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, August 30, 2012

Doing Local History

I recently received an email from a high school teacher who wanted to add more local history to her Montana history class. It is a great idea. By having her students study local history she will give them the chance to
  • become the expert (they’ll know more about their topic than almost everyone else)
  • Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources (Common Core RH.9-10.9.)
  • make judgments about the reliability of sources (RH.9-10.6.)
  • learn what historians really do (use detailed evidence to gain insight into the past, RH 11-12.1).
  • create authentic work for a real audience. (Give your students an opportunity to share their work with the community, raising the stakes and improving the end product).
(As you can probably tell, I’ve been digging into the new Common Core standards—for those of you who like this sort of thing, I’ll also add that local history research also provides the opportunity to "conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation" (WHST.11-12.7).)
Besides which—these projects are just plain fun, for both students and teachers!
The teacher who contacted me asked for tips and resources, and I thought it would be worth sharing some of what I pulled together for her with you. (Note that some of this has already appeared on the listserv. If you are an old-timer, forgive the repetition.)
Work with your local museum.
English and History teachers in Malta paired up with each other and their local museum to have students conduct research into previously untold local stories. They presented the student papers to the museum for its archives and published their findings on the internet. More here. 
Research the homesteading history of your area.
It’s the 150th anniversary of the homesteading act this year—so what better time? Our teacher workshop at the Montana History Conference (September 20-22) will offer a hands-on introduction to resources for doing this type of research. (And there’s still time to apply for a travel scholarship.) Application deadline for a travel scholarship is September 3.
Apply to participate in our 2012-2013 Big Read.
We’ve received a "Big Read" grant to promote My Antonia, the classic homesteading novel, by working with 5 rural schools (Class A, B, and C). This would be a great jumping off point for a local history unit on homesteading. More information here. Application deadline is September 28.
Check out the Educator Resources for Chapter 14 of the Montana: Stories of the Land textbook, "Towns Have Lives Too".
There are lots of links to information on conducting community history research.
Work with your local conservation district to capture the stories of farm women in your area.
Several local conservation districts are launching an oral history project called "From the Ground Up: Montana Women in Agriculture" to "pay tribute to farm and ranch women by preserving their stories of life on the land." Contact Linda Brander for more information.
Involve your students in National History Day.
This program encourages students to conduct original research while insisting that they think analytically about what they find by requiring them to tie their research to an annual theme. This year’s theme is "Turning Points in History." The contest element adds excitement. This year, Montana will have regional contests in Billings and Missoula and a state contest in Billings. The winners of the state contest have the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. For more information, contact state director Tom Rust: 406-657-2903 or trust@msubillings.edu.
Want to learn more about the power of place-based education? (Or need information to get your administrator on board?) Lots of good research is here. 
I’m giving a presentation at MEA this October on Museum-School partnerships, building on a talk I gave at the Museums Association of Montana last spring on the same subject. Have you been involved in a successful partnership? Drop me a line. I’d love to add your project to the list: mkohl@mt.gov.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Welcome Back!

Hard to believe it is time to start another school year.

For my first official post of the new season, I decided to start with some reminders:

All posts to this blog were originally published on the Montana History and Heritage Education listserv. To subscribe, either "follow the blog" or ask to join the listserv: http://mhs.mt.gov/about/follow.aspx.

Looking for an past post? All posts are “labeled” by category to make it easier to find past posts on particular topics ( i.e., archaeology, teaching with primary sources, National History Day, etc.) 

Links to all lesson plans created by the Montana Historical Society can either be found
You can take an online tour of our resources (and earn one OPI renewal unit for doing so) here: http://svcalt.mt.gov/education/Textbook/PDTraining/MSOLtraining.asp.
The Society worked with Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) to create an audio version of its textbook, Montana: Stories of the Land, for use by students with disabilities: http://www.learningally.org/.

Finally, a few days remain to apply for a Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation scholarship to attend the 39th Annual Montana History Conference in Helena September 20-22. This year, the conference focuses on homesteading, and it is going to be fabulous.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Big Read Is Coming to Montana

We’re excited! The Montana Historical Society has received funding to organize a “Big Read” for Willa Cather’s My Antonia in conjunction with Ellen Baumler’s Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan.

We are looking for five Montana high schools (and communities) to participate. You are eligible to apply if

  • you teach in a Class A, B or C Montana high school,
  • can find another teacher at your school with whom to partner,
  • are interested in combining the study of literature and history, and 
  • believe in having students engage in projects that connect them to their community.

Intrigued? Read on.

The Big Read—funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services—is designed to restore reading to the center of American culture and bring the transformative power of literature into the lives of all citizens. Learn more about The Big Read here.

