Enjoy a short video about the beginning of their learning adventure here:
You can see how these projects came together to contribute to a better world in the second video feature here:
America is famous for being an amalgamation of cultures from all over the world, but in our small, isolated mountain town in Southwestern Colorado, this is not always readily apparent. Most of my twelve students have been going to school together their whole lives. Starting in January, I began teaching Colorado history. This content is an amazing opportunity to open my students’ eyes beyond our tiny town and begin to appreciate the diversity that has made our state what it is today. Not only did my students learn about various cultures, they saw the conflict, violence, and injustice that has occurred when different cultures clash. Ultimately, studying Colorado history through the lens of diversity provided my students with the understanding that learning how to live in a diverse world has been of central importance throughout history and only becomes more relevant today.
Mastery of Skills and Content
Students explored many cultures and events in our state's history but were grounded in the same questions for each activity and investigation:
Why is it important to tell history from more than one perspective?
Why is it important to keep history alive?
Five key experiences helped students to become real historians:
1) Instead of memorizing dates and facts, students used real documents to make discoveries about what happened in our state’s past. This promoted inquiry and higher level thinking and provided students with an opportunity to develop an authentic sense of what is and is not a valid source of historical information. Organically, they began to understand that stories are different depending on one’s point of view.
Students map the results of the vote on women's suffrage by county.
2) After honing their historian skills with primary source documents, students analyzed real artifacts on loan through the History Colorado Center’s Traveling Trunks program. Each trunk was filled with what families that immigrated to Colorado from Mexican, Japanese, and African-American cultures may have packed. The artifacts featured in these trunks provided opportunities for students to celebrate differences while finding commonalities among cultures. They culminated their study of the artifacts by discussing, “Are these families more similar, or more different? What matters more: their differences or similarities?” Discussing questions like this with no right or wrong answer allows students to practice articulating their own opinions, while also providing them a format where being flexible or changing their mind based on what their peers have contributed is valued. It is a way to give them skills to discuss rich topics in a civil, open-minded way.
Being able to touch real artifacts from the Traveling Trunks program brought history to life.
3) Students read historical fiction to practice perspective taking and build empathy for people and events in the past. They even got to meet Colorado author Mary Peace Finley. Her goal in writing the Santa Fe Trail Trilogy was to create a story that brought history to life and reflected the diversity of our state's past. In these books, characters from American, Mexican, and Native American cultures converge at Bent’s Fort and overcome prejudices as people outside their culture become instrumental in their lives and survival. Later in the semester, when Silverton students unearthed the untold history of the expulsion of Chinese Americans, they knew that historical fiction was a tool that could bring a story to life and build empathy.
Students discuss Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, again practicing their skills of stating opinions while listening carefully to others.
4) Students traveled the state on a week long road trip adventure. All the people and places we had been learning about in the classroom were now viewed firsthand. Not only did this bring history to life for them personally, but students were able to see all the ways people are stepping up to keep history alive around our state. They saw everything from historical sites that are reconstructed to be as accurate as possible to hobbyists making dioramas on their own time to better show what they experienced in the past. All of these exemplars gave the students ideas for what they could do in their own community that would be effective and high quality.
Our first stop, Bent's Old Fort, was a place of major cultural convergence and a trading post whose success was dependent on different cultures getting along.
5) Finally, we set our own goals to keep history alive in our community of Silverton, CO for our Better World project. Students used their mastery of historical content and skills to teach others about the Chinese immigrants in Silverton and their expulsion from the town at the turn of the 20th century.