Jennifer Nielsen, who has published several young adult historical fiction books with Scholastic Books, recently co-taught a series of lessons with Diana Lyddane, a 5th-grade social studies teacher in the Daviess County Public Schools Virtual Academy.
Nielsen — who is a New York Times best-selling author — and Lyddane initially connected through Twitter.
The lessons focused on the role of geography in the American Revolution, specifically examining its impact on the outcome of battles.
Nielsen joined classes virtually as students learned about weapons in the Revolutionary War era and military strategy, and they examined secondary sources including battle maps. Students analyzed the effect of geography in the defeats and victories for the Patriots.
Nielsen also challenged students to create their own fictional battle maps and set up defenses, using geography as a strategy to defeat an invading army.
Lyddane said she has always believed that it is her responsibility as a teacher to bring experiences to her students beyond her expertise.
“As a career reading teacher, it has made me sad to see the disinterest of students in reading and lack of student access to high-quality books,” she said. “I have contacted many authors requesting virtual meetings with my class to show my kids that authors are real people. Being able to talk to authors about their books, about reading, and about the writing process is an experience that could possibly be that turning point in a child’s education that could change their life. Mrs. Nielsen is the only author of young adult books to respond and enthusiastically meet with my classes.”
One of Lyddane’s goals was to expose her students to someone other than herself with a researcher’s perspective on the topic of the American Revolution.
One major concept and process in historical thinking and in 5th grade social studies standards is cause-and-effect relationships. Luddane said that is a higher-level thinking concept, and many students struggle understanding the relationship of events and how one event can have multiple effects.
“My teaching is not focused on memorizing facts,” Lyddane said. “My purpose is for my students to see why and how events occurred and to bring to life the people so they can make real connections.”
Nielsen said their goal was to help these students learn to pull information from an image or a map, and then to use that information to better understand the stories of history.
“Mrs. Lyddane’s students are studying the Revolutionary War, but we wanted them to do more than simply memorize names and dates,” Nielsen said. “We wanted them to engage with history in a more exciting way.”
Lyddane said planning and learning from Nielsen has been the highlight of her teaching career.
“I have had so much fun this last week,” she said. “The impact has multiplied beyond any goal I set.”
Lyddane said Nielsen planned and created a wonderful learning series for her kids, spent two full days online with them, and will continue to engage going forward to give feedback on their maps.
“I can’t tell you how inspiring this is to me as an educator,” Lyddane said, “and as a person who lives and works for kids and to help them learn to love learning so they can have a great life.”