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Topaz Photo Walk

A picture is worth a thousand words. Guiding students through a photo walk of Topaz Internment Camp is probably the best way for them to even begin to understand what happened there during this dark time.

The Utah State Historical Society has hundreds of photos of Topaz camp, many of which are taken from prior to the evacuation and families boarding up their houses and businesses, to boarding trains headed towards Topaz and camp life during the internment. I’ve created a small power point that includes only some of the photos and descriptions found in the online archives of U.S.H.S. I’ve also included a guide that explains each slide.

Walk Through Topaz Guide

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Utah’s Perfect Storm: Drought, Debt, and The Great Depression

467px-Migrant_Mother_(LOC_fsa.8b29516)If you’re looking for a way to teach Utah’s role in The Great Depression, this might just be your answer. This is a fantastic movie about Utah during the Great Depression. Some parts are a little cheesy, but the information is easy for 7th graders to understand. The preface below is taken from Utah Education Network’s eMedia, which is where this video can be viewed. (Apparently, it can also be watched on YouTube- for those districts that ALLOW it…)

Utah’s Perfect Storm: Drought, Debt, and The Great Depression

“Utah’s Perfect Storm: Drought, Debt, and the Great Depression, a 30-minute television documentary produced by KBYU-TV, channel Eleven, follows a team of high school students as they learn how Utahans in the 1930s overcame challenges similar to our own—ongoing drought, debilitating debt, and a struggling economy. The program addresses the following Utah-related topics: U.S. Senator Reed Smoot and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff; the Civilian Conservation Corps; the Navajo Livestock Reduction Program; Depression-era artists Maynard Dixon and Dorothea Lange; the demise of Widtsoe, Utah; dust storms in Grantsville, Utah; and the national role of Utah businessman Marriner S. Eccles.”

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Wax Museum

Bill_Gates_-_Wax_MuseumThis is a common activity done in many history classes, but not so much in the Utah Studies classroom. Let’s change that! There were so many important figure that had a hand to play in creating Utah’s rich history. This activity will let each of your students get to know one of those figures very well, enough to be able to act like him/her in your classroom’s “wax museum”.

Come up with a list of names of historical figures in Utah history
Write each of those names on their own slip of paper
Fold the papers up and drop them in a jar

After explaining what a Wax Museum is (since some may not know), tell your students you will be coming around to each of them with your jar of names and they will need to draw one out.

The students will then spend a week or more researching the historical figure they chose from the jar and come up with 5-10 questions (you choose the requirement for your class) for people “visiting the museum” (neighboring classes/administration/parents/etc) to ask them about their character. Here are some examples:

Brigham Young
1. Why did you become the leader of the Mormon Church after Joseph Smith died?
2. Why did you lead the Mormons from Nauvoo to Utah?
3. Do you like the name ‘Utah’?
4. What was being Utah’s first territorial governor like?
5. What are your favorite hobbies?
6. What did you think about the Civil War going on at this time?
7. What were some of the challenges that you faced once you got to Utah?
8. How did you feel towards the U.S. government at this time?
9. If you could see Utah 100 years from when you lived, what changes (if any) would you like to see?
10. Can I have your autograph? (this question might be a fun one for every student to do, then the visitors could create a booklet full of autographs from famous figures of Utah!)

The students must create a large poster board with their 5-10 questions listed in print large enough for visitors to be able to read and ask. (Those large 3 panel ones used in science fairs should be big enough!) Along with the questions, the figure’s name must be at the very top, along with date of birth/death, and a picture if possible.

On the day that the museum “opens”, the students will need to be standing around the perimeter of the room, next to their posters. When visitors come to tour the museum, they need to be prepared to answer the 10 questions you created in full character, responding in “I” statements as if the student was truly their historical figure. Extra credit if they can dress like their character!

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Bomb Drill!

Duck and CoverYour students have experienced fire and earthquake drills, but have they ever experienced a bomb drill? This was something that they’ve never had to fear like you (if you’re old enough) or your parents did. But bomb drills were not uncommon during the Cold War. Here are three activities that can help your students understand the dangerous reality of the Cold War. Feel free to do all of them!


After explaining what the Cold War was, show your students the video below which was created by the U.S. Civil Defense branch for children across the country.


