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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Teaching Montana: Stories of the Land

A few weeks ago, we asked those of you using our textbook, Montana: Stories of the Land, to take a brief survey. Twenty-three wonderful teachers took time out of their busy schedule to respond. Thank you! It warmed my heart. Two were high school teachers, one was a fourth grade teacher, but most were middle school teachers. Here is what they had to say.

Helpful hints for teachers using MSOL for the first time:


  • Get to know the textbook and on-line resources. We focus fourth quarter social studies on Montana History and I often find that I wish I would have spent more time during the year previewing the vast supplemental materials throughout the year so that I am not trying to do it while planning/implementing the unit. 
  • Great book. Pick and choose which units/chapters that suit your classroom the best.
  • Read each chapter and go through the resources provided on the companion website.  Now that you are familiar with it, create a folder keeping notes of what you liked and start collecting supplemental resources on your own.  When you see them put them in the folder.  Visit any sites, museums, tours that you can add information from.  Your folder will be constantly changing and improving.
  • Use the online text book and your smartboard to identify the critical information that you would like your students to have in their notes. There are very few developed resources for the text (powerpoints and worksheets) so utilizing the text book is a great way to cut down on personalized lesson development if you are in a time crunch.
  • Don't get overwhelmed if you can't get through the whole book.  Look through the chapters and choose the ones you think the class needs to know about.  I only get Montana history for one semester so I don't get through much of the book so I choose chapters that I feel are important for students to know in regards to how Montana was formed. 
  • Although all of the course content is online, I found it very useful to have a hard copy of the Montana Stories of the Land:Teacher's Guide.  I reference it often and it is easier to make copies on the fly if there are internet problems or i don't have access to a computer. I would also use the for educators section and online resources that accompany the website. I found these very helpful and thought they complemented some of the lessons I taught very well.
  • Even with a full year, you cannot hit all of the chapters effectively.
  • Be prepared to come up with your own projects. There are worksheets for each chapter, but they do not always focus on the most important aspects.
  • I only spend enough time on Chapter 1 to develop a full understanding of the geographic eras.  I combine Chapters 2 and 3 into one unit.  They really have fun with the mining unit.  
  • Use the primary sources and worksheets found online! I love to grab these and find them helpful. I don't use too many of the actual chapters since our 7th grade MT History teacher uses the book pretty extensively. [Teacher teaches in high school.] I only use C 6 and 10 because I find them the best and cover material that is kind of difficult to find elsewhere.
  • You can't do all the chapters!  The first several are important for setting the scene.  Kids love Open Range.  I love A People's Constitution and Progressive Montana.  Use the accompanying website -- so many amazing resources.
  • This book and our history beg for hands-on projects.  At the end, have students research and present chapters for which you did not have time.
  • Because CC is about finding information rather than regurgitating, I now almost always have the tests be open book.
  • Read this book aloud with your students.  It is well written and is very useful to use to teach reading comprehension.  Most of the material in this textbook can be put into graphs, such as cause and effect and Venn diagrams.  We make a game out of it in a "Think-Pair-Share" setting.  First we read.  Then students identify the graph.  Next students put the information into a graph by themselves.  Next they share with their group.  Finally each group re-creates their graphs on the whiteboards in a 360 assessment strategy.  The chapter test is relatively easy to pass after doing this.
  • I currently go through the book backwards since I want my students to understand the connections to current events and the ripple effect (cause/effect) that each time period offers to our current choices and options. The book is wonderful because it offers the same information in multiple chapters to help enhance the concepts even if you move faster through it.
  • I give plenty of time for the students to read in class and read to them from the chapter focusing on the key points.  I also make a study guide of each chapter that focuses on key terms.  Included are essay questions and critical thinking questions that they answer on a regular basis.
  • Using local resources is a great tool!  Have people come speak to the class, visit local museums, tells stories about the area.  I purchased Baumler's ghost story and Montana Moments books and will often read stories out of those that relate to the unit we are doing.  They love the ghost stories and the funny stories!!  I also try to do many activities throughout the units.  I feel that the more hands on the units are, the more the students appreciate learning about their state. Walking where Lewis and Clark actually walked or sitting in the room where Sitting Bull surrendered, creating tools just as the Native Americans did in the Dog Days are all examples of how a student can truly experience history.

We know the book is too long to teach all of the chapters well—especially in a quarter or a semester, so we asked our respondents to tell us which chapters they taught and how long it took them to cover a chapter. Of the middle school teachers: 

  • Two respondents only have a quarter: one covered 7 and the other 12 chapters. 
  • Five have a semester. Two of them teach every chapter, two teach 13 chapters, one teaches 8 chapters. 
  • Eleven respondents have yearlong classes. One taught only 8 chapters. Two taught all 22. The others taught between from 11 chapters to 16 chapters. 

