Military history lessons go beyond the battle

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DuPont Manual High School (Jefferson County) teacher James Garrett and Henry Clay High School (Fayette County) teacher Jonathan McClintock examine Kentucky rifles from the late 1700s and early 1800s at the Kentucky Military History Museum. Photo by Amy Wallot, June 23, 2014
DuPont Manual High School (Jefferson County) teacher James Garrett and Henry Clay High School (Fayette County) teacher Jonathan McClintock examine Kentucky rifles from the late 1700s and early 1800s at the Kentucky Military History Museum.
Photo by Amy Wallot, June 23, 2014

By Brenna R. Kelly

The boy in the military cap and unbuttoned jacket staring out from the black-and-white photograph looks so childlike he could be the older brother of some of Lisa Reynolds’ 5th-grade students.

“Look at that young picture,” she said recently while examining an exhibit about William Horsfall at the Kentucky Military History Museum in Frankfort. This fall, Reynolds’ students at Kenton Elementary will get to know Horsfall, who was just 14 years old when he left his Newport home to join the Union army during the Civil War. During a battle in Mississippi, he saved a wounded officer, and he is still the youngest person to win the Medal of Honor.

“They can see that children were making life-and-death decisions in that time period, it will bring it home to them,” said Reynolds, who teaches social studies at the Kenton County school. “They need to be able to see that children, even from their area, sometimes had to make hard decisions to join something bigger than themselves.”

The Horsfall lesson will be just one of 12 that will be available statewide this fall thanks to six teachers who spent a week using the people and artifacts in the Kentucky Military History Museum to develop lessons that will deepen students’ understanding of the state’s military history.

The Kentucky Historical Society invited the teachers to the museum because the collection was being underutilized, said Tim Talbott, the society’s teacher and student outreach coordinator.

“The goal is to make the museum more useful to our educators,” he said.

Teachers won’t have to bring students to the museum to use the guides; they will be available online with links to some of the artifacts, photographs and documents in the society’s 16,000-item digital collection.

In addition to touring the military museum, the teachers visited Frankfort Cemetery, the Civil War Museum in Bardstown and the General George Patton Museum in Fort Knox.

Instead of focusing on one person, conflict or military unit, the lessons use them as starting points to explore larger themes about the military and its effects on society, Talbott said.

One lesson uses the Kentucky National Guard’s participation in the desegregation of Sturgis High School in 1956 as a way to examine how the military can be used to break down racial barriers. Another explores the military as a career by studying Nena Shelton, a nurse in World War I who went on to become assistant superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps.

The lessons are a perfect fit for the way social studies instruction is changing, said Chase Goodman, a history teacher at Allen Central High School (Floyd County) who wrote two of the lessons.

“Nowadays you can just get on the Internet and look it up, so now we are asking students to think more conceptually,” he said. “We want to put them in a position to think a little deeper about Kentucky’s responsibility in conflicts we’ve had.”

Ryan New, who teaches history at Boyle County High School, said that the lessons were written using the College, Career and Civic (C3) Framework. New was part of a group of about 40 teachers who worked on a draft of the new Kentucky Academic Standards for Social Studies this summer and used the C3 framework as a guide.

The C3 Framework includes four dimensions or broad categories:

  • Developing questions and planning inquiries
  • Applying disciplinary tools and concepts
  • Evaluating sources and using evidence
  • Communicating conclusions and taking action

While the students are still learning content, New said, the content has to be driven by inquiry, proved by evidence and lead to some kind of action.

“I could see them asking something as big as, Why does war happen? Why did they go to war? That would drive you to certain types of documents or you could ask a different question. What was war like for an individual? Then it drives you to different documents,” he said. “You can get more depth as opposed to total volume.”

Instead of just knowing that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, under the new standards, they might research why he wrote certain things or why he left out certain things.

“When we talk about technology and how it impacts the classroom, it’s made the teacher obsolete as the knowledge carrier,” New said. “Now it’s much more about the analytical components where you look at what do you see in this, what does this mean? Those are skills that you can transfer to later on.”

One of New’s lessons focused on the use of propaganda posters to recruit African-Americans in the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.

“The lesson has multiple layers, depending on the level that they want to go to, and the teachers can choose whichever one they want,” he said. “The last one is the most interesting, I think: It’s a poster from 1968 actually telling African-Americans not to sign up. That it’s against their code, and this is at the height of the civil rights movement.”

Many of the lessons use visual thinking strategies, Talbott said. The teaching method uses images to spark a teacher-facilitated discussion that explores the subject matter in more detail.

“It starts with asking three questions,” Talbott said. “What is going on here, what makes you say that and what more can we find?”

During the discussion, students must provide evidence for their claims, he said. In addition to learning about the topic, the visual thinking strategy is designed get students to think critically.

There will be four lessons each for elementary, middle and high schools, Talbott said. The lessons will be online at the Historical Society’s website this fall.

“The Kentucky Historical Society has had a teacher advisory committee that provides feedback on our programming for some time, but this was a way for the teachers to be much more hands-on,” Talbott said.  “I was very happy with the work that they did and with the quality of the lessons.”

FOR MORE INFO ...

Tim Talbott, Tim.Talbott@ky.gov
Karen Kidwell, karen.kidwell@education.ky.gov
Ryan New, ryan.new@boyle.kyschools.us
Chase Goodman, chase.goodman@floyd.kyschools.us
Lisa Reynolds, lisa.reynolds@kenton.kyschools.us

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