Many schools and other public facilities acted as fallout shelters, just in case there was ever a nuclear bomb threat from the Soviet Union. If your school is old enough, you may just be surprised to an old yellow sign posted on the building that says “Fallout Shelter” with the nuclear symbol on it. You can still see signs around town that post locations of fallout shelters. Have you seen any around your neighborhood? Your students may have seen them. They may also have seen civil defense sirens around town (which can vary in design- one example is in the video in the link below*). It’s finally time to explain to your students what these signs and sirens are all about!


In this activity, students react the same way they would during an earthquake drill- hiding under their desks, facing away from the windows, and covering their heads with their arms.

-On a projector, show your students the video of the siren posted below. Be sure to turn it up!


-Students are to immediately “duck and cover” for protection from any potential bomb.


If you can find one around your school, take your students on a quick “walk-able” field trip and show this this amazing primary source they’ve been walking past every day! While on the walk, or standing in front of the sign, explain how anyone from the community could use the fallout shelter, not just students. Also explain the disastrous effects of a nuclear bomb.

Unfortunately, the threat of bombs was very prevalent and feared during the Cold War. But just as equally feared was the radiation that lingered in the aftermath, even from testing sites. The nuclear bombs tested in Nevada and Northern Arizona left clouds of radiation over Southern Utah. One bomb named “Dirty Harry” was just one example, and it left a radiation cloud over St. George for over two hours. This was common from 1951-1958. Back then, scientists didn’t know as much as they do now about radiation poisoning and how could potentially cause cancer. In Southern Utah, as well as other places affected by radiation debris, there was an increase in people diagnosed with cancer.

*There was (still is?) a siren just like this one in the school yard of Westmore Elementary in Orem. Growing up I always wondered what the heck it was! Now your students can know, too!

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Record the Past

Tomb of the Unknown SoldierHow many World War II veterans are alive in the U.S. today? Let me answer that for you:

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, there are approximately 1,462,809 veterans still alive as of November 2012. Over a million. But listen to this-

“The Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that in 2011, 670 American World War II veterans died every day. The median age for a World War II veteran in June 2011 was 92 years.” (source)

Each one of those veterans have their own unique stories to tell of what life was like back then. Sadly, many of these stories will go to the grave with these honored veterans, never to be heard again. History is slipping away at a rapid rate.

The following activity will be a fantastic opportunity to not only let them become involved in creating a primary source, but to really connect with Utah history through people they already know who have lived through it.

Simply put, ask your students to make an audio recording of someone who lived during an important era of Utah history. As the teacher, it’s up to you on how specific you want the time frame to be. Here are some ideas:

Interview someone who lived during:
The Great Depression
World War II
Vietnam War
Cold War

It can be a veteran describing war stories, it can be a great-grandmother describing what times were like during the Great Depression, or you can even interview people with opposing stories- a mother, from the city, who grew up during the Cold War and a father who lived in the country growing up at the same time.* Did their place of origin make a difference in what they experienced? How?

The students must create a list of questions to ask the interviewee. It’s important that you guide the students in creating the right kind of questions to ask. Let them be creative and show their curiosity, but make sure questions are appropriate (especially for war veterans). It would also be helpful to briefly teach the students proper interview etiquette, whether they are related to the interviewee or not. Some examples should include:

-Show up on time.
-Give eye contact.
-Don’t look bored!
-Bring a thank you gift

…and etc.

This could truly be an experience that can connect your students with Utah history. Be hearing it directly from the people who lived it.

*On a personal note, I myself did an interview like this with my own parents when I was in college. I was completely stunned with how different the histories were between my mother, from L.A., and my father, from Panguitch. And it’s not what you would think, either; my dad had FAR greater stories to tell about community wartime efforts and fundraisers for Polio vaccine…my mom on the other hand, didn’t remember anything like that. For her, other than the fact that a war was going on in Vietnam, life went on as usual. You never know what you’ll learn from these interviews.

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“Fake” Book Profile

This is a fun activity that can be done during the end of any unit or semester that combines Utah’s historical figures with 21st century popular culture.