We were also curious how long teachers spent on the chapters they teach. Interestingly, this did NOT correlate exactly with how long they had to teach Montana history. Some teachers with shorter units (e.g., a quarter instead of year) wisely chose what to focus on so they could "go deep".
  • One teacher averaged 2-3 periods per chapter.
  • 3 teachers averaged 4-6 periods per chapter.
  • 8 teachers averaged 5-10 periods per chapter.
  • 3 averaged about 10 periods per chapter.
  • 5 averaged 10-20 periods per chapter.
In addition, we wanted to know how much actual reading of the textbook they required of their students (63% said the entire chapter) and where they took time to do special projects (the most popular topics for special projects were Lewis and Clark, the Gold Rush, and the Treaty Period/Indian wars). More details below.

Finally, we were curious about which areas of history teachers focused on. For those who did NOT teach the entire book, half only made it to the homesteading boom. The other half skipped parts of the nineteenth century in order to include more twentieth century chapters. 

Which chapters of Montana Stories of the Land do you teach?

  • 8th grade. Unit lasts a quarter. Teaches chaps 2-13. Notes: “Because our time is limited I generally teach chapters 2 and 3 early in the year to set up some of our IEFA goals that I try to reach throughout the year.  I do not necessarily teach each chapter from front to back.  However, we use the text and the content to teach previewing/reading content area material and noticing text structure while we are introduced to the content.  Generally, I have used chapters 5-13 in connection with a jigsaw strategy -- assigning different groups of students a specific period of time and promoting the chapter in the textbook as their first resource.”
  • 8th grade. Unit lasts a quarter. Teaches chaps. 8-11 and chaps. 20-22, spending about 7 class periods per chapter and has students do an extended project on chapter 11 (reservation era). Students read about half of each chapter.
  • 7th grade. Semester Class. Teaches chaps. 1-13, spending 1-2 weeks per chapter. Students read entire chapters. She assigns larger projects for chapters 3, 4, 7, &  8.
  • 7th grade. Semester Class. Teaches chaps. 1-22. Spends about 2 days per chapter. Students read only part of each chapter.
  • 7th grade. Semester Class. Teaches chaps. 3-10. Spends about 4-6 weeks per chapter with students reading the entire chapter. Does many supplemental activities, “from making pemmican to mapping our town like Lewis in Clark would have.”
  • 7th grade. Semester Class. Teaches chaps 1-22. I usually spend between 4-7 days per chapter, with other material worked in.  Some chapters go faster than others, and the chapters that I am most knowledgeable in go slower because I really try to divulge in the information and talk with the kids about the chapters. Assigns special projects for Chapter 2 (Buffalo Jump Diorama), Chapter 4 (Fur Trapper Journal), Chapter 6 (Mining Town Map Creation), Chapter 8 (Field Trip to Charlie Russell Museum). We do other projects, spaced throughout the semester as well including a weeklong unit from Montana's Charlie Russell. Students read the entire chapter.
  • 8th grade. Semester Class. Teaches chaps. 1-8, 10, 13, 15-16, and 21 spending about 2-3 weeks per chapter. She does larger projects for chapters 1,2,4,5,6, and 10, and her students read about half a chapter.
These teachers have a FULL year to teach Montana history. Lucky folks!
  • 7th grade. Teaches chaps. 1-11, 13, 15-16, 18-19, spending 8-10 days on average per chapter. She does special projects on Lewis & Clark, Two Worlds Collide, Politics & Copper Kings, Homesteading, WWI, Great Depression. When studying a chapter, her students read about half of it.
  • 7th grade. Combines chaps 1-3 in a two-week introductory unit, starting with the state flower lesson plan. She then teaches Chap. 4-7, 10-11, 13, 15-16, 18-19, and 21. Spends an average of 2 weeks per chapter. Students read the entire chapter. “We read all of the text in class, and the supplementary materials become homework.  I also supplement chapters with the Montana Mosaic videos when there is one.” She uses all the historical documents and worksheets since they provide a different perspective. Uses OPI’s Sweetgrass Basket unit with chapter 11 and the When Worlds Collide with chapter 4 for special projects.  Se also fits in Picturing the Past and the Clothesline Timeline lessons at strategic points throughout the year.
  • 7th-8th grade. Teaches chaps. 1-16, aking about two weeks per chapter but spending more time on Chapters 7 - 11 and 13, assigning special projects for Homesteading and Reservation Years. Students read the entire assigned chapter.
  • 7th grade. Uses chap. 1 to show regions then teaches chaps. 2-10, 12-13, 16, 18, 19, 21. Spends 5-10 days per chapter. Spends 2-3 weeks per unit (chaps 2-3 combined into one unit.) Students read about half the chapter. “We do many projects throughout the units. This year we made authentic Native American bread and tools for the Dog Days unit, created our own specimen boxes and acted as newspaper reporters in St. Louis for the Lewis and Clark Unit, we created a gold mining town replica, visited Fort Union and Fort Buford, research papers on famous mountain men, gold mining towns, explorers, and Native American tribes native to the area.  I use primary source documents from the newspaper archives and other archives on the LoC website for activities. I do make them write quite a few small research papers for practice and to help them document sources among other activities!”
