Sac- structured Academic Lesson on the use of atomic bombs during World War II

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SAC- Structured Academic Lesson on the use of atomic bombs during World War II

Niccole M. Reinhart
Lesson Topic:

US Decision to Drop Atomic Bomb

Perennial Issue:  Should we use nuclear weapons? What factors should we take into consideration –military strategy, human costs, and/or ethics?

SAC Question: Should the United States have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan?
Grade/Class: 7th Grade United States History II: 1865 to Present
Length of Time required for lesson: 90 minutes
Overview: In this lesson, students will participate in a Structured Academic Controversy.

The structured academic controversy lesson is designed to have students engage in a discussion/debate about the whether or not the United States should have dropped atomic bombs on Japan. The goal is to move students beyond yes/no answers to historical questions by having them develop an understanding for competing perspectives on an issue and instead build consensus.

Background Information:
On April 12, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died of a stroke. His death shattered Americans. Many could hardly remember anyone else as their leader. At a critical moment, Vice President Harry S. Truman was suddenly thrust into the highest office in the country. Meanwhile, Germany was collapsing, On April 16, Soviet troops began an assault on Berlin. Hitler took shelter in a bunker built beneath the city’s streets. There with his Nazi empire in ruins, he committed suicide on April 30, 1945.

A week later, representatives of Germany’s armed forces unconditionally surrendered at Eisenhower’s headquarters in France. On May 8, the Allies celebrated V-E Day, Victory in Europe. After Hitler’s defeat in Europe, the Allies were able to turn their full attention to the Pacific. By the spring of 1945, American bombers were pounding the Japanese home islands. American ships bombarded the coast and destroyed shipping. Millions of Japanese were short of food. Yet Japanese leaders still talked of winning a glorious victory.

In the last days of the war, the Japanese unleashed a deadly new form of combat. It was based on an ancient code, which taught that surrender dishonored a warrior. In kamikaze missions, suicide pilots crashed their planes into American ships. These events convinced American war planners that only a full-scale invasion of Japan’s home islands would force surrender.

President Truman made plans for invading Japan in the fall. His military advisers warned him that the invasion might cost half a million American casualties. In July, however, Truman learned that a secret weapon—the atomic bomb—had been successfully tested in the New Mexico desert. The new weapon was so powerful that it could destroy an entire city. At the Potsdam Conference on July 17, 1945, Truman issued an ultimatum to Japan calling for an unconditional surrender promising to unleash a rain of terror if Japan did not comply. Japan refused to surrender.

On August 6, 1945, an American plane dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. The destruction was like nothing the world had ever seen. Within minutes, the blast and searing heat had killed more than 130,000 people. Still the Japanese refused to surrender.

On August 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Some 35,000 people died instantly. Many more in both cities would die slower deaths from radiation poisoning.

At last, on August 14, 1945, the emperor of Japan announced that the nation would surrender. That day became known as V-J Day. On September 2, 1945, MacArthur formally accepted Japan’s surrender about the battleship USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay. World War II was over at last.

Instructional Model and Rationale: The SAC model involves a discussion about a controversial issue that has at least two competing perspectives. The benefit of the SAC model is that it moves students beyond either/or debates to a more nuanced historical synthesis. Working in pairs and then coming together in four-person teams, students explore a question by reading about and then presenting contrasting positions. Afterwards, they engage in discussion to reach consensus.
The SAC method provides an alternative to the “debate mindset” by shifting the goal from winning classroom discussions to understanding alternative positions and formulating historical syntheses. The SAC’s structure teaches students to listen to each other in new ways and guides them into a world of complex and controversial ideas.
This structured academic lesson is designed to teach students both sides of the debate surrounding President Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II. The purpose of this lesson is to present students with arguments from both sides of the debate so they can form their own opinion about this heavily debated historical question of whether Truman was justified in ordering the bombs to be dropped on Japan.
Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

a) describe the issues surrounding the decision to drop the atomic bomb in World War II. (VA SOL USII.7b)

b) interpret events from different historical perspectives pertaining to the atomic bomb controversy. (VA SOL USII.1d)

c) develop discussion skills through meaningful and thoughtful debate concerning the issues on each side of the controversy. (NCSS 6f)

d) describe both sides of the controversy to demonstrate their understanding of how to debate a topic that has two clear and opposing sides. (NCSS 2e)
Assessment: Students will demonstrate understanding of the two sides on the issue by creating completing a graphic organizer chart listing the arguments for and against the use of the atomic bomb by the US at the end of World War II. Students will also write a brief paragraph explaining their own perspective on the issue as homework. The student will turn in the graphic organizer to be graded for participation as a classwork grade and the homework will be graded as well for completion as a homework grade.

