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Three Lesson Plans Using the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Free Digital Resources for Students

Explore best-in-class ideas from DonorsChoose teachers


When students get hands-on with history, wonder and excitement fills the classroom — but finding and incorporating high quality immersive resources isn’t always easy! Last spring, we featured new resources from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to help teachers do just that.

The North Star, a digital learning product of NMAAHC, allows students to explore history through the African American lens. Using objects, documents, imagery, and videos, students can enhance their content knowledge, hone historical thinking skills, and begin to see themselves as agents of change.

In Spring 2023, DonorsChoose invited teachers to submit a lesson plan using NMAAHC’s  North Star learning modules.

Teachers blew us away with their creativity and thoughtfulness! Check out three lesson plans from our winning teachers below!

North Star Curricula

Becoming a Historian: Historical Context

Ms. Van Weelden | Grades 9–12 

Students will learn how historical context enhances their understanding of past events and individuals, and the methods they can use to uncover and interpret this context effectively.

Lesson Plan

Unit Essential Question: How can we leverage primary sources and texts to educate students
about Black history?
Specific Essential Question:
How does historical context enhance our understanding of past
events and individuals, and what methods can we use to uncover and interpret this context
Amount of Time Needed to Complete: 1-2 days
Level of Students:
9-12th grade
Class Subject:

Pre-Assessment to Understand “Context” | 10-15 minutes

  • Divide the class into small groups of 4-5 students.
  • Give each group a short paragraph or sentence open to interpretation without any context. For example: "He saw the bird flying and took aim."
  • Ask each group to come up with as many possible meanings for the sentence as they can. Encourage them to think creatively and outside the box.
  • After 5-10 minutes, bring the class back together and ask each group to share their
  • Discuss how the different meanings arose due to the lack of context and how context is
    important in understanding a sentence or paragraph's true meaning.
  • Next, give each group a different paragraph or sentence with additional context, and ask
    them to interpret it again. For example: "He saw the bird flying and took aim with his
    camera, capturing a beautiful photograph."
  • Once again, ask each group to share their interpretations and discuss how the added
    context changed their understanding of the sentence.

Direct Instruction | 15 minutes

Have students take notes on slides 4-6 of the Becoming a Historian slideshow. Explain
what context is and why it is important. Finish by describing the elements of historical

  • Definition: Historical context is the background information that informs a deeper
    understanding of a historical individual, group or event.
  • Why it is important? Historical context is important because it allows historians
    to better understand history in the ways a historical individual or group
    understood the world around them, which leads historians to analyze the past
    more accurately.
  • Elements of Historical Context: Politics - Government - Law; Economics; Socio-Cultural; Religion; Science and Technology; Community Histories; Health - Medicine - Diseases; Environmental; Military; Key Events in History

Formative Assessement | 20-30 minutes

  • Divide the class into the same groups of 4-5 students. Depending on how many students are in the class, you can assign multiple elements to one group.
  • Give each group one element of historical context to research. (Group 1: Politics - Government - Law; Group 2: Economics; and so on)
  • Display the picture of The Poor People's Campaign of 1968 and the Fight Against Poverty on slide 14.
  • Explain that each group needs to use Chromebooks (or their phones) to research their specific historical element in order to complete the picture. For example, the group with the “economic” aspect would research what was happening in the economy during the 1960s. They then would examine how these economic factors are depicted in the picture to gain a deeper understanding of the image's context.
  • At the end of the allotted time, each group will present their findings to the class

(Optional) Summative Assessment: 10-15 minutes

Have the students complete the 4 question quis on slide 15 to demonstrate their understanding of the lesson.

  • What is Historical Context?
  • Why is Historical Context important?
  • Identify Elements of Historical Context.
  • True or false: A historical research project is stronger when a student or historian does not research the historical context.

The format of this quiz can be given on paper, in Google Forms, or on the website itself.

