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Building a modern history course with focus on Russia and China


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I'm brainstorming for a modern history year for DD next year (she will be in 8th). She's been through the SOTW cycle once, and we want to do something that's more focused (as opposed to getting a little exposure to a lot of topics). She did not like the OUP series (it doesn't have modern, anyway).  She has really enjoyed what we did this past year: 4-6 week units on the Reformation, Renaissance, Italian Renaissance, Elizabethan England, Scientific Revolution, French Revolution, Napoleon. I'd like to build out something similar next year and would appreciate input and suggestions for resources. DD is not a big fan so far of online lectures or video based stuff, unless it's a documentary. Too bad, as I was hoping to use some Great Courses.

I was originally thinking to tackle the following topics: Russian Revolution, Chinese Communist Revolution (fall of Qing, rise of Mao), WW1, WW2, US Civil Rights Movement. We can probably drop the Civil RIghts Movement, because she will get that as she reads through Hakim's History of US (she's reading through the 10 book series over 4 years - next year is the 4th year), and we can focus more on world history.  

I'd appreciate any suggestions for other important or interesting topics that we could potentially cover next year, as well as suggestions for specific books / documentaries, etc for various topics.

I'm also curious - what kind of output do you have your 8th graders produce for history? I'm always insecure about asking for too little or too much...

Here are some resources I'm looking at so far:

RUSSIA

The Russian Revolution, John Dunn 

 

CHINA - potential spines

China, Form Empire to People's Republic

Mao's China

Making of Modern China (though it feels weird to use a comic as a spine)

 

CHINA - potential supplements

Red Scarf Girl (I saw it in a post by @8filltheheart at some point, but I can't find the post now!)

Boxers and Saints (I think I saw this posted by @Farrar)

 

WW1 - ???

WW2 - ???

 

I'm really excited to build out this syllabus! Thanks in advance for your help!

 

 

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@WTM, the comic is the best. It's very, very well done.

Boxers and Saints is so dark and amazing. Red Scarf Girl is the best young reader's Cultural Revolution memoir. It's dark. If you wanted to go all in on graphic novels with China, you could consider Little White Duck though.

For middle school for the Russian Revolution... Angel on the Square and the sequels. Or Breaking Stalin's Nose.

There's SO MUCH about WWI and WWII... you should start a thread for it. Maybe on the logic board to get the best targeted suggestions.

As for output... Um... it's middle school. You don't really have to do much.

 

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We really liked Red Scarf Girl.  Facing History and Ourselves has some info on  it if you want to browse: https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library?search=red scarf girl I also highly recommend China Under Communism by Kort for middle school.  https://archive.org/details/chinaundercommun00kort

I would also consider adding A Night Divided.  It is an excellent book about a family who was divided by the construction of the Berlin Wall.   Pair that with Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech that Ended the Cold War (We listened to both when AudioSync had them as free downloads.  Even my college dd enjoyed them.....we were on a long car trip.)

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I'm also preparing something similar for my 13-14yo daughter. We're up to WWI in our huge history survey. I'm emphasizing the civil rights movement and science, though, the first because I think it's important for her, and the second because she loves it. I think when my son does this, it'll be very military-tech focused. Anyway, I'm following with interest. 🙂

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@elroisees I found this great resource for the US Civil Rights movement:

https://smile.amazon.com/Civil-Rights-Movement-Opposing-Viewpoints/dp/1565103696/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=Opposing+viewpoints+civil+rights&qid=1618275479&sr=8-5

I got a used copy at abebooks.

I’m not sure if we’ll use it next year yet, or how. 

Now you have me thinking maybe I should stick with Civil Rights for next year. DD is reading a compilation of slave narratives from the Underground Railroad now, so it would be a natural continuance...

I feel like high school might be a better time to use this particular resource, when we’re doing more rhetoric level writing... I keep going back and forth in my mind...

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1 hour ago, 8filltheheart said:

We really liked Red Scarf Girl.  Facing History and Ourselves has some info on  it if you want to browse: https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library?search=red scarf girl I also highly recommend China Under Communism by Kort for middle school.  https://archive.org/details/chinaundercommun00kort

I would also consider adding A Night Divided.  It is an excellent book about a family who was divided by the construction of the Berlin Wall.   Pair that with Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech that Ended the Cold War (We listened to both when AudioSync had them as free downloads.  Even my college dd enjoyed them.....we were on a long car trip.)

Thank you! I just ordered China Under Communism.

Do you suggest adding some kind of spine about the Cold War to the two books you mentioned (Night Divided and Tear Down THis Wall)? Or do you think those books provide adequate context?

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If you'd like a spine to provide context, you could read volume three of The Human Odyssey.  It's short and would be easy to incorporate.

