Matt Poth is leading the charge against lesson plans that drain the life out of history class. As a former Marine, Poth appreciates the challenges ordinary men and women faced during World War II as they advanced across the Pacific, island by island. As a teacher, he appreciates the challenges of developing engaging lesson plans that not only teach content but also historical thinking skills to students. “Operation Invasion: Reaching the Japanese Mainland” is an engaging activity that channeled my students’ energy and challenged them to think critically about the decisions facing both ordinary service members and their leaders as U.S. forces drove toward the Japanese mainland.
The lesson begins by getting students moving as they hop from place to place across the classroom simulating the strategy of the Pacific Campaign. Students understand that multiple paths to Japan are possible and that some distances are harder to “hop” than others. Next, Poth invites students to explore letters and sketches belonging to participants of the invasion of Guadalcanal. Working through the activity makes the process of thinking historically visible to students, and they develop historical empathy for the experiences faced by those involved in this campaign. The final activity invites students to consider the costs and benefits of several Pacific battles in order to place the island hopping campaign in a larger historical context.
These straightforward activities pack a great deal of content into a lesson of realistic length, and Poth provides suggestions for adaptation and extension if time is a factor. It is a fantastic overview of the Pacific Campaign and would be a great complement to other lessons that provide a contrasting overview of the war in Europe. “Operation Invasion: Reaching the Japanese Mainland” engaged my students mentally and physically while developing their emotional intelligence as they learned about this important aspect of World War II.