Every spring, I survey readers, both to get feedback on how to make Teaching Montana History better, and to gather everyone’s favorite lessons so I can share them with the group. I love learning what has actually worked in the classroom—and being able to share teacher-approved lessons—so, without further ado, here are answers from elementary teachers to the question “Describe (in brief) the best Montana history or IEFA lesson or project or resource your taught this year--the one you will make time for next year no matter what.” Stay tuned for future posts featuring the answers from middle and high school teachers.
Mapping Montana, A-Z. Jennifer Hall, who teaches fourth grade at Eureka Elementary wrote: “I love the Mapping Montana: A-Z lesson. My students really get into the project and compete to find the most miles as they travel from city to city. It's a great way for them to learn map-reading and about our great state as well.” (Although you can teach this unit using the online resources, and maps ordered from Travel Montana, you might also be interested in ordering the Montana Place Names mini-footlocker, which includes 10 copies of Montana Place Names book.
Archaeology/Montana tribal history. Jan Clouse, who teaches fifth grade at Target Range School, wrote: “Students decorated clay pots with information about a MT tribe. We used the 5 themes of geography to decorate the pots. Then I broke the pots into large pieces and buried them. The students excavated another groups' pot and deciphered what they could learn about that culture from the potshards.” (For other archaeology lesson plans, see the footlocker Stones and Bones or the Montana Ancient Teachings curriculum. I really like the Montana Tribal History Timelines Julie Cajune created as a starting point for studying tribal histories.)
Digitized Historic Newspapers. Sarah Schmill, who teaches 5-8 social studies at Potomac School, wrote: “At Thanksgiving time, a lesson idea came across using old newspapers to look at then and now. I used it with 5-8th students; they enjoyed the initial lesson idea, then really got into looking at the old papers/ads.”
Marla Unruh, librarian at Broadwater Elementary School in Helena, also had her students research in historic newspapers: “I used the online edition of the Helena newspaper for Dec. 20, 1889, to compare with a current edition. Students were impressed with the advertisements of yesteryear and enjoyed comparing them with today. We looked up price equivalents, names of clothing items then, etc. We talked about the need for woolen underwear in homes with no central heating.” (For more on Chronicling America, a joint project of the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, see earlier posts here and here.)
Missoula Bicycle Corps. Kathy Gaul, who teaches fourth Grade at Frenchtown, wrote: “I taught a small unit on the bicycle corps out of Fort Missoula. This was taught in connection with using the Cavalry footlocker (Cavalry and Infantry: The U.S. Military on the Montana Frontier). I used a couple of books, one was called Iron Riders. I also used a DVD on the bicycle corps that I got at Fort Missoula. Next year, I am also going to include a guest speaker from Fort Missoula.”
Buffalo and County maps. Bonnie Boggs, fifth grade teacher at Garfield Elementary in Miles City, wrote: “IEFA. Study of the buffalo and making buffalo robes for story writing: (paper sacks) Also, making a giant Montana map of the counties: cutting them all out and being able to put it all back together again like a puzzle. Filled an entire bulletin board. Kids learned locations very quickly.” (A great source of information on hide drawings is "The Art of Storytelling: Plains Indian Perspectives". A copy was donated to every Montana public school library, or you can find the curriculum online.)
Comic Life Presentations on Montana Reservations. Linda Lynch, librarian at Central-Lincoln Elementary in Helena, wrote: “Reservations of Montana was taught as a collaborative project with the fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Susan Robinson. Students had to find the original areas used by the tribes, their current reservation area, their type of government, the reservation population, what industry was available on each reservation, what type of college was available, and what type of natural resources were unique to each reservation. They created a ComicLife presentation to share with others. Each ComicLife had to include primary source pictures.”
Birchbark House. Traci Manseau, at Deerfield School, wrote: “I taught the Birchbark House this year and found it wonderful and full of lots of writing.” (See OPI's Model Teaching Unit for grades 5-8.)
Montana Reservations/Montana Indian Reading Series. Shana Kimball, who teaches third grade at Kessler Elementary School in Helena, wrote: “We use the Montana maps that I received at a workshop a couple of years ago. We identify all of the reservations in Montana as well as cover lots of other great map skills. There are many good read alouds and legends that we share in 3rd grade tied to the tribes in Montana.”
Cindy Glavin, Media Specialist at Big Timber Grade School, also likes the Indian Reading Series. She wrote:” I use the Northwest Reading Series a lot with my [fourth grade] students as well as a number of the books that OPI have sent our library. I use these story to teach about oral story telling with my students. We discuss the importance of oral story telling in Native American culture. I then have student create their own ‘how something came to be’ stories and share them with their classmates around a fire pit.” (OPI donated copies of Northwest Indian Reading Series books to Montana public elementary school libraries. We also lend out classroom sets as part of the Montana Indian Stories Lit Kit footlocker, via our traveling footlocker program.)
Other educators contributed anonymously:
Sharing oral tradition and historic photographs: “Since most of my students are Northern Cheyenne, I teach a lot of history and culture, much of it from oral tradition. With the younger students, I often have related coloring pages for them to work on while I speak, or I type a story in simple words and have them read it out loud--often having the boys read one paragraph then the girls read the next one, so they can all practice reading aloud. I also give out copies of old photographs taken on the reservation, and we discuss where and when they were taken, then they can take them home and share them with their parents--many of the photos depict their grandparents and great-grandparents.”
Historical photos and historical fiction: “A lesson in Montana history about the gold mining in Montana. Linking the gold rush in Alaska with the Eric Hegg photos and the book by Will Hobbs Jason's Gold and how Montana's gold discovery led to the statehood of Montana, mining, and the European and Asian influences we have here in Montana.” (Last year another teacher also told me about her project having students read the fictional Jason’s Gold, about the Klondike Gold Rush. After her students finished the novel, they used the database of Hegg photos from the University of Washington library to search for an illustration. They then wrote a photo caption and found a quote in the book that the photo illustrated. I loved this idea and worked with a teacher to adapt it for her high school students as they read Fools Crow. I bet it could work well with many other books--both historical fiction and autobiography/memoir.)
Footlockers: “Montana Historical Society footlockers to use in the library.”
Still looking for ideas for teaching Montana history at to elementary students? You might find this post, Teaching Montana History in Fourth Grade, useful.
Didn’t have time to do the survey but have a great lesson to share—one you love, regardless of who created it? Email it to me at mkohl@.mt.gov and I’ll let folks know.
Stay tuned for Favorite Middle and High School lessons in the next weeks.