We recently learned about the French siege on Fort William Henry, located on Lake George in Upstate New York, the British surrender of the fort, and the massacre that followed at the hands of French-allied Indians. Students had to consider the battle and consequences from the French, British, and Native points of view.
Then I pulled out the pattern blocks for the class to make quick models of the fort. Some struggled with the seemingly simple task. The angles weren't as easy to accomplish as they thought. We had a few different approaches to the assignment (and shared some frustrations from trying to collaborate with peers).
Thursday and Friday found the teacher in Columbia, Missouri, presenting professional development workshops to interested teachers from across the state. The arrangement of the schedule worked against us for Thursday afternoon's presentation. I had wanted to set up tables and reveal items for analysis, but because there was only fifteen minutes to set up, I had to punt and change the methods of presentation.
Friday's presentation - Open-Ended Math and Language - drew a few participants early in the morning. This one felt well-received, with audience members making appropriate, on-subject comments and asking questions at the end.
I always enjoy being able to present wisdom, ideas, and opinions with my peers from far and away, and I try to present methods and materials in which I specialize.
CB: What grade level do you teach? Have you always taught this grade level, or have you taught others?
DH: I started teaching in 1995 (Do the math.). I taught first and second grades for five years in Oklahoma City before moving to Joplin, Missouri. I have since taught in my corner, fourth-grade classroom. At the end of this school year, that will be 27 years in Joplin and 32 years total (Check your work: was your subtraction correct?). I’ve been the Teacher of the Year for Joplin Schools and have received other awards for my performance in the classroom.
I plan to find opportunities to continue supporting education. I would like to provide professional development to teachers and schools, work with new teachers and student teachers, and develop lessons and lesson sets. I just completed orientation with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, headquartered in New York City, and hope to work with them on some incredible projects. My relationship with GLI comes as a result of being named Missouri’s 2021 History Teacher of the Year.
CB: Do you teach a particular subject or all core subjects?
Actually, our teachers prefer to keep self-contained classes, so we teach all of the core subjects. In the past few years, I have developed my expertise in math and history (There aren’t many elementary teachers who can claim to specialize in history, so I’m pretty unique in that.). Working with history and art is a natural fit, and in my class we look at a lot of art from the colonial and revolutionary eras. From the beginning of my relationship with Crystal Bridges, I have pushed for a focus on art from the 17th and 18th centuries.
CB: When did you first visit Crystal Bridges?
DH: My son and my wife beat me to it. I think I finally got around to visiting in the summer of 2017, on a whim. It seems we were in the area for some other reason when we had a little extra time, and I suggested we visit Crystal Bridges. I was instantly impressed with the collection and presentation, and pressed forward with getting my peers to take a field trip during the following school year. During the summer of 2018, we all participated in a summer residency and teacher institute at the museum.
CB: Tell us about your first summer residency at Crystal Bridges. How long were you there and what did you learn?
DH: My grade-level teaching team entered a partnership with Crystal Bridges, and we were able to spend a week at the museum, in the summer 2018. We were quickly immersed in methods of interpreting art with students. On one day, we were able to highjack one of the museum educators (who would probably prefer to remain nameless) and take a private, extended tour of the museum. During that tour, we practiced some of the skills we had learned earlier in the week.
The residency challenged us greatly in some unfamiliar territory. My own teaching was reinforced and affirmed during that week in Bentonville. I was already beginning to incorporate art in my history lessons, but now I had the tools to present it more effectively. It allows me to do so with academic rigor and more understanding than before. Every student in my class is now able to enter the conversation and add something vital to the lesson. Their observations and engagement with real art helps them understand the events of the era, the lifestyles of both the gentry and the common person. We now consider the enslaved, the natives, and the women of the era, in addition to more traditional stories and heroes in history. Using art as a stepping stone, we can connect multiple points of view to our present era, as well.
CB: What other projects or partnerships have you been involved with since then (with Crystal Bridges)?
DH: In the last 10 years, I have discovered the best professional development of my career. It started with the teacher institute at Crystal Bridges. During the same summer, I was accepted to the teacher institute at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. I stayed on the property at the Washington’s mansion and tomb for a week and studied General Washington at War. The following summer, I was one of 12 educators to travel to Fort Ticonderoga in Upstate New York. We spent a week discovering “America’s Fort” and the lifestyles of soldiers during the French and Indian War. We also compared and contrasted the French and Indian War with World War I. Art played a prominent role in each of these historic experiences, and I found what I had learned at the institute in Bentonville, Arkansas, to be quite helpful.
