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.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reader Responses: More on Timelines, National History Day, and Common Core

I love this blog because of the connections it has given me with amazing teachers across the state and I’m always excited when I get responses to a post.

I received three emails about the post on National History Day and Common Core standards. The first was from Lynde Roberts, whose daughter Abigail participated in National History Day last year as an 8th grader as part on her social studies classwork for Lewis and Clark Middle School in Billings. Abigail won the state competition  and represented Montana at the National History Day Competition in Washington D.C.  Lynde said she would be willing to talk to anyone who has questions about the experience.  “It was great and Abigail grew so much with her confidence and public speaking ability.  She was the winner of the Salute to Freedom award and we will be going to New Orleans in January to celebrate the opening of the WWII museum there.” Email mkohl@mt.gov for contact information.

The second was from Billings high school history teacher Bruce Wendt (and the 2012 Gilder Lehrman Montana state National History Teacher of the Year—Congratulations, Bruce!) He pointed out that social studies will soon have its own Common Core standards. Draft text is being unveiled at the National Council of Social Studies annual conference in Seattle, November 16-18. By the way, the program for that conference looks amazing. Just wishing I could attend.

Finally, Ruth Ferris wrote to let me know that the Library of Congress has unveiled a “massive common core resource center” and shared a link from Edudemic.com that describes the new resource in glowing terms.

 There was also great response to the timeline post. Thanks so much to all of you who took time to respond. Of the twenty-three people who completed the short survey, 18 said that they *would* like a Montana history timeline to hang on their classroom wall. But the teachers who emailed me directly put in strong plugs for student created timelines.  Two correspondents had additional timeline resources to recommend and one had a very interesting approach to teaching with timelines. Their comments are below.

Bryan Pechtl, Scobey Schools, wrote: “I think timelines are a great teaching tool, but I like having my students create them.  If something is just hanging on a wall, they will look at it, but they don't have any reason to really know or understand the material.  By creating the timelines in class, students get involved in deciding the most important events to include and defend why they picked those events.  It can be surprising to see why students pick something that I might not have chosen.  Students also benefit by gaining a deeper understanding of what they are studying because they are forced to research their topics in-depth.  Finally, students generally seem to have fun making them, and they can be a fun break from the routine that we all fall into from time to time.”

Billings high school teacher Bruce Wendt echoes the importance of having students create timelines: “To me this is the type of active history that the kids should do, not the teacher.  They learn by doing the activity, not passively looking at a series of dates and putting those on a worksheet.  I would encourage students to not only mark dates of events, but also significance and other higher order thinking skills.”

Julie Saylor at the Indian Education Division of the Office of Public Instruction pointed out that Montana Tribal Histories: Educators Resource Guide, which was donated to all public school libraries and is available online, includes some timeline activities (see Chapter 10, p. 160). In addition, the author, Julie Cajune, created tribal history timelines for each Montana reservation.

MSU education professor Mike Scarlett recommended another online timeline tool: “One website I share in class for making timelines is  http://www.tiki-toki.com.  It is free—at least the basic version is—and pretty easy to use.”

Missoula teacher Gary Stein talked about what he’s trying to teach when he teaches with timelines. He particularly focuses on the bias and perspective of the timeline maker, who gets to decide which events are included and which ones are left out. His full comment is here: “As a history teacher and citizen, I’m no longer shocked or surprised that many (most?) fellow citizens cannot sequence events in American history, much less put them on an accurate timeline. I think in part this is because many adults have rejected their schooldays history lessons for being irrelevant; after all, does knowing when the Constitution was ratified, or was Custer wiped out before or after the Nez Perce War, really matter in our daily lives? Probably not, and I say this as a person who believes that this information is critically  important in our lives. So, for over 20 years, while I’ve provided and helped students create timelines and chronologies, I have tried to focus on the value and application of the timeline. Why is it important to know when things happened? And who gets to make the timeline, and what is their bias, what does the “timeline maker” want people to know/learn? Simply, yes, I do use the timeline provided by mt.gov, as well as multiple timelines, (some of which I’ve created), to get students to focus on bias and perspective. In other words, what is left off a timeline is sometimes more important than what is included.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Common Core and National History Day

If you teach 6-12th grade ...

As you look to realign your curriculum to meet Common Core, I'd encourage you to take another look at National History Day.

What is National History Day? NHD is a project based curriculum that has students grade 6-12 investigate a historical topic related to the annual theme, by conducting primary and secondary research. After they have worked to analyzed and interpret your sources, and have drawn a conclusion about the significance of their topics, students will then be able to present their work in one of five ways: as a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary, or a web site.

