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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.
 

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