April 20, 2009
By Jessica Pritchard
The opening of this year’s 123rd annual meeting in New York City included a roundtable discussion on The Pleasures of Imagination. One of the great things about studying history is the room for imaginative creation—reading a text and painting a subsequent picture to match, for example. However, visiting historic sites takes this imaginative creation beyond the text, opening a window into the past (both physically and imaginatively). Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP), a web site that branches from the National Park Service Heritage Education Services Office, embraces the power of teaching history through historic sites and promotes the implementation of such sites into curricula.
The TwHP web site has ready-to-go lesson plans, which you can categorically browse through by state, theme (archeology, historic preservation, religion), era, skill (debating, interviewing), national standards for history, and curriculum standards for social studies. Though these lesson plans are intended for middle school students, they can easily be modified to fit virtually any grade level, even college. Featured lesson plans span from American Indians to Independence Day, and from Our Founding Fathers to World War II. The sites included in the lesson plans are all on the National Register of Historic Places
TwHP seeks to make students historians through the evaluation of primary sources, the examination of maps and photographs, and the exploration of actual historic sites. “[The students] enjoy a historian’s sense of discovery as they learn about the past by actively examining places to gather information, form and test hypotheses, piece together ‘the big picture,’ and bridge the past to the present,” the web site explains, “By seeking out nearby historic places, students explore the relationship of their own community’s history to the broader themes that have shaped this country.” As many historians know and understand, historic sites uniquely bring alive something that students rarely get from solely reading a text. In many ways, historic sites make the past real. TwHP believes that if students understand history at a smaller, more local level, than they are much more apt to apply this local chapter to the much larger context of American history as a whole.
Each lesson plan has preliminary sections for teachers, including an introduction, an explanation on how to fit the lesson into a curriculum, objectives and materials for students, as well as specifics for visiting the desired site. Furthermore, the available lesson plans walk teachers through how to initially get the ball rolling with their students through a printable worksheet on How to Use a TwHP Lesson Plan. Other usefulworksheets include Selecting a Historic Site, Learning from a Historic Site, and Analyzing Photographs.
Though TwHP offers free lesson plans online, they also encourage teachers and historians to create their own lesson plans following the TwHP lesson plan format. Additionally, you can explore Creative Teaching with Historic Places, which lists additional resources on teaching through historic sites that can be of use if and when you decide to develop your own TwHP lesson plan. Encouraging the creation of new lesson plans and offering a fairly extensive list of resources suits the TwHP mission of promoting academic outreach and enrichment programs. Furthermore, they also offer Professional Development, intended “for those who want to take advantage of historic sites to enrich the teaching of history, civics, and other subjects.” You can attend various TwHP workshops that discuss and teach effective techniques to make history fun and accessible to all audiences, from school children to retirees.