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All American History, Volume II: The Civil War to the 21st Century Review by Heather Jackowitz

Celeste W. Rakes
Bright Ideas Press
(877) 492-8081
P.O. Box 333
Cheswold, DE 19936

All American History, Volume II takes students on a journey from the Civil War to the twenty-first century in thirty-two weekly lessons. This one-year curriculum was written for students in grades six through twelve, but the Teacher's Guide & Answer Key gives suggestions for adapting it for use with younger children.

The complete All American History curriculum has three components: a Teacher's Guide & Answer Key, a Student Reader, and a Student Activity Book. Each student will need his own Student Activity Book. You will also need both a world atlas and United States atlas.

The four units covered in Volume II are these:

  • The Civil War and Reconstruction
  • The Gilded Age
  • Two World Wars and A Great Depression
  • The Cold War and Beyond

Each unit comprises eight lessons, for a total of thirty-two lessons. These thirty-two lessons are intended to last one week each, although you might like to take more time on the lessons on World War I and World War II. The author suggests taking a bonus week after each unit to allow for catch-up work, field trips, movies, and project work.

A suggested weekly plan begins with reading and digesting the information in a chapter on the first day or two of each school week. Students read and digest the material using their Student Activity Book, answering the review questions and adding timeline dates to their timelines. The rest of the week is used for extra reading, research, and projects. The Student Activity Book provides four research topics per week, and the Teacher's Guide suggests additional reading, movies, and project ideas.

The Teacher's Guide & Answer Key includes detailed teaching tips, project ideas, timeline dates, book lists with synopses, ideas for review games, unit checklists, extra forms for further research, family activity ideas, and answers to all worksheets, review questions, and "For Further Study" topics. The author offers many suggestions for making this a truly multisensory and exciting study, including beautiful picture books and timelines for visual learners, read-alouds and books on tape for auditory learners, and notebook activities and projects for kinesthetic learners. Some teacher's guides are superfluous; The All American History Teacher's Guide is essential! The Teacher's Guide also offers ideas for using the curriculum in a co-op or classroom. The author designed this curriculum for her co-op, which met once a week for one hour.

The Student Reader is profusely illustrated with black and white photos and maps. If your children are accustomed to colorfully illustrated books, then All American History is going to look pretty dull initially; however, these illustrations are well chosen and definitely enhance the text. Students can either read the Student Reader on their own or listen to someone read it aloud, or parents can read it themselves and teach the information to younger students or a co-op class. A summary of the most important points is provided at the end of each lesson.

Each lesson contains three sections that examine:

  • The atmosphere in which the event occurred.
  • The event itself.
  • The impact this event had on the future of America.

Maps, forms, and review questions in the Student Activity Book follow the weekly reading. These interactive forms help students process what they read and give them practice in taking notes. All information needed to complete the forms is included in the Student Reader. Each lesson also includes a review, and each unit ends with a final review. These short reviews are simply factual recall--multiple choice, true/false, and fill-in-the-blank. The Student Activity Book pages are perforated for easy removal and can be used to create a notebook or portfolio.

At the end of each lesson in the Student Activity Book is a list of four "For Further Study" research topics. You may assign these research topics to your junior high or high school student, or you may simply choose to read the information to a younger student. An encyclopedia of answers is provided in the Teacher's Guide, or you can use library books or the Internet to find more information. Most of these suggested topics involve simply researching and learning more about a particular person or event. For example, here is one suggested topic: "Learn more about the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. On which Hawaiian island was the U.S. Naval base located? What was the significance of the phrase 'Tora, tora, tora'? How long did the attack last? Which battleship was hit at the beginning and sank within minutes with its crew trapped inside? What role did Pearl Harbor play in the rest of the war?" Other topics require more thinking and could be used as topics for a persuasive/argumentative essay. For example, here is another suggested topic: "During the Civil War, some people in the Union claimed that Lincoln was making himself a dictator when he suspended writs of habeas corpus. What is a writ of habeas corpus? What does the Constitution say about it? How did Lincoln answer his critics? Do you agree with his explanation?"

Although All American History, Volume II was created for middle school students (sixth through eighth grade), the Teacher's Guide offers detailed suggestions for adapting it to older and younger grades. For high schoolers, the author recommends assigning the majority of For Further Study questions, a few of the project ideas, and some of the optional forms. She also suggests using the For Review questions as tests. For younger students, the author says it is important to understand that the Student Reader was not meant to be read aloud word-for-word to them. She recommends the teacher read the material and share it with younger students in a storytelling fashion. She also suggests reading picture books, historical fiction, and biographies related to the topics the older children in your family are studying. I like what she says: "Don't worry about covering all the people and events found in the Student Reader, and don't worry about whether your reading is perfectly chronological. Just concentrate on making learning history enjoyable; awaken your younger student's appetite for further study of American history in the years ahead." Amen, Mrs. Rakes!

Eleven optional forms are provided in both the Teacher's Guide and the Student Activity Book: Notebook Timeline, Native American Tribe, Native American, African American, United States President, Civil War Battle, World War I Battle, World War II European Battle, World War II Pacific Battle, Korean War Battle, and Vietnam War Battle. These forms may be photocopied and used repeatedly according to your student's interests.

One of the best aspects of this curriculum is that Mrs. Rakes includes both social and cultural history. Not only will you learn about wars and presidents, but you also will learn about the food, clothing, music, and literature of the time. My family enjoys this well-rounded approach to history.

The most negative thing I can say about All American History, Volume II is that the books are not very eye-catching. The black and white illustrations are plentiful and relevant, but my family is used to beautifully illustrated Usborne and DK books, so our initial reaction to the Student Reader was somewhat negative. The Student Activity Book--particularly the maps--can be enlivened with markers or colored pencils, if your student is motivated. Most of the cut-and-paste portraits of people are fine in black and white, but the maps just do not work without color. There are only a few maps, and it would be quite easy to get color copies from the Internet--or better yet, have your artistic child draw them!

A second potential negative is that some parents will not be willing to put in the time and effort needed to use the program the way it was intended to be used. The Student Reader is informative, but as is true of most textbooks, a little dry at times. It is not meant to be the sole source of information for your study of American history. However, used in the manner that Mrs. Rakes recommends--with plenty of outside reading, research, and enrichment--this is a very rich and interesting American history program.

Product Review by Heather Jackowitz, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2010