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Monday, March 2, 2015

Teaching Sensitive Content

I've been thinking about teaching sensitive content because our unit "Montana's Landless Indians and the Assimilation Era of Federal Indian Policy: A Case of Contradiction" is full of it. While editing this unit, I was genuinely shocked by the virulent racist language and attitudes expressed by Montana newspapers like the Anaconda Standard. And I should have known better. It's one thing to read about prejudice and discrimination, but it is another thing to read sentences like these:
  • "Thriving on filth, constantly moving from place to place, as a disseminator of disease he is a howling success." Anaconda Standard, June 7, 1901
  • "...the buffaloes, led on by instinct, would travel hundreds of miles, if need be, to the salt licks. In like manner are the Crees irresistibly attracted to the garbage dumps of Montana." Anaconda Standard, May 12, 1901
These statements are hateful, and their emotional impact makes them hard to read--and very likely hard to teach. But that is exactly why I think we need to ask students to wrestle with them.

This troubling history shaped Montana--and I believe that if we don't recognize it and face it head on, then we cannot understand how to move forward. As Terry Pratchett says, "If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.”

Age appropriateness is, of course, key. We say the Montana's Landless Indians lesson plan is for grades 7-12, but I wonder if it isn't actually more appropriate for high schoolers than for middle schoolers. I'd appreciate feedback--as well as any other feedback you might have if you choose to use this lesson in your classroom.

Looking for guidance on how to teach sensitive material and subjects? TPS-Barat recently posted these suggestions for selecting primary sources that deal with difficult issues.

The Wisconsin Historical Society also has some useful thoughts on dealing with racism, sexism, and offensive language in its article "Sensitive Content: How Could They Say That?" posted on its American Journeys website. The site contains over "18,000 pages of eyewitness accounts of North American exploration, from the sagas of Vikings in Canada in AD1000 to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later," and you can bet some of those pages contain offensive stereotypes, depict violence, or express racist and sexist views.

I'm curious.  Do you steer away from difficult subject matter in your classroom? How do you decide what to--and what not to--teach? When you do incorporate difficult subject matter, how do you approach it? What suggestions--or cautions--would you like to pass on? I'll compile any responses in a future blog post.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nominations for the Centennial Bell Award (for best 4th-6th grade teacher of Montana History) Due March 25, 2015

Do you know a great fourth, fifth, or sixth grade teacher who has done an exemplary job teaching Montana history during the 2014-15 school year? Please nominate him or her for the 26th Montana Statehood Centennial Bell Award.

To nominate a 4th-6th grade Montana history teacher, email Norma Ashby at ashby7@q.com. Please include the following information.
  • Your name:
  • Your email:
  • Nominee’s name:
  • Nominee’s email:
  • Grade level:
  • School name:
  • School address:
  • School phone number
  • Principal’s name:
  • Principal’s email:

Nominations are due by March 25, 2015.

Nominated teachers will be asked to submit two letters of support (one from a student, the other from their principal, superintendent, other administrator, or fellow teacher) and a one-to-two page statement detailing the following:
  1. Why they enjoy teaching Montana history
  2. How they engage their students in learning
  3. How their Montana history course recognizes Montana’s cultural diversity
  4. Anything else they’d like to share about their class or methods.

Nominees will receive more instructions on how to submit this material after March 25. They will have until May 4 to submit their material.

The Winner of the Centennial Statehood Bell Award and his or her class will be honored at a ceremony in the state capitol on November 6, 2015. The winner will receive a plaque, and $2,500 toward library and   classroom materials, field trips, speakers and anything else that will enhance learning in the classroom. A portion may also be used for bus mileage.

This program is sponsored by the Montana Television Network, the Montana History Foundation, and the Sons & Daughters of Montana Pioneers in cooperation with the Montana Historical Society. The Award is given in odd numbered years to a 4th-6th grade Montana history teacher and in even numbered years to a 7th-12th grade Montana history teacher.

Please contact Norma Ashby with any questions about the award or the nomination process: 406-453-7078 or ashby7@q.com, and thank you for your help in honoring the very best teachers of Montana history in the state.

