By Brenna R. Kelly
For the past several years, Pam Canter, a 5th-grade teacher at Paint Lick Elementary (Garrard County), has taken her students on a field trip to the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort most recently in May.
She does so, she said, because she wants to give them a better perspective of Kentucky’s history.
“We’re doing a unit on Kentucky history as well as the branches of government,” Canter said. “It’s a great way for them to see it rather than us just talking about it.”
The next time Canter takes her class to the mansion, her students may be able to do more than just see the house – they may take on the persona of former Gov. Martha Layne Collins or tell a story from the perspective of a piece of china in the state dining room.
This summer 45 teachers from across the state spent a week in Frankfort learning how to infuse arts into field trips. By early next year the lesson plans they developed during the Kentucky Center Academy for Integration of the Arts, Social Studies and Creative Writing will be available for teachers statewide through the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS).
“We want to put people in the history so that it’s moving learning from the third person to the first person,” said Jeff Jamner, director of school programs for the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, which presented the academy. “For example, if this china plate could talk about the night that Toyota was invited to relocate here, what would it have heard in that conversation?”
The academy was the result of collaboration between the center, the Kentucky Department of Education, Kentucky Educational Television and the Kentucky Historical Society.
The teachers spent a day at the Governor’s Mansion where they were greeted by First Lady Jane Beshear, a former teacher.
“To me the arts, whether it’s performing arts or painting or poetry or any form, are so important for the education of our children,” Beshear told the teachers.
At the mansion the teachers explored the rooms and objects to help them create lesson plans focused on the mansion as part of the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion Centennial celebration.
“While many of these teachers might actually lead a field trip to the Governor’s Mansion, our goal is that the teachers learn the strategies so that they can apply them to any field trip – or even virtual field trip – that they might take,” said Judy Sizemore, an arts education consultant and academy faculty.
Social studies, visual arts, drama, creative writing and English/language arts can all be integrated into a field trip to a historic site and doing so can dovetail with the Kentucky Core Academic Standards and national standards in those subject areas, she said.
Specifically the teachers learned how to use a historic site as a focused research opportunity, an inspiration for fiction or poetry, how to use drama to make a place, painting or artifact come alive, and how to read a historic portrait.
In addition to the mansion, the teachers also visited the Kentucky Historical Society and its History Mobile.
Teacher Sara Sexton said she has incorporated arts into her 9th-grade geography class at Burgin School (Burgin Independent) by using music from around the world but the academy showed her how to use other arts disciplines.
“I’ve always used music and I’ve always used art, but drama is something new for me,” said Sexton, who was part of a group that created a lesson about the 1980s effort to restore the mansion. The lesson uses storytelling and poetry to help students understand the Save the Mansion campaign.
The academy also included sessions on program reviews in arts and humanities, how to put the lessons into CIITS, accountability in English and social studies and the newly released National Core Arts Standards.
This fall, the teachers will field test the lessons created during the academy in their own classes. A follow-up meeting will be held later this year to allow feedback and any adjustments in the curriculum before the lesson plans are made available statewide, Jamner said.
Justin Padgett, who teaches 3rd, 4th and 5th grade social studies at McKinney Elementary (Lincoln County), was part of a group that developed a lesson about how Kentucky brought Toyota to the state.
“I do feel that arts engage students in a way that maybe we don’t always do in our history classes, so I think this will be very beneficial,” he said.
As part of the lesson, students will recreate the dinner at the Governor’s Mansion where then-Gov. Martha Layne Collins sealed the deal to bring the automaker to Kentucky.
“We are going to eat Baked Alaska and everything,” Padgett said, referring to the dessert topped with sparklers that Collins served to the Toyota executives.
That, he said, will get his students’ attention.
“They will be more engaged,” he said. “When they see you can have fun in history – they will love it.”