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.

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