Getting K–12 students to pay attention in social studies classes can be a challenge, especially when teachers are not sure how to make history intriguing to young minds. By combining local history, multimedia approaches, and collaboration with schools, Ronald Morris, professor of history, has helped teachers bring creativity and excitement to their classrooms.
The Ohio River Teaching American History Project, funded through a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, uses the resources available in Indiana and along the Ohio River to make Indiana history vibrant and relevant to both teachers and students.
“Elementary school teachers were very hungry for this kind of information,” says Morris. “I wanted to help the teachers find out more about American history. And I wanted to do this by linking them to the community. The historic sites along the Ohio River were wonderful resources for seeing what 19th century life was really like.”
Building on Historic Resources
Focusing on 19th century history and the day-to-day lives of Indiana’s former residents, Morris coordinated with K–12 teachers, the Madison, Indiana, Consolidated Schools, the Historic Landmarks Foundation, Historic Madison Inc., and other Ball State faculty to help teachers develop ideas for their classrooms.
More than 70 history teachers from Wayne and Fayette counties and many other cities and towns across Indiana attended workshops, lectures, and field trips designed to foster excitement about American history, and more specifically, about the rich history that can be found along the Ohio River. Historic sites that contain well-preserved buildings over the last century served as field trip destinations. In the summers, teachers attended two-week seminars, which focused on creating curricular materials for the coming school year. Additionally throughout the school year, teachers attended one-day workshops every couple months to keep the attention and creativity flowing.
Inspiring Other Hoosiers
The project inspired not just teachers but those who develop programs at the historic sites. “By attending these workshops and meeting the teachers and presenters involved with the Ohio River Teaching American History Project, I have a clearer focus on what information and angles I should be developing for student programs. Plus, I have a variety of resources at my fingertips,” says Anne Fairchild, eastern region program manager for Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites.
Through the project grew the idea to create educational DVDs about the historically rich areas in Indiana the teachers visited. Madison, Indiana, one of the programs, aired on PBS. Another program, Finding Harmony, a documentary featuring Historic New Harmony (a program of the University of Southern Indiana and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites), won an Emmy Award. Copies of the DVDs were provided to the teachers to use in their classrooms.
By bringing together teachers from large cities and small towns across Indiana, the Ohio River Teaching American History Project was able to develop stronger history classes and a common sense of heritage for students.