You can use the NHD curriculum without having students participate in the NHD contests--but for many students the contest motivates them to do their best work. At the regional contests in Missoula (sometime in March or early April, Date to be announced) and Billings (March 30), and at the state contest in Billings in April, students may submit their work, where it will be judged by professional educators and historians. Winners at the state NHD contest, are eligible to attend the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park in June. This is where the best National History Day projects from across the United States, American Samoa, Guam, International Schools and Department of Defense Schools in Europe all meet and compete.

So, how does this relate to Common Core? The New Common Core standards emphasize teaching historical practice (for example, analyzing primary sources, comparing multiple sources, using evidence to support claims), reading informational texts (including both primary and secondary sources), conducting research, and presenting well-reasoned evidence-based arguments. And guess what? This is exactly what a well-run National History Day program will require of students. (Curious? Check out this link on how NHD curriculum aligns with the common core).

Want to know more? In Montana, NHD is spearheaded by MSU-Billings. Their website has many valuable resources for both teachers and students--including information on how to fit NHD into your curriculum, suggestions for topics related to world or national history, research assistance, and more.
Want to talk with someone before getting involved? Either Ben Nordlund or Tom Rust (406) 247-5785) would be happy to provide additional more information.

P.S. Every year National History Day frames students' research within a historical theme. Chosen for the broad application to world, national or state history, the theme helps students push past the antiquated view of history as mere facts and dates and drill down into historical content to develop perspective and understanding. This year's theme is "Turning Points: People, Ideas, Events." The Montana Historical Society has posted bibliographies relating to some of the major turning points in Montana history as a starting point for student research.  

Monday, October 22, 2012


I received a request last spring for a Montana history timeline to hang on the wall based on the timelines we print at the beginning of each chapter of MONTANA: STORIES OF THE LAND. I don't want to invest in this project unless I know it would be widely useful. We have many projects to choose from--so we want to make sure we invest our resources wisely by focusing on producing material that teachers actually want. So, I have a favor. Would you let me know if you think this is a worthwhile product by answering a quick, three question survey? Link to the survey is here.

I wonder if having your class create a timeline might be better than a preprinted one. On Teachinghistory.org, I found this link describing how one teacher uses her low-tech, class-constructed timeline.

High School teacher Joe Jelen, also writing on Teachinghistory.org, suggested having students create digital timelines and provides links to various programs. Joe links to a Free Technology Tools for Teachers post that reviews several different timeline programs, including Timeglider, which was highly recommended at a conference I recently attended as a FREE program in which to create your own timelines.

And just out of curiosity—does anyone ever have students refer to our online timeline?

Do you have any good tips to share on using or creating timelines?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Girl from the Gulches: A New Teaching Resource

I have long loved the book Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan, published by the Montana Historical Society Press and edited by my colleague Ellen Baumler.

Set in the second half of the nineteenth century, this highly readable 222-page reminiscence details Mary Sheehan Ronan’s journey across the Great Plains, her childhood on the Colorado and Montana mining frontiers, her ascent to young womanhood in Southern California, her return to Montana as a young bride, and her life on the Flathead Indian Reservation as the wife of an Indian agent.
We’ve seen parts of the book used successfully in upper elementary and high school classrooms and have long wanted to promote its use in schools. So we asked Missoula High School English teacher Cheryl Hughes and Billings elementary school librarian Ruth Ferris to help us create a study guide for the book.

They did amazing work. Designed for grades 6-10 (but adaptable to other grades), this study guide includes lesson plans, vocabulary, chapter summaries and questions, alignment to the Common Core, and other information to facilitate teaching Girl from the Gulches. We have posted it as a PDF on our website.

In addition, we’ve also posted a PDF of the first 71 pages of the reminiscence (in which Mary remembers the 1860s in Virginia City and Helena). You are welcome to download and duplicate it for classroom use. Copies of the entire book are available at local bookstores or through our museum store (1-800-243-9900).

I hope you enjoy Mary Ronan’s story as much as I have. If you do end up teaching the book and/or using lessons from the study guide in your classroom, drop me a line. I’d love to know how it went.

Happy reading.

Friday, October 12, 2012

More on Columbus

Ginny Weeks from Blackfoot Community College was kind enough to respond with her own recommendation for teaching about Columbus. She writes, "Morning Girl by Michael Dorris, is a good book which I have read to classes on Columbus Day.  It's very well written, easy to read aloud, and appropriate for children, but it works for all ages.  Here's link to information about it."

On another note entirely, it is only a week until MEA. We hope to see you at one of our sessions (more details here) or at our booth. Free prizes (while they last) for folks who stop by the booth and tell us they read this blog.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Museum School Partnerships

We at the Montana Historical Society are proud as punch. Last Friday, the American Association for State and Local History recognized Best Practices in Museum Education: Museums and Schools as Co-Educators with a Leadership in History Award of Merit.

Cosponsored by the Montana Historical Society and the Montana Office of Public Instruction’s Indian Education Division, this innovative project targeted six Montana communities: Choteau, Columbus, Cut Bank, Great Falls, Hardin, and Livingston. The goal was to foster partnerships between local historical societies/museums, schools, and content experts in order to
  1. Engage students in community study; 
  2. Encourage student participation in presenting and preserving the past;
  3. Create new partnership models that offered genuine, intergenerational, heritage education opportunities;
  4. Better incorporate Montana’s Native American history and culture into both museum interpretation and school classrooms;
  5. Provide museums and schools a platform for gaining access to tribal perspectives on local history and developing partnerships with local tribal representatives;
  6. Facilitate authentic, respectful interactions between students at on-reservation schools and off-reservation schools; and
  7. Reach parents and other family members of participating students, thus expanding the audience for local history.
The program was designed to offer flexibility, so that each museum-school partnership could tailor its project to its own community while meeting project goals. Achievements included student-written publications on local history topics (Great Falls, Columbus, Hardin). Direct classroom exchanges between on- and off-reservation schools contributed markedly to breaking through lingering prejudices (Livingston, Choteau). One historical society (Cut Bank) reported an increase in the number Blackfeet visitors—evidence of the project’s success in building bridges.
Ultimately, all the projects emphasized collaboration—between schools and museums, students and adults, Indians and non-Indians—which created conditions for large social impact. There is lots to love about this project, but among my favorite things was the opportunities it provided for students to create work for authentic audiences—by conducting research that was shared with the public in published booklets or museum exhibits, for example. 

“Finding Authentic Audiences for Student Work” is the title of the presentation I’ll be giving Thursday, October  18, 1:00 p.m.-1:50 p.m., and Friday, October 19, 8:00 a.m.- 8:50 a.m., at MEA in Billings, where I’ll talk about this IEFA program and other model projects I’ve come across over the last 15 years.

I’m always looking for new examples. If you have a project where students conducted historical research for reasons besides a grade and for an audience beyond their teacher, drop me an email (mkohl@mt.gov). I love learning about new projects and would welcome the opportunity to to include information about yours in my talk.

p.s. For more on Museum-School partnerships, see this post on a Malta Museum-School partnership project and this post I wrote back in January 2012, soliciting examples for the first draft of a talk on this topic, which I gave at the Museums Association in Montana's annual meeting last April.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Teaching about Columbus

Columbus Day is Monday, October 8. A U.S. national holiday since 1937, Columbus Day—and Columbus’s legacy—has become increasingly controversial in recent years. (Full disclosure: I fall firmly into the anti-Columbus camp. When my fourth grader had to write a report on Columbus, I helped her supplement the biography she checked out of the school library with some internet research, and she ended up putting him on trial. At the same time, I will very much enjoy the day off work.)

Regardless of how you feel about Columbus, there is no doubt that 1492 was world-changing, for both sides of the Atlantic.

Teachinghistory.org is my go-to site for American history resources, lessons, and critical thinking techniques. (If you don’t subscribe to their e-newsletter, you are missing out.) Their blog post, “Teaching about Columbus Day: Mythbusters,” provides great background, information about resources (including relevant historical fiction), and links to lesson plans and online material.
Among their links is one to the Library of Congress online exhibit, “1492: An Ongoing Voyage.” This exhibit “describes both pre- and post-contact America, as well as the Mediterranean world at the same time.”

Teachinghistory.org does not link to the flippant, fast-paced (almost frenetic), and sometimes juvenile “Crash Courses in World History: The Columbian Exchange,” but I’m going to. This informative 12-minute summary of the book, The Columbian Exchange by Alfred Crosby, is designed to appeal to high school students (if mentioning syphilis in high school is allowable. Is it?) I am a little hesitant to recommend the video because its goofy tone cannot do justice to the devastation the video describes (I keep trying to imagine the creators making a similar video on the Holocaust, but can’t do it.) At the same time, the video makes important material accessible, and, well, interesting to learn about. So, watch it for yourself and pass your own judgment. Then drop me a line and let me know how, if at all, you teach about Columbus Day—and Columbus—in your classroom.

p.s. Are holidays important to your teaching? Here are links to last year’s posts for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Are You Going to MEA or MCEL? We Are.

We made it through a very exciting Montana History Conference and are now busy preparing for the next round of fall workshops. The Montana Historical Society will have a very large presence (nine distinct sessions with three encore performances) at the MEA Educators Conference in Billings this year (October 18-19).

