A Note on Links: When reading back posts, please be aware that links have a short half-life. You can find working links to all of the MHS resources on our Educator Resources Page.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Teaching Hard History

As longtime readers know, I've been working on creating a fourth grade Montana history curriculum. The first units, Montana Today: A Geographical Study and Montana's First Peoples are done and ready to use.

The next units will focus on the push-pull factors that brought newcomers to Montana, their lives once they arrive, and the consequences of Euro-American settlement and federal Indian policy for the people who were already here.

As I've been writing, I've been thinking a lot about how to introduce difficult and emotional topics like tribal land loss and the boarding school experience in a way that's appropriate for fourth graders.

I don't want the white kids to feel guilty, a counterproductive and useless emotion. And I don't want Indian students to feel disempowered. At the same time, I believe, in the words of Teaching Tolerance, that "our youngest students deserve a truthful, age-appropriate account of our past."

How do you deal with difficult topics and the emotions that they may bring up in your classrooms? What would help you do this better? 

I've been scouring the internet and, in addition to the Essential Understandings Regarding Montana Indians, the best thing I've found so far on this topic is Teaching Tolerance's “Teaching Hard History: A Framework for Teaching American Slavery.”  (If you have other things you think I should read, please send along your suggestions!)

I’ve excerpted and modified some of their suggestions below, mostly, but not exclusively, by substituting “federal Indian policy” for “slavery.” I've also added a few thoughts of my own. Let me know what you think of this as a framework. Is it useful?

1. Prepare yourself for difficult conversations. Remind students that no one chooses their parents. No one is responsible for the actions of their ancestors. What’s important is how we choose to act now.

2. “Be ready to talk about race” and colonialism. “You can’t reasonably discuss [federal Indian policy] without talking about race, racism, white supremacy,” and imperialism—"something that makes many teachers, particularly white teachers, uncomfortable.” (How can we become more comfortable with this?)

3. Students can be proud of their ancestors while recognizing the hardships they faced and/or the advantages they had.

4. “Teach about commonalities” first, and “center the stories” of native people. “One common mistake is to begin by discussing the evils” of federal Indian policy. “Doing so subtly communicates that [indigenous people] lacked agency and culture. Instead, start by learning about the diversity [of tribal nations], including their intellectual and cultural traditions.”

5. “Embed civics education. When students learn about the history of [American Indian policy], they have ample opportunities to explore the many dimensions of civics. First, students should consider the nature of power and authority. They should describe what it means to have power and identify ways that people use power to help, harm and influence situations. Beginning with examples from their classroom, families and communities, students can examine how power is gained, used and justified.” (This one seems hard to me--how do you do this in your classroom?)

6. “Teach about conflict and change." The history of Federal Indian policy “is a story of terrible oppression; at the same time, it is also a story of incredible resistance and resilience.” Teachers should show students ways that indigenous people resisted, such as preserving cultural traditions and native languages, and bringing home the new skills they learned at boarding schools to help their people.

7. Help students recognize that indigenous people worked to maintain their cultures while building new traditions that continue to be important. Through all the change, Montana’s indigenous people kept their culture and traditions alive through story-telling, art, religious ceremonies, and music.

8. Make explicit the connection between racism and the treatment of American Indians. “Differences, whether real or perceived, can make some people feel that it is okay to treat others badly, to exploit other people and to believe that some people are better than others.” Those who stood to profit from Indian land loss “adopted and spread false beliefs about racial inferiority, including many that still impact us today.”

9. Not every white person wanted to oppress American Indians. Some joined groups that tried to convince people in power to help Indians. Sometimes what these groups thought was helpful actually caused harm. Other times they did help. For example, Charles M. Russell and Frank Linderman worked with tribal leaders like Little Bear and Rocky Boy to lobby for the creation of Rocky Boy’s Reservation.

10. Bring the conversation forward, “encouraging discussion of circumstances that students and their families face. Students should study examples and role models from the past and present, and ask themselves: ‘How can I make a difference?’”

