Declaring Independence…but for who?

Question: What rights and freedoms do you think the government should protect?



The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as 13 newly independent sovereign states, and no longer a part of the British Empire.

The Declaration justified independence by listing colonial grievances against King George III, and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution. These ideas were based on Enlightenment philosophy, particularly John Locke’s theory that government power derived from the consent of the governed.

Check out a great warm up video here.


This video has a great introduction by Morgan Freeman on the context and impact of the Declaration of Independence. It also features a complete read-through of the document by a cast of Hollywood movie stars. However, the read-through is not quite as dramatic as I thought it would be…it kind of starts to drag when they get to the list of 27 grievances. I recommend just showing the introduction.


This video is from the John Adams miniseries. It gives a nice context on the debate in the Continental Congress (The reading at the end is MUCH more interesting and dramatic…it doesn’t include the list of grievances).


An abridged Declaration of Independence (full text version)


When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

*Translation – This document will explain why we want independence!


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Questions: Describe the “unalienable rights” in your own words. What rights and freedoms do you have now that you think the government should protect? Where does government get its power? What if a government does not defend the rights of its citizens? What are some groups that were not treated equally during colonial times?


    • Abuses 1 – 12 abuses involve King George III’s establishment of a tyrannical authority in place of representative government.  King George III rejected legislation proposed by the colonies, and replacing colonial governments with his appointed ministers. The King is a tyrant, because he keeps standing armies in the colonies during a time of peace, makes the military power superior to the civil government, and forces the colonists to support the military presence through increased taxes.
    • Abuses 13 – 22 describe the involvement of Parliament in destroying the colonists’ right to self-rule. Legislation has been passed to quarter troops in the colonies, to shut off trade with other parts of the world, to levy taxes without the consent of colonial legislatures, to take away the right to trial by jury, and to force colonists to be tried in England.
    • Abuses 23 – 27 refer to specific actions that the King George III took to abandon the colonies and to wage war against them. For example, the American sailors were regularly kidnapped and forced to serve in the British navy.

Question: Which grievance do you consider the most important?


We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Questions: What powers do the new United States have? Who do you think was the intended audience of this declaration (name as many people or groups as you can)?




These are GREAT ideas from the Declaration of Independence:

    • “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
    • A government is a contract with the citizens. People give up some of their freedoms, so that government will protect their rights.
    • If a government does not protect the rights its citizens, then they can and should change the government or start a new one.

BUT consider the following:

    • Thomas Jefferson and many of the other Founding Fathers owned slaves.
    • Slavery was still legal and enforced in all 13 colonies when the Declaration was signed.
    • Most countries in Europe were ruled by Kings who believed they were given their power directly from God, and could rule however they wanted.
    • Britain and the American colonies did have elections, but only wealthy men could vote or hold political office. Women and poor men did not have any political rights.

Pretend you live during 1776, and you have just read the Declaration of Independence.

Write a brief diary journal from the point of view of: (pick any three)

  • A Loyalist in America
  • A Son of Liberty
  • A woman
  • A free person of color
  • A poor person
  • The British King
  • The British Parliament
  • The French King



Comments and feedback welcome!

The Tipping Point – Making a Common Sense Argument for Independence

 “Small islands, not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects for kingdoms to take under their care; but there is something absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.”  – Thomas Paine Common Sense 




Common Sense is a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine that inspired the American colonials to declare and fight for independence from Great Britain in the winter of early 1776. It was published after the fighting broke out between the British and colonists, but before the Declaration of Independence. In clear, simple language it explained the advantages of, and the need for, immediate independence from Britain.

Common Sense targeted a popular audience, and was written in a straightforward and simple way, so Paine’s political ideas were understandable to everyone, even uneducated or illiterate colonists. This brought “average” colonists into political debate for the first time.

Before Common Sense, many colonists still thought of themselves as British citizens who were just angry at their government. But afterward, many colonists wanted to break away and form a new country.

The Declaration of Independence was written and signed just a few months after Common Sense was published.



