for doing so is at the haringkids.com link to a lesson on graffiti. Even if you don't visit their website for their graffiti lesson, they have a database of over 100 lesson plans for elementary students, middle school students and highschool students on all subjects. The website is definitely worth touring.

A simple Google Video or YouTube search for Berlin Wall videos will get you tons of links to videos depicting the tear down, and documenting its historical significance. All the major news websites will also have indepth historical information and likely personal accounts of the event. If you're tired of Google and YouTube, you can take a look at the video websites listed on the freetech4teachers blog. Mathtube even has math problems using the Berlin Wall as an example! If you're into technology and media, you'll enjoy the blog so click around.

I couldn't find any free educational online games about the Berlin Wall specifically, so here are some rather boring geography games that can support your homeschool studies on Europe and Germany, countries and continents:

SheppardSoftware.com has online geography games on Europe, the continents and America, as well as the capitals and some helpful downloads and free printables.

Yourchildlearns.com has an interactive map that can be used to test your homeschooled child's accuracy at identifying Germany and other European countries.

Kidgeo.com has a game on latitude and longitude, a click and drag map games of Europe, and a similar drag and drop world map, and US and continent map games as well. Playkids games has similar puzzle and drag and drop geography games.

If I hadn't had to reboot twice (once to the dog turning the power strip to "off," and the other to the router having to be rebooted), I'd look for more interesting geography games. If I ever come across more interesting geography games or if anyone has suggestions, I'll add them to my search engine (which still needs a lot of work.)

Most of the online lesson plans for the Berlin Wall and Germany are high school level, but homeschool parents have the opportunity to get information from lots of sources, pare it down, and be creative and imaginative. Here's some websites for elementary age-level geography lessons, a some comprehensive lists of useful history and geography links that can help shape your lesson plans on Germany and the Berlin Wall:

Rockford Public School website has a list of links on American History and European history. If you scroll down, you'll see links to Cold War lesson plans, one on Cold War Spies, a powerpoint presentation and others. The ones I went to open were in .doc form. These do look like they are for older kids, but still a valuable source for information.

Pitt.edu has a long list of links on elementary school social studies lesson plans that parents can use to homeschool on history.

Teacher's Cafe has dozens of links on European history, American history and other social study topics, although I haven't personally tried any of them. It does claim to be a free resource for teachers and parents.

Studystack.com has flash cards and simple online word games you can play to learn how to count to ten in German (or talk fluent German). If you want to hear German, visit fonetiks.org and learn how German words should be pronounced!

If you like flashcards, hangman,crossword puzzles, matchups and the like, this website has helpful tools for an incredible amount of subjects and standardized tests. Visit studystack.com's home page to view available topics.

Want some modern pictures of Germany? Check out The German Way, and National Geographic's Berlin Photo Gallery. You can also learn about the five main themes of geography at the National Geographic website which also lists ideas for lesson plans and activities on geography. (Location, Place, Human Environment/Interaction, Movement and Regions in case you're wondering. I admit. I didn't know there were five main themes until today.)

Mr. Donn.org has some elementary links on the five themes of geography that homeschool parents can use for geography lessons, including a cute little website with more than a few free clip art pictures on geography, social studies, and other elementary school subjects.

The Educator's Reference Desk has a long list of lesson plans for elementary, middle and high school studies on geography and world history.

I've found Professor Sass's Cloudnet website with zillions of educational links very useful in locating educational homeschool websites that can't be quickly found in a Google search. They have a long list of geography websites you can skim through. At the top, the geography page looks a little spammy because of the link ads, but once you scroll past those there's a wealth of information. (That's the pot calling the kettle black! I need some work on my own blog!)

It also looks like Kidinfo.com also has a nice list of websites that can be used for homeschooling about Germany and the Berlin Wall - and all other moments in history.

CosmoLearning is a new website I've just discovered, free videos and education resources - it's for the upper grades - middle school, high school, college and adults - but you'll find tons of videos on history (including Germany and the Berlin Wall) and all other subjects. It looks like a great site, dedicated to free online courses. Every homeschooling parent should look at this and spread the word.

BBC is awesome, and not only do they have extensive archives on the history of the Berlin Wall, they have a BBC history for kids section in their website with online games and educational activities for elementary students.

Hope I've helped you dig up some resources to develop homeschool lesson plans that complements the anniversary of the Berlin Wall Fall. (The wall falls in fall. Hmm, easy phonics lesson for the Berlin Wall.)

Time for me to teach instead of type. Guess we'll have to knock down some walls tomorrow!

Berlin Wall Picture found at Mariya Ivancheva's informative essay on the Fall of Socialism.

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  1. I just found this link (can't imagine why it didn't show up in earlier searches)with resources for teachers to use to study Germany. Very nice professional website with great ideas and tons of info on Germany and the Berlin Wall:


  2. This kind of information is very limited on internet. Nice to find the post related to my searching criteria. Your updated and informative post will be appreciated by blog loving people.

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