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, October 31, 2013

Cattle Brands and Cowboys

Do you teach the story of Montana's open range cattle days?

Here's one of the best articles I've seen on decoding brands.

We've had the Montana Livestock Brand Registration records available online via the Montana Memory Project for some time, but this summer, our research center staff worked hard to make them easier to use. There's no way around it: brand searches are time consuming--but it is much easier than now than it has been in the past, and these instructions will help.

In addition, if your interested in the history of local brands, many counties have compiled their own historical record of brands recorded within that county. You can search for specific county brand books through the Montana Historical Society Research Center Online Catalog and possibly find those books at your local historical society or library. Finally, brand information was often published in local newspapers, some of which are available to search via Chronicling America.

You can find more resources for teaching Montana's ranching history on our Montana: Stories of the Land Companion Website under Chapter 8: Livestock and the Open Range, especially on our Educator Resources page.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Essential Questions and Research Questions: Two Very Different—But Equally Important—Things

Historians ask questions and, as I’ve been saying during a spate of recent trainings, the questions you ask have a lot to do with the answers you find. Good questions are the key to interesting and successful historical research projects.

Essential Questions

I am an advocate of essential questions. “Facing History and Ourselves” lays out a convincing case for asking essential questions “to get at matters of deep and enduring understanding.” As Facing History explains, “By connecting material to a significant theme that resonates with the lives of adolescents, essential questions can add relevance and focus to a unit of study.”

Difference between Essential Questions and Research Questions

It is important to remember, however, essential questions are different from research questions, the questions historians use to help them understand the past—and in this way begin to understand these larger philosophical concerns.

For example, “Who am I? What are the various factors that shape identity? In what ways is our identity defined by others?” are clearly essential questions. Research questions, by contrast, approach these larger issues from the side, instead of head on. They are place and time specific—and narrow enough that you can (at least provisionally) answer them by looking at the historical record. “How did German Jews define themselves in the 1920s and 1930s?” “How did the boarding school era affect the identity of Crow tribal members?” are examples of research questions that can lead students to investigate specific historical topics while also allowing them to begin to wrestle with larger issues of identity.

Asking Good Research Questions: Tools for Grades 6-12

Asking good research questions is hard—and is a skill worth teaching. John Schmidt and Jeff Treppa offer tools to help students ask good questions in a larger piece they’ve written on research papers. Especially useful are the handouts they prepared: Guidelines for Forming Historical Questions and Practice: Developing a Historical Question

Asking Good Research Questions: Tools for Elementary Students

Especially for elementary students, Billings librarian Ruth Ferris recommends using Question Matrices to ask better questions. Find her description of question matrices and links to valuable resources in Appendix 8 of “Thinking Like a Historian” (page 29 of the lesson).

Asking Good Research Questions: Another Technique for Everyone

Another technique is to start with the essential question “What has changed and what has remained the same—and why?” In her lesson plan “Thinking Like a Historian”—which focuses on using historic newspapers to explore life during the gold rush—Ruth suggests students use life today as a comparison to “generate a list of general topics and categories that they will need to learn about to develop a snapshot of life in the 1800s. Possible topics to consider: food, clothing, transportation, communication, technology. Then have students ask questions about these topics. See the entire lesson plan.

Asking good questions is a huge step toward developing greater understanding. How do you teach this skill in your classroom?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Learning about Twentieth-Century Montana Immigrants

Deb Mitchell and I have been working on updating our hands-on history footlocker, "Coming to Montana: Immigrants from around the World." (You can learn more about our hands-on history footlockers here.)

In the course of our work, we've come across some interesting resources for teaching about three often overlooked Montana communities: the Hmong, who settled in Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley, Mexican-Americans of the Yellowstone Valley, and Hutterites, whose colonies dot central and eastern Montana.


Hmong and Mexican Montanans

The Hmong are one of Montana's most recent immigrant groups. Check out the Hmong Missoula to learn more about their history and culture.

Some years ago, with funding from the NEH, the Montana Historical Society produced a DVD titled Montana Mosaic: Twentieth Century People and Events. The DVD features 12 short films--chapter 5, "Ethnic Migrations" includes information on both the Hmong and Mexican migrations. We donated copies to each public Montana middle and high school library. You can find the user guide for chapter 5 here.

The best essay I know about on Mexican Americans' Montana experiences is Laurie Mercier's very readable "Creating a New Community in the North: Mexican Americans of the Yellowstone Valley," first published in Stories from an Open Country: Essays on the Yellowstone River Valley (Billings, 1995). The Montana Historical Society Press reprinted it in Montana Legacy: Essays on History, People, and Place (Helena, 2002).


Did you know that OPI created Essential Understandings of Hutterites: A Resource for Educators and Students? The Hutterian Brethren Website is a final useful resource.

Monday, October 21, 2013

National History Day Resources

Grade 6-12 teachers: Are your students participating in National History Day this year?

If so, please remind your students that the Montana Historical Society will award the Martha Plassman Prize ($500 and a certificate) to an entry that demonstrates a clear understanding and use of newspapers as a primary source AND that uses the digitized newspapers available on the web site  Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. More information here.