And, for the first time, we’ll have a booth and be giving a presentation at MCEL (Montana Conference of Educational Leadership)—also in Billings.

If you are going to MEA, we hope we’ll see you at one or more of our sessions, all at Skyview High School:

“Labor History in the Class: A Montana Perspective,” MHS Senior Archivist Rich Aarstad
Grade Level:  8-12
Thursday, 9:00 AM- 9:50 AM, SHS 145
This sectional will explore the history of the U.S. labor movement through key Montana events associated with organized labor through the use of primary sources held in the Montana Historical Society archives collections.

“Finding Authentic Audiences for Student Work,” MHS Historical Specialist Martha Kohl
Grade Level:  6-12
Thursday, 1:00 PM-1:50 PM, SHS 237 and Friday, 8:00 AM- 8:50 AM, SHS 202
Museum-school partnerships, Veterans Day programs, web-based publishing, and participation in “crowd-sourcing” projects all offer students opportunities to engage in “authentic” work for “authentic” audiences while engaging in original research, improving writing, and connecting to their communities. Learn how to create successful projects that motivate students and improve learning outcomes.

“Thinking Like a Historian: Using Digital Newspapers,” Washington Elementary School Librarian Ruth Ferris, author of an MHS Lesson Plan on using digital newspapers in the classroom
Grade Level:  4-12
Thursday, 1:00 PM-1:50 PM, SHS 113 and Friday, 9:00 AM-9:50 AM, SHS 114
Join me for a cup of java and a morning newspaper. Did I mention it will be dated 1864-1869? Enter a digital portal to Montana's gold rush era. Learn how to use this treasure in your classroom. Notebooks and laptops are optional but not required. Door prizes.

“Toys: More than Just Fun!” MHS Reference Librarian Zoe Ann Stoltz
Grade Level: K-12
Thursday, 2:00 PM-2:50 PM, SHS 237 and Friday, 11:00 AM-11:50 AM, SHS 237
Museums are filled with artifacts that teach us about previous lives and cultures. Did you know that our toys are artifacts? Toys not only teach us about history, they also teach us about our current culture. Learn how you can teach with toys. Let's play!

“Tools and Techniques for Teaching with Maps,” MHS Program Specialist Deb Mitchell
Grade Level:  4-8
Thursday, 3:00 PM-3:50 PM, SHS 237
Discover interactive lessons that connect geography to history while teaching students map reading skills, how to analyze primary sources, and how maps reflect the context in which they were created. And find out about the treasure trove of historic Montana maps now available online.

“Historical Anniversaries as Teachable Moments,” MHS Government Records Archivist Jeff Malcomson
Grade Level:  6-12
Thursday, 3:00 PM-3:50 PM, SHS 147
By explaining the importance of historical anniversaries related to the Homestead Act and county centennials in Montana, this workshop will demonstrate the usefulness of focusing class projects on state and local history. Information provided can be used to build projects or lesson plans around important events in your local communities.

“Connecting Montana to the Civil War,” MHS Senior Archivist Rich Aarstad
Grade Level:  8-12
Friday, 9:00 AM-9:50 AM, SHS 147
Connecting Montana to the Civil War introduces educators to the sectional politics that divided the nation to events occurring in Montana politics during its territorial period (1864-1889) using documents found in the collections of the Montana Historical Society.

“Teaching History with Primary Sources,” MHS Government Records Archivist Jeff Malcomson
Grade Level:  6-12
Friday, 10:00 AM-11:50 AM, SHS 147
Through a survey of Web resources and interactive exercises, this workshop will explain how to make use of historical documents, photographs, and other media in history lessons. Learn various methods for teaching with primary sources in history, how to engage your students using historical materials, and meet common core standards.

“Play with the Past: Montana History K-6 Resources,” MHS Program Specialist Deb Mitchell
Grade Level:  K-6
Friday, 11:00 AM-11:50 AM, SHS 235
Discover free, standards-based, interactive resources to help you make Montana's rich and diverse history, from 12,000 years ago to the present, real and exciting for your elementary students. Resources created by the Montana Historical Society include hands-on history footlockers and IEFA lesson plans.

If you’ll be at MCEL, visit our booth on Thursday. And on Friday, come here me speak on “History Resources for Improving Reading Comprehension and Meeting Common Core Standards,” at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana Hotel/Parlor 1009, 9:40 AM-10:20 AM.

Even if you can’t make it to one of our sessions, we hope you’ll stop by our booth and say hello. Special prizes for those of you who tell us you read this blog (while supplies last.)