  • 7th grade. Teaches Chaps. 2-8, 11, 13, 15-16, 18, and 21. Spends about 2 weeks per chapter, and almost every chapter has a project/group work assignment.
  • 8th grade. Teaches Chaps. 1-8 and does big projects with all of them.  “For example, in chapter one we do a lot of supplemental activities on the three big disasters, Glacier Lake Missoula, Quake Lake and the one that hasn't happened yet, the Supervolcano.  Chapter 2 - Students ask parents for oral family histories to tell to their classmates, throw atlatls and find out how to make a straight arrow shaft, identify the parts of a buffalo and decide what each part was used for (we have a buffalo box that we bought from a fellow on the Sioux reservation in S. Dakota), read excerpts from primary documents that talk about the role of dogs in the Native American's life. Chapter 3 - Student groups create class winter counts for the years that they have been in school together, Watch OPI's "Tribes of Montana and How They Got Their Names" DVD, pemmican lecture and then we make pemmican and eat it. Chapter 4 - We watch a DVD on David Thompson and read a short book on John Colter.  Then they have to write an essay about their opinion of John Colter and use evidence from their book to prove their point. Chapter 5 - We read a series of primary documents written by various mountain men who lived in Montana.  Each set of primary documents has a writing assignment that involves going back to the documents to prove a point that the student is making.  A quick debate to decide if it would be better to be a free trader or part of a brigade. Chapter 6 -  The students pan for bb's in a mining stimulation, go through a Chinese discrimination activity that teaches them about unions, and debate the ethics of being a vigilante. Chapter 7 - The students participate in a Hellgate Treaty activity, a Tribal Land Status activity, read a short book on the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and if there is time create a news cast about the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Chapter 8 - The students watch a Charlie Russel PP and try to figure out what the names of each painting will be. Read some excerpts from primary documents written by Granville Stuart (Stuart's Stranglers), and if there is time create maps of the major cattle drives, railroads and major shipping points in the U.S.
  • 7th-8th grade. Spends 5-8 days per chapter, students read entire chapter. First year of teaching the book and at half way point just finished chapter 8. Feels as if it could be more teacher-friendly. (Some of the worksheets are a slog.)
  • 7th-8th grade. Teaches Chaps. 1-11, and 13, and the rest of the chapters "as time allows." Students read the entire chapter. Spends about 8-10 class periods.  “It takes about 4--6 for reading and creating notes, usually I have an activity that is fun, and test.” “I conclude the year by reading Pretty Shield.  Last year, I was even able to schedule a trip to the Battle of the Little Big Horn Battlefield. I also use the Montana Historical Society trunks.  They have amazing lesson plans and activities built into them.” 
  • 6th grade. Teaches Chaps. 1-11. Spends 2-3 weeks per chapter (4 weeks on chapter 6). Students just read selections from the text. Assigns larger project for every chapter, whether that is a writing assessment or some other higher level thinking activity.
  • 8th grade. Teaches all the chapters, spending 1-4 weeks per chapter. Students read entire chapter. Typically spends more time on chapters 2, 3, and 11 “since my class struggled with the essential understandings and tribal recognition as sovereign nations”. Assigns larger projects for 6, 7, 10, and 21.
  • 6th grade. Spends 10-18 class periods per chapter. Students read entire chapter. First year teaching MT history but so far has supplemented with “Analyzing a Buffalo Hide created by the Smithsonian http://americanhistory.si.edu/buffalo/hideactivity.html and reads aloud "Spotted Flower and the Ponokomita" by Kae Cheatham, to help them make the connection between the Dog Days and the Horse Days. Uses Past to Present questions as Bell Ringers.
  • 7th grade. Teaches Chaps. 1-14 and 21. Students read entire chapter. Starts school year with Mapping Montana A-Z. (Kids love it.) Two weeks per chapter with more time for chapters 2-3,7, 11 (usually include a research project on these chapters.) In depth projects for chapters 7 and 11 (research project related to Native Americans) and chapter 13 (kids create a Homestead of their own).

For which chapters do you assign larger projects? (Results don't include teachers who assigned special projects for every chapter they taught).

Chapter 1--Geography (2 teachers)
Chapter 2--Pre horse (5 teachers)
Chapter 3--1700s-1820 (3 teachers)
Chapter 4--Exploration (6 teachers)
Chapter 5--Fur trade (2 teachers)
Chapter 6--Mining boom (6 teachers)
Chapter 7--Treaties/Indian Wars (6 teachers)
Chapter 8--Open Range (4 teachers)
Chapter 10--War of the Copper Kings (3 teachers)
Chapter 11--Reservation Period (4 teachers)
Chapter 13--Homesteading (3 teachers)
Chapter 16--World War I (1 teacher)
Chapter 18--Great Depression (1 teacher)
Chapter 21--1972 Constitutional Convention (1 teacher)


Thanks again to all who responded. I hope this peek into other teachers' practice encourages all of those teaching Montana history in middle school to think critically about how they are use MSOL in their own classrooms. I especially hope these results give you permission to cover less content more deeply. My takeaway: most teachers are not teaching every chapter. You don't have to either!  

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