There is a little book called The Communist Experiment that is really good.  I'm not sure how it would work for an 8th grader as it is intended for a college level audience, but the writing is superb and I remember it as being quite accessible.

 

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1 hour ago, Not_a_Number said:

Off-topic, but why not? I haven't used them yet, but I've bought a few of them... 

1. Writing style - we/she didn’t like the writing style. Some of the books have poor sentence construction, poorly organized paragraphs - it’s kind of bizarre considering they are written by adults. To be fair, we/she doesn’t like Hakim’s writing style either, but the content in Hakim’s US books is so broad and so good, that we can overlook the writing style.

2. Too jumpy - though the books center on one main time period or culture, the chapters themselves jump around and do not flow readily from one chapter to the next. She prefers a more narrative approach.

3. Too much detail - some of the books provide way too much detail but not enough context to make that level of detail meaningful.

These are just our 2 cents. I know a lot of people love these books, and I’m sure they are great for some families!

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, EKS said:

If you'd like a spine to provide context, you could read volume three of The Human Odyssey.  It's short and would be easy to incorporate.

There is a little book called The Communist Experiment that is really good.  I'm not sure how it would work for an 8th grader as it is intended for a college level audience, but the writing is superb and I remember it as being quite accessible.

 

Thank you! The Communist Experiment looks intriguing, but it’s >$50. Inter-library loan doesn’t have it either... I really like the premise of the book (from what I can gather from the little blurb on amazon). I may try to find a similar resource.

I like the idea of focusing next year broadly on communism and how it played out in Russia, China, Germany, Cold War (US), and weave in WW1 and WW2. 

Edited by WTM
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Don't know if this will help, but I've just discovered the "You Choose History" series. They're like 'choose your own adventure' books but based on history including the Berlin Wall, Hurricane Katrina, Vietnam War etc. It has the usual 'choose' story but also details in the back. 

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  • 2 months later...
On 4/12/2021 at 3:55 PM, Farrar said:

As for output... Um... it's middle school. You don't really have to do much.

 

Circling back to this thread, @Farrar.  Thanks for your input! DD loved the comic - couldn’t wait for the school year and already finished it!

So, do you ask for any history output in middle school? I’m always feeling unsure of whether I’m asking for too much or too little. Last year, I had the kids make a timeline entry each week and produce some kind of written narration (or outline) each week. Last year I also had DD(7th) write one paper on the causes for the French Revolution.  I was thinking of having her write one paper to compare / constrast the Chinese and Russian Revolutions towards the end of the year.  Do you think that’s overkill for 8th grade?

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4 hours ago, WTM said:

Circling back to this thread, @Farrar.  Thanks for your input! DD loved the comic - couldn’t wait for the school year and already finished it!

So, do you ask for any history output in middle school? I’m always feeling unsure of whether I’m asking for too much or too little. Last year, I had the kids make a timeline entry each week and produce some kind of written narration (or outline) each week. Last year I also had DD(7th) write one paper on the causes for the French Revolution.  I was thinking of having her write one paper to compare / constrast the Chinese and Russian Revolutions towards the end of the year.  Do you think that’s overkill for 8th grade?

I think it all really depends on the kid and the goals. I would never call one paper overkill for a neurotypical middle schooler. That's a pretty big topic for a middle schooler, but given some support and the readings, I think that sounds really good. We did do output for history in middle school sometimes - but we varied it. We did some writing, some art stuff, some timelines and maps, some discussions... I think my point was mostly that it's okay if you don't have some huge formalized history output plan for middle school. Some kids love history and should have more output and products and projects in the subject they love most. One of the things that a lot of people do as well is write across the curriculum or use content subjects like history and science to practice skill subjects like writing, reading, art, math, etc. Students should be doing some writing - and while many middle schoolers aren't ready to master the essay yet, others are ready to get started at least and it's good to be working on first solid essays in middle school. If you make that writing be about history to kill two birds with one stone, then that's a great plan. 

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If she's a very strong reader, and you don't mind some "mature" themes. Ken Follet has a trilogy called the Century Trilogy that spans from just before WWI to the end of the 20th century - although after the 1960s it jumps in big chunks to the end of the century. It's a historical fiction that interweaves stories from Russia, Germany, England & America. Amazing illustration of the consequences of WWI, the Russian Revolution, and the real life effects of the Cold War and communism in countries other than America. 

Doesn't much involve Chine except tangentially as a motivation for the wars in Korea and Vietnam - if I recall correctly. 

They are long and they are for adults, but they are amazing. I'm kind of a history buff, but I feel like I learned a lot and expanded my understanding of how "regular" people experience these events, and why and how things like the holocaust and Bay of Pigs happened. I totally would have read them in 8th grade - in fact, I think I read Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth for the first time in 7th or 8th grade, but I was kinda nerdy like that. LOL. 

