• View of the Golden Gate Bridge, taken from the Marin Headlands, looking across the bay back towards San Francisco, seen in the distance.

    Golden Gate

    National Recreation Area California

Unlocking Alcatraz

Grades 9-12

Teachers must attend the Teacher Workshop on January 25, 2014.

Boat tickets to Alcatraz Island are provided for your class at no charge.

Unlocking Alcatraz introduces students to Alcatraz Island - a controversial site that has witnessed the ongoing struggles to define justice and freedom - its limits and applications - for individuals, cultures, and society. Using Alcatraz Island as a departure point, students can conduct research with primary and secondary sources that unveil contrasting views on rights of political prisoners, the American Indian Occupation of 1969-1971, and changing opinions on human rights and rehabilitation. Students determine how Alcatraz has reflected society's view of rights and freedom - who is entitled, who is denied, and why.

Unlocking Alcatraz uses the Understanding by Design framework, and aligns with standards for Literacy in Historical/Social Studies and Common Core Standards. Please click here for Understanding by Design grid for the American Indian Occupation on Alcatraz. Please click here for the Political Prisoners on Alcatraz.


Program Description

Unlocking Alcatraz is framed by the Essential Question – "Does our democracy support activism or does activism support our democracy?"

Unlocking Alcatraz is structured in three parts:

  • Classroom preparation – lessons delivered by the teacher with resources provided by the park
  • Field session – the island experience in which students and park staff explore the island and discuss issues related to the topic
  • Classroom assessment – opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have learned
The compelling major stories Unlocking Alcatraz will address for the 2013-2014 school year are:


Alison Taggart-Barone/NPS

Prisoners and Politics on the Rock

What is the role of exile in controlling political debate? Alcatraz housed political prisoners such as Phillip Grosser, anarchist and anti-militarist opposed to World War I, and Morton Sobell sent in the 1950s on conspiracy charges stemming from the Rosenberg spy trial. Robert Lipscomb, an African American incarcerated on criminal charges and later sent to Alcatraz for being an agitator, tirelessly challenged federal rules of segregation within the prison walls. What are the limits of dissent?

Ilka Hartmann

American Indian Occupation

What is the meaning of freedom? The American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz is widely seen as one of the major political events in the struggle for Native American rights and recognition. This act of political protest places San Francisco at the heart of the national narrative on the civil rights movements of the last half century. How does gender and identify influence the memory and telling of political events? What parallels can students draw on today's occupations? What are students' definitions of civil disobedience? When is it justified?

Did You Know?

Photo of gull chicks breaking our of an egg in a nest.

After incubation lasting four weeks, a gull chick breaks out of its egg without assistance from its parents. At hatching, the chick is fully covered with down and is soon able to open its eyes and stand up to walk about the nest.