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A Study Guide for The Secret Project Notebook
by Carolyn Reeder

The purpose of this study guide is to assist teachers with the curriculum units on New Mexico History.
It contains background information on the creation and decision to use the atom bomb as well as comprehension questions and discussion prompts for the book The Secret Project Notebook by award-winning author Carolyn Reeder, published by the Los Alamos Historical Society. Links to further websites are included. A trip to the Los Alamos History Museum is recommended to allow students to view the displays from "Life on the Hill” during the Manhattan Project.
Los Alamos was a secret city located on a mesa top where no city had existed before. How can you keep a whole town hidden?
Background Information
Why would a nation not only create a weapon of incredible mass destruction but choose to use it on civilians of another country? How could this have happened?
Comprehending the decision to create and use the atom bomb requires an understanding of the historical events and the climate of fear in the United States.
Look at the timeline of significant events leading up to the involvement of the United States in World War II. Isolated geographically from Europe, the United States initially chose to remain uninvolved in the European conflict. Witness, however, on the timeline below, countries falling like dominoes to Adolf Hitler’s domination. While the citizens and leaders of the United States watched uneasily, Hitler occupied one nation after another. Still the United States chose to remain removed from the conflict until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by the Japanese. After the attack, the United States declared war.
Timeline of major events of WWII

1933 —
  • Japan invades of Manchuria.
  • Adolf Hitler becomes dictator of Germany.
1935 —
  • Hitler begins to reactivate Germany's military.
  • Italy's dictator, Benito Mussolini, invades Ethiopia.
1938 —
  • Hitler annexes Austria.
1939 —
  • Hitler takes over Czechoslovakia.

  • Hitler sends his army into Poland.

  • Britain and France declare war on Germany.

  • Russia moves into eastern Poland and begins taking over Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Also tries to move into Finland.

  • Japan attempts to expand into China, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
1940 —
  • Germany seizes Denmark and Sweden.

  • France surrenders.

  • Mussolini launches offensives against the British in Egypt and invades Greece, but has to get assistance from German forces.

  • Hitler's air force (the Luftwaffe) is perpetually defeated by Britain's air force (the RAF).
1941 —
  • Hitler turns against the USSR and gets as far as the gates of Moscow.

  • Japan attacks the U.S. at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines which brings the U.S. into the war.
1942 —
  • U.S. Navy decimates Japanese naval airpower in the Battle of Midway.

  • Hitler turned away from Russia.
1943 —
  • Germans and Italians expelled from Africa by British and American forces.

  • The Allied forces continue to push the Germans back and the Russians force the Germans back toward Berlin.
1944 —
  • American, British, and French troops land on the Normandy coast of France in June 1944 and press the Germans back to the West Wall. Aided by troops landed in southern France from Italy, the Allies force the Germans back across the Rhine River and deep into Germany.

  • American forces also sent to the Philippines to repel the Japanese forces.
1945 —
  • Assailed on all sides, the Germans surrender on May 7.

  • The dropping of two ATOMIC BOMBS on Japanese cities and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria hastens the Japanese decision to capitulate on August 14.

Before reading The Secret Project Notebook:

Grades 4 – 9
  • Discuss the events leading up to the United States' involvement in World War II.

  • Access maps from the internet showing the expansion attempted by Germany, Japan, and Russia.

  • Read to the class a personal account of a young soldier fighting in the invasion of Normandy from the Military.com site. Try Roy Arnn's letter to his daughters.
  • Read accounts of sub sightings off of America's coasts.

Grades 9 – 12
In addition to a selection of a few of the above activities, you may want to:
  • Have students research the power of the hydrogen and atom bombs and write a short essay on the morality of the creation and use of these weapons. When would this use of massive force be justifiable in their eyes?

  • Teachers should help students view the 1945 decision to drop the bomb in the context of that time and what had happened during the war. They should see the circumstances that influenced the thinking of the men who developed the bomb as well as the president's final decision to use it. Recommended reading for teacher and interested students: Atomic Fragments by Mary Palevsky and The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.

After reading the book:

Grades 4 – 9
  • Visit the Los Alamos History Museum.
  • Use the this website to guide you with geology activities and field trips to parallel Fritz's rock collecting.

  • Pick activities from the website to emphasize the unique nature of the secret city.

  • If you moved to a secret place and were not allowed to tell anyone where you were, what hints would you try to send to your friends and relatives? Write a letter to someone and try not to say anything that would reveal where you are. No hints on location, weather, culture, etc. Also, listen to the Los Alamos Historical Society oral history podcast of women talking about mail censorship during the Manhattan Project.

Grades 9 – 12
In addition to a selection of a few of the above activities, you may want to:
  • Use the comprehension questions from The Secret Project Notebook to generate classroom conversations.

  • Read from conversations on the internet on such sites as "Sixty Years of Atomic Weapons."
  • Interview a veteran of WWII or someone alive during that time frame about their wartime activities and the country's contributions to the war effort. Ask about black outs and submarine sightings off of the west coast. Ask them what they thought about the use of the atomic bomb to end WWII.

  • Use the timeline from the PBS website "Race for the Superbomb" to describe the arms race following the invention of the atom bomb.
  • Go to the Bradbury Science Museum and look for Fatman and Little Boy. Compare the sizes of the bombs to their capabilities of destruction.

  • Choose a Manhattan Project scientist to research from the list on the website.
  • Have a classroom discussion or write essays on the following topics from the PBS Superbomb website: Who should decide how much citizens should know about government actions? What are some potential consequences for a society if the citizens don't know all the facts?

NEXT—Go to: Questions and Answers on The Secret Project Notebook.



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