Content and Instructional Strategies:
Perennial Issue:  Should we use nuclear weapons? What factors should we take into consideration –military strategy, human costs, and/or ethics?

SAC Question: Should the United States have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan?
Steps for the Lesson:
1. Before the lesson arrange student desks into groups of four. The groups will already be predetermined. As students enter the room, tell them to find their name on a desk and sit there. Explain that we will be doing a special activity today and that is why they may be sitting somewhere besides their usual seat. There are 22 students in Block 1B so there will be one group of 6 instead of 4. All other groups will consist of four students per group. Should student(s) be absent, you may have to adjust groups accordingly.
2. Have students complete the Hook/Warm-up assignment once students are seated.
Hook (20 minutes)

For the hook, I plan on showing a United Streaming video titled “The Manhattan Project and the Atomic Bomb Attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki”. The video is just shy of two minutes long. The video provides some background information about the use of the atomic bombs against Japan. The video also shows Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombs were deployed so that students can get an idea of the amount of destruction the bombs caused. I will then explain that Truman believed using the bomb was the best way to end the war quickly and prevent further loss of life. Using their journals, I will ask students to respond to the following questions:

  1. Should the United States use nuclear weapons?

  2. Should the United States have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan?

The first question gets to the perennial issue of this model. The second question speaks to the specific case issue we will be examining during this lesson. I will explain to students that there is not right or wrong answer to the questions I have asked. I will then explain that today we will be examining a historical question that has different opposing perspectives. The decision to drop the bomb was not a clear-cut one as many students may already be realizing from the questions. I will explain that many felt Truman was justified to order the use of atomic weapons against Japan and many argued that Truman was not justified and that the atomic bombs should never have been used. I will continue to explain to the students that in order to understand this issue better, we will examine both sides to the argument in using the atomic bombs on Japan. I will then explain that today we will be having a Structured Academic Controversy about the use of atomic bombs in warfare.

3. I will then give a detailed description of the steps and procedures of the SAC model. I will have these written on the board before class as well. When I explain the steps of the SAC, I will also explain the norms, such as how students should be listening and not interrupting when the other group is presenting, speak only when it is your turn, use evidence from texts, challenge/disagree ideas, but not people. Remind students to sit knees to knees , speak clearly and maintain eye-contact and good posture when presenting. Remind them the goal of this lesson is not to win but to become better informed about the topic (5-10 minutes).
4. I will then model an example of the how the SAC works with my CT as we debate the merits of assigned seats. They will love this because they are always asking if they can change from their assigned seat. For the point of time, we will only present one side of the issue.
5. After we model how the SAC works, First, I will explain to the students that each group of four is one group, and that the person they are sitting next to is their partner. They will work together to prepare and present the different positions. The partners will present the position to the pair sitting across from them. I will then explain that each team will have a chance to present both sides of the debate.
6. I will first pass out the graphic organizer titled “GO sheet- Atomic Weapons” to the students. This organizer will have the perennial issue and the case issue questions. It will also have two columns: one labeled “For” and one labeled “Against”. I will explain that students can use the GO sheet to organize their evidence or to jot notes when the other team is presenting. I will then pass out the “Yes- use atomic bombs” and the “No- do not use atomic bombs” information sheets to each group. I will explain that for the first round students will be presenting only one side of the debate. One side will get the “for” position,

and the other side will get the “against” position. I will explain to the students that each pair will have 10 minutes to read over the list and decide which points they will pick to use for their presentation and to decide who will present which points to the other side. I will also explain that the presentation should be equally divided between the two team members and that both members have to present.

7. Once the ten minutes are up, we will start with the for side, who will have three minutes to present their case using only the information they have been given. I will remind the other side that they cannot interrupt the presentation and they must hold all comments/questions until the end. Remind them to be taking notes on their GO Sheet. After three minutes, the other side will have 2 minutes to ask questions.
8. After that, the “Against” side will have three minutes to present their evidence. Again remind students on the opposing side not to interrupt and to take notes. The “For” team will have two minutes to ask questions. This will end the first round.
9. Round 2: teams will switch positions. Students will also switch information sheets. Students that presented “For atomic weapons” will now be presenting “Against atomic weapons” and vice versa. Students will again be given 10 minutes to prepare their presentations, select evidence, and decide which team member will present what.
10. After 10 minutes is up, the “against” side will present first. I will remind students of procedural norms we used in Round 1. They will have 3 minutes to present their evidence and then the other team will have 2 minutes for questions. Then the “For” side will have three minutes to present their evidence and the “against” side can ask clarifying questions if necessary.
11. After both sides have presented in Round 2, we will move on to the next phase. This is where we will reexamine the evidence listed on our Go Sheets and hopefully build a consensus about whether or not the U.S. should have used the atomic weapons against Japan. I will explain that the groups may decide to be for the use of atomic weapons, against the use of atomic weapons, or may come up with some other option like- for the dropping of the first bomb but against the dropping of the second bomb, etc., this is just one alternative idea. I will pass out the “Consider Your Options” worksheet, which will be helpful for groups to weigh the options and form a consensus.
12. After 10-15 minutes, I will go around from group to group and ask each group what their final decision was and also what “evidence” they felt was the most convincing in making their final decision. Times may be adjusted if necessary. We will then debrief.