Adapted with permission of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.tolerance.org/frameworks/teaching-hard-history/american-slavery [tolerance.org/]

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Montana's First Peoples

After a year of hard work, we've finally posted the second unit of our fourth grade curriculum!

Montana's First Peoples is organized around the following Essential Understandings:
  • There is great diversity among Montana's tribal Nations. (EU 1)
  • There is great diversity among individual American Indians. (EU 2)
  • Native peoples have lived in Montana for thousands of years. Their history predates the “discovery” of North America. Native traditional beliefs persist today. (EU 3)
  • Even before Europeans arrived in the area we now know as Montana, Montana Indian Nations were feeling the impacts of colonization. (EU 5)
The unit is cross curricular (incorporating ELA, Art, and Math) and its lessons give students the opportunity to practice standards-based skills, including creating and using a timeline, reading informational text, writing to clarify thought, speaking and listening, and analyzing maps.

The unit can be used independently, but it is designed to follow Unit 1: Montana Today: A Geographical Study.

Special thanks to Mike Jetty in the Indian Education Division of the Office of Public Instruction, who offered valuable comments and alerted me to several resources we ultimately included in the unit, and to Pray teacher Shannon Baukol, who tested the unit and whose suggestions made it substantially better!


I hope you'll check the unit out--and once you do--let me know what you think (positive or negative--I'm still taking feedback.)

Thursday, January 2, 2020

A gift for you for the new year

I hope you had a restorative winter break.

To make your transition back to the classroom a little easier, I decided to spend a little time organizing our resources by taking our most popular lesson plans and categorizing them by their suitability for the elementary, middle, and high school classroom.

Because we have an abundance of resources available to educators, our website can be a little intimidating and hard to navigate--especially when you are busy, which all teachers always are. Hopefully, these new categories will make your life a little easier. And of course I hope you know that you can ALWAYS email me for help finding what you need--I love hearing from you.

If I missed your favorite lesson, or mis-categorized something, by all means, let me know. You can also find all of our lesson plans and resources, organized as they've always been, on our main Resources for Educators page.


Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Little Shell Recognition: It's been a long time coming

You've probably already heard the big news: the Little Shell tribe has finally received federal recognition! It's a momentous occurrence that has been a long time coming--125 years! As such it deserves discussion and provides a great teachable moment.

Government teachers

In addition to providing an opportunity to discuss federal recognition and what it means to tribes, it's also a great opportunity to feature bipartisanship--something all too rare in today's world.  Finally, it's an opportunity to learn about federal riders and the weird way things sometimes get done in D.C. One interesting exercise is to examine the bill itself. First, have students read the summary. Can they find information on the Little Shell? Next have them browse the Defense Appropriations Bill to find mention of the Little Shell. (It's hard to find. They'll ultimately need to do an electronic search.) Ask your students: What category is the recognition under ("Military Construction and General Provisions"). The rider is Subtitle F. What's in Subtitle E?

Other teachers

Consider showing the 2:49 minute video "Indian Nations: Little Shell Chippewa" created by the Montana Office of Tourism and check out the resources I highlighted in this earlier post on the Métis, which includes links to material to use grades 3-12.


In Canada, the Métis are recognized as aboriginal peoples, along with the First Nations and the Inuit. In the U.S. there is no such recognition. Many Little Shell also identify as Métis. Others identify strictly as Chippewa. To understand the Little Shell's connection to the Métis, see the tribe's official website, Nicholas Vrooman's article, "The Persistence of the Little Shell People," in Distinctly Montana, and his longer and more detailed explanation in the Study Guide and Timeline OPI published to accompany 'The Whole County Was ... One Robe': The Little Shell Tribe's America, particularly the introduction to " 'One Robe' Detailed Synopsis."

Thursday, December 26, 2019

These are a few of my favorite things....

