How did Reconstruction die?

Doesn’t that sound like the plot of a procedural TV show? There is a murder and a team of dedicated investigators gather evidence and piece together clues to solve the mystery. As I’ve been working on lesson planning for my 11th grade Reconstruction unit I realize that the way Historians develop their interpretations of the past are largely the same as the way a crime scene investigator creates their interpretation of the event; Gather evidence, weigh the trustworthiness of those sources, find corroborating elements, and then create a narrative around the findings. I keep getting this image in my head when I think of Crime Investigation Shows.

While I think this is THE MOST important part of American History I often find that I am rushing to fit it in at the end of the semester.I usually rush through a lecture on Reconstruction but I in our hybrid setting have been focusing on skills and engagement during in person meetings with content acquisition done in our distance day. The great news here is that I have set aside my single 90 minute weekly class meeting just for Reconstruction this year. The question is I have the time and the information what do I do with it!?

I think the answer is create an Investigation Board for “What killed Reconstruction?”! This post is a “lesson plan in progress” post as I work through thoughts on how to do this.

What goes on the Investigation Board?

After some light Googling a Crime Scene Investigation board would contain mostly pictures of different types of evidence – physical evidence, latent, trace, testimonials, circumstantial, and other unique groupings. From a Historical Perspective this all sounds familiar. Physical evidence would be artifacts. Latent and trace evidence refers to the environmental and “hidden” evidence left behind which would be similar to sourcing evidence and placing it into a physical context. Testimonials are first hand accounts and circumstantial evidence are the inferences made when direct evidence is not available but sources suggest its out there somewhere. It seems that another trick is to cluster evidence from individual sources and/or evidence that can be grouped based on the uniqueness of the case. For example, in the Reconstruction lesson I might have students cluster the politicians in one area and the riots in another.

The String!

Every Crazy Board (yes this is another name – Google it) is full of string! Evidence is pinned to the board and then the string is used to make connections between the pieces of evidence. I wonder if different color string is used to make different connections?

Pin by Dominic DePonio on Dominic DePonio | Detective aesthetic, Cleaning  my room, Sherlock
From the BBC’s Sherlock

What supplies will I need?

  • Push Pins – Pretty obvious. Need to hang the evidence.
  • String – To make connections
  • Corkboard – luckily I have many 1’x1′ squares I can put up on my wall
  • Evidence – I have many secondary sources and intend to give students links to websites. Much of the evidence will have to be taken from there and students will need to create their own board items with Post-Its or by printing them.
  • Post-It Notes – see “Evidence”
  • Pictures of Main People and Locationsa
  • Key Terms and People List


Open with an Attention Grabber.

For the “How did Reconstruction die?” lesson I am going to start with a 3 images of the 1874. 1876, and 1878 South Carolina Governor’s Election. As they look at the pictures they will complete a “What do you Notice, What do you Wonder?” discussion.

Discuss the Attention Grabber and Assess Prior Knowledge

The Attention Grabber should lead into the main question for the Investigation. The Governor Election images should lead to the question “How did the Democrats go from not even running a candidate in 1874 to to winning with 99.5% of the electorate in 1878?” I anticipate this will lead to students asking about the Democratic party and what happened to the Republican party. In the content acquisition for the Civil War and Reconstruction students will already be aware that the Republicans were the party of the Northern Free-Soilers, elected Lincoln, fought the Civil War to preserve the Union and End the enslavement system, and then were attempting to help preserve the freedoms of the newly emancipated Black population of the south. They are also aware that the Southern Democrats were the party of secession, had fought to preserve the slave system, and eventually were at the very least supported by the Ku Klux Klan (with evidence suggesting they supported the KKK as well). I will be able to assess this background knowledge through the Discussion around the Attention Grabber and clear up any misconceptions while in the whole group meeting.

Introduce the Investigation

After discussing the Attention Grabber I will pose the question “Who or What killed Reconstruction?”. We are going to go very local with this question by focusing on South Carolina’s Election of 1876 which is where we can see the transition away from Republican leadership and into the Democratic stranglehold. The evidence and conclusions that are (hopefully) reached can then be scaled up to understand the entire Reconstruction collapse.

