Monday, January 27, 2014

Coming to Montana: Immigrants from Around the World

The Montana Historical Society’s Hands-on History Footlockers are among our most popular educational resources. Designed for fourth grade—but used successfully in both lower elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms—these thematic "traveling trunks" focus on a wide variety of topics, ranging from the fur-trading and mining industries, to Indian life during the reservation period and today. (Learn more here).

But even a popular product can be improved—and with that goal in mind, my colleague Deb Mitchell and I have been working for over a year to produce a new hands-on history footlocker, "Coming to Montana: Immigrants from around the World." 

The traveling trunk bears the same name as its predecessor—but it has all new lesson plans and is packed with new, intriguing objects and photographs, including

  • a Hmong story cloth 
  • an example of Norwegian Hardanger 
  • a Swedish rosette 
  • a Mexican tortilla press 
  • a Chinese Mah Jong set 
  • a Hutterite dress 
  • Basque bones and more. 

We think your students will love working with the objects we’ve gathered, and we’ve created two lesson plans tied directly to the objects included in the footlocker.

At the same time, we’re aware that not every teacher will be able to order the physical footlocker. So we worked hard to digitize as much as possible—the PowerPoints, two-dimensional primary source documents and photographs, and the Lesson Plans are all available online to download free of charge. In fact, eleven of the fourteen lesson plans included in the User Guide can be conducted WITHOUT ordering the trunk—and five of those are primary source-based.

Aligned to the ELA Common Core and Montana State Standards for Social Studies the lesson plans were designed for fourth grade but many can be adapted to higher or lower grades. In creating the lessons, we worked from the both standards and the following essential understandings:

  1. Montana was historically a very diverse place. 
  2. Both push factors and pull factors influenced immigration decisions. 
  3. Immigrants brought their culture, ideas, and traditions with them. When they arrived in Montana, they adapted and assimilated. They chose to let go of some beliefs and traditions, while preserving and passing down others. 
  4. People across cultures share commonalities. We should recognize similarities and celebrate differences. We should work together to make sure everyone is accepted.
  5. Primary sources, objects, photographs and oral histories can all help us learn about the past.
  6. It is important to study the interaction between large historic events (like wars, economic shifts, or technological development) and the lives and choices of ordinary people.

As you can probably tell, I think this new footlocker is dynamite, but what matters is what you—and your students—think. I hope you’ll check out the User Guide and try some of the lesson plans. Even better, order the footlocker and give it a spin.

Then let me know what you liked and where you think there is room for improvement. Many of the changes we made to this footlocker were in response to feedback we received from footlocker users. Those suggestions markedly improved the trunk. We’ll refer to any feedback we get on this new trunk information as we move forward to improve other footlockers.

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