Thinking Like Historians with Bedford Elementary Educators

17 March 2014
Bedford Workshop

When school districts reach out to us for consulting work they often have specific and targeted needs, and nothing pleases us more than to craft precisely the workshop they need. When Rob Ackerman, Principal at the Lane School in Bedford, approached us about bringing a program to their 3rd grade educators, his overall objective was clear: to help staff approach Social Studies curriculum as an opportunity to teach students to think like historians.

The premise of building skills in students that allow them to think like historians is rooted in the understanding that history is not really a single story, but a collection of stories that often present opposing viewpoints. As students build inquiry-based critical thinking skills, they develop historical habits of mind and create their own meaning out of historic evidence. Approaching the study of history from a more dynamic viewpoint makes learning history more exciting for students as opposed to a class where they are just asked to memorize historical facts.

We collaborated with Rob on an agenda for the day, an approach that included using examples relevant to current elementary topics, tying Social Studies learning to literacy and Common Core goals, and touching upon competency-based assessments. Held in January, the workshop was led by Primary Source co-founder Anna Roelofs, who brought her extensive background in teaching Massachusetts history and thinking like a historian skills. The fact that she was joined by Alex Kuschel, a third grade teacher from Lexington who currently teaches this curriculum, meant that the Bedford teachers could make a ready connection with the materials being presented. “Alex shared some great ideas for enhancing our curriculum,” said one participant. “I especially enjoyed seeing the way she used critical thinking questions in her own classroom.”

Together Anna and Alex worked with 10 Bedford teachers for a full day. The program included lecture, discussion, video, interactive collaboration, and hands-on activities, truly showcasing how a teacher can use artifacts and primary source documents to challenge and expand a student’s understanding of a historical event. This way of teaching can offer students many ways to develop the critical skill sets outlined within the Common Core Standards.

Follow-up comments from the Bedford teachers attest to their enthusiasm and gratitude for such an informative, interactive and useful program. “This was a wonderful workshop,” said a participant. “Both Anna and Alex brought a wealth of knowledge and great ideas, and there was a great balance between hands-on activities, discussion and lecture.”

We wrapped up our program in Bedford by providing teachers with copies of primary source documents, graphic organizers and other skill-reinforcing materials to use in their classrooms. Teachers also received a valuable list of resources including relevant websites, videos, movies, reading materials and places to visit. We look forward to working with Bedford Public Schools again on additional programs for their staff.