I hope you are having a wonderful break. Perhaps you are spending it skiing or curled up by the wood stove reading the new novel you received from your favorite cousin. If so, wonderful! Refresh yourself. But, if your mind is turning back to school, this post is for you.

Every spring I ask readers to let me know their favorite lesson plans, and every fall, I report back in posts on elementary, middle, and high school teachers' favorites. Now, however, I thought I'd be a little self-indulgent and tell you about some of my favorites. I'm limiting myself to lessons that only take 1-3 class periods instead of longer lessons (though I do love our more in-depth studies, especially those that require authentic research, like "Women and Sports: Tracking Change over Time.") Here's hoping that you find these lessons as appealing as I do--and that your students love them too (and learn lots from them.)

Elementary teachers: "Who Are the Métis?" is a PowerPoint that provides a quick introduction this an important Montana cultural group with roots in the fur trade.

Middle School ELA teachers: Montana and the "Great War" Lesson Plan is a great extension for anyone teaching Hattie Big Sky. After exploring the Story Maps to learn more about individuals' experiences during World War I, students will write a piece of historical fiction (a letter or journal entry) from the perspective of a Montanan--on the home front or serving in the armed forces--during the period.

Middle or high school Montana or US history teachers: It isn't a lesson plan, but it's a great activity. Help your students understand daily life during whatever period you are teaching by having them dive into the digitized newspapers to shop the ads or discover what people did for fun. (If you teach American history, you can find national newspapers here.)

High school US history and government teachers: Montana Women's Legal History Lesson Plan is an engaging way to have students think about the impact laws have on the lives of ordinary people and why laws change.

And here's a lesson that works across many grades: the Women at Work Lesson Plan: Clothesline Timeline encourages students to analyze historic photographs to draw conclusions about women and work from the 1870s through the 2010s.





Thursday, December 19, 2019

What are the local effects of climate change?

I've shared about resources relating to Montana and climate change in the past. Lately several new articles have come across my screen on the subject, so I thought I'd share them with you.
Living with fire has always been part of the Montana experience and will become even more of an issue with climate change. Here are two articles on the topic:
I think it is important not just to look at the effects of climate change, but also to look at potential policy responses. (We don't want to make kids feel hopeless.) Here's one debate that's happening now:

 P.S. Wishing everyone a restorative and joyful holiday break.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

I've found a new social studies blogger whom I love! Jill Weber, who writes "A View of the Web," is a Kansas social studies teacher who taught middle school for thirteen years before this year switching to high school.

She is also an incredibly generous and thoughtful blogger, who somehow--between raising her own family and teaching--finds time to share ideas and strategies that have worked in her classroom.

Here is a sampling of posts:

Fake News of the Past: Historical Skills in Action. When her seventh graders seemed to be forgetting how (and why) to source documents, Jill came up with this review. (It involves a focus question ("which is more accurate: primary or secondary sources?"), analyzing documents in small groups, comparing group results with a very clever rotation, and full class discussion during which the students learn (drumroll, please) that the focus question was a trick question. They need to look critically at ALL sources.

Cutthroat History: Using Reality TV to Create Engaging Activities details how she used the concept of Cutthroat Kitchen to create an activity that had her seventh grade students creatively completing this task: "describe Shays Rebellion and its significance." It looked impossibly silly and wild--but a lot of fun and involved real learning--and adaptable to other topics.

Document Yelp Review asked high school juniors to rate (Yelp style) how persuasive a series of primary sources were (in this case, on temperance). As Jill explained, the activity "provided a different way for students to use their analysis of primary sources. Sometimes when we're working with documents daily, it can get to be the 'same old thing' and this activity allowed for team discussion, analysis, and a quick justification of their reasoning along with a connection to their world by calling it a "Yelp Review".

Polish It Up Day, Take 2 explains how and why Jill allows students to revise and resubmit assignments on the unit review day (but doesn't allow extra credit).


There's more over at Jill's blog! I suggest you check it out.