Here is an abridged interpretation of Common Sense by Thomas Paine. (The actual pamphlet is quite long…you really need to break it down to use it in the classroom.)

The Purpose of Government

Society and government are two separate things. People in society do what they want in search of happiness. Government exists because of what people do wrong – it sets limits on the behavior of people. At best, government is a necessary evil. At worst, government is intolerable.

Without government, society has absolute freedom. People can do anything wish. Unfortunately, people can and do commit evil. Government punishes evil doers, hence, government protects society. Therefore, we give up some of our freedom to create a government to protect our natural rights; life, liberty and possessions. (SOCIAL CONTRACT!!!)

We elect representatives to our government to make sure that government protects the natural right of citizens. Elections should be held often so that representatives can be reminded of what citizens want. Frequent elections will also keep representatives from becoming corrupt. This will make for a happy relationship between society and government.

The English Government

Simple things are easily run and easily fixed. The English government is too complicated. When something breaks, it is difficult to even know what is wrong. The English government promises much but delivers little. Let us examine the three parts of the English government: the King, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons.

Since the King and members of the House of Lords are not elected, they do not care about the people. Members of the House of Commons are elected and are the only true voice of the people. Yet, the King tells Parliament (Lords and Commons) what to do, and Parliament does it.

The Rule of Kings

It is ridiculous that one capable man who becomes king should have all future generations of his family also rule. His son might be a dictator or a fool. England has had a few good monarchs but many bad ones. Another evil of kings is that someone else rules in his place when a king is too young or too old. Kings do not make good governments. Under kings, there have been at least eight civil wars and nineteen rebellions. In England, all a king does is start wars and give away property. One honest man is worth all the kings who ever lived.

The Current Situation in America

On the following, I offer nothing more than common sense. War will decide who will rule America. Some say that America needs Britain to be successful, but they are wrong. America would have been great without Europe. People escaped from Europe to come to America for political and religious freedom. And to call Americans “Englishmen” is wrong since many people in America come from other countries.

America has no advantage by being connected with Great Britain. Our relationship with Britain has brought America into war with other nations. Whenever Britain goes to war, it disrupts American trade with other European countries. It is better that America stay out of European problems.

There are those who cannot see the abuses of Britain. If you believe that peace can be made, you are lying to yourself and you have the heart of a coward.

The Ability of America to Fight a War

I have never met with a man, either in England or America, who has not said the colonies and Great Britain would separate at one time or other. The time is now. It is cheaper to fight than to spend millions to repeal acts of Parliament. We are united and this continent has the largest number of armed men of any power in the world. It would be easy for America to build a navy; we have the resources of tar, timber, iron, and cordage. America builds some of the best ships, most of them are not fit to use. Our arms are equal to any country, and we can produce our own gunpowder and cannon.


To conclude, many reasons may be given for independence. Some of which are:

      • First – other nations cannot solve our conflict as long as we are considered a part of Britain. Hence the conflict will go on forever.
      • Second – France and Spain will not help us if we do not break with Britain.
      • Third – we must not be seen as Englishman and rebels fighting Britain but as different people seeking independence.
      • Fourth – if we sent a document to foreign governments stating British abuses and our failed attempts to peaceably fix them, and showed that we were pushed towards separating from Britain, it would do us great good.

 Until independence is declared, America will suffer.


Questions to consider

1. What is the social contract theory of government?

2. Who was the intended audience of Common Sense?

3. According to Common Sense, why should America declare independence?

4. Which argument for independence do you think is most important? Least important?

5. How do you think loyalists reacted to Common Sense when they read it?


Comments and feedback welcome!

Bloody Massacre? Are you sure about that?

The Boston Massacre (1770) was one of the most iconic events of the pre-Revolutionary period. It has a cool name, and an instantly recognizable image, The Bloody Massacre.


Of course, it’s also a signature piece of propaganda created by Paul Revere, a member of the radical, and occassionally violent, protest group, the Sons of Liberty.

As a warm up, I asked students to pretend that they were American colonists living outside of Boston during 1770, and they were given a copy of The Bloody Massacre, but had no other knowledge of the event. What did they see? What did they think happened?