Our partnership with Crystal Bridges has also continued since my first summer experience. We have hosted a museum educator in our classrooms for a week each year since, and we have taken our classes to the museum each year for field trips (virtually in the spring of our 2020/1 school year). Students have connected with the Crystal Bridges collection – appreciating the details, reacting emotionally with the art, writing about specific pieces in meaningful ways, and creating their own artwork in response. Others have visited for field trips, but our partnership has fostered a deeper connection with specific artwork and installations as well as museum staff and educators.
CB: How many of your classes have experienced field trips at Crystal Bridges?
DH: By my reckoning, five classes have attended field trips to the museum, but last year was a virtual presentation.
Students created their own Declaration and decorated a wall in our school with each student producing a single, colorful letter.
During a different year, each class used paper shoestrings to make the letters in a different word (Our word was FREE.).
Last year, our four classes collaborated on a short version of a Preamble, decorating and folding paper shoestrings to fill in the center of the project.
CB: How have you been able to incorporate the lessons you learned at Crystal Bridges in your classroom? Can you give an example?
DH: My job as an educator is to get students engaged. When children are engaged with the content, they also bear some interest in it. I have learned not to “give” my class answers without first hearing about what they notice and what they wonder about a piece of art I present to them. They quickly learn that there is nothing too small to point out. They also make inferences by putting the information together and talking things out. In fact, I find myself teaching reading comprehension, literacy skills, and historical thinking by using art instead of text. In this way, they learn to think deeper even – even when they don’t read on grade level.
The truth is, I use these same methods for math story problems, reading texts, science experiments, and history lessons. I use them with photographs, as well as primary documents and documentary videos. Students in my class can hold conversations on just about any subject, and they usually begin with art.
CB: You have posters of artworks from Crystal Bridges hanging in your classroom. How have you found it beneficial to include these in your teaching?
DH: I don’t want to sound repetitive, so let’s talk about the décor of my classroom. First, it changes throughout the year as we progress through history. I use many posters that include depictions of our founding documents, early surveys and maps of the colonial era, and art. Photographs do not exist from the 17th and 18th centuries, so art in many forms comes into play. Students can see the setting for many of the events, as well as fashion trends and the ways of life. Both the famous and the common man are depicted in the décor. Instead of laminated, cartoony posters with cute labels, I like to put classic art on my walls and bulletin boards. Students and their parents respond to this different setting. Our classroom boasts flags from a different time when appropriate to the study.
Then, when we visit Crystal Bridges, students see things with which they are familiar. I like to think they react differently than classes that are not as familiar with the methods and the appearance of the museum – especially within the eras they have been studying.
CB: Have you seen any changes in the way your students think or respond to class curriculum based on their interactions with Crystal Bridges?
DH: My students now boldly step up with their observations and inferences. They are not scared to present their ideas about artwork or other items, and they learn how to disagree and ask questions to glean clarity from their classmates.
They often find things that I haven’t considered, and they put details to work in their conclusions. They learn to “stay within the four corners” of a piece of art and to back up their conclusions with the observable facts presented by the artist. They cite the item before them instead of basing their conclusions on wild guesses or assumptions. This is rich – not just kids trying to repeat what the teacher has fed them, but kids getting their brains engaged and responding with civil discussion.
That all sets the foundation for the rest of the lesson, and now that my pupils have safely entered the conversation, they can stay for the newest information and skills that I need to present to them. They are invested enough to desire more from me in the presentation, and they are more willing to put forth the effort necessary to perform tasks to accomplish their academic and social goals.
We often take a break from the history to emphasize the drama games. This group really is experimental.
In our first game, students paired up to play "The Force", where one person's hand had control over the other's face.
These are pictures of students putting together timelines for Fort William Henry, a little English fort nestled on the bank of Lake George in Upstate New York. This is the fort that was featured in The Last of the Mohicans.
Many teachers claim that their students can't think of anything about which to write. I never seemed to have that issue in my personal inspiration for writing, but I understand that some students do not have as many experiences as others, and as a result, they do not feel inspired. Others don't realize that they may create their own experiences to use for narratives or that they can begin with something bland and them embellish with excitement or tragedy.
I enjoy providing students with experiences - the bigger and more chaotic the better sometimes - but in our everyday classroom, I have come to realize that sometimes an experience can be created out of the air. In Mood Music lessons, I play a preselected, instrumental piece of music and have the class sketch the image that comes to mind; it's as if they create a movie scene to match the music in the background.
Once the illustration is done, almost everyone is ready to write the scene that just played out in his or her imagination. They are thrilled to get to the writing piece, and some are even frustrated when they run out of time. We build some writing stamina in these moments, and they can't wait to share what they have created. As always, some are better than others, but improvement for all is our goal.
