Thursday, October 6, 2011

My (Current) Top 5

After sharing all of the responses we received from classroom teachers re favorite resources/lesson plans, I couldn’t resist adding my two cents. For what it’s worth, here is a list of my current favorite resources/lessons the Montana Historical Society has online (always subject to change, of course).

The powerpoint/lesson plan "Railroads Transform Montana" emphasizes how trains affected the social, economic, and physical landscape of Montana. This complements Chapter 9 of Montana: Stories of the Land, but can also stand alone.

Mapping Montana, A to Z, Lesson Plan. Using the state highway map, the students map a route across the state, use the city index to locate specific places and the map key to determine distance, town size, road type, and more. Then, using Montana Place Names, Alzada to Zortman (available both in book form and online) they’ll learn more about the places along their route.

"Mining Sacred Ground: Environment, Culture, and Economic Development on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation" is a learning activity designed to familiarize students with an important and contentious issue now facing Montana's native peoples: whether or not to develop their reservations’ coal and coal-bed methane resources. The lesson challenges students to better appreciate the complexities of promoting resource-based economic development when such action conflicts with traditional cultural values.

I’ve always been a fan of the Learning from Historical Documents lessons that accompany most of the textbook chapters. (We chose a few primary source documents to complement almost every chapter of the textbook; we then posted copies of the original documents, typed excerpts for easy reading, and added a paragraph of context and a link to a document analysis worksheet.) My favorite of all the documents we posted is the letter from Chief Victor to Territorial Governor Sidney Edgerton (chapter 7).

Once more to the textbook: Montana: Stories of the Land’s end-of-chapter review pages are rich with ideas for discussion and engaging projects. The answer keys (which I suspect are an underutilized source) don’t provide grading rubrics—instead they provide the background information you need to be able to lead a discussion on some of the more complicated topics (Indian Reorganization Act, anyone?), ideas for implementing projects, and links to resources.  My idiosyncratic favorite is Chapter 22 Critical Thinking Question #5: Create a list of the five things you think have had the greatest impact on life in Montana throughout human history. Explain your choices.

I like the question because, after immersing yourself in the details of Montana’s rich history,  it makes you step back and ask yourself—what are the big ideas/big events that shaped this place? I also like it because there is no one right answer. The question can be used as a culminating project/lesson even if your Montana class doesn’t cover the entire range of Montana history (students will simply pick events from the eras they studied). Students could make timelines (individually or as a class) focusing on the events they choose, write paragraphs defending their choices, debate the merits of their choices, or hold a vote to determine a class Top 5 list from the events on students’ individual lists.

We’ve heard a lot of great things about the Place Names lesson from teachers—but much less about my other favorites. If you’ve taught/teach any of these, I’d love to hear from you. Would you use them again? How, if at all, we can make these (or any of our) lessons better? It’s one thing to have favorites from the vantage of my desk in the historical society, but the real test is whether they work in the classroom—and only you can tell us that.

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