Discovery Education Resources on the Atomic Bombs of World War II

Tomorrow is 70 years since the United States dropped a devastating atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. August 9th will mark the 70th anniversary of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. August 15th is the 70th anniversary of V-J Day and the end of World War II. Students can examine the facts of these events in a narrative, basic-recall fashion. Or students can grapple with primary and secondary sources, in multiple multimedia formats, to construct claims with supporting evidence. The decision to drop the bombs on Japan is a topic I like to put in my mental “teach with inquiry and empathy” file, meaning this is a topic ripe for student-driven investigation, and a topic that requires sensitivity and empathy for multiple points of view.

Teaching with empathy does not mean shying away from the controversy.  Historian Christopher Hammer notes, “A 1947 history textbook, produced just two years after the bombings did just this, sidestepping the controversy by presenting the story at a distance and refraining from interpretation or discussion of civilian casualties: ‘The United States unveiled its newest weapon, demonstrating twice—first at Hiroshima and then at Nagasaki—that a good-sized city could almost be erased from the map in one blinding flash. Confronted by this combination of forces, Japan surrendered August 14.’” This sort of approach robs students of the opportunity to investigate multiple points of view and empathize with Japanese civilians, with military and political leaders, with the men aboard the Enola Gay. Listening to speeches, reading journal entries, analyzing data–all can help students empathize with real human beings and help contextualize the time period. Even if we agree with the decision to drop the bombs, this is not a time to scream out “America heck yeah” in class. I’ll save that for women’s suffrage, the 13th amendment, and the like.

Below are just a sampling of some of Discovery Education’s resources on the atomic bomb and World War II. Some are from Streaming Plus, and some are downloadable samples and links from the U.S. History Social Studies Techbook.

What additional resources do you use to teach about the bombs? Leave suggestions in the comments section!

The Atomic Bombs – Streaming Plus – Ventures to Tinian, an island off the coast of Japan where the atomic bombs Fat Man and Little Boy were loaded unto the Bockscar and Enola Gay, respectively. The segment features an interview with a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing.

Truman speech on Potsdam Conference and atom bomb on Hiroshima August 9, 1945

Guiding Questions for the Final Part of President Truman’s August 9, 1945 Speech

Excerpt from The Lost War: A Japanese Reporter’s Inside Story by Masuo Kato, 1946

News in Brief; Hiroshima Maidens Return Home – Hiroshima maidens receive plastic surgery.

BBC: America’s Moral Dilemma: The Atomic Bomb – Explains the thinking behind the decisions to drop an atomic bomb, Little Boy, on Hiroshima, and then Fat Man on Nagaski. The destruction and death caused by these decisions were not only devastating, but also changed the social and cultural climate of the world.

Investigation: Defeating Japan [Techbook account required to access]- Even after Germany’s surrender ended World War II in Europe, the fighting in the Pacific continued. In this activity, students will use the interactive Key Decision tool to investigate strategies for ending this fighting. Students will make a decision about the best way for the Allies to overcome Japan, and then read about what strategies were actually used.


Role Play Activity: Diary of a War Correspondent[Techbook account required to access] – In this activity, students will take on the role of a war correspondent, or journalist, who has access to either the U.S. military or the Japanese military. Students will make diary entries about key events and battles as well as the reactions of the senior military leadership of their chosen side.


How the Earth Works: The Rockies Built the Atom Bomb Travels to the Rocky Mountains to reveal the extraordinary link between the Rockies’ soaring peaks and the uranium that ended up in “Little Boy,” the atomic bomb detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The program traces the path of uranium, from distant supernovas to deep beneath Earth’s crust, and analyzes how uranium continues to affect Earth’s tectonic evolution.

Prophesying the Atomic Bomb – Highlights the striking similarities between H.G. Wells’s fictional atomic bomb and the real atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. NOTE: This program contains content that may be disturbing to some viewers. Please preview before showing in class.

Radiation: A Slow Death: A New Generation of Hibakusha

Examines the failing health of residents exposed to radiation in Hiroshima, Japan; Basra, Iraq; and Hanford, Washington. The program defines the term “hibakusha” and interviews health professionals and residents about the increase in such health concerns as cancer, leukemia, thyroid problems, birth defects, and miscarriages in these areas. The program relays the struggles residents face in getting proper treatment and compensation from the government.

Profiles of Courage, Controversy, and Sacrifice: World War II: The Atomic Bomb: The End or the Beginning? – Traces the development of atomic bomb, code named the Manhattan Project. The video introduces key players, including Leo Szilard, Albert Einstein, General Leslie Richard Groves, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Dr. Klaus Fuchs. The types of top-secret research conducted at the facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico, are also discussed. The program addresses the development of the B-29 aircraft to carry the bombs nicknamed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man.” The video explores the conflicting political opinions over staging a test of the atomic bomb, which is conducted at Alamogordo, New Mexico, code named “Trinity.” President Harry S. Truman waits at the Potsdam Conference in Germany for results and acts swiftly to deploy the new weapon when Japan refuses to surrender. The program follows Colonel Paul Tibbets and his crew on their flight in the Enola Gay to drop the first bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and the flight of Captain Charles Sweeney and his crew in Bock’s Car three days later to bomb Nagasaki. The devastation and casualties in both cities are staggering, and the decision to drop the atomic bombs remains controversial. Japan agrees to surrender, the United States and the Soviet Union emerge as world powers, and the Cold War begins.


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One Comment;

  1. Andrew Kozlowsky said:

    Hey Joe,

    Another great resource is from the Brown University “Choices Program.” It’s a role playing simulation from the point of view of Truman and whether he should drop the bomb or not. Students play the roles of Truman advisors and try to convince him to take their suggested course of action. It’s a great sim.

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