Social History Interview Project

One of the best things about being a teacher is that I can always change things up for the betterment of my students! As such, I came up with a new summative assessment this semester: a social history interview project. Years ago, during my student teaching phase in Korea, my mentor teacher asked her world history students to complete a report after watching one of the student-led interviews of a Holocaust survivor. I had been thinking a lot about this website as project-based learning; not about the report the students were asked to prepare.

Then, during my master’s program at Grand Canyon University, I learned a lot about social history. It’s definition: the emphasis on the interaction of different groups in society, which (arguably) began in the 1960s and initially focused on disenfranchised social groups (but later began to focus more attention on the middle and upper classes).

Putting the two together, project-based learning and social history, I came up with this semester’s new summative assessment, the Social History Interview Project, which can now be viewed on i.nspiration e.ducation, the YouTube channel I started with my colleague and master educator, Meg Chandler.

My dream was to continue this project year after year, until the database became vast. Alas, this dream will need to be put on hold, as my family is moving to the Middle East! Perhaps one day I will have an opportunity to teach again. Fingers crossed!

Below is the overview of the social history interview project and its goal and purpose, which were explained to my students.


For this semester-long project, you will gather oral history from one person in order to: develop your understanding of social history, ability to work under a timeline with preassigned due dates, and interview skills. By the end of this project, you will also gain a deep understanding about a past event(s) and/or experience(s). The final product will either be a video or audio recording of the interview, which will be publicly shared online as a small database of social history from the Desert Christian High School community.

Goal and Purpose:

You will gain a deep understanding of modern, social history through face-to-face involvement, documenting the stories of our community members. At the same time, you will provide a public service via the publication of your interview. This project will begin the process of understanding the diverse history of those connected to our student body. Finally, you will create your own primary source material for use by future students, community members, and even researchers around the world!

A Semester-Long Project by “DJ Justin”

This year I decided to try something new (no shock there) with my US History students. As I have done in the past, I wanted to create a semester-long project with multiple check points – in “teacher speak” we call these formative assessments – rather than a standard, summative assessment. What I changed was the creativity options – teachers call this differentiated learning – for this project. This year, I offered my students a wide range of artistic options to show their understanding of the historical content covered in class.

“DJ Justin,” an amazing international student, took my artistic challenge and ran with it. I am so excited to show you his three checkpoint submissions: songs he wrote that discuss his personal interpretation of the content from our second-semester units. Go Justin!

Johny Johny (lyrics in PDF form)

Enjoy these final two submissions, which were provided in audio format.

Struggle (lyrics in PDF form)

A Dream (lyrics in PDF form)

Kitt Peak National Observatory

This weekend the kids and I visited Kitt Peak National Observatory (NOAO), located at the top of route 386 on the Tohono O’odham Nation, 56 miles outside of Tucson, AZ. Kitt Peak is home to one of the largest arrays of radio and optical telescopes in the world. I signed us up for the three daytime tours: the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope Tour (10-11am), the 2.1 meter telescope (11:30-12:30pm), and 4-meter Mayall telescope (1:30-2:30pm). All three docent-led tours cost $13 per person, a steal in my opinion.

According to NOAO, the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope is “the world’s most striking solar telescope” and is “used by astronomers primarily during daylight hours to study the nearest star, the Sun” because it can “see farther into the infrared than any other solar telescope.”

Here are a few more images from the McMath Pierce Solar Telescope. In the first picture Gigi, our docent, explained that this is the control panel astronomers use for the telescope. Interestingly, it is made by the same company and in the same era as they control panels at the Titan II Missile Museum! The second image is also in the control room, where the image the telescope collects comes through a hole in the ceiling and onto an image processing station. Way cool!

The 2.1 meter telescope was the first major solar telescope on Kitt Peak, seeing its first light in 1964. According to NOAO, “numerous important discoveries were made at the 2.1-meter. It first detected very distant clouds of hydrogen gas between galaxies, known as the Lyman-alpha forest. It observed the first example of gravitational lensing (as predicted by Einstein) and the first pulsating white dwarf star. Research into the rotation rate of spiral galaxies that began at the 2.1-meter eventually led to our current understanding of the existence of dark matter in the Universe.” I took this black and white image while we were inside the viewing area of the actual telescope. I had no idea this is what they actually look like.

The 4-meter Mayall telescope is the largest telescope on Kitt Peak weighting just shy of 300 tons. Seeing its first light in 1973, it is “one of the most scientifically productive telescopes in the world. …For over 40 years the Mayall has been involved in cutting-edge astronomical research, most notably in understanding the size and large-scale structure of the visible universe. It has also been used in research on exoplanets (planets that orbit stars other than the Sun).” Currently, astronomers on Kitt Peak are retrofitting the Mayall with DESI, an acronym for a unique spectrometer which will allow the telescope to quickly obtain the spectra of 5,000 objects simultaneously.

Here are more images from this gigantic telescope. The first two images are from inside the viewing area of the actual telescope. The last three are from inside and outside the environment viewing area of the telescope. From here you get a bird’s-eye view of surrounding landscape of the Tohono O’odham Reservation.

A lot of the tour went over my kids’ heads, but for me, the knowledge I gained about the field of astronomy blew my mind. Of course, I was particularly interested in the history behind it all (for example, the observatory was built in the fifties in response to the space race and the Cold War) but the details behind the science used here took my breath away. Highly recommend!