As I took this trail to the north of the Elk Horn Tavern at the Pea Ridge National Battlefield in northern Arkansas, I soon discovered terrain that was full of hills and lumps. The trail declined in altitude as I continued, and parts reminded me of the ridges and fortifications surrounding Fort Ticonderoga. This route was also used for the Butterfield Stage and is called the Telegraph Road for a reason. Not only must one consider the fighting between the North and the South in the Civil War, but also the times of technology, transportation, and communication changes that were being experienced during the 19th century.
One who does not take the road less traveled will not see the house foundations that still mark the locations of settlers in the area. One will not find the location of a large hide-tanning operation near the creek. One will not read the historical plaques describing the rolling wilderness battles that took place. One will not stand in the location of a makeshift Confederate hospital to care for the wounded.
That's why I enjoy these peaceful treks into the unknown. I even enjoy them without a companion. It is a chance for me to wonder and imagine as I get my exercise - not along a city street or country lane, but in a marked route through the forest on a Sunday afternoon.
Most trails can be found at the Elk Horn Tavern site. Though there is no signage to mark the beginnings of the trails, with a little exploration, as well as trial and error, I was able to find a couple of the paths trailing off into the woods. A couple of these even intersect with other trails without warning, so going too far in an unplanned direction is always a possibility.
I really enjoyed the serenity that the five miles of exploration allowed. Not only was it an aerobic workout, it was also a peaceful moment to appreciate the historical and natural world and wonder about how it might have changed in the past 150 years. A couple of deer ran off before I could approach too closely to them, and I was able to find tracks of a few animals along the trail. I discovered a cave, a spring, and the location where hide tanning was carried out in a previous era.
Watch for more photos soon.
Thirteen students participate in our afterschool program - the History Arts Group. Fourth and fifth graders have a lot of fun, but they also dig a little deeper into primary source documents provided by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Hamilton Education Program.
The group chose to investigate the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown - the battle that signified the beginning of the end for the American Revolution. Two documents were provided - one from George Washington to Cornwallis and another from Henry Knox to his wife Lucy. The task for the group was to identify key words from these two texts and rewrite them both in the authors' words and in the students' own words.
Adding some creativity, they then teamed up to write scripts for very short scripted conversations in modern, and sometimes humorous, skits. Some even wanted to include a song in their scene. This is a continuing project, but no matter how good (or not) the skits end up, we've just enjoyed spending time with each other and learning just a little bit more about our nation's history.
I wanted my students to bond with some of these people - to see just how worn out they were, yet how resilient they had to become. Things in the 18th century weren't easy for any of the folks living in the New Land, but for the native peoples, things could get especially brutal. You can't always see those things in a photograph, but for many of the sketches my students created, the hardships and mistreatment can be read - in the wrinkles and determined expressions they display.
I am currently readying myself for an upcoming, two-day trip to Columbia, Missouri, to attend sessions at the 2021 convention for the Missouri State Teachers Association. I am not a voting delegate at the convention, but rather a presenter for two breakout sessions of professional development for other attendees (Descriptions are below.). I will also have the opportunity to attend a couple of sessions for myself. Even though I plan to be absent from teaching on these two days, I hope that my gains in information and practice will still benefit my class and my teaching.
The theme of this year's convention seems to follow a trend of perceived need for educators: social-emotional health.
Dale Hoggatt is the 2021 Missouri History Teacher of the Year and a Master Teacher with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. In his spare time, he teaches fourth-graders in Joplin, Missouri. He taught in Oklahoma City during the terrorist bombing of 1995, and in Joplin, Missouri, during the tornado and recovery of 2011. His experiences at these locations are reflected in two of his books - Crumbling Spirit and Out of the Wind (available on Amazon). An educator for 32 years, Hoggatt shares opinion, reflection, and vision to help teachers improve their craft and thrive in the stressful world of education in his book for educators, There's No Busyness Like School Busyness.
During our first looks at the French and Indian War, we took some time to compare three maps of the East Coast. We considered the names of the 13 British colonies along with the political cartoon with the label, "Join, or Die".
What kind of message is that? Join, or Die? Students wondered if that was a threat, or was is a veiled attempt to unify colonies that did not always agree in a cause to support the English crown.
Benjamin Franklin, creator of the Join, or Die political cartoon (and subsequent flag), depicted the nation as a snake which, if cut into pieces would die. His goal at the time was to encourage support for the British cause during the skirmishes against France. How ironic that just a few years later, he would roust support against the British in the fight for independence!
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