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                                       ". . .What we have loved
Others will love, and we will show them how."

                                                          William Wordsworth

2006 Syllabus: Conference on Place-Based Teaching


P.O. BOX 672

Participants will learn how to plan place-based learning expeditions with the ALERT framework. Place-based education as developed in the Montana Heritage Project pulls together a host of research-based instructional strategies.

1. Generating and Answering Questions: Questions are developed, discussed, and researched on three levels, as discussed in the ALERT framework.

2. Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback: Since learning expeditions culminate in scholarly gifts to the community, they are quite naturally organized around objectives that give direction to student work. Teachers use benchmark tools to monitor progress and provide feedback and to assist in the creation of interim goals both for groups and individuals. Students are guided toward forming long-range goals and coordinating them with the many short-term goals needed to complete a successful research project.

3. Note Taking and Summarizing: Students are taught to take notes from interviews, from readings in primary and secondary documents, from observed processes at community events, from visits to historic sites, and from classroom discussions. Additional resources will be provided for teachers that delineate the cognitive basis of note taking and how note taking skills can be taught. Since students engaged in expeditions work together in teams on large research projects, they face many natural opportunities for summarizing their findings for other members of the group, both verbally and in writing, as they create a shared “data base” to keep the group project progressing.

4. Identifying Similarities and Differences: The overarching questions for learning expeditions to the past are “what has changed?” and “what has stayed the same?”Students are given many opportunities to compare and contrast the present with the past in many ways. They compare, contrast, and classify a broad range of phenomena.

5. Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers: Advance organizers are strategies to orient students to the work before they begin learning. These take the form of introductory stories, graphic images, and brief texts. The more analytical these tools are and the more they focus on what is important about the topic, the more successful they are, so heritage teachers emphasize helping students analyze and identify important points in materials.

6. Nonlinguistic Representations: We store information both visually and linguistically. Students learn best when they have chances to use both modes to increase their understanding. Each expedition includes samples and strategies for students to work with photographs, artifacts, heirlooms, architecture, and historical sites. They also create maps, exhibits, posters, and multimedia presentations.

7. Cooperative Learning: The practices that make cooperative learning a powerful instructional strategy include chances to work interdependently, support for both individual and group accountability, opportunities for group reflection and discussion, activities that allow for working together face-to-face, and assignments that provide guided use of effective social skills. When classes use research done by several members to create collaborative public exhibitions and presentations, students must think together about what the important story is, how the pieces fit together, what information is most essential to that Students take part in “learning expeditions” planned within the ALERT framework. story, and what words and images best tell the story. Good place-based teaching includes structured sequences of activities that combine individual research projects into group presentations or publications.

8. Practice and Homework: Many ALERT processes can be practiced and extended outside the classroom, and place-based teaching includes assignments that can be used as homework, designed to support practice at important skills.

9. Providing Recognition and Reinforcing Effort: An integral part of Heritage Project learning expeditions is that the work results in gifts of scholarship to the community. These culminating products can take many forms, including public presentations to the community, heritage evenings in which students read papers, display exhibits at local museums, or dramatic presentations based on their research. Students use original research as the basis for various forms of publication, including radio and television programs, web sites and published books and magazines. Such work provides authentic recognition from the community beyond the school as well as from peers.

From Robert J. Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock in Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001)

In short, place-based teaching can engage students in real work; it draws students and community members together; it results in thoughtfully developed ideas and materials that contribute to community organizations. It involves true (rather than “created”) performance-based assessment.

The Place-Based Teaching Conference will feature nationally-recognized educators whose writing has shaped our understanding of place-based learning. Montana Heritage Project teachers will provide immediately useful classroom strategies for implementing place-based teaching; Butte natives will present details of life in a particular place.

Although upper-grade and middle school teachers are invited to attend, presenters will
concentrate on practical application strategies for high school students. The course will provide materials that link place-based learning to 9-12 social studies and English standards. The course fee of $140 covers five meals, the primary texts for this course, and additional handouts.


