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Monday, April 28, 2014

Teaching Montana History in Fourth Grade


A few weeks ago a teacher asked me if I knew of a fourth grade textbook for Montana history. Sadly, the answer was no—but it got me thinking about how I would teach Montana history in fourth grade.

First, I would use our textbook Montana: Stories of the Land for reference and to help me organize my unit. Montana: Stories of the Land is written for grades 7-12—but it is a great quick reference for teachers as well—and a fabulous source for images to project on a document reader or by projecting pages from the downloadable PDFs (available for free on the Companion Website. The Companion Website is also packed with primary source units and links to lesson plans that (sometimes) can be adapted to 4th grade--so it is worth spending some time looking at the site. (NOTE: The URL for the Textbook Companion Website has changed.) 

Although I love the textbook, I’d probably start my 4th grade Montana history class with the lesson “Mapping Montana from A-Z.” This interactive lesson teaches map reading skills and familiarizes students with Montana places.

Then, I would build my own textbook using the historical narratives and Amazing Montanan biographies from the footlocker user guides. (You can download the PDFs of the User Guides from the footlocker page of the Montana Historical Society's web site. Usually, student narratives start around page 22--check the table of contents.)

I’d also select various activities from the footlockers to engage the class. Many footlocker lessons can be done WITHOUT ordering the trunk--though ordering the trunk is, of course, better, when possible, because then you have material culture to bring the lessons alive. (You can find information on how to order a footlocker here.) I’d also integrate a few other lesson plans from the MontanaHistorical Society’s Educator Website.

Here’s a quick look at what this curriculum might look like (using textbook chapters as the organizing principle). A few caveats: I’m listing all of our footlockers even though I’m not completely familiar with the contents of all of them. We’re slowly revising them—and, frankly, while many of our footlockers are fabulous, others are less so. Note also that I didn’t spend a lot of time on this—I’ve highlighted a few specific exercises but there are many others to choose from. I've also chosen a few other lesson plans from our educator resources. Finally, if I were really planning this curriculum, I’d spend some time over at OPI’s Indian Education for All Resources page, browsing their lessons as well.

With those caveats, here’s my starting point:

Montana: Stories of the Land (MSOL) Chapter 1: Where the Land Writes History

MSOL Chap. 2: People of the Dog Days
MSOL Chap. 3: From Dog Days to Horse Warriors: Montana's People 1700-1820
MSOL Chap. 4: Newcomers Explore the Region
MSOL Chap. 5: Beaver, Bison, and Black Robes: Montana's Fur Trade, 1800-1860
MSOL Chap. 6: Montana's Gold and Silver Boom, 1862-1893

  • Footlocker: Gold, Silver, and Coal Oh My!: Mining Montana’s Wealth – Chronicles the discoveries that drew people to Montana in the late19th century and how the mining industry developed and declined.
    • My favorite lesson in this footlocker is Muffin Mining Reclamation. It would also be a good lesson to include in later discussions of mining (e.g., copper mining or even contemporary mining in Montana.)
  • While studying the gold rush, I’d certainly spend some time having students explore the Virginia City Post (a Gold Rush era newspaper)—either using the entire Thinking Like a Historian Lesson plan or just the bingo card part of that lesson--or the lesson “What Can I Buy, What could Mary Buy, posted as part of our study guide for Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan.
MSOL Chap. 7: Two Worlds Collide, 1850-1887
MSOL Chap. 8: Livestock and the Open Range, 1850-1887
MSOL Chap. 9: Railroads Link Montana to the Nation
  • "Railroads Transform Montana": A PowerPoint Lesson on railroads.  I really love this interactive PowerPoint that talks about how trains changed everyday life.
  • Footlocker: Coming to Montana: Immigrants from Around the World - Showcases the culture, countries, traditions, and foodways of Montana's immigrants through reproduction clothing, toys, and activities. (Actually lessons align to chapters 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 16, 20 of the textbook, in addition to Chapter 9)
    • I’d spend a good amount of time on this footlocker here—this is the footlocker we just revamped and it is Common Core aligned and extremely rich with primary sources. And—since it covers so much Montana history (industrial mining, homesteading—it really works as an overview for the period 1880-1920) 
 
MSOL Chap. 11: The Early Reservation Years
  • Footlocker: To Learn A New Way- Through a child's voice, as much as possible, this footlocker explores the late 1800's and early 1900's time in which Montana Indians were moved to reservations, experienced allotment and boarding schools - all of which resulted in dramatic changes in their lands, languages, and way of life.
  • If I had time, I’d probably do My Name Is Sepeetza as a read-aloud. It’s about going to boarding school and the story might be intense for 4th grade. It’s also set in Canada, but it absolutely applies and it really good—but please preview it first to make sure it is appropriate for your students.

MSOL Chap. 13: Homesteading This Dry Land

MSOL Chap. 14: Towns Have Lives, Too 
  • Footlocker: Architecture: It's All Around You - Explores the different architectural styles and elements of buildings, urban and rural, plus ways in which people can preserve buildings for the future.  
  • It would take effort--but doing some sort of community study of your town would be an amazing project.

MSOL Chap. 19: World War II in Montana
  • Footlocker: The Home Fires: Montana and World War II - Describes aspects of everyday life in Montana during the 1941-1945 war years. Illustrates little-known government projects such as the Fort Missoula Alien Detention Center and Civilian Public Service Camps.

MSOL Chap. 22:  Living in a New Montana, 1970-2007


I might also assign a biography project (maybe a “living statues” exhibit—where the students come to life when visitors walk by them)—using the biographical resources posted here.

Pulling together this list, it is interesting to see what’s missing: the War of the Copper Kings, the Great Depression and post-World War II Montana, in particular. To rectify the heavy 19th-century focus, I can imagine instead of doing a biography project, doing an interview project—with students interviewing parents, grandparents, or older neighbors about the Montana of their childhoods. Oral History in the Classroom resources are here. With a fourth grade project, I wouldn’t worry about doing formal oral histories—but I would mine this pamphlet for useful ideas and exercises, including ideas for teaching how to ask good questions and the difference between open and closed questions.

Experienced fourth grade teachers: Any great resources I missed? Any resources I suggested that you think would bomb in a fourth grade class? Other ideas/caveats?

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