Presidential Baseball Cards

Adam Herman
PD Specialist
News on February 06 2020

A common criticism of history as a content area is that it at times feels like nothing but a series of unrelated facts and dates. I believe this comes from two crucial gaps in historical teaching and learning. One is a contextual gap, students struggle to see how certain concepts, events, and individuals connect and play off of each other. The other, and trickier one, is an empathetic gap. Many students fail to fully consider that the individuals and groups studied in class were fully formed human beings. Like us, they had unique wants, needs, and goals and the simple fact of their past existence warrants their study as an acknowledgement of all people’s value.

When I was a teacher, I tried to counteract these gaps by having students do close examinations of individuals while keeping an eye towards the larger historical context in which they existed. An activity that worked well towards this goal when I taught U.S. History was having students create baseball cards for presidents. These cards functioned as “stat sheets,” providing a general summation of their accomplishments and failures, while also highlighting who they were as people.

Composition of a Presidential Baseball Card

The goal of these cards is to prepare students to write well-structured and thought-out paragraphs about their subject. The example template I provided to students was for Abraham Lincoln, and included basic information, his greatest accomplishments, greatest failures, and a summary section that synthesized this information. For accomplishments, I included delivering the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, for failures I mention having known idiot, Andrew Johnson, as his Vice President (like all history teachers I have oddly strong opinions about certain presidents). What I like about this exercise is that it accomplishes three things: putting the president in a historical context, weighing who they were as a human being, and encouraging students to be better writers by only including the most important information in their paragraphs. The expectations and depth of information on the card can be adjusted at the discretion of the teacher depending on grade level and student ability.

Here is a template made inside of SMART Notebook that you can use!

Creation Tools

Another benefit of this project is that there are both high and low-tech methods of creating them. A teacher with limited resources could have students create their cards the old-fashioned way, using a pen, paper, and perhaps print outs. While an educator who is more technically inclined can utilize programs such as Google Docs and SLS Online to enhance their ability to monitor and provide feedback on student work.

A teacher using Google Docs would create a template then, post that template into their Google Classroom with the setting “Make a copy for each student.” The teacher would then be able to monitor student progress on each of their documents and provide feedback in real time. A teacher looking to add another layer of engagement could post the template as a handout on SMART Learning Suite (SLS) Online. The teacher could also make the handout as part of a larger presentation that includes useful resources, a rubric, and writing tips. If you are a teacher looking to integrate new technologies into your teaching, I strongly recommend reading my past blog on some of the best practices for approaching this challenge.

To find an example of a presidential baseball card, rubric, template, and lesson plan, go to OTIS’s lesson page. There, you can find other great social studies lessons, including one examining the Lansdowne Portrait, one of the most famous images of George Washington as well as arguably the beginning of the tradition of presidential portraits.

Final Thoughts

The ever-increasing pervasiveness of technology in our society has given rise to a strange paradox. While we are more connected than ever, our ability to connect with others on a meaningful level seems to be diminishing. Through the study of history, students have the potential to develop empathic bonds with people they do not know, that can hopefully be transferred to their peers and society at large.

Learn how to use SLS Online

The courses below are available for free on our OTIS platform, they will cover all the skills you need to create and deliver this lesson.