American Icons

George Washington Carver | Scientist, Inventor, and Teacher Video

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George Washington Carver was a world-renowned American botanist who devoted his life’s work to helping farmers successfully grow their crops. A lover of nature with a keen intellect and desire to help people better their lives, Carver used his knowledge to make American farms flourish, which helped the nation as a whole. By doing two primary source activities and watching a short video, students will explore the life of science and innovation led by George Washington Carver.

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Sitting Bull | Spiritual Leader and Military Leader Video

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Over the course of the 19th Century, white settlers moved westward, and the US Government brokered treaties with Native Americans and often resorted to using military force to claim land for the United States. To this day, Sitting Bull—spiritual and military leader of the Lakota tribe—is remembered as the Native American chief who took the greatest stand against the US government. Through two primary source activities and a short biographical video, students will understand the remarkable courage of this leader who stood up for his people.

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Martin Luther King Jr. | Civil Rights Leader Video

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In the second half of the 20th century, racial tensions rose in the US as African Americans began to challenge unjust laws that supported discrimination and segregation. This movement found its leader in the patient and inspiring minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Students will watch a short video and engage in two primary source activities in order to explore how King’s deep-seated commitment to nonviolence contributed to the expansion of social justice in the United States, particularly for African Americans.

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Muhammad Ali | Boxer and Civil Rights Activist Video

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Muhammad Ali, considered one of the greatest boxers of all time, fought not only within the boxing ring but also as a vocal advocate for civil rights and other causes. Ali earned the world heavyweight championship three times, despite being banned from boxing for three years for his resistance to serving in the military which he felt served only White interests. By watching a short video and engaging in two primary source activities, students will examine the career of this tenacious champion.

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Benjamin Franklin | Writer, Inventor, and Founding Father Video

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At the height of the Age of Enlightenment, Benjamin Franklin accomplished great works in countless fields, including science, politics, and media, becoming one of America’s most prolific Founding Fathers. Through two primary source activities and a short video, understand how Franklin embodied Enlightenment values, and used his talent in writing and printing to have his opinions heard and help shape the world.

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Thomas Paine | Writer and Revolutionary Video

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In January 1776, Thomas Paine published a document that sparked the American fight for independence from England. His political pamphlet, called Common Sense, showed the colonists that they could be free from the tyranny of a king by creating an independent nation where they could justly and fairly govern themselves. By watching a biographical video and engaging in two primary source activities, students will encounter the ideas, writings, and impact of Thomas Paine.

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Harriet Tubman | Abolition Activist Video

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In this lesson, students will learn about Harriet Tubman’s courage in the face of enormous risks. After watching a biographical video, students will examine a photograph of Tubman and read a letter written to her by Frederick Douglass. The lesson asks students to compare Harriet Tubman to modern-day women and girls who have similarly confronted great risks to help others.

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Rosa Parks | Civil Rights Activist Video

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After the Civil War and through the Civil Rights era of the 1950s, racial segregation laws made life for many African Americans extremely difficult. Rosa Parks—long-standing civil rights activist and author—is best known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white bus passenger, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Through two primary source activities and a short video, students will learn about Parks’ lifelong commitment to the Civil Rights Movement.

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Walt Whitman | Journalist and Poet Video

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Walt Whitman was a progressive voice and innovative writer during a critical period of change in the United States. In the midst of the Civil War, his poetic and journalistic works, spanning topics from the personal to the political, marked the start of a new era for American literature. Whitman’s powerful poetry revealed his personality and depicted the United States as a place worthy of both high praise and sharp criticism. Through an examination of primary sources and watching a short video, students will learn about Whitman’s love for and criticism of the United States. 

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Thomas Edison | Inventor and Entrepreneur Video

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Thomas Edison, a leader of American innovation, was responsible for developing many modern devices. He created the first organized industrial research laboratory where he and a team of scientists and innovators brought to life home electricity, the light bulb, car batteries, movies, music players, and thousands of other innovations. Through a video and primary source activities, students will learn about Edison’s remarkable business of innovation and some of his 1,093 patented devices. 

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