The Montana Heritage Project Site History

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A History of the Montana Heritage Project in Chester, 2005
  A History of the Montana Heritage Project in 


Classes that participated


Teachers who participated

Renee Rasmussen
Amy Sangwin
Dino Pfaff
Gloria Behem

Students who participated

Balsley, Tara
Brown, Caleb
Breise, Keyla
Chatterly, Ashley
Cicon, Kyle
Devries, Mary
Chase Diemert
Erin Fenger
Cory Hawks
Lewis Johnson
Joanna LaSorte
Ashley Martin
Kevin May
Shanell Norick
Samantha Steven
Amanda Violett
Carly Weinert
Brianne Wolfe
Michael Wood
Michalya Lakey
Ackley, Ashley
Alisch, Jackie
Cicon, Lisa
Fisher, Spencer
Frazer, Derek
Frazer, McKinzie
Kolstad, Brittany
Kolstad, Leisa
Kraft, Kylee
Markuson, Sara
Osterman, Candice
Skai, Kirk
Stokes, Brianne
Stokes, Chelsea
Wicks, Matthew
Woods, Joline