My intent is to keep groups small – 4 to 5 max – which will be fairly simple in my hybrid setting. Students will receive images of the major historic figures of the conflict, images of important locations, a pack of Post-It notes, push pins, string, and links to relevant entries in the South Carolina Encyclopedia. They will be allowed to research beyond the SC Encyclopedia of they feel it necessary and will be allowed to print pictures and text from other areas if needed.

COVID Interactions

My grand vision for this involves students huddled around a corkboard or hunched over a laptop together.

CSI: Cyber Screencap Recap: Computers Most Certainly Will Kill You
Like CSI
Decoding The Detective's 'Crazy Wall'
or Fargo

This is not responsible at the moment.

We are in a hybrid setting though and I only have 8 students in my biggest class. I can easily have a cork board on 2 walls with students spaced out in a semi-circle around it. Students can then walk up one at a time to add evidence on the board. Hand Sanitizer will abound…

Saving the Evidence Boards

With 6 classes it is not conceivable to save each of the boards. We can allow students to take cell phone pictures of their work. I will take photos as well and post them to our class website as well as the Google Classroom.

Creating an Interpretation

The point of collecting and organizing the evidence is to create a narrative explaining what led to the end of Reconstruction in South Carolina. What form the narrative takes is a possible window for creativity. I anticipate the evidence board taking nearly all of my 90 minute class block. Since I only see students once a week this means that any evidence based project will need to be done outside of the classroom. I am loathe to force students to do this as homework for a myriad of reasons but seem to be left with few options. I hope to increase engagement by allowing a great deal of freedom in the way they demonstrate their new found knowledge. Instead of requiring a written paper I will give several options which will include a “Blank Check”. In all cases the students will seek to use the evidence boards to explain three questions.

The major questions to be answered

  1. Who, or what, killed Reconstruction and what was the motive?
  2. Since Reconstruction had attempted to support the Freedmen, how did the Black population of South Carolina respond these challenges?
  3. How can the lessons of South Carolina be applied to the National response?

Demonstration of Interpretation and Understanding Options

  1. Option 1 Essay – Traditional Essay format (between 400 and 600 words) answering the questions.
  2. Option 2 Podcast – Create a 5- 7 minute podcast explaining the interpretation. This can be done in small groups in a round-table discussion format or “mockumentary” style format.
  3. Option 3 Documentary – Create a 3-5 minute documentary using WeVideo.
  4. Option 4 Free Style – Develop your own way to display the information. Be sure that the questions are answered. If you have concerns see Mr. Powley (or email) before beginning.

Assessment and Grade

I’m not a fan of strict rubrics. What I will be looking for in the final demonstration will fall into a Standards Based skill model. In my SC US History Standards we have 6 “skill” standards; 4 of these skills are clearly related.

  • Comparison – Identify the characteristics of historical events over time, place, and culture; Categorize historical events according to similarities and differences; Construct conclusions about historical events.
  • Causation – Justify the long term and short-term consequences of significant events; Categorize causes and consequences of various historical events.
  • Periodization – Identify major turning points in American history; Define and understand the characteristics of an era.
  • Context – Connect specific events to broad historical themes and developments.

With more time “Evidence” could be used as students would be able to research and/or analyze evidence. Also, “Continuities and Change” could be included if the project were expanded a bit to see the beginnings of Reconstruction or the period of Jim Crow. With the time limitations though I do not think this is feasible for this version of the project.

Ending Thoughts

With this project I am seeking to engage students through several gamification based concepts. The first is “Relatedness” which can be another way of saying collaboration or a group quest. Second is “Autonomy” or the ability to make a meaningful choice with the options in demonstration of understanding. I’m also trying to design with as many player types as possible. “People” fun for the Socialisers, Sharing knowledge through posting the boards and Meaningful connections for the Philanthropists, Innovative Platform for the Disruptors, Customization and Creativity in the Platform for the Free Spirits, and a Clear Challenge in the Puzzle of the “Who or what killed Reconstruction for the Achievers. I guess I need to add a grade or badge for the Players.

A Player Type Framework for Gamification Design