Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Presidents of the United States Workbook Recommendation

Introducing the Complete Book of Presidents and States. I bought this book at Sam's Club when I was collecting materials to inform my elections unit production, because of the cool set of cards in the beginning of the book -- pictures of the presidents on the front and facts/trivia on the back, along with different game ideas for learning the names and order. That seemed like a great selling point, and it is. However, I've found that we're using this book a lot, and it has benefits beyond the deck of cards in the front. For example, there is *another* set of cards in the middle! Who knew?

After that first section, there is a page for every President, with a summary of their lives and the major events that happened during their presidencies.

1. Used as reading comprehension practice, it delivers short non-fiction pieces and varied, interesting little recall exercises like crosswords, fill-ins, and other puzzles. Not a lot of "why" questions but it is good practice for remembering facts and also locating facts within blocks of text.

2. I don't expect Benny to really absorb and remember which President bought Arizona or who was a Whig or whatever. But the information does give him a context in which to think of the current President and the candidates. Some were disliked, some were liked. Some only were President for a few weeks or months. It's definitely educational for *me* in the same way -- looking at the whole string of Presidents in a row takes a little significance away from any single one. It also gives you a sense that the country has really changed. I mean, obviously, right? But still, looking at the people and faces and the crises they faced, you really get that the country itself, the entity of the USA has morphed and changed in significant ways. Of course you can provide the "why" questions that the book does not.

3. Another cool thing about the book is that at the end of each one-page lesson there is an extension question for which the student has to do a bit of research. I've decided that Wikipedia is safe enough, or at least that the only danger comes from overly political pages on community organizing and not from X-rated pop-ups. So, Benny's been learning to search for things like what they used to call the White House, or whose father was a Congressman from what state. More exercise in scanning text for information, and also it's very satisfying to find the answer with research.

4. But wait, there's more. After the Presidents section there's a states section! Every state commands two or three pages of info and then cute little tests on that info. Of course you'll learn about the state bird (what an immortal waste of time state birds are, yo) and the capitol, but you'll also learn other things that are actually interesting and will lead you to discussions.

So, ding dong we hurry along. Benny knows the President song and the Electoral College song, so this week we're going to add another song:

James T. Polk by They Might Be Giants.

You can hear it in this movie from YouTube, accompanied by a video that someone made for a history class, which I find quite good. I have to write down the guitar chords, but here are the lyrics:

In 1844, the Democrats were split
The three nominees for the presidential candidate
Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist
James Buchanan, a moderate
Louis Cass, a general and expansionist
From Nashville came a dark horse riding up
He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

Austere, severe, he held few people dear
His oratory filled his foes with fear
The factions soon agreed
He's just the man we need
To bring about victory
Fulfill our manifest destiny
And annex the land the Mexicans command
And when the votes were cast the winner was
Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

In four short years he met his every goal
He seized the whole southwest from Mexico
Made sure the tarriffs fell
And made the English sell the Oregon territory
He built an independent treasury
Having done all this he sought no second term
But precious few have mourned the passing of
Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president
Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump

I bought this book for $5.88 and it is listed on this web site for $14.95, so keep that in mind.

1 comment:

  1. I know I have seen this at Sam's, but I've never taken the time to pick it up and give it a look. I will definitely do that now after reading your review!