 

Another great book on the other end of the spectrum. Probably a bit on the easy side for 8th grade, but a really good, immersive story is "The Endless Steppe." Takes place during WWII. A Polish family exiled to Siberia and their struggle to survive. 

 

Let us know what you come up with. I'm interested to see what you come up with. 

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Posted (edited)
On 6/17/2021 at 2:59 AM, 8filltheheart said:

I agree with @Farrarthst 1 paper is definitely not too much for an 8th grader, but the topic might be.

For 8th grade, my kids write Cornell type notes for their reading. Writing is across subject matter  and they write a paper about every 2-3 weeks.

What would be examples of appropriate prompts for papers for an 8th grader? I know every kid is different, but a general idea would be helpful for this insecure mom :). 
 

To clarify, the one paper would be in addition to weekly “narrations “ for which DD has developed her own storyboard format. They aren’t written papers. They are pictorial representations of key events and ideas.  Would you steer an 8th grader away from picture based output and toward written, thesis driven output? 
 

please be gentle 🙂 I’m in my annual phase of feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing. (Actually I think I’m in that  phase every few weeks…. 🙂 )

 

 tagging @Farrar, too- what would be appropriate  essay prompts for an average 8th grader? For reference, DD will be finishing the last 12 weeks of WWS2, then starting WWS3 for 8th.

 This is kind of related to a prior post I made about how to ask good questions. I guess I still struggle with knowing what kinds of questions are appropriate at what age.

Edited - removed photos for DD’s privacy

 

Edited by WTM
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Love her notebook!  That is great.   

How many actual compositions is she writing?  I expect an 8th grader to write a composition of some sort every 2-3 weeks (that means working on a paper during those between weeks doing research, compiling notes, organizing, creating an outline, etc. then a week writing.  So a paper is pretty much always "in process.")

For an 8th grader I would assign a paper analyzing specific aspects of the Chinese or Russian revolutions, not comparing/contrasting the 2.  Both of those are huge topics that encompass entire books.  My approach typically is to ask deeper analysis of more specific aspects than expect a focus on a huge generalized topic that skims the surface.   It requires mastering research skills and incorporating support in a different way than a summarization of a large body of info does. Sometimes summarizing large bodies of info is the right approach for a specific assignment, but asking an 8th grader to summarize huge topics and then compare and contrast them (which could be a phd thesis topic) is probably putting the focus on different skills than writing (which is what my goal is for an 8th grader).

ETA: to give a simple 3rd or 4th grade example, I would never ask my child to write a paragraph on penguins.  Why?  Bc a single paragraph isn't really appropriate for summing up everything about a penguin and if they did write one, they weren't really learning good paragraphing skills (and mastering writing a good paragraph is what I want a 3rd or 4th grader to accomplish.)  Instead, asking them to write a paragraph on diet or habitat or breeding/young, etc would enable them to master a topic sentence with supporting details that stay on topic.   

Edited by 8filltheheart
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I agree mostly with 8fillstheheart on this. I tend toward the Brave Writer one writing "project" per month guideline, and by 7th/8th grade those were mostly compositions or essays for us with a few more creative ones thrown in sometimes. I also think it's just a really sophisticated topic to compare the two revolutions. I would use a topic like that in high school and do something more concrete analyzing each one instead. But... some kids are more gifted and more ready to write at a higher level. So it all depends a bit. I just think a lot of families try to get ahead of themselves with "smart" kids who are good at school who aren't always ready. I don't know her, so I can't say.

That notebook is incredible. Excellent stuff. I love that it includes some analysis. She clearly understands really well how to condense and summarize complex information. So maybe she is ready for the next step. It just depends.

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5 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

 

ETA: to give a simple 3rd or 4th grade example, I would never ask my child to write a paragraph on penguins.  Why?  Bc a single paragraph isn't really appropriate for summing up everything about a penguin and if they did write one, they weren't really learning good paragraphing skills (and mastering writing a good paragraph is what I want a 3rd or 4th grader to accomplish.)  Instead, asking them to write a paragraph on diet or habitat or breeding/young, etc would enable them to master a topic sentence with supporting details that stay on topic.   

Thanks, 8!

She is working through WWS, so she's writing a composition of some sort every 2-4 weeks. The compositions (so far) aren't necessarily thesis driven, though.

To give you an example of the types of writing taught in WWS2:

  • Summary of narrative fiction
  • summary of descriptive fiction
  • chronological narrative of past events
  • chronological narrative of scientific discovery
  • description of a place
  • scientific description
  • description of a person
  • biographical sketch
  • writing about a natural process
  • writing about an event in history (the books categorizes this as a history sequence)
  • explanation by comparison/ contrast
  • explanation by definition
  • Temporal comparison of historical event
  • Temporal comparison of scientific phenomenon (or object)

 

In your 3rd-4th grade example, the focus of the writing skills seems to be writing a good paragraph (with good topic sentence and supporting details).  Eventually, we want to get the kids to the place where they can put paragaphs together into thesis driven essays, right? It seems that a good prompt should guide the student to do that, but what constitutes a good prompt for 8th grade? 

