Here's part 1 and part 2 if you missed them.
8. HA: Nacerima
This first HA (Historical Analysis) activity of the year is certainly one of my favorites. I use this reading as an opportunity to teach students the concepts of Critical / Close / Active Reading and how they can use them to "read between the lines" in a source. This source in particular is perfect for it. They never catch it. Upon first reading it appears that the description is of a primitive culture from some point in history. Students are horrified by the barbaric rituals performed by these natives. Well, that is until they are told that they are the natives. This opens up discussions of bias and how word choice greatly impacts our visualization of a culture.
By starting with this one it ensures they are always on the look out in future HAs for any tricks I might try to pull. This helps push them to truly read carefully. While this one particular lesson is cool on it's own, it really makes the list because it makes all the future HAs much more effective.
Unfortunately for stupid legal reasons this version of the lab doesn't include all the bells and whistles that make me love it. I'm honestly very satisfied with all the Weigh the Evidence activities but this one seemed to open up many great avenues of discussion. Just having the debate over whether a video game can provide reliable historical information at all was well worth it. Add to that a discussion of which types of TV programs are worthwhile sources (in this case discussing HBO's John Adams) and you have a very interesting discussing on history today. If you are going to do this lab I highly recommending getting hold of the scene from Assassin's Creed 3 that shows the Massacre, it makes the lab all the better.
Sources aside, the actual debate on the essential question of the lab - Were the British soldiers guilty of murder? - is fun as well. I had already presented the Massacre as a cause of the war so students had some inclination to support the colonists. The lab definitely changed some minds. When students put themselves in the shoes of the soldiers being surrounded and threatened they started to more greatly appreciate their predicament. The students also started to understand how the drumbeat of Revolution had caused many colonists to start looking for trouble with the British.
Lastly, though more WTEs may yet come up on the countdown I want to note how much I like the structure of the activity. Students come in with their pre-conceived thoughts but are forced by the numerical weighing of the evidence to defend the side that the evidence supports. While they certainly are the ones judging the evidence and personal bias affects that it really pushes them to recognize that if they can't prove a position in my class they probably shouldn't have it. None of my other lab formats push them in quite that same way.
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