Montana State University

MSU, Montana schools receive new grant to enhance history teaching

November 12, 2010 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service


Biographies of President George Washington and lesser-known people who were important in American history will be incorporated in Montana history classes through a new grant from the U.S. Department of Education.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN -- Elementary, middle school and high school history teachers in Great Falls, Helena and Bozeman will learn new ways to engage their students through a $990,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The three-year "Teaching American History Grant" will build on the success of previous grants by showing approximately 35 teachers how to incorporate biographies into their courses, said Montana State University historian Robert Rydell.

The biographies will focus on well-known heroes, such as President George Washington, as well as lesser-known people who played significant roles in American history with little recognition. Those included slaves, Native Americans, women and members of the working class, said Jim Bruggeman, executive director of the Montana Council for History and Civics Education.

Rydell and Bruggeman are directing the grant with Chris Olszewski, director of curriculum and instruction at the Great Falls Public School District.

Teachers who have been accepted in the program will study history, as well as the art of teaching history, during fall workshops, winter colloquiums and week-long summer institutes held in the participating cities and at MSU. Bruggeman said.

MSU historians Billy Smith and Michelle Maskiell have already conducted the grant's first "Biographies of the Nation" colloquium in conjunction with the recent MEA-MFT Educators' Conference in Helena. Walter Fleming, chair of MSU's Department of Native American Studies, explained to the teachers how Native Americans fit within the Constitution and discussed the roots of federal Indian policies.

Those and other MSU faculty members will continue to have substantial involvement throughout the three years of the grant, Bruggeman said.

Teachers participating in the grant will also form book clubs focused on history. They'll prepare lessons plans based on their training. An independent agency from Oregon will evaluate their knowledge of history and their ability to teach it.

It's important for students to learn history because it helps them make good decisions, Bruggeman said. And biographies, if well-written, tell stories that are relevant to their lives.

"The broader, deeper and more extensive knowledge we have of the past means we are better able to act," Bruggeman said. "I think it's important for informed living, successful living in the world."

The Teaching American History Grant is the fourth one that has involved MSU, specifically the Department of History and Philosophy and the Department of Native American Studies. Each averaging $1 million, the first Teaching American History Grant was awarded in 2002 and concentrated on the chronological treatment of history from Lewis and Clark through World War II. The second focused on Gallatin County and helped teachers use biographies to teach history. The third was awarded in 2007 and emphasized the significance of the American West in understanding American history. It paired mentor teachers from Bozeman with teachers in under-served school districts, especially in central and eastern Montana.

"It's great fun to work with teachers," Rydell commented. "That way you know you are going to have an impact on the kids and help them with understanding the importance of history. What could be more fun for historians?"

MSU and its partners continue to receive the Teaching American History Grant because the U.S. Department of Education has confidence in them, Bruggeman said.

"I think we have a really good track record with the Department of Education," Bruggeman said. "They know we can deliver. They can see the results."

Olszewski said he wanted Great Falls to be involved this time because he saw how teachers in other districts benefitted and felt about their experiences under previous grants. He was excited about teachers learning to engage students through role playing, dialogues, modern technology and other methods that go beyond textbook learning.

"I saw a huge difference between the teachers who came out of that grant versus others who hadn't had that experience," Olszewski said.

For a related article, see:
"MSU, Bozeman schools to receive $1 million to enhance teaching in state"

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu