Do You Think You Could Solve the Great Depression?

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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The following is the syllabus given out to students last week to introduce the 8th grade Social Studies curriculum. Teachers Ben, Robyn, and Kim are part of an innovation project to experiment with personalized learning throughout the year with me. This team wanted to send a message right from the very beginning that this course will be different.

What would your response be if you received this as a student or a parent?

Welcome to 8th grade!

In traditional history classes, you memorize some names, dates, and events, take a quiz or test and then forget everything. That is not what this class is. Historians don’t sit around memorizing things. They use primary source evidence to figure out what was going on in the past. They analyze information, synthesize it and create their interpretation of what happened. They often disagree with each other, and debate about what was really going on during the time period that they are studying. The facts don’t really change, but people’s interpretations of them do.

In this class, you will be doing this real historical work. You will be creating your interpretation of the past based on evidence that you find compelling and credible. The work will be difficult at times, more difficult than memorizing people and events, but it will be a whole lot more interesting and fun.

Key Questions we will be exploring throughout the year:

great depression
This class will try to “solve” the great depression!
  • What is the purpose and function of our government?
  • To what extent is our government functioning the way it’s supposed to?
  • Are Americans living up to the American ideals of democracy? Has progress been made towards these ideals?
  • Who is responsible for creating change in society: the government or individuals?
  • How can we use the past to improve the present?
  • How do you tell the story of what really happened in the past?

Skills Being Used Throughout the Year:

  • Analyzing & Synthesizing
  • Decision Making
  • Product Creation
  • Presentation

A sample of student-driven experiences you will have in this class:

Are you a good citizen? What makes a good citizen?
You will get to evaluate the Madison Public schools citizenship standard to determine if you think it is something that we should be measuring in Madison. If you don’t like it, you’ll get to make a new one!
Captains of Industry or Robber Barons?
You will examine the life and times of the some of the richest men in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and determine if they were heroes who helped America progress as a nation, or villains who exploited the people for profit and personal gain.
You will get to create your own social movement hashtag campaign based on a historical social issue that still exists today. Who knows, maybe your campaign could actual go viral!
What was so “roaring” about the 1920’s?
You will examine primary source artifacts (including written documents pictures, political cartoons, and others) in order to figure out what was really going on in the 1920’s.
Solving the Great Depression
You will take on the role of an advisor to President Roosevelt and attempt to create a plan to solve one of the major problems facing the nation during the Great Depression.
A Modern Rosie the Riveter
You will explore why Rosie the Riveter remains such an important symbol in American history and culture and then create a “modern-day” Rosie the Riveter.
Creating your own Digital Resource
We do not have a textbook for this course. Throughout the year, you will have the opportunity to write your own history of the time period based on your interpretation of what was going on.


Graded assignments throughout the course will include research, projects, presentations, writing assignments, and class assignments. The weighting of each graded assignment will range from one time to four times depending on the complexity of the task. Specifics for each graded assignment, including criteria for success and weight, will be discussed when each assignment is given.

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