P.S. There's still a little time to apply to become an NEH Summer Scholar and attend the Richest Hills or one of the myriad of other fantastic workshops being offered for teachers around the country. But not much. The deadline to apply is March 2.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Teaching Students to Ask Questions

TPS-Barat, Primary Sources Nexus Teacher Resources Blog just posted on another useful tool for helping students engage with primary sources: Question Cubes. They explain:
If your students need help with asking questions when analyzing primary sources, bring out the question cubes. You can make them from paper or cleaned-out school milk cartons. Each student or student group should get two cubes [one with the words "who, what, when, where, how" and the other with "is/are, would/could, should, might/will, was/were"] ... and roll both to help get those questions flowing.
Templates for the cubes are provided here.

One of the reasons I like the idea of Question Cubes is because I think asking questions--especially good questions--is a lot harder than we tend to think. It is also a critical skill in learning and life.

The article "Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions" in the Harvard Education Letter outlines a technique to do just that, developed by The Right Question Institute. It is called the Question Formulation Technique.

According to the article,
The QFT has six key steps:
Step 1: Teachers Design a Question Focus. The Question Focus, or QFocus, is a prompt that can be presented in the form of a statement or a visual or aural aid to ... stimulate the formation of questions. The QFocus is different from many traditional prompts because it is not a teacher’s question. It serves, instead, as the focus for student questions.... For example, after studying the causes of the 1804 Haitian revolution, one teacher presented this QFocus: “Once we were slaves. Now we are free.” The students began asking questions about what changed and what stayed the same after the revolution.
Step 2: Students Produce Questions. Students use a set of rules that provide a clear protocol for producing questions without assistance from the teacher. The four rules are: ask as many questions as you can; do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any of the questions; write down every question exactly as it was stated; and change any statements into questions. ...
Step 3: Students Improve Their Questions. Students then improve their questions by analyzing the differences between open- and closed-ended questions and by practicing changing one type to the other. ...
Step 4: Students Prioritize Their Questions. The teacher, with the lesson plan in mind, offers criteria or guidelines for the selection of priority questions. In an introduction to a unit, the instruction may be, “Choose the three questions you most want to explore further.” When designing a science experiment, it may be, “Choose three testable questions.” ... During this phase, students ... zero in on the locus of their inquiry, and plan concrete action steps for getting information they need to complete the lesson or task.
Step 5: Students and Teachers Decide on Next Steps. At this stage, students and teachers work together to decide how to use the questions. One teacher, for example, presented all the groups’ priority questions to the entire class the next day during a “Do Now” exercise and asked them to rank their top three questions. Eventually, the class and the teacher agreed on this question for their Socratic Seminar discussion: “How do poverty and injustice lead to violence in A Tale of Two Cities?”
Step 6: Students Reflect on What They Have Learned. The teacher reviews the steps and provides students with an opportunity to review what they have learned by producing, improving, and prioritizing their questions. Making the QFT completely transparent helps students ... internalize the process and then apply it in many other settings.(From Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions)
 The entire article is worth reading, including the "Sidebar" that outlines the protocol. You can find out more about the Question Formulation Technique from The Right Question's website. To access some of their information, you have to register--but it is free and painless and well worth the time.

Looking for more about questions? Here's a post I wrote awhile back on different types of questions (Essential Questions and Research Questions.)


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Innovative Lesson Ideas: Indian Boarding Schools and Football and Lobbying for a State Soil

Kristen Stigler at Longfellow School in Bozeman has a couple of cool projects going with her fourth graders.

Indian Boarding Schools and Football

As part of their study of Indian boarding schools (and in connection with reading Dr. Joe Medicin Crow's memoir, County Coup), her students listened a story on the recent Radiolab Podcast about football at Carlisle Indian School. Radiolab's website includes images of the Carlisle team as well as photos of Carlisle students on their arrival and after they received haircuts and suits. Students also searched digitized newspapers on Chronicling America to search for mentions of Carlisle football. After researching Carlisle football, they created their own historic newspaper headlines (mastheads and all) to report on the different Carlisle games. (Nifty technology for this is the Newspaper Clipping Generator.)

According to Kristen, this activity could work for intermediate or upper grades. She wrote, "it was just on the edge of being too hard, but my kids were so engaged that I went for it."

To expand on Kristen's lesson: It is not appropriate for elementary students, but high school teachers might want to adapt this lesson and have their students read "On Trial: The Washington R*dskins’ Wily Mascot—Coach William 'Lone Star' Dietz" by Linda M. Waggoner, published in Spring 2013 issue of Montana The Magazine of Western History.

