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Teaching Independence Day

Saturday marks Independence Day. Yes, that's the actual name of the holiday, though it will also answer to its nickname,"the Fourth of July."

Even though school is out, I figure it can't hurt to use the occasion to offer some resources to provide teachable moments during this year's festivities.

Independence Day is indeed a cause to celebrate. Bring a lot of candles, it's the country's 239th birthday.

Independence Day commemorates the approval of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, in which the colonies declared independence from Great Britain. If you're into extended celebrations, you could also celebrate July 2, which was when the Second Continental Congress approved a resolution declaring colonial independence. That declaration was approved by Congress two days later, according to teachinghistory.org,  so July 4 is the date that we celebrate as the birth of American independence.

If you want to remind everyone that Independence Day is more than just a day off work; a good excuse for barbeques, sales, and fireworks; or the name of that Will Smith movie—you know, the one with the aliens—read on. I've got tons of free resources, whether you're a teacher, parent or just want to learn more. 

  • Teachinghistory.org offers a jackpot of teaching ideas. Among the topics, "Teaching the Declaration Without Overwhelming Students, " (this is a good one for teenagers. The site notes that "declaring independence is something most adolescents can get their heads around").
  • The National Archives, which houses the actual Declaration of Independence, is hosting a full day of events July 4If you're not local, the celebration will also be broadcast through YouTube. At the event, participants can sign a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, watch live performances, and hear a dramatic reading of the declaration. The archives also offer storytime and crafts for younger patrons and meet-and-greets with costumed "Revolutionary figures." Oh, and it's also a good place to watch the parade.
  • The National Education Association posted a list of lesson plans and activities, broken down by grade level (K-5 and 6-12). It also provides background resources such as links for founding documents. It also gives links to games and quizzes. Here's a fun one from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  • History.com offers a good synopsis of the holiday, including videos about its history, the Declaration of Independence, and even the origin of fireworks.
  • PBS.org offers a history of Independence Day. The television network will also live-broadcast the Washington celebration which includes concerts and fireworks.

Several teacher-led websites offer lesson ideas.

  • Hot Chalk (lessonplanspage.com), a site that was started by faculty and students at the University of Missouri, allows teachers to post lesson plans. And have they ever. It has loads of lessons for Independence Day, mostly geared toward the elementary school or younger crowd. It also has links to videos and additional resources
  • www.teachervision.com offers resources and lesson plans, too. It's a subscription service but you can access a limited amount of lesson plans for free, or opt for a free full-access, seven-day trial.
  • Teachersfirst.com and teacherplanet.com aggregate information, lesson plans, and links from other sites.

 Speaking of quizzes, can you answer these Independence Day quiz questions (courtesy of the NEA)? By the way, they're intended for students in grades 3-5. No pressure.

 1)The Declaration of Independence begins with what words?

2) Where was the first nation's capitol located?

3) Who was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence?

4) In July 1776, how many people were living in the colonies?

5) What other countries celebrate the 4th of July?

 Find the answers here. 

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