  • Computer with Internet connection

  • United Streaming Video “The Manhattan Project and the Atomic Bomb Attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki”

  • Timer/Clock

  • Copies of the “Yes-use atomic weapons” Information Sheets

  • Copies of the “No- do not use atomic weapons” Information Sheets

  • Copies of the Graphic Organizer “GO sheet-Atomic Weapons” (Attachment)

  • Copies of the Consider Your Options Worksheet for consensus building (Attachment)


Differentiation/Adaptations: This lesson has been designed for a class of diverse learners. Students learn in a variety of different ways, and this lesson provides students with visual, written, and oral information. Students will have the opportunity to work individually, in pairs, in groups of four, and together as a class. The lesson provides students with an opportunity to work with multiple pieces of evidence and develop skills like understanding competing perspectives to an issue, active listening, and being able to orally present evidence to support both sides of an issue. The evidence used in this lesson can be differentiated to meet the needs and abilities of the learners. The evidence given to the students has already been differentiated to meet the reading levels of my students. I am also using a graphic organizer to help my students organize their thoughts and notes. Also, the assessment could be modified to reflect different grade levels or abilities within the classroom. For example, instead of having students write a brief paragraph explaining their own perspective on the issue as homework, the assignment could be modified to make it more or less challenging depending upon the student’s level. And finally, students could be given more or less time for research and to prepare their presentations.

Adaptations: For students with disabilities, the lesson could be adapted to meet their IEPs or 504 plans. For example, the data could be read aloud to them, enlarged for easier viewing, or annotated before presentation. Further adaptations should be made as necessary and as indicated within each student’s IEP or 504 plans. The teacher should make every effort to accommodate such students. Moreover, for those students working with a Para-educator, teacher should submit lesson plans as well as graphic organizers as much in advance as possible for input or adaptations.
Reflection: I have identified several possible issues that may occur with the implementation of this lesson plan. The first is that my students have never done this kind of lesson before so I am not completely sure how they will react. They do not usually react well to change or situations where they are not comfortable. Another challenge is the SAC model has a number of steps, which might be difficult for my students to get after only seeing one model of the lesson style. I think they might become easily confused and/or frustrated. I am also worried about them being able to prepare their “arguments”. I believe some of the students will be much better at this than others. As a result, it will be very important to take all considerations in account when I select the groups. Another problem I foresee, is if on the day I teach the lesson, I have many students absent. This will require some fast thinking on my feet. I will attempt to have an alternate person for each group that I can rearrange if necessary. Another huge concern I have is time. My last lesson took longer than anticipated. I have adjusted my times and allowed some extra time for each step so I am hoping this will not be a problem this time. As far as concerns for technology issues, I have an alternate video and a You Tube clip I can show. If the computer or Internet connection goes out all together, I will use a picture of the atomic bomb exploding over Hiroshima. It will not have the same impact as the video but will suffice. Another issue I foresee will be that the groups will need a lot of supervision to make sure they are correcting following the lesson plan. Thankfully, in addition to me, my CT, and a para-educator will be in the room to help monitor students. I have also identified the students in each class that could potentially present misbehaviors, etc. and have planned accordingly to keep them on task.

Post-teaching- Will be updated after I teach the lesson.
For Position- The US should have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan.

  1. For six months before the atomic bombings, the United States intensely fire-bombed 67 Japanese cities. Together with the United Kingdom and China, the United States called for an unconditional surrender of Japan in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945. Japan refused to surrender despite the declaration's threat that failure to surrender would be met by "complete destruction" of the military and the "utter devastation of the Japanese home land." Following ten days of Japanese silence, the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945, on the city of Hiroshima. Three days later the bomb the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Five days later, Japan surrendered.

  1. In the last days of the war, the Japanese unleashed a deadly new form of combat. It was based on an ancient code, which taught that surrender dishonored a warrior. In kamikaze missions, suicide pilots crashed their planes into American ships. President Truman made plans for invading Japan in the fall. His military advisers warned him that the invasion might cost half a million American casualties.