As result of this course, participants will learn:

The rationale for place-based teaching
Specific strategies for place-based teaching, with an emphasis on research in history and folklife
Techniques for teaching research-based, nonfiction writing


Following are the general course requirements weighted for determining the granting of university credit.

1. Attendance in all class sessions: 35%
2. Satisfactory completion of all outside assignments: 35%
3. Reading of all texts provided prior to the institute: 30%


Depending on your preferences and professional situation, complete one of the following assignments:

Apply the ALERT processes to complete a small research project in your town. The final paper should be 2-3 pages (about 750 -1000 words of text) and should include visual information (photographs, maps, drawings, etc). Your topic needs to be discussed with the instructor and approved in advance.


Submit one lesson plan that details objectives and strategies for a lesson in one of the ALERT skills. More information about the ALERT skills can be found here:
The lesson plan should include a list of books, articles, media or websites that would be useful in teaching the lesson. The form for submitting the lesson plans can be found here: (or by following the “Publish” link in the upper right corner of the Place-Based Teaching Conference website:


Depending on your preferences and professional situation, complete one of the following assignments:

Write a traditional historical essay (5-10 pages) drawn from researches in your community or another community of your choice. Though the topic should have a local emphasis, a national or global context should be at least sketched. (For example, if the local railroad plays a role, explain the national events and trends that affected the railroad at that time). You may use any or all of the research processes discussed during the conference, including oral history and archival research.


Submit two lesson plans that detail objectives and strategies in one of the ALERT skills. More information about the ALERT skills can be found here:
The lesson plan should include a list of books, articles, media or websites that would be useful in teaching the lesson. The form for submitting the lesson plans can be found here: (or by following the “Publish” link in the upper right corner of the Place-Based Teaching Conference website:


Assignments should be provided as Word or WordPerfect documents and sent as attachments to the instructor (this link will open a form, which will enable you to see the instructor’s email address).

Alternatively, lesson plans may be submitted online.

Paper copies of material will not be accepted.

All assignments are due to the instructor by August 1, 2006.


When you submit your assignment electronically, please indicate in your email if you would like to receive written feedback from the instructor on your unit plan. Feedback will come in an email response.


Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities by David Sobel (See Bibliography) and a 50-100 page notebook of related readings and instructional materials.  Both will be mailed to registered participants two weeks prior to the institute.


$140 in cash or a check for 5 meals, required texts, and a course notebook of additional resources. Fee should be paid by mail prior to the course (Marcella Sherfy, Montana Heritage Project, P.O. Box 201201, Helena, MT 59620-1201) or at the beginning of the institute. Checks should be made payable to the Montana Heritage Project/Montana Historical Society.


Informal clothing adaptable to a high-altitude community and comfortable for sitting at long stretches.
Materials you use to take notes: paper and pen or laptops, etc.


Michael L. Umphrey has directed the Montana Heritage Project since 1995. He authored many of the administrative and learning strategies on which this place-based program has been built. Mike is an experienced classroom teacher and high school and middle school principal. He has served as a graduate-credit instructor for 11 prior Heritage Project institutes through Montana State University and the University of Montana. Mike’s writing in education and humanities topics has been published in education and public interest journals. He has published two books of poetry with university presses. He has given numerous presentations about student-community learning and has served as a consultant for programs similar to the Montana Heritage Project in Arizona, Wyoming, New Hampshire, and Louisiana.


Brooke, R. (2003) Rural Voices: Place-Conscious Education and the Teaching of Writing (New York: Teachers College, National Writing Project).

Dixon D. (1993) Writing Your Heritage: A Sequence of Thinking, Reading, and Writing Assignments (Berkley, CA: National Writing Project).

Sobel, D. (2004) Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities. Barrintgton, MA: The Orion Society.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 10/14 at 02:41 PM
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