The Montana Historical Society's Big Read program is designed to put students squarely at its center, giving them an essential role to play. Our experience with other place-based education initiatives has shown that students can engage adults and community members in ways others cannot. Thus, focusing on students has the potential of making this literary and cultural expedition more meaningful to the entire community. And—by giving the students an opportunity to play a significant and meaningful role in their town—it will empower and connect them back to older community members and to the community itself. Should you choose to participate in this program, your investment in the classroom will strengthen community connections and bring the power of literature alive—for both students and their elders.

For our 2012-13 Big Read, we will be pairing Willa Cather’s My Antonia with Ellen Baumler’s Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan. Programming will start next November and need to be concluded by May 31, 2013. Participating teachers will need to commit

  • to attending a training session in Helena in November
  • to teaching both My Antonia and Girl from the Gulches (we will provide copies of both books), and 
  • to having students engage in a project (or projects) that will encourage community members to read one or both books.

Interested? You can request an application for this program by emailing Kirby Lambert at klambert@mt.gov. Applications for this program are due September 28.

Want to know more? Below is the nitty-gritty.


  • Applications due September 28, 2012
  • Awards announced by October 5, 2012
  • Training seminar November 2012 (exact dates TBA)
  • Teachers will pick up materials when they’re at the November training seminar 
  • All projects must be completed and money spent before May 31, 2013

At least two teachers from each selected high school must commit to the project (ideally this will include a team comprised of an English teacher and a social studies teacher, but this is negotiable).

Participants must:

  • Agree to credit the Big Read and MHS as required.
  • Be interested in heritage education and using primary resources in the classroom.
  • Be willing to have their students read My Antonia and share it with the community in some way as described in the project narrative below.
  • Be willing to have their students read and complete projects related to Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan as described in the project narrative below.
  • Be willing to attend a training seminar in Helena (this will require an absence of two days from the classroom)
  • Promote interaction, via social media, between participating students in the different communities. 
  • Report required information—dates and locations of project events, attendance figures, etc—to MHS in a timely fashion.
  • Submit a short, final project report no later than May 31, 2013.


  • It will be fun and educational.
  • We will provide one copy of My Antonia to each participating student and instructor and classroom sets of Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan 
  • We will provide copies of My Antonia to share with your community.
  • We will send a Cather scholar to present a public program for your community
  • We will send MHS Interpretive Historian Ellen Baumler to instruct students on local history research and conduct public programs on Mary Ronan and related themes.
  • You will gain access to Big Read resources (curriculum resources, sample press releases, etc.) 
  • You will gain access to MHS resources relating heritage education 
  • Travel scholarships will cover or defray costs association with the training seminar.
  • We will provide training in teaching with primary sources and in heritage education techniques. 
  • You will be eligible for OPI renewal units and continuing education credits.

Project narrative (taken from the Big Read grant application):

The Montana Historical Society Library and Education programs (hereafter MHS) will introduce a new generation of Montanans to the joys of literature and the writing of Willa Cather by working 5 small, rural high schools around the state. We have completed two Big Read projects (THE GRAPES OF WRATH, 2008/2009 and the poems and stories of Edgar Allen Poe, 2009/2010); this project is designed to replicate the overwhelming success of these earlier efforts. We will reach out to high school students attending small schools in 5 underserved, rural and reservation communities to excite them about reading and, in turn, enlist their enthusiasm to encourage others in their communities to reengage with the written word. In a departure from earlier projects, we are also adding one urban high school (Sentinel in Missoula) to the mix to broaden perspectives and promote interaction, via social media, between participating students in the different communities. For all schools we will provide: (1) copies of MY ANTONIA; (2) copies of a correlated  publication, GIRL FROM THE GULCHES: THE STORY OF MARY RONAN; (3) copies of those two books for students to share with community members; (4) a visiting educator with extensive experience in teaching the works of Cather; (5) a visiting scholar who is highly regarded historian especially skilled in conveying the relevance of their own local history to high-school-age students; and (6) assistance and guidance with in-school programming and public outreach activities for those 6 schools and their communities. In total, there will be 37 programs across the state: a teacher training seminar in Helena—and at least 6 events in each of the 6 communities, including (1) a classroom unit on Willa Cather; (2) a classroom unit on GIRL FROM THE GULCHES; (3) a public presentation by Professor Alan Weltzien on Cather and her role in American literature; (4) a public presentation by historian Ellen Baumler on GIRL FROM THE GULCHES; (5) a public presentation of the students’ research efforts; and (6) one (or more) book discussion groups on Cather’s work.

Again--interested educators should email Kirby Lambert at Klambert@mt.gov.