  1. Many military analysts argue that the Japanese would not have surrendered without the use of the atomic bomb. Japanese battle plans that were in place when the bombs were dropped called for a massive, suicidal defense of the home islands, in which the Japan would use not only several million fighting men but also millions of ordinary citizens. The Japanese were determined to fight until their deaths. It was also against the law to surrender to the American forces.

  1. The idea of dropping a demonstration bomb, or of dropping the bomb upon a large uninhabited area, was considered but rejected. The fear was that a pre-announced bomb might lead the Japanese to move POW's to the site (which they might have done), while a dud under those circumstances would have been a huge embarrassment.

  1. President Truman later wrote that he “regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubts that it should be used.” Truman believed it was his duty as president to use every weapon available to save American lives.

  1. Japan surrendered to the Allied forces on August 14, 1945. In his announcement of intention to surrender, the Emperor of Japan included this statement: "...I cannot endure the thought of letting my people suffer any longer. A continuation of the war would bring death to tens, perhaps even hundreds, of thousands of persons. The whole nation would be reduced to ashes."

  1. Truman argued that the bombs were necessary because the alternative of a ground attack with troops on mainland Japan would result in the catastrophic loss of American lives. The name given to our invasion plan was "Olympia," but I saw nothing godly about the killing of all the people that would be necessary to make an invasion of the Japanese mainland. The casualty estimates called for 750,000 Americans -- 250,000 killed, 500,000 maimed for life.

  1. “I could not worry about what history would say about my personal morality. I made the only decision I ever knew how to make. I did what I thought was right." (President Truman)

Against Position- The US should not have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan.

  1. Even before the bomb was tested, American officials began to debate how to use it. Admiral William Leahy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opposed using the bomb because it killed civilians indiscriminately. He believed that an economic blockade and conventional bombing would convince Japan to surrender.

  1. Many critics of the bombs argue that Truman only used the bombs to prevent the Soviets from having an opportunity to claim territory in Japan, and to scare the Soviets. Others argue that Truman had other options besides the bomb, such as using a test as a threat or continuing to fire bomb Japan. Some critics argued a demonstration explosion over Tokyo harbor would have convinced Japan's leaders to quit without killing many people. This option was never really considered.

  1. Japan had really no way to win the war. Their allies had been defeated. More than 60 of its cities had been destroyed by conventional bombing, the home islands were being blockaded by the American Navy, and the Soviet Union entered the war by attacking Japanese troops in Manchuria.

  1. The Potsdam Declaration had called for an “unconditional surrender” yet many critics argued that American refusal to modify its terms of demand to not allow the Japanese to keep their emperor needlessly prolonged Japan's resistance.

  1. No real options were explored besides using the atomic bomb. Truman argued that a full-scale invasion of Japan’s mainland would result in an unprecedented number of American deaths. Many critics of the bombs and military strategists argue the numbers of possible deaths was grossly over-exaggerated.

  1. Even if Hiroshima was necessary, the bomb on Nagasaki was not. The scientists that built the bomb did not know the capability of it until it was dropped on Hiroshima killing more an estimated 130,000 people, most of which were innocent civilians. After seeing the destruction in Hiroshima, the US should have decided against dropping a second bomb.

  1. The bombs were ineffective in weakening the Japanese will to fight. It was reported the next day to the Japanese Army General Staff that "the whole city of Hiroshima was destroyed instantly by a single bomb." But despite the prime minister's insistence that Japan must accept surrender, the army insisted on total, last-ditch resistance. The news, midway through this conference, that the city of Nagasaki had also been destroyed by another atomic bomb, also did not sway the Japanese from their determination to fight.

  1. The bomb was used partly to justify the $2 billion spent on its development. Besides the two cities that were targeted were of limited military value. Civilians outnumbered troops in Hiroshima five or six to one.

  1. Japanese lives were sacrificed simply for power politics between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Conventional firebombing would have caused as much significant damage without making the U.S. the first nation to use nuclear weapons.

Works Cited

The Atomic Bomb.
The Atomic Bombs.
Davidson, James West and Michael Stoff. America; History of our Nation. (2007) Prentice Hall: Boston.
Dietrech, Bill. “Pro and con on dropping the bomb” (1995) The Seattle Times
Directions for SAC

Lsaacson, Walter. “Why did we drop the bomb?” Time Magazine, April 18, 2005.,9171,1050507-2,00.html
"Should We Have Dropped the Atomic Bomb?." 06 Nov 2011>.

Statistics on the atomic bomb.
Truman, Harry S. “The decision to drop the atomic bombs.” Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

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