If you haven't had students participate, perhaps this is your year. Here's a long post I wrote last year at about this time, explaining the program, encouraging participation and outlining how it will help you realign your curriculum to the Common Core.

To summarize 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 find more about integrating NHD into your curriculum and how it connects to the Common Core here.

You can find some excellent lesson plans to integrate NHD into your curriculum here and here.

This year's theme is Rights and Responsibilities in History. I found this year's theme a little harder to wrap my head around than last year's theme of "turning points in history" or even the theme from the year before (revolution, reaction and reform in history). NHD suggests that when considering a topic and how it links to the theme, students think about the following questions:

  • What is the struggle between those who have power and those who don’t?
  • What are we required to give to the community?  What are we entitled to be given?
  • How do we balance the rights of the individual with the rights of the group? 
  • What responsibilities do we have to protect those who cannot protect themselves?
  • What are the limits to rights?  Where should the lines be drawn?
 Learn more about the theme here. Find ideas for Montana topics here.
Want to get your students involved? Here's the Montana National History Day homepage.

The following websites also have useful resources for teachers and students.

New York National History Day
Washington National History Day

Questions? Contact Montana National History Day State Coordinator Tom Rust: trust@msubillings.edu or 406-657-2891.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Another Great MEA-MFT Conference Session--and Rethinking Columbus

Last week I highlighted some MEA-MFT sessions of interest while promising PRIZES for the first five readers to stop by our conference booth on both Thursday and Friday. (Come say hello!) 

Here's one more session that looks wonderful:

On Thursday, from 10 to 10:50, Pam Roberts and Tichelle Ickes from Huntley Project High School are presenting "CCSS: Research and Writing for HS Students"
IS 14. I've heard Pam and Tichelle talk about this project, and I'm completely enamored with it. They are emphasizing how the project meets Common Core standards but equally significant (to my mind anyway) is how this local history project connected students to their community.

Here's the description: "Students (Gr. 9) completed a local research project, focusing on primary and secondary sources, utilizing collaborative computer programs and tools. Their final presentation included an annotated bibliography and a Prezi presentation. The project included many Common Core State Standards requirements. "

On a completely unrelated note, I thought some of you might be interested in these timely resources from the Zinn Education Project on "Rethinking Columbus."

Friday, October 11, 2013

Are You Going to MEA? We Are!

My colleagues and I are excited about  the upcoming MEA Conference in Belgrade, October 17-18. We'll be staffing a table in the exhibit hall--so stop by and say hello. (Need incentive? We'll have prizes at the table for the first 5 people on both Thursday and Friday who tell us they read this blog).

You might also be interested in checking out one of our sessions.


9:00 AM-9:50 AM: "Coming to Montana: Teaching About Immigration," Debra Mitchell

  • Grade Level: 3-8
  • Active learning using primary sources brings history alive while meeting Common Core standards. Learn about the Montana Historical Society's new immigration lesson plans and revamped footlocker and other available hands-on history trunks. (IE) (Record #207) 
  • MS B110

3:00 PM-3:50 PM: "Bringing Literature to Life with Primary Sources," Jean O'Connor, Helena High School and Martha Kohl

  • Grade Level: 6-12
  • Relevant to the CCSS, this workshop will provide tools and examples for incorporating historical secondary and primary sources to bring literature to life. Participants will view digitized primary sources, analysis tools, and specific lesson plans on the Depression and the Gold Rush that demonstrate the integration of literature and history. (Record #197)
  • MS B108 

3:00 PM-3:50 PM: "Mapping Montana: Tracing Community Evolution," Ellen Baumler

  • Grade Level: 3-12
  • Maps are fabulous tools that offer clues to the past and illustrate the evo-lution of places, roads, and vistas so familiar to us today. Take a trip through Montana’s historic communities and discover how they grew. Learn how your students can travel through time using easily accessible historic maps. (Record #213)
  • MS B109


3:00 PM-3:50 PM: "Combining Art, IEFA, and History with K-6 Students," Debra Mitchell

  • Grade Level: K-6
  • With the Art of Storytelling: Plains Indian Perspectives bring ledger drawings and other pictographic art into your classroom to engage students in the study of a vibrant art form while learning about Indian peoples’ adaptabil-ity and resilience during a period of rapid change. (IE) (Record #357)
  • MS B107



11:00 AM-11:50 AM: "Where Are the Women? Integrating Women's Stories," Martha Kohl

  • Grade Level: 4-12
  • The year 2014 is the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in Montana and the perfect moment to revisit the history of Montana's women and the way we do, or don't, include their stories in the curriculum. Learn about new resources and opportunities to commemorate the anniversary. (Record #224)
  • MS B110

In addition to presentations by MHS staff, here are other sessions that caught my eye:


12:00 PM-12:50 PM: "Forum: Common Core in the Social Studies," Bruce Wendt

  • Grade Level: K-12
  • Teachers across Montana will need to incorporate the newly-released Social Studies Common Core. Come listen to experienced educators share their knowledge and contribute your own ideas in a sharing of ways of improving our discipline. (BT) (Record #149)
  • IS Band Room


