Thursday, May 1, 2008

Multimodal American History from SAAM

There are lots of great STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) resources online and off but they shouldn't overshadow the flexibility and enrichment online content offers to other subjects like social studies, art, language and music. One site that blends American history, art, geography, ecology and multicultural studies comes from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM): Campfire Stories with George Catlin: An Encounter of Two Cultures.

The site was developed by an advisory board made of teachers who selected topics that met national curriculum standards for middle and high school. George Catlin specialized in portraits of American Indians and collected numerous artifacts on his trips West. Those artifacts were chosen as the center of the project for their ability to "enrich the study of U.S. history, geography, and environmental conservation, as well as leadership and character development." There are four core themes:
  • Ancestral Lands – Indian Removal from Ancestral Lands
  • Catlin's Quest – Choices and Consequences
  • Chiefs and Leaders – Leadership Qualities
  • Western Landscape – Ecology Systems
Each theme contains art works, a timeline, maps and the wonderful "campfire stories," interviews with experts and writers like Peter Matthiessen, Wilma Mankiller, Richard Murray, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Wes Jackson and William Least Heat-Moon. These videos entice by making history what it really is--a series of told stories. And our students love to be told stories no matter how old they are.

There are lots of resources for teachers and the site is meant to be flexible. Teachers can just access campfire stories or other materials, search for lesson plans, or look for lessons tied to specific national standards. For example, At Home on the Prairie, a lesson that examines the Western landscape, meets National Science Education Standards in Life Science for grades 5-8 and 9-12. Lessons can be found for history, geography, art, and English language arts standards.

Transcripts of the interviews are available. To see the campfire stories, you'll need the Flash and Quicktime plugins. The home page also recommends using the Firefox browser. Campfire Stories with George Catlin won three different wards in 2003 and is a great way to bring American history alive for middle schoolers.

SOURCE: "Campfire Stories with George Catlin: Welcome Educators!" 2008
photo courtesy of Judy Breck, used under this Creative Commons license

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