Student Work

Scopes Trial: Think Aloud 2

Watch Sarah's excitement about the biology textbook:

Sarah's enthusiasm over the textbook excerpt is evident. To what can we attribute her excitement? Why is the textbook so "cool?"

Sarah says "that's really cool because thatís. . . the question I just asked." While reading Mrs. Sparks' letter in support of the Butler Act, Sarah wondered about how evolution was taught in 1925. She wondered if it was taught the same way in 1925 that she learned about it in 2006. When she says, "it's good that now I get to see the actual one," she's appreciating that the textbook might be a valuable primary source that can serve as a window into what students learned in 1925.

However, Sarah's excitement goes beyond the specific historical inquiry about the Scopes trial. When she says, "it's cool, it's like an old textbook, that's awesome," Sarah expresses an appreciation for the connection between the past and the present. More than the other documents in the inquiry, the textbook is "cool" because it is so familiar. As a high school student, Sarah knows about textbooks and their place in the classroom. But this is an old textbook: it may be both similar and different from contemporary textbooks. The possibility of discovering those similarities and differences is, in Sarahís words, "awesome."

Often our students believe that people in the past were "just like us." In a historical sense, such an assertion cannot be true. The specific concerns, experiences, and beliefs of the students in Scopes' class were shaped by the ideas and events of their time. Many of these beliefs and concerns would seem wildly foreign to contemporary students. However, by presenting our students with an object that Scopes' high school students held in their hands, we help them begin to see the world through the eyes of a 16-year old in 1925. That's cool!