The dog…the first thing they point out will be the dog. Count on it.

British troops are shooting people.

The soldiers look organized.

The soldiers look mean, some of them look like they are laughing.

The officer is standing behind his men and just gave the order to fire.

The soldiers are very close to the crowd.

The crowd looks scared.

The crowd doesn’t have any weapons.

Some people in the crowd are dead or hurt.

One person in the crowd looks like he’s asking the soldiers to stop.

It happened in the middle of a city.

It looks the crowd is only a little bit bigger than the group of soldiers.


I didn’t provide any additional context, but simply asked students to record their observations on this T-chart.

Then, we watched this clip from the John Adams HBO mini-series. FYI, this clip is OK, but I highly recommend just purchasing the full episode from Amazon Instant Video, because it sets up the events of the Massacre perfectly.


Then students worked with partners to discuss the evidence that was revealed during the trial (for the other side of their T-chart).

There were only a few soldiers.

The crowd was about 200 people.

The British officer was in front of his men, not behind his men.

The crowd threw snowballs, oyster shells and garbage at the soldiers.

The crowd was carrying clubs…they may have thrown their clubs at the soldiers.

 The crowd was very loud and screamed at the soldiers.

Some people in crowd were shouting at the soldiers to “Fire!”

The first shot was fired accidentally.


Finally, we reconsidered the engraving of The Bloody Massacre.

How could we change it so that it was more accurate, based on the trial testimony?

Why do you think Paul Revere left out or changed some of the facts? What story was he trying to tell? Who was his audience?

Do you agree or disagree with what Paul Revere did? Why?

If you were living in Britain, how would you feel about The Bloody Massacre?

What do you think might have been different if the soldiers had been convicted of murder?


Comments and feedback welcome!

KWL: Student reflections

Following the completion of our French and Indian War Unit, I  gathered self-report data on student experiences with generating their own questions.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Due to time constraints, I only assigned the reflection to three of my five classes. A total of 65 students returned the reflection, and 50 agreed to let me use their data for this post. To facilitate analysis of the data, I transcribed all students responses to spreadsheet and coded them.


FIWar Fav

 Sample student responses

Choice  “We got to really learn what we wanted to.”

Deeper learning  “I was able to answer my own thoughts and learn more than what basic information tells me.”

Getting my own questions answered  “We got to have our own questions answered. Our curiousity still happened even when the questions did not get answered.”

Making up my own test questions “I was able to show my actual questions for the test rather than answering general questions.”

More interesting  “Having my own questions made me more interested and curious about the French and Indian War.”


FI War LFav

Sample student responses

Pay attention more “I had to do a lot more work and put in a lot more effort.” 

Hard to make good questions “I didn’t like that sometimes I was unsure if my question was effective or not.” 

Too many questions “It was hard to come up with a lot of good questions, because I only had a couple of ‘real’ questions.”

Questions weren’t answered “Sometimes my questions were too complicated or too confusing to find the right answer.”

  FIWar Most

Sample student responses

Causes and effects “The end of this war started a spark that became the Revolutionary War.”

George Washington “George Washington had a hard road before he became president.”

How the British won “The British were losing at first, but then they won the war.”

Individual battles “Individual battles have a large impact on the war.”

Strategies and weapons “The French learned the fighting style of the Native Americans.”

Who fought in the war “The Indians played a huge roll in the war. The Indians greatly helped the French in many battles.” 

  FIWar Walpbest

Sample student responses

 Effective “I liked how he teached this unit, I feel like I really know the war and understand it.”

Videos/Visuals “Mr Walp picked a good video!”

Organization “Mr. Walp worked hard to keep everyone together with the PSSA schedule.”

Student-centered “Mr Walp built his lessons around us and what we wanted to learn.”

Variety of resources “By letting us get information from multiple resources.”


Sample student responses

Answer more questions “Mr Walp didn’t answer some of my questions.”

Give examples “He could have given us examples of questions for people who aren’t good at coming up with questions.”

More activities “Maybe use the questions for a debate?”