1:00 PM-1:50 PM "New Perspectives on Women of Montana," Mary Murphy, Montana State University - Bozeman

  • Grade Level: K-12
  • Women have long played an integral and pivotal role in Montana's devel-opment. Come learn new research that can help you invigorate your class-room learning and spark conversations with your students. (Record #310)
  • IS Band Room


1:00 PM-1:50 PM: "Using Archival Sources Documents in the Classroom," Ellen Crain and Irene Schiedecker, Butte-Silver Bow Archives

  • Grade Level: K-12
  • The Butte-Silver Bow public archives staff will provide a perspective on archives, what they are and how to use them. The Archives staff will provide a hands-on demonstration on how to incorporate primary archival sources into classroom activities for example: reading immigration documents in a social studies class. (Record #185)
  • MS A103
What sessions are you particularly looking forward to attending?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Indian Relay--New Film

Our friends at Montana PBS asked that I share information about the new film, Indian Relay--which will be showing both on PBS and premiering in theaters across Montana.

From the web page: "The hope and determination of modern-day American Indian life is revealed in this film about what it takes to win one of the most exciting and perilous forms of horseracing practiced anywhere in the world today. ... Throughout America there remains a wide array of misunderstanding about tribal citizens ranging from strong anti-Indian sentiments to over-romanticized notions of the noble savage. Along with the erroneous belief that all American Indians now receive free checks from the government, there's often considerable guilt about the hardships American Indians had to face after Europeans arrived in the Americas. Indian Relay helps overturn these stagnate stereotypes via a watchable, present-day story full of excitement, humor, knowledge and self-determination."

Upcoming MontanaPBS air dates:
  • Thursday 10/31 at 7:00pm
  • Monday 11/18 at 9:00pm
  • Wednesday 11/20 at 2:00am
  • Wednesday 11/20 at 12:00pm
FREE Indian Relay Preview Screenings in the following communities:
  • Crow Agency, Apsaaloke Center Sun. 10/13 at 7pm
  • Browning,  Blackfeet Tribal College Student Commons Mon. 10/14, 7pm
  • Bozeman, Museum of the Rockies' Hagar Auditorium Thurs. 10/17 at 6pm
  • Fort Hall, ID, Shoshone Bannock Hotel & Event Center Sat. 10/19 at  6pm
  • Billings, Babcock Theater Sun. 10/20, 4pm
  • Helena, Myrna Loy Center Thurs. 10/24, 7:30pm
  • Missoula, Top Hat Lounge Mon. 10/28, 7:30pm
  • Great Falls, Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center Tues. 10/29 at 7pm
Word is that there will be curriculum for this film on the MontanaPBS website--but it is still in production. I've also heard that OPI has purchased DVDs to distribute to school libraries.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Visual Thinking Strategies--My New Favorite Technique

My colleague Deb Mitchell introduced me to a technique called Visual Thinking Strategies last year, and the more familiar I become with it the more I like it.

The principle is simple: teachers ask specific, open ended questions to get students to look closely at visual material to draw conclusions based on evidence. It is designed to use with all ages--kindergarten to adults.

Although it was originally designed to use with art, we've found that the surprisingly powerful technique works well in getting students to look closely at and analyze all sorts of images, including historic photographs, posters, propaganda, and advertisements.

We're currently revamping the "Coming to Montana: Immigrants from around the World" footlocker and we've included VTS in two of the new lesson plans. That's how much we like it!

Deb created a brief PowerPoint summarizing the technique for a presentation she was giving on VTS that she graciously said I could share with you.

You can learn more about VTS on the VTS website, where you can also watch videos of teachers modeling the technique.

What's your favorite teaching strategy? Share it with me and I'll share it with on the blog.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Oral History Seminar in Kalispell

From the Ground Up, Montana Women & Agriculture
Oral History Seminar—Kalispell, Montana

Teaching students and adults the art of collecting oral histories

The role of women in agriculture is an essential thread in the fabric of Montana’s settlement and history. An exciting project by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and local conservation districts will pay tribute to farm and ranch women by preserving their stories of life on the land.

OPI Licensing Renewal Credits: 6

Date: October 5, 2013 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Location: Lone Pine State Park Visitor's Center, 300 Lone Pine Road, Kalispell, MT 59901

Cost: $15—covers lunch and refreshments
Who Should Attend: The oral history seminar is designed for educators who want to inspire students to record oral histories on agricultural women. The oral historian from the Montana Historical Society will teach educators how to implement a lesson plan that will guide students in research, pre-interview preparation, rapport development, the interview, and the final product—a transcribed document for the Montana Historical Society’s collection. The seminar will also address how the oral history project can relate to Montana’s Common Core Standards.
Community residents are also welcome to participate. At the end of the seminar, all attendees will have the knowledge to complete an oral history.
Sponsors:  Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation, Montana Historical Society, Broadwater Conservation District, & Flathead Conservation District