The People, Prairies, and Plains

Mary Jo Kleinsorge
St. Joseph
Box 3
Martinsburg, Missouri 65264

Attending the NEH Institute--People, Prairies, and Plains--enriched my teaching in many ways this past year. I found that there were numerous times when I was able to incorporate information and experiences directly learned at the institute. Not only was I exposed to new information about environmental history, but I also became much more self-confident in discussing these topics with my students. Previously I had relied heavily on textbook information for background. Now I can express my personal views on the subject, based on the experiences I gathered listening to the many experts at the lectures last summer.

I began my Junior High American History class with a three-week unit based on Dan Flores' lecture "A Sense of Place." This was probably the most popular and successful institute-based curriculum I used last school year. As the unit developed I watched my students become involved in researching and learning about the history of their school and local community. I think they learned to develop their own sense of place and awareness of their environment.

Carolyn Merchant's lecture on women in conservation, plus the paper I wrote for the institute, gave me valuable background information in discussing this time period in my American History class. This topic was very well received by my class--especially by the girls who enjoyed learning about these female role models.

After reading excerpts from John Ise's Sod and Stubble and using the lesson plan prepared by Robert Dettbarn, I had students writing about their own family's pioneering experiences.

Another very successful unit based on institute curriculum was a unit on the Dust Bowl era. I felt much more comfortable and knowledgeable about this subject after listening to lectures by Donald Worster and R. Douglas Hurt. I frequently read to my class excerpts from their books, along with parts of Lawrence Svobida's Farming the Dust Bowl. Lesson plans prepared by Ned Kerstetter, along with the video The New Deal and the Dust Bowl that I obtained from him helped develop and enrich my existing unit on this topic.

I often found myself telling my students "last summer when I was in Kansas I learned...." I no longer felt that I was just re-telling my students information I had learned from the textbook, but was sharing the experiences I had learned from people like Carolyn Merchant, Marty Melosi, Dan Flores, Donald Worster, Douglas Hurt, and others. Possibly just as valuable as what I learned from these people, I took back to my classroom invaluable lessons learned in the late hours of dorm life from the many talented fellow teachers I met last summer. Many of their suggestions found their way into my classroom also. So many of the ideas and experiences from the institute will always be a part of my teaching curriculum.

Developing a "Sense of Place" Towards Your Home, School, and Community

Mary Jo Kleinsorge

Brief Overview: The small rural school where I taught was celebrating its 100th anniversary and I wanted to begin the school year by putting my students in touch with the rich heritage of their ancestors who settled the local area.

This lesson was designed for a Junior High American history class and would also be suitable for middle school American history class.

Goals/Objectives: The students will develop a "sense of place" about themselves, their home, school, and community through researching writing, and participating in cooperative group work.

Materials: Materials and equipment needed to complete this activity: State and county historical information available from local libraries and historical societies; videos and recipes available from the Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102-0810; books on Missouri wildflowers.

Time: Time required for this lesson is 2-3 weeks.

Procedure: I began the first day by having students work in cooperative groups to answer the following questions:

  1. Name a Native American tribe that lived in this area.
  2. Name 3 subsistence techniques used by the Native Americans.
  3. Where does the water come from that you drink?
  4. When was our town founded?
  5. List 5 businesses that were in operation in our town in the 1800's.
  6. What was the population 100 years ago?
  7. What is the population today?
  8. How many days till the next full moon?
  9. Name 3 edible plants that grow wild in our area.
  10. Name 3 native trees from our area.
  11. Name a naturalized tree in our area.
  12. Name 5 common native birds of Missouri.
  13. What is a common land form in our area?
  14. Name 3 mammals common to our area today.
  15. Name 3 mammals once common in our area but no longer found in Missouri.
  16. Name 5 common wildflowers.
  17. When is the summer solstice?
  18. When is the winter solstice?
  19. Where does your garbage go?
  20. When was our school built?
  21. What is the largest nature preserve in our area?
  22. Were the stars out last night?
  23. Has there ever been a major ecological or natural disaster in our area?
  24. When did your family first settle in this area?
  25. Where did they come from?

From this lesson, I found that my students were not very aware of their natural surroundings, nor did they know very much about the history of the area. In order to strengthen this area, I did the following:

  1. Viewed the film Blooming Secrets from the Missouri Department of Conservation. This film is a good source for native flowers. I had each student bring in dried, pressed flowers for labeling and display.
  2. I made Queen Ann's Lace jelly and had the class sample it knowing only that it was made from an edible plant. I then had them guess what they were eating. This was a popular lesson. This recipe is available from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
  3. Viewed and discussed the films Our Wild Inheritance and Legacy of Life available from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
  4. Lectured on the general history of Missouri and the specific history of our town.
  5. Instructed each student to write a family history describing when, why, and how their family came to settle in the area. Many found that their ancestors settled here in the 1800s.
  6. Constructed time lines for the school dating back to 1885.
  7. Made posters listing local businesses present in our town in the 1850s, 1880s, and 1920s. Then I had them work in cooperative groups to develop posters of present day businesses. It was interesting to learn that the blacksmith shop established in the 1880's is the implement dealer today--still run by the same family.
  8. Using the cooperative teaching technique "jigsaws," I assigned each student the name of a famous Missourian. They were to research this person and teach it to their group.

This was an enjoyable unit to each and I think the students became much more aware of themselves and their surroundings. One student told me that she had never noticed the flowers along the roadside before, but now she could identify many of them.



Videos, recipe from:  	Missouri Department of Conservation
			P.O. Box 180
			Jefferson City, MO  65102-0180

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