Ten Great Projects Focusing on the Native American
Designed for students enrolled in any high school US History or US Government course
I’m a high school US history and US government teacher who has increasingly heard the call for high-quality, long-term project suggestions that:
- Focus on the topic of the Native Americans.
- Provide high school students with ample opportunity to demonstrate their research and writing skills, public speaking skills, critical and creative thinking skills, and tech and digital media skills.
- Can result in work likely to open wide the eyes of college and university admission officers.
In this regard, I’ve produced this blog post.
Project #1 — The Reading Through History Video
Have the students produce a no more than five-minute-long video that relates to the topic of the Native Americans and corresponds in appearance and quality to a Reading Through History video.
Project #2 — The Stop Gap Animated Video
Have the students produce a no-more-than-five-minute-long stop-gap animated video (or whiteboard animate video) that relates to the topic of the Native Americans.
Below, is one of the best examples ever!
Project #3— The AP Daily Video Video
Have the students produce a no-more-than-ten-minute long video that relates to the topic of the Native American and corresponds in appearance and quality to a College Board produced AP Daily video.
Project #4: The Adam Norris Video
Have the students produce a no-more-than-five-minute long video that relates to the topic of the Native American and corresponds in appearance and quality to an Adam Norris APUSH video.
Project #5 — The Museum Wall Exhibit
Have the students create a digital wall exhibit for a museum of their choosing, with their exhibit to focus on a topic relating to Native American
Project #6 — The Exploration into America’s Past
Have the students produce a modern-day research paper modeled along the lines of what appears below.
Another very good Exploration into America’s Past was produced by one APUSH student during the 2020–2021 school year. This one is entitled Native American Boarding Schools in the 1800s.
Project #7: The Mt. Rushmore / Black Hills Debate
Show students a very good 5:13 TED-Ed video entitled The Hidden Faces of Mount Rushmore.
Then ask the students:
What Should Happen to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills?
Towards the end of the Hidden Faces video, the narrator offers up four possible answers, one of them suggesting that Mt. Rushmore needs to come down.
After giving the students time to discuss the pros and cons of each of the four suggested answers, invite them to write an editorial for the school paper with the editorial revealing how the students have answered the question.
In the alternative, encourage the students to write a letter to one of their Congressional representatives, or to the president of the tribe that used to live on the land where the students go to school, with this letter revealing how the students answer the question of “what should happen to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills?”
Project #8: The Native American Mascot Controversy
Encourage the students to learn what they can about the Native American mascot controversy, then somehow weigh-in (via a blog post, videogram, presentation to school officials and/or community leaders, editorial in the school paper, poem, song, or other work of art)
Project #9: The Tribal Leader Meet and Greet
Have the students research the contact information for the leader of the tribe that used to live where the school is now located.
Then invite that tribal leader to meet with the students, in person or via zoom, to answer any of the questions appearing below.
- Has any evidence ever been found that suggests that members of the tribe you represent actually once lived where the school is now located?
- If the students in the class were to try to encourage local officials to somehow honor the tribe you represent what would kind of honoring would you suggest?
- To what extent do neighboring cities honor the Native Americans who once lived there?
- Where do you stand on the Native American mascot controversy?
- What do you think should be done with Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills?
Then have students describe the meet and greet in the form of a blog post, short video, or article for the school newspaper.
Project #10: The Honoring of the Native American
Start off by having students learn what they can about the tribe that used to live on the land where the students’ school is now located.
Then have the students figure out some way to honor the memory of that tribe. In this regard, think:
- The renaming of a street, park, or government building
- The erection of a statue
- The placing of a plaque
Whatever the students come up with, encourage them to detail; then pitch formally to local community leaders (city council, press, business owners, etc.)
I give my students a choice: you can do this in person or by way of a no more than 2-minute videogram.
