Back to the Future

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will reflect on prior knowledge of family histories. They will identify the commonalities and differences between prior generations and their own experiences that affect the social contract. Learners will be introduced to several historical artifacts relating to a variety of time periods. They will generate questions at strategically placed centers around the classroom that reflect their particular interest.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne to Two Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • compare/contrast family historical experiences with others.
  • identify several historical artifacts and relate to their places in history.
  • describe how our past strengthens the social contract and promotes the common good.
  • Elderly Lesson Pre-Assessment (Handout One)
  • Four artifacts that are not easily identifiable
  • Artifacts that will be located at the various history centers (10 to 15 artifacts per time period)
  • Information cards that explain the history and relevance of the artifacts


  1. Teacher Note: Administer the Elderly Lesson Pre-assessment (Handout One) to learners two weeks prior to teaching this particular unit.

    Anticipatory Set:

    Begin class by holding up an unusual historical artifact that is believed to be unrecognizable to the learners (examples: gators/sock garters, spittoon). Ask learners to speculate what the artifact is and what purpose it has. Have learners raise their hands to volunteer their thoughts and speculations. After two or three minutes identify the artifact, it’s history and importance.

    Teacher Note: In order to gain access to more possible unrecognizable artifacts, visit or contact the local museum. Also when contacting the local museum, you could have a volunteer from the museum come to the class to help with the various class activities.

  2. Have learners get into pairs with the person sitting next to them. Ask learners to discuss what they think life for their grandparents and/or parents was like growing up. Then have them compare and contrast those past experiences with their own experiences. After 5-8 minutes, reconvene as a whole class and ask for volunteers to share what they discussed with their partners. Ask if they decided whether there were more commonalities or differences between their own experiences and that of the past.

    • Have learners get into a circle around the room. Begin by giving one learner an artifact that is not easily identifiable from a specific time period. Ask each learner to give only one identifying fact about the artifact that is passed to them. Then they will pass the artifact to a learner next to them (either clockwise or counter-clockwise). Have the learners pass around the artifact until either learners cannot think of anything else, a learner repeats an identifying fact or the teacher asks the group to stop. When the artifact is stopped, have the learner with the artifact read an information card with the history and importance of that artifact. Repeat until three artifacts have been passed and identified.
  3. Teacher note: One can decide to use more than three artifacts in this activity, but I have noticed that learners tend to lose interest after five artifacts have been passed.

  4. Have learners get into groups of three or four and have each learner take out a piece of paper. Ask learners to individually make a list of reasons why looking at artifacts, discussing past experiences, as well as memories are important. After five minutes have learners share their lists among group members. Reconvene as a whole class after five minutes and ask for volunteers to share a few reasons they discussed in their groups.

    • History Learning Centers: Explain that it is important to look at the aspirations, traditions, achievements, values and fads of past time periods in order to generate a better view of who we were as a people/society, but also to determine who we are today. Explain to learners that there are five history centers located around the room (1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s). At each center/station a different time period is represented through the use of artifacts. Explain that each learner must choose three of the five centers to visit and it would be helpful to choose time periods that are of interest to them. Each learner is responsible for writing three questions about each time period they visit at the centers. The questions should help them to learn more about the artifacts, their purpose, the life and situation in that time period, etc. (Hint: Think of your questions as if you would be asking them to someone who experienced that time period.) Allow no more than five to eight learners at each history center at a time and give only five minutes at each station.

  5. Teacher Note: Make sure to collect a wide variety of artifacts that represent all aspects of life for each time period. I would suggest 20-25 artifacts for each time period. I have found that contacting the local museum and/or local community members was very helpful in gaining access to artifacts. When learners are in the centers, I suggest using a timer because it helps to keep the teacher available to answer questions and monitor learner activity.

  6. After learners have completed the history centers, have them return to their seats. Then ask the question: "Why do we as a society hold on to artifacts from the past and our own experience? What is the value in doing this?" Ask for a few volunteers to share their opinions, thoughts and ideas. After a small discussion, state that we do this in order to strengthen the social contract and promote the common good, which we will investigate in the next few days.


The questions that learners generate while they visit the various history centers allow the teacher to see what learners are questioning about the different time periods (what they want to know, what they do not know, and the area of society in which learners show interest).

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.10 Discuss the results of private citizen voluntary action intended for the common good on public policy changes.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.