Becoming a Historian: Cause and Effect

Mr. Bernstein | Grades 10–12 

Students will learn to use historical thinking skills and define cause and effect by comparing and contrasting history with the impacts of computing on society.

Lesson Plan

Subject: AP Computer Science Principles
Grade Level:
1 Class Period

Each student will be able to

  • Use historical thinking skills - allow historians to better practice and interpret history
  • Define cause and effect and practive employing strategies

Bell Ringer:
Historians ask how an individual, group, event or idea was caused or influenced by events that came before it, as well as what short-term and long-term effects that an individual, group, event, or idea had on what came after. How can we compare and contract history with Computer Sciences Intended Purpose, Functionality, Beneficial, and Harmful Effect?


Students visit Becoming a Historian: Cause and Effect.

Review Slides and answer questions with your group. Students will share a Google Docs to collaborate and answer the questions as they move throughout the course.

Key Definition:

  • Cause and Effect
  • Primary and Secondary Sources
  • Impact on Society?

Once Students have completed Becoming a Historian: Cause and Effect, students will use their new knowledge to connect these key concepts to Computer Science and Computational innovations focusing on Beneficial and Harmful Effects, Impact on Society, Culture, Economy, Data Privacy, and how computational innovations have a cause and effect within the innovation for society.

Extra ticket: Complete the 3,2,1

  • 3 things I learned
  • 2 things I found interesting
  • 1 question I still have

CTE Standards and Benchmarks

CSP Conceptual Framework

  • CRD-1 - Incorporating multiple perspectives through collaboration improves the computing innovations being developed.
  • IOC-1 - While computing innovations are typically designed to achieve a specific purpose, they may have unintended consequences.
  • IOC-2 - The use of computing innovations may involve risks to your personal safety and identity.

CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards (2017)

  • IC - Impacts of Computing
  • 3A-IC-24 - Evaluate the ways computing impacts personal, ethical, social, economic, and cultural practices.
  • 3A-IC-27 - Use tools and methods for collaboration on a project to increase connectivity of people in different cultures and career fields.
  • 3B-IC-25 - Evaluate computational artifacts to maximize their beneficial effects and minimize harmful effects on society.

Grades: Use Canva to create an infographic based on what is Cause and Effect and compare and contract how it is in History and Computer Science.

Becoming a Historian: Comparison

Ms. Bavuso | Grade 6 

Students will develop their comparison skills by analyzing primary documents, comparing life today to other periods of history, and drawing conclusions about history through those comparisons.

Lesson Plan

Learning Target: I can develop my comparison skills to become a better historian.

Success Criteria

  • I can compare life during other periods of history to today.
  • I can analyze primary documents.
  • I can draw conclusions about hisrory based on my comparisons.


Historical thinking skills allow historians to better practice and interpret history.

This Learning Lab will guide us through the process of defining historical comparison and practicing employing strategies from an example dealing with four personalities living through Jim Crow in the late nineteenth century.

Comparison is when historians note the similarities and differences of individuals, events, and groups. They question how and why these similarities or differences impacted history or even the modern day.

Instructions: You will have 7 minutes to, with your group/partner, review the slides entitled “How to Find Comparison?” to develop your knowledge about finding comparisons.

Mid Lesson Assessment: Independently complete the “Test Your Knowledge” Quiz to ensure that you are ready to move on!

Research Project: Each group has been assigned a civil rights activist. Using your assigned activist and the resources provided, complete your chart about your activist.


  • Secondary source videos
  • Internet research

Group Presentations: Each group will present the information they found on their chosen activist. You must take notes on the activists you did NOT research in order to help you develop your comparison.

Independent Practice: Independently, complete the practicing comparison slides and develop your comparison statements based on research completed by you and your classmates. In short response form, independently respond to the following question: Who do you think had the most effective response to Jim Crow and securing civil rights?

Inspired to bring these lessons to your students? Create a project to request all the resources you need to bring them to life.

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