More lecture “Could talk more in depth about important things.”

Test too long “Very big test with lots of writing.”

Too many videos “Relied too much on videos that were confusing.”

Too much focus on making questions “Don’t make the questions such a big part next time.”

Too few videos “More videos!”


My thoughts:

General Coding data is always an interesting learning experience for me…and one with which I am never 100% fully satisfied. But I think that is just part of the process. How finely do I want to parse the data? For example, when looking at suggestions for my improvement, was it really necessary to separate “more videos” and “less videos” into different categories, especially considering there were only two respondents for “less videos”. Couldn’t I just make one code for videos? What about responses that are unclear, or don’t seem to easily fit into any of the other emergent themes? What about responses that fit more than one code theme? Dealing with these issues is part of the art and science of action research. Above all, I want to respect my students’ voices, but I cannot, and frankly should not, completely remove myself the equation. I too am part of the data.

Favorite things: In no way do I want to I want to minimize these results, but at the same time, there were no major surprises here. As I expected (hoped), student-generated questions led to a sense of empowerment, greater engagement, and a deeper understanding of the topic. I think there is clearly enough evidence to support continued use of this strategy.

Least favorite: I feel like there are two main strands in these data. One is related to student’s internal experiences with generating their own questions. For example, although many students enjoyed making their own questions, it was challenging for them to do so. The second is related to my facilitation of the strategy. I am still on my own learning curve with how best to integrate this strategy. For example, I asked students to create 10 questions from a video, but many students commented that was a particularly challenging task for them. Also, I suspected that I had not devoted enough time to answering student questions, which was confirmed by student feedback. I did try to compensate by allowing students to ask me a question on their test, but I still need to devote more time to it in class.

Most important: I was super happy to see so many students talking about causes and effects of the war, particularly the connection to the American Revolution. Not surprised that students thought George Washington was important, but it was a good reminder for me that a biographical approach can be a powerful method of engagement. I WAS completely caught off guard by how many students were confused about the difference between a battle and a war…which is actually a pretty important concept.

What I did best: I won’t lie, I always minimize good feedback about myself. I feel like, for me, that is the dark side of critical reflection. However, it was nice to read the positive comments, particularly about student-centered instruction.

How I can improve:

If I am going to have students make their own questions, I have to invest more time to make sure I answer as many as possible. I won’t commit to answering them all though. There’s not enough time to do so, AND I think it is also important for students to realize that we don’t always have all the answers.  History is not fully known and understood even by experts.

The test was too long, I’m going to pay for it with amount of time it will take to grade them all. Another trend of mine…my third quarter tests are always the most ambitious, and then I ease up a bit going into the fourth quarter. I don’t think I need to change that, but it’s probably important for me to be aware of it.

More videos. Less videos. The debate rages on… The main problem is that the video was hard to follow at times because it bounced back and forth between different theaters of the war. Next time I’ll need to use more editorial license to make it more easily digestible.

It’s weird…I am always so focused on writing process, and students discovering their own information, that I almost have an aversion to simply lecturing once in awhile. But everything has its place, and sometimes direct instruction is the best, and most appropriate, way to tie everything together and provide context. Of course I am on my third curriculum in three years, so I am also dealing with my own learning curve in the content and pacing.


Comments and feedback welcome!

Getting a Handle on KWL (pt. 3)

Today was a culminating day in our exploration of student-generated questions. (Please check out part 1 and part 2 of this discussion to get up to speed.)


I was a bit nervous for several reasons:

  • This is really uncharted territory for both me and the students. I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know where things were going to get hung up, and I really wasn’t sure how the students were going to respond.
  • Things have been very disrupted recently. PSSAs last week and I was out of the classroom twice this week. Once for field trip and a second time for a unexpected family matter. Any break in routine automatically means lost time to get us back in the groove.
  • I invited my supervisor and our literacy coach to observe the lesson. (For what it’s worth, they both seemed generally pleased with what they saw. I will be following up with them next week for a debrief.)


But whatever, no guts no glory.

