1. This project is designed to help students recognize that even though the Battle of the Alamo took place in 1836 people today still think about and debate questions and issues surrounding the event. That is, for some people history lives. Students can review disparate opinions about the battle by contemporary commentators, evaluate the commentators' accuracy or reasoning, and summarize the latest thinking about Alamo issues. To begin with, direct students toAlamo de Parras: The Untold Story of the Alamo's Early History,which can be found here. Alamo de Parras is a member-supported compendium of Alamo and Texas revolutionary information and exchange on the Internet for use by school children, historians, and anyone interested in the Alamo. The staff of the ADP site includes leading historians, archaeologists, and educational consultants.
2. Once students have entered the site, direct them to click on War Room. There students will find an archive of Alamo questions that have been posted each month since 1997 and numerous responses to each question by ordinary people and by history buffs. Encourage students to select a few questions and read some of the comments posted in response to each. To give you an idea of the questions you and your students will find at the site, here is a random sample:
- Should the fallen Mexican dead be memorialized?
- Should Santa Anna have been tried and executed at San Jacinto?
- Were Texan colonists justified in their grievances toward the Mexicans?
- How good a cavalry officer was William B. Travis?
3. Urge students to discuss how they as open-minded readers should evaluate the posted responses to a given question at this site. Here are some questions you will probably want your students to raise:
- Do any of the writers state their credentials?
- Does the writer sound rational, or does he or she sound highly emotional? Do we tend to believe a writer who sounds rational, or do we have more faith in an emotional writer?
- Does the writer seem to know what he or she is talking about? What makes you say so?
- What information that you didn't know before does the writer provide?
- How can you confirm whether the writer has the facts straight or not?
- What have you noticed about the logic—or lack of logic—in the writer's argument?
4. Now that students have surveyed the War Room in a general way, ask each student to go back for a more thorough analysis. Each student should select oneof the posted questions and read allthe responses it attracted. Each student should then write a report that
- summarizes the variety of opinions expressed in response to the question;
- evaluates the validity of the different positions;
- suggests what additional research the student will have to do, if any, to resolve the different opinions expressed; and
- concludes by telling whether the student's own thinking has been affected by the posted responses—and how.
5. If a number of students have selected the same question to study in depth, have them share their reports with one another and challenge one another on their conclusions.
6. Ask students what this activity has taught them about the academic field known as history.
ADAPTATIONS: Instead of asking students to select questions from the War Room archives, you yourself should do the selecting. Select one question and a number of the responses to it. Make sure that the answers take two or more positions. Reproduce the selected question and answers, and guide the class as a whole through your analysis of the material. Model for students what thoughts go through your mind as you look over responses from different contributors to the conversation. That is, demonstrate for students what it means to be an active, questioning reader. Then, to see if students have learned the skill you've just demonstrated, consider selecting a second question and a number of the answers it received for students to take turns analyzing aloud.