I feel like it must be obvious to everyone else, but somehow fuzzy for me 🙂 

I'll throw out some examples. Are these good prompts for 8th grade? Way too hard? Way too simple?

  • What were reasons for the French Revolution?
  • Why did the French Revolution end in so much bloodshed?
  • Did the French Revolution succeed or fail? (Would require the student to figure out which group of people to focus on - peasants? nobility? enlightenment minded middle class?)
  • What was the Great Leap Forward, and why did it fail?
  • What was the Great Leap Forward, and in what ways did it reflect Mao's vision for China? 

Then there are the prompts that don't really require analysis or a thesis. I'll throw out an example:  

Write a biographical sketch of Mao (Stalin, Lenin, fill in the blank...).  I guess you could get an extra paragraph of analysis by rewording the prompt -- Write a biographical sketch of  x -- how did person x's background influence his/her beliefs / revolutionary activity / etc?

Would love your critiques / input as to what constitutes a good prompt.

 

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1 hour ago, Farrar said:

I tend toward the Brave Writer one writing "project" per month guideline, and by 7th/8th grade those were mostly compositions or essays for us with a few more creative ones thrown in sometimes. I also think it's just a really sophisticated topic to compare the two revolutions. I would use a topic like that in high school and do something more concrete analyzing each one instead.

Thanks, Farrar!

What would be an appropriate prompt that asks the child to analyze some aspect of the Russian Revolution (or Chinese Cultural Revolution). (Or any history topic, I through those out because those are areas we're focusing on this year). I feel like "analyze the Russian Revolution" is way too vague 🙂 

Here are some other random prompts I found on the internet. Would you consider these to be examples of good prompts for 8th grade?

  • How did imperialism play a role in the downfall of the Qing dynasty? 
  • Following World War I, the generation was known as the “Lost Generation”. How did this group of individuals become known by this moniker? Why? 
  • What role did World War I have in causing the Second World War?
  • How were peasants in western Europe similar to serfs in Russia? How were they different? 
  • How did the rise of the Industrial Age cause Karl Marx to write the Communist Manifesto? 
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1 hour ago, Farrar said:

 I just think a lot of families try to get ahead of themselves with "smart" kids who are good at school who aren't always ready. I don't know her, so I can't say.

Yeah, and I guess I don't have a good sense for when a kid is ready! I have a science background, so I'm not really insecure about guiding science (yet), but with writing I feel I need hand holding... or maybe it's hand swatting if I'm always trying to do the wrong thing 😅

Because she's going to be doing a lot of writing through WWS, I don't feel the need to come up with a bunch of history prompts for her to write history papers in addition to all the WWS assignments, but I did think it might be nice to try one paper based on her history studies this coming year. 

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  • 1 month later...
Posted (edited)

Update -- here's a booklist:

Primary source books are marked with an * -- I'm not sure how much of these will will use. I will probably just pull out one or two interesting readings 

There were many other good books that didn't end up on our list this time around. Thanks for all your suggestions! 

The War to End All Wars, Russell Freedman 

The Russian Revolution, John M. Dunn

*Revolutionary Russia, A History in Documents, Robert Weinberg

Angel on the Square, Gloria Whelan

Breaking Stalin’s Nose, Eugene Yelchin

Empress Dowager Cixi, the Concubine who Launched Modern China, Jung Chang

The World Wars, Usborne Publishing (for WW2) 

The Plot to Kill Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero, Patricia McCormick

Number the Stars, Lois Lowry

The Chinese Cultural Revolution, David Pietrusza

The Making of Modern China 1368-1912, Ming - Qing Dynasty, Jing Liu

*Sources in Chinese History, 2nd edition, David G. Atwill and Yurong Y. Atwill

Red Scarf Girl

Wild Swans, Jung Chang

The Cold War, Britta Bjornlund

*The Cold war, a history in documents, Allan Winkler

Tear Down This Wall, Ramesh Ratnesar

A Night Divided, Jennifer Nielsen

 

 

@JessinTXtagging you because you asked for the final list
 

Edited by WTM
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Here are some other WW2 related historical fiction titles--

Letters from Rifka,

The Devil's Arithmetic

Resistance (Jennifer Nielsen)

Rescue (Jennifer Nielsen)

 

Russian Revolution related historical fiction--

Words on Fire (Jennifer Nielsen),

Angel on the Square (Whelan),

The Impossible Journey (Whelan),

Endless Steppe Hautzig)

 

China in 1970s--

Little White Duck, Martinez and Liu

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