One More Suggestion — The Historical Fiction Letter
In 2013, my friend and fellow high school social studies teacher Scott Petri shared an article written by Cindy Heckenlaible entitled The Research Paper: Engaging Students in Academic Writing.
Then at a 2014 California social studies teachers conference, I read Lisa Moorhouse’s Edutopia post entitled Engaging Students with History: The Power of Slave Narratives.
Then in 2016, Scott also shared with me his article Writing Historical Narrative.
From then on, I have required my US History students to produce what I call a Historical Fiction Letter (a 750–1000 word letter written from someone living at the end of an important day in US History.)
I show the students the 4:41 TED-Ed video appearing below
I provide my students with several Historic Fiction Templates . . . two of which can be found below with the title of the template appearing in bold and with that title embedded with a link to the template:
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680
For this Historical Fiction Letter, the students are to assume that they are the nephew of Captain-General Antonio De Oetermin, an-all important Spanish leader living in New Mexico at the time of the Revolt. The students are also to assume that they are writing their letter (addressed to their mom, Oetermin’s sister) while studying in Madrid and shortly after having received a letter from their uncle (the Captain-General) describing what had happened to him since the day (September 8, 1680) that “the Indians” had surrounded him.
The first part of their letter should describe for their mother the contents of their uncle’s letter (the contents of which can be found online). Then they are to close out by answering an all-important historical question. I suggest the question of what do they think about Juan de Sepulveda and Bartolome De Las Casas in terms of what these two Spaniards had to say about the Pueblo.
The Trail of Tears
For this Historical Fictional Letter, the students are to assume that they are a 29-year-old, college-educated newspaper journalist who, not being able to find work in the fall of 1837, had to settle for an entry-level (Berry’s Ferry) flatboat operator job. (Barry’s Ferry flatboats were used to transport thousands of Native Americans across the Ohio River during the 1838–39 Trail of Tears migrations. The students are also to assume that they are writing their letter in the late fall of 1839 and from their home in Golconda Illinois, (across the river from Berry’s Ferry, Kentucky) . . . with their letter addressed to their best friend, Abraham Van Buren, the son of then-president Martin Van Buren.
The first part of their letter should describe for their friend what life was like for the Native Americans at Berry’s Ferry and the surrounding area during the winter of 1838–1839. Then they are to close out by answering the all-important historical question of what should have been the policy of the US Government when it came to the Native Americans, with the students having to choose from one of the six federal policies appearing below.
Generally speaking, my students have much enjoyed working on this project. They also seem to have learned much about US History. Better yet, this project has (in the words of Cindy Heckenlaible) “reduced the possibilities of plagiarism, the likely gutting of student-voice, and the general discontent students feel when embarking on a project for seemingly no other reason than the instructor’s insistence that “later, you’ll need to know how to do this.”
One More — The TED-Ed Video
Have the students produce a 3–5 minute content-rich animated video modeled after the hugely popular TED-Ed videos.
A Final Suggestion — The Local History Blog Post
A few years ago, at a National Social Studies Teachers Conference (NCSS), I heard about the book Teaching Local History in Grades 6–12.
In this book, the author, social studies teacher Robert Stevens, claims that “there is a renaissance occurring in American history classrooms: teachers have discovered that local history offers students not only far richer content and more enjoyable learning experiences, but also a unique insight into our national character. And they can even address social studies standards.”
Though I have no way of knowing whether Stevens’ “renaissance” claim is accurate, I believe that the teaching of local history can provide students with several wonderful learning opportunities.
One way that I, since hearing about Professor Stevens’ book, have tried to get my students to learn about their local history is to increasingly call upon my students to produce a 750–1000 word Local History Blog Post (with a good example found below:
Below are several articles found online that should prove of value for teachers looking to better incorporate the topic of the Native Americans into their curriculum.
- Tips for Teaching about Native Peoples
- Transforming Teaching and Learning about Native Americans
- Lessons Learned in Teaching Native American History
- Inside a New Effort to Change What Schools Teach About Native American History