1. Students read over the list of questions they created and put a check mark next to any that they thought they could answer. Then, I gave them about ten minutes to compile their questions on this graphic organizer. I made a requirement that they needed at least 5-7 (depending on the class) questions for each side of the organizer. If they did not have enough questions for one or both of their columns, they could make up new questions on their own, or get additional questions from a partner.

2. We discussed the difference between “open” and “closed” questions. Closed questions are fact-based questions with one clear and uncontested answer. The answers are usually short and straightforward. Open questions are based more on opinion and interpretation, and have multiple possible correct answers. Students coded their questions with a (C) or (O) to represent closed or open. We discussed a few examples as a class, and the students could help other out with the coding. I think this is an important distinction for students to consider, but I also told them to not over think it when categorizing the questions.

3. Students picked their most important closed and open questions from both their “answered” and “unanswered” list.

  • Their “answered” questions will be used by the students on their test. That is, each student has created an individualized response section for their test.
  • Students may ASK me one question from their “unanswered” list. I will respond in writing when I grade their tests.


Here is the test that I am handing out tomorrow. Students will have two days in class, and extra time at home if necessary, to work on their responses. The test will be open notebook, they can refer to any materials we used during instruction. Students must cite the source of all of their facts. Responses can be typed or handwritten according to student preference.

Everyone must answer: (30 points) 

Summarize the French and Indian War. Be sure to include:

  • What caused the war?
  • What different groups were involved in the war? What were their motivations?
  • Where was the war fought?
  • In your opinion, what were the two most important battles and why?
  • How did the war end?
  • What were some major changes or effects of the war?

Pick one of the these: (20 points)

Mr. Walp says that the Native Americans were not important during the French and Indian War! Prove him wrong with multiple examples.

Mr. Walp says that the British had better military leaders than the French during the French and Indian War! Prove him wrong with multiple examples.

Do both of these: (20 points each)

Pick the most important fact question from your “answered” list.

  • Write the question.
  • What is the answer? (cite your facts…)
  • Why do you think that this is the most important fact question on your list?

Pick the most important opinion question from your “answered” list.

  • Write the question.
  • In your opinion, what is the answer? (cite your facts…)
  • Why do you think that this is the most important opinion question on your list?

On the back of your Question Organizer, write one question from your “unanswered” list that you want Mr. Walp to answer. (5 points)

Staple the Question Organizer to your test answers. (5 points)


My thoughts:

Timing during the lesson was very challenging for me. It felt as though I was trying to stretch out a 20 minute activity to fill a 40 minute period. Some of that was my own self-consciousness, like I don’t feel like I’m hitting my mark unless I push an aggressive timeline for the lesson. But I think it also had to do with the fact that I was not clear on my own goals. Was this a fairly straightforward administrative task, or a more complex analytic/discussion task? In the end, I defaulted to completing an administrative task with time to spare, rather than trying to have a deep discussion that was cut short because of lack of time.

Overall, I am very happy with this first run through. There were a lot of distractions during the unit, and I had to content with my own learning curve on the content. So all in all, it could have fallen apart in a lot of places.

I have to make a student reflection to get their feedback.

I think I am pushing them a bit for this test. There are just so many things I am asking them to keep track of at this point. For the most part, they are not losing points anymore for what they write, but rather losing points for what they forget to write (e.g., improper citations, lack of detail to support an argument).

One the one hand, it’s really cool to see them developing and growing as writers and junior historians, on the other hand, there are some students that just refuse to budge. No details. No opinions. No personal connections. No citations. Just a dogged regurgitation of the bare minimum of facts. No amount of coaching or feedback on my part seems to help at all.

    • Is it me? Have I been unclear about my expectations? Am I not reaching them? Should I structure things differently to help them?
    • Or is it them? Do they just not “get” it? Do they not care? Are they stubbornly abiding by an internal clock that regulates the amount of time they are willing to spend on an assignment, regardless of the outcome? Are there circumstances in their life that are negatively impacting their ability to do the work at a high level?
      • No doubt the answer is, as always, D. all of the above.


Go to KWL Student Reflections


Comments and feedback welcome!