Lobbying for a State Soil

Kristen's kids are also engaged in working to getting SB 176 through the legislative branch. She writes, "we are asking the state to name the Scobey Soils as our new state symbol. Twenty-one other states have an official state soil, and our state is the only one with an agriculture-based economy that does not have an official state soil. Agriculture accounts for $4.7 billion revenue for our state, much of that grown on Scobey Soil.

We have made it through the Senate (narrowly), and we're on to the House. Our students (along with experts, scientists, and more) testified at the hearing and were really impressive.

You can find out more about this project from their website MontanaSoil.weebly.com. Kristen writes, "we would appreciate any teachers who would be willing to have their students (or parent community) write to representatives to support SB 176. Also linked through our website are soil activities and information on the importance of soil to our environment."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Helping Elementary Students Work with Historic Newspapers: The Shake and Source Newspaper Game

Billings elementary Librarian Ruth Ferris recently had a guest post on TPS-Barat (Primary Source Nexus Teaching Resource Blog) in which she shared her Shake and Source Newspaper game, for use with historic newspapers digitized through Chronicling America.

She originally developed the Shake and Source while working on the lesson “Montana’s State Flower:  A Lesson in Civic Engagement,” which she created for us and which is posted on our Educator Resources page. Then she adapted the game for more general use.  The game helps students become familiar with the process of “sourcing” a document; develop vocabulary; and make inferences as they learn to analyze historic newspapers.

For more ideas from TPS-Barat on teaching with primary sources, visit their site--or see my favorites, featured in previous posts: "Techniques for Analyzing Primary Sources" and "Common Core and Images".

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nominate Someone for the Montana Heritage Keeper Award

Who are the Heritage Keepers in your community--the people who have worked tirelessly to preserve our shared history and culture? Consider nominating one of these special people for the 2015 Montana Historical Society Board of Trustees' Heritage Keeper Award. Details below.

The Montana Historical Society Board of Trustees is seeking nominations to honor those who have worked at local or statewide efforts making significant contributions to preserving the history and cultural heritage of Montana.

The Trustees' Heritage Keepers Awards will be presented at the 42nd Annual Montana History Conference that will be held this year in Bozeman Sept. 24-26. The awards can be for individuals or groups, and one award is given for the eastern half of the state and another for the western half.

“The important work of preserving Montana history begins at the local level,” MHS Trustee Janene Caywood  of Missoula said. “The people who care about, document and preserve their history are the backbone of the Montana Historical Society, It is the board’s honor to recognize this work, which contributes to understanding our history and cultural heritage.”

Nominations can be based on a variety of things from writing histories of local communities, to preserving and perpetuating traditional cultural practices, to preserving historic buildings and sites, to collection and preservation of artifacts, art, photos and archival material for the public.

Nominations must be received by March 15. and should include a short description of the work the nominee has accomplished, its impact on local and state history, a biographical sketch of the nominee, and supporting documentation such as newspaper clips, commendations, awards, and letters of support.

You can find the nomination form and instructions online here, Submit your nomination by email or by mail to Heritage Keepers Award, Montana Historical Society, PO Box 201201, Helena MT 59620-1201. For more information contact Susan Near at 406-444-4713 or snear@mt.gov.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Bozeman, Neihart, Fort Benton, and Great Falls Papers Added to Chronicling America

The Library of Congress surprised us by adding new Montana content to Chronicling America (a national project to digitize newspapers from 1836 to 1922) earlier than expected:

Brand new!
Cut Bank Pioneer Press, 1911-17
Dupuyer Acantha, 1894-1901
Ekalaka Eagle, 1909-16
Glasgow Courier, 1915-22
Madisonian, 1895-96 http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86091484/issues/

Added within two last months:
Bozeman Weekly Chronicle, 1887-88
Neihart Herald, 1891-1900
River Press (Fort Benton), 1905-14
Great Falls Daily Tribune, 1919-21 and 1921-22

Coming with the next update:
Fergus County Democrat, 1904-16
Wibaux Pioneer, 1907-14

These papers are in addition to material we've already placed on Chronicling America (including issues of the Anaconda Standard, the Missoulian, the Billings Gazette and the Yellowstone Monitor (Glendive) among many others. This map shows all digitized Montana newspapers (those for the NDNP project as well as others produced for Montana Memory Project), with links to their respective locations online. 

Want to know more about Chronicling America and ways to use it in the classroom? These earlier posts are good starting points: Chronicling America, Read All About It and Searching Chronicling America.

EdSITEment, the National Endowment for the Humanities' site for educators, also has great resources for using Chronicling America, including tutorials and lesson plans.