Using Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out and OurWhiteHouse.org in the Classroom
The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out book was created out of a passion for American history and civics, and a desire to share that passion with America’s children. It was designed as a shared adult/child experience for parents to read and discuss with their children and teens at home; for classroom teachers to introduce American history to their younger students, to augment American history textbooks with their older students.
OurWhiteHouse.org is an interdisciplinary tool that will help educators use the Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out book to inspire a love of American history, expanding young people’s knowledge base. The OWH site includes both original and expanded historical information; historical resources; and civic education information and resources. It also includes classroom ideas and activities inspired by the Our White House book and American history topics.
You know best your curriculum and your students’ interests and needs. You can peruse the site, taking whatever ideas and information intrigue you, and enhance what we offer with your own experience and creativity. You can then share what you deem pertinent with your students, whatever their ages. We offer the following suggestions to help educators promote historical literacy and celebrate civic engagement:
- You will find many things in Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out that will inspire students of all ages. The intended audience for the book is ages ten through to adult—it was created for middle-graders, teens, and adults to read and discuss together—but many of the illustrations, stories, and poems can be understood and appreciated by preschoolers, kindergartners, and primary grade students. Although some of the pieces in the book are written with an elevated vocabulary in a style more appropriate for older students, information within those pieces may be of interest to your younger students or pertinent to your curriculum needs. We know that talented teachers can easily take the information and ideas they find useful and convey that information to their students in a manner that is age suitable.
- We have included written pieces of various lengths in the book because we understand that sometimes you have time to read a longer piece aloud to your students, but sometimes you only have time to read something short and snappy.
- We decided to feature thought-provoking art throughout Our White House as a means of making history “come alive” for today’s visually oriented kids and teens. A great variety of illustration styles is represented in the book. Illustration styles range from Bagram Ibatoulline’s romantic landscape painting of George Washington overlooking the Potomac River Valley, to Petra Mathers’ wonderful folk-style portraits of John and Abigail Adams, to Steven Johnson’s and Lou Fancher’s illustration of the Kennedy oval office, an illustration that brings to mind the work of contemporary artist Robert Rauschenberg. For an example of this expanded information and art history information, go to “George Washington’s Vision of His City on the Potomac.”
- We purposely included historical fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and personal essays in Our White House because we know that kids, tweens, and teens are as different inside as they are outside. Some hate reading novels; others might never pick a biography or information book off the bookshelf. It is our hope that in observing your students’ reactions to different genres and topics in the book, you can build on their expressed interests and entice them into further reading. For example, if a student reacts enthusiastically to Patricia MacLachlan’s fictional story “Hands” about First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, you can then work with your school librarian to find a variety of quality historical fiction books concerning related topics and historical eras to keep that student interested and reading. You might also use a student’s interest in “Hands” as a bridge to nonfiction and biographies, introducing your student to books like Russell Freedman’s Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery, a fascinating biography of Eleanor Roosevelt—a book your student might not otherwise choose from a library shelf.
- We know how important the inclusion of primary source materials is to any study of history. We have interspersed pertinent primary source materials throughout Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out so that you and your students can read firsthand accounts of history. We will continue to add vital primary sources to this website.
- In Our White House contradictory primary and secondary sources are juxtaposed so that young people can experience what historians often discover in their search for objective truth—multiple perspectives representing different points of view. It is our hope that this provides vital learning opportunities for your students. The multiple perspectives presented in the War of 1812 section in the book can be used to teach young people critical thinking skills, asking Is history only the story of the aggressors, the winners, the dominant? Why do we often prefer to believe the “legend” rather than the actual factual account of an historic event? Why are some voices silenced through the ages? Do you need to seek multiple perspectives in seeking the truth? And on the deepest level, what is “the truth?” In the Our White House section on September 11th, an event that is a contemporary bookend to the War of 1812 devastation, we also present contradictory sources. We hope that you can use this section to inspire young people in their search for objective truth, to seek multiple, reliable, contemporary information sources that represent a wide variety of perspectives. We hope your students will reflect on these sections in the book with a critical eye and ear, then discuss their thoughts and opinions with you.
- Building on our interdisciplinary approach, we wanted to introduce science topics into Our White House to help young people understand that many great leaders, especially those who are intellectually curious, are often people who are interested in the full range of human achievements. Great leaders understand that in an innovative society and culture, the interplay of the arts, humanities, and sciences is essential not only to the creative development of a nation, but also to its overall progress and commercial success. Throughout the book and the website, you will find content related to botany, paleontology, natural science, environmental science, aeronautics, and space.
- We give permission to use the print function of your web browser to print anything on the site, but please keep in mind you are using NCBLA copyrighted materials. The art on our site is from the book Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out and is copyrighted by individual artists who have generously donated its use. The site writers and illustrators are aware that their work will be downloaded and printed for educational use only.
- On this website, we have made an attempt to write in an informal manner. We have included articles and information that span a wide variety of topics, most serious, but hopefully some that are also entertaining and amusing. Although the site has been written with an adult readership in mind, you may very well have students in middle or high school who may find the site of interest. We hope that you encourage them to use it and all of its resources.
- The HISTORY & CIVICS section of the site provides comprehensive presidential and first lady fact files, as well as extensive resources and articles regarding the White House, voting rights, presidential campaigns and elections, and inaugurations. The EDUCATION & LITERACY section includes expansive education kits, field trip ideas and guides, search tips for students, links to helpful historic and civic education websites, and literacy links.
Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out and OurWhiteHouse.org have been created with your educational needs in mind. We hope that the information, ideas, activities, and discussion questions we offer throughout this website will help you ignite young people’s interest in our nation’s past, as well as provoke them to thoughtfully consider our nation’s future.
©2016 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance