Sunday, November 29, 2015

Teaching with Historic Places:Where Preservation and Education Meet

Guest Blogger: Stacy Rieke

(Stacy Rieke is an experienced high school teacher in Henry County Public Schools and currently teaches AP U.S. Government and Economics.  She is also a graduate student in the Heritage Preservation Program at Georgia State University in Atlanta.)

The Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) program is a project of the National Register Office of the National Park Service (NPS).  The program uses lesson plans and teaching materials related to places listed on the National Register of Historic Places to assist teachers in meeting content standards in Social Studies and other curriculum areas.  The program was conceived in the 1980s when the National Register Office and the National Trust for Historic Preservation both wanted to expand their educational outreach.  The program was officially launched in 1991.  Materials offered by the program on its website are created by NPS staff, teachers, historians, preservationists and curriculum specialists.   Collaboration with individuals from the National Archives, Smithsonian Institution, National Trust, National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), NPS regional and support offices, national parks, historical societies, universities, and numerous schools and school districts ensure the TwHP materials meet current curriculum standards and promote the use of primary source materials in the classroom.

One main objective of historic preservation efforts is to engage the wider community in understanding and embracing the need for and benefit of preservation activities.  The introductory video for the TwHP program explains the benefits of using historic places as primary sources to improve both teaching and learning.  It also describes lesson plans developed by the TwHP program and shares experiences of educators who use the program.)  In many instances, there can be a gap, real or perceived, between historic site experts who wish tailor their tours and site materials to those content standards which would make their tours more meaningful to teachers and students and teachers who are looking for quality primary source material to address their content needs.  The TwHP program seeks to bridge this gap.

One great TwHP lesson is “Castolon: A Meeting of Two Cultures”.  This lesson compares the Spanish and Anglo influences on settlements along the Texas-Mexico border region of the Rio Grande River focusing on the area that is now the Big Bend National Park (est. 1944). The lesson plan index for the TwHP is searchable in several different ways including by location or state, theme, time period, skill, primary sources, National Standards for History and Curriculum Standards for Social Studies.

The lesson is structured in five sections: the inquiry question, map analysis, reading analysis, image analysis and concluding activities.  The inquiry question in this lesson focuses student attention on a photograph of distant rock outcroppings, squat buildings, scrub trees and windmills asking, “Where might this photo have been taken?” and “What is the building in the foreground made of?”  These questions begin to engage the student in an exploration of place, bringing into focus the student’s understanding of what “sense of place” means.  

The map analysis section includes two maps, one of Texas and one of the area, including Castolon, that is now the Big Bend National Park.  Map questions include, “Why do you think the area was named Big Bend?” and “Many of the streams in this area run only intermittently. What does that you tell about the local climate?”  Exploring maps provides students with the opportunity to practice important social studies skills while further connecting them to the site itself.

The reading section includes two secondary sources produced by Clifford Casey in 1967 (“Settling the Big Bend” and “A Frontier Border Trading Post”) and two primary sources from 1919 and 1920 (“Captain Lafferty’s Report of 12 November 1919” and “Colonel Hornbrook’s Recruiting Announcement of February, 1920”)  The questions associated with each reading are a mix of “find it in the text” and higher level questions that require students to analyze the texts in order to construct interpretations and responses based on the texts. The readings provide students with the opportunity to imagine themselves on the Texas-Mexico border during the time period, including the opportunity to think about what something as seemingly mundane as recreation time might have been like for people living in that area at that time.

The image analysis section requires students to use their compare/contrast skills and context clues, along with their own prior knowledge, to link information from the images to experiences in their ever day lives.  The images range from the inside of a general store, to an abandoned cotton gin to desert vistas and ask students to think about building use and building materials in this period and in this place and how that might be illustrative of broader concepts of technology and exchange.

Finally, the activities section in this lesson provides teachers with three wrap-up options: an essay, a cross-curricular activity incorporating both Spanish and English vocabulary words and a local community research project.  All three options provide students with the opportunity to process the information they analyzed through looking at the maps and images and reading the texts. 

The lesson can be used with either middle or high school students and it provides a variety of instructional techniques that can be used to move students toward a stronger understanding of this period of time, including settlement patterns and the development of the economy and culture of southwestern United States.  Teachers can use the lesson as is, or adapt it and use it as a spring board for students to delve deeper into the concepts of encounter, exchange, borders and technology.  By providing teachers with tools like those found on the TwHP website, preservation professionals promote the importance of preserving historic places in a very practical and impactful way for students and teachers alike.  By using these materials, teachers provide students with unique opportunities to visit historic sites both far away and close to home and to “do history” like a historian.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bringing Antebellum Reformers to Life

By Jeff Burns

The antebellum period was a tumultuous time in American History, and there were a lot of reformers and reform movements seeking to cure various societal ills.  Movements to end slavery and alcoholism coexisted with movements to improve the conditions of women, inmates, and the mentally ill.  New religious denominations spread across the country, and utopians tried to build perfect societies.  There are a lot of people that students need to know.

This period is a perfect period for speed dating, an activity I picked up from the AP U.S. History Teachers Facebook Group.  I have no idea of the origin, but it is a fun way to cover a lot of people quickly.  Each student chose a reformer from a list.  The list can be customized based on local or state standards, textbooks, teaching preferences, etc.

They then have a couple of days to research their character. I have them prepare a one page biography sheet and an “I am” poem in the voice of the character.  On the biography sheet, they answer these questions:
  • What criticism of American society did the individual have?
  • What methods did the person use to improve American life?
  • What success did the individual have in promoting reform?
  • What detail(s) of the person’s work made him or her an interesting historical figure?
  • To what extent was the reformer obsessed with achieving an impractical goal through fanatical or impractical means?
  • What lasting impact did the person’s reforms have on American society? 
They may also wear costumes or bring props that relate to their character for extra credit. 

On the appointed day, the desks are set up in pairs and one side of the pair moves every 2-3 minutes, to rotate around the room.  In that two to three minutes, each one of the pair shares important highlights about his or her character and takes notes.  

The next day we debriefed in small groups.  I had 6 stations set up around the room with big pieces of paper and markers.  One paper had the question “What did the Reformers have in common with each other?”  One said “How were the reformers different from the rest of Americans?”  The other 4 papers had straight lines, the small groups had to discuss and place their partial list of reformers on each spectrum.  Among the spectrum topics were:

Most Successful/Least Successful
Most Crazy (Unconventional)/Least Crazy(Unconventional)
Most Dedicated/Least Dedicated
Overly Idealistic/Practical & Pragmatic
Greatest Legacy/Least Legacy

The small groups rotated around the room addressing each question and contributing to each page.  Then we had a whole group discussion about their work and why they thought the way we did.

In the end, the students had actively engaged in learning about the reformers and the antebellum period. I do speed dating a few times a year now, as it can be easily adopted to almost any period when there are a lot of people. However, it doesn’t have to be just people.  Students can also speed date as ideas, books/documents, states, countries, etc. 

If you want to see the student instructions and list of reformers that I used, go here and look for “Reformers Speed Dating.” There are numerous “I Am” poem templates online; you can easily find one that suits your needs.