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America From Scratch Sparks Imaginative Thinking About Civics

A letter from a Minnesota High School Social Studies Teacher

April 6, 2020

Dear Fellow Educators and caregivers,

My name is Jacob Hillesheim and I’ve spent the last thirteen years teaching social studies (predominantly history and government) in a Minnesota high school. These last couple weeks have been tumultuous for all of us and have accelerated many of the educational trends towards digital learning.

I’m also a content consultant for America From Scratch. America From Scratch is a TPT web program that examines American government and American history, and questions – sometimes playfully, other times seriously – the ideas most Americans just assume to be true.

“If we were to build “America From Scratch” today, what would it look like?”

Episodes are short (11 minutes or less!), informative, and entertaining, featuring an engaging host (Actor/Musician Toussaint Morrison), eye-catching animations, and knowledgeable guests. All episodes can be found on TPT’s website.

America From ScratchBetter yet, there are full lesson plans available on the America From Scratch collection page at PBS LearningMedia. Each episode page features the video, national educational standards (history, government/civics, and C3), and a discussion guide. The guides are highly adaptable, support classroom differentiation, and can be used as part of or the centerpiece of a lesson. Since we’re all teaching digitally right now, they can also be easily converted for use on online platforms like Schoology, Blackboard, or Moodle.

I’ve used America From Scratch as something of a “civil rights and civil liberties today” capper to our US History curriculum. I’d like to think student engagement is not an issue in my classroom, but students dug into their America From Scratch activity as though it was not the first week in June.

These times have been challenging, but the best way forward is through collaboration and resource sharing. I’m just letting you know that you’ve got one more arrow in your educational quiver than you might realize.

Stay safe and take care.

Jacob Hillesheim
Teacher at Elk River High School
Elk River, Minnesota


America From Scratch



Looking for a fun but substantive activity for your middle school and high school students learning from home? America From Scratch  is here to help! America From Scratch is TPT’s virtual-classroom-ready series of short YouTube videos and related discussion guides. The Emmy Awarding-winning series is based around a central question:  If we could create our country today from the ground up, how would we do it?

America From Scratch videos are designed for social media and the classroom to grab attention, spark curiosity, and drive civic discussion among younger viewers.  Each 8 - 12 minute episode is question-driven and strikes a balance among real-world current events, US history, fictional scenarios, and unexpected framing to encourage imaginative thinking by students who are beginning to form their civic identities.

Sample episodes:

Educators can stream America From Scratch digital episodes on YouTube and on PBS LearningMedia. Classroom guides (available on PBS LearningMedia) include questions for pre-viewing, during viewing, post-viewing, and enrichment around each episode. Guides are standards-based for grades 7 – 12 and suitable for history, civics and government classes — we think they’d be great prompts for writing classes, too.


America’s founders faced a question rare in human history: If we designed a government from scratch, what would it look like? Their answer shaped the world we live in today.

If you’ve got teens at home, then you know: they’re pretty sure they know everything. So put this challenge to them: If we were to create America starting from scratch today, what should it look like? Would we have states? Political parties? What if we didn’t have a president? Would the government pay people to colonize Mars???

Host Toussaint Morrison is here to help you get the discussion going with America From Scratch, our fun-to-watch, truly thought-provoking YouTube series of short digital videos that ask big questions and celebrate the incredible opportunities represented by the American experiment. Welcome to the coolest civics class ever!  And Mom, Dad, or Grandma just might learn a thing or two, too.

America From Scratch is produced by TPT’s for PBS Digital Studios.


More civics resources for at home learning

In It Together | Videos & Articles

TPT’s “In It Together” seeks to help build a democracy grounded in the fundamental values of inclusion, equity and participation; to make key information both accessible and engaging; and to develop opportunities for Minnesotans to talk with – and listen to – each other.

Constitution USA | Education resources for High School and Middle School Classrooms
The National Constitution Center has developed educational materials for each episode of CONSTITUTION USA which addresses a theme related to the Constitution.

Super Civics 2020 from PBS Newshour | Student and Teacher Resources 6–12 Grade Level
Teaching resources for middle and high school students on Election 2020.

Civics and Government Collection on PBS LearningMedia | Student and Teacher Resources, all grades”
Resources located under Civics and Government focus on the relationships between governments and individuals, and international relations. Classrooms can explore videos to compare the Magna Carta and the United States Constitution, examine an interactive map to study United States diplomatic relationships across the globe, or create a document-based questions using a collection of resources that analyzes Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Topics such as the history of the Supreme Court, the role state and local governments play in the United States, and the path a bill takes to become law are also examined.


TPT launched a “learning at home” campaign designed to engage kids in learning through PBS content online and on our airwaves. As we build out these resources, every week, we are introducing a different subject matter to help families and kids explore that theme.

Explore the weekly themes, free resources, programs and activities at


We’d love your input on what educational support you’d like to see from TPT. Please take a moment to share your ideas below:

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© Twin Cities Public Television - 2020. All rights reserved.


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