Ever wonder what Brigham Young’s Facebook profile would have looked like? How about the profile for Father Dominguez or Escalante? Using what your students have learned in your class, and a perhaps a little further detailed research, they can now create a “fake-book” profile page for Utah’s famous historical figures. All they have to do is fill out a template much like the ones found on today’s Facebook pages but as if he/she was the historical figure. This page will have areas the student can fill in with information about his/her historical figure, such as their figure’s likes/dislikes, political and religious views, favorite activities, post messages from friends and more. It really makes students think about their historical figure and what he or she would have been like on a social level. Here’s an example.

You can create a template yourself that’s to your liking, or purchase a classroom set.

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The Price is Right: 1930′s Edition

One popular subject that’s bound to come up in any history class is cost comparison. For example, comparing the cost of a loaf of bread today to what it cost generations ago. This game is great in preparing your students to learn about life during the Great Depression. It’s a game like those found on the ever-popular TV show, “The Price Is Right”, but with a little historical twist to it. The example I use here is for the 1930′s, but clearly you can use whatever era you want. I wouldn’t go any more recent than 25 years ago, as the cost difference would become less dramatic.

-Several large cards
-Five markers
-List of every day items and their prices today and in 1930
(this list can include food items)

Pick several every day objects that were used in 1930 as well as today. Research their price in both eras. On the front of large cards, write down the object (ex. “Candy Bar”) and its price today. On the back of each card, write down the 1930 price. Do this for each card.

Set a table with five chairs, or five desks in the front of the room off to the side at a diagonal (this is so the rest of the class can see what these five students will write). Set several large cards/pieces of paper and a marker at each of their places.

How to Play:
Pick five students at random to come up and sit at the table/desks. Tell the class you are going to hold up a card that has an item written on it, along with it’s current market price. Their job is to guess the price of that item in the year 1930 WITHOUT GOING OVER, and write it down on one of their cards/papers in front of them. They cannot discuss the possible price with each other, and it’s up to you whether or not you want the rest of the class to shout out prices (as done on the TV show). They cannot have the same answers, though. As you ask each student to hold up their price, if another student has that same price listed they must take a second to change it. Once each student has been given a chance to hold up their price, reveal the actual price. The student that has the closest price match (again, WITHOUT GOING OVER) wins the round, and gets to stay for the next round (or gets a treat, etc.).

As for the rest of the class, you can keep them involved in the game as well by having them write down their guesses on their own sheet of paper. Here’s an example of how you can organize it: Guessing Sheet Template
They cannot change their guesses once they write it down, and only ask for the contestant answers once everyone in the class is done writing down their guess. This will allow students to come up with a genuine guess instead of stealing a contestant’s answer. Reward those who get the smallest total difference at the end of the game.

If you need help finding the 1930 prices, you can Google “prices of items in 1930″ and it comes up with possible websites from which you can reap. :) Keep in mind that prices ranged across the country, but we’re just sticking to a general, average price for the game.

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Stories from “The Great Depression”

When people think of The Great Depression, usually one of the first things that come to mind is people loosing their money, house, jobs, and more. While all this is true, you might be surprised to learn of the different impacts the stock market crash had on those in Utah. In rural cities and counties, some people hardly gave the depression a thought! This was because times had always been hard for these people who had been raised on the land, and handled little cash to begin with (trading/bartering was still very common in rural areas).

Sharing these stories about families who lived during the Great Depression is truly an eye opener to students and teachers alike. Be sure to ask follow up questions and ask what stood out to the students in general. Remember that these stories not only share how the Great Depression affected daily life, but in many circumstances it shares what life had always been like, Great Depression or not.

Utah Stories from The Great Depression

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Build A Shuttle

It’s amazing to see the advances in technology from the 19th to the 20th century. Whereas it once took months to cross the plains to Utah, now we’re heading from earth to space in a matter of minutes! Utah has a strong connection to NASA as the space program has been quoted as “a cornerstone of Utah’s economy”. With companies such as ATK located in Utah, many Utahns are dependent upon the Space Program.

Due to recent political changes, however, Utah has been greatly affected with Washington’s decision to end the space shuttle program. No matter what political stance you as a teacher personally have regarding this change, it doesn’t alter the fact that Utah has strong ties to our advances in space exploration which shouldn’t be ignored.

To celebrate Utah’s involvement, why not let your students build a shuttle of their own? Click here to see an activity by NASA for any student.

If you’d like more information regarding how the halt of the shuttle program has affected Utah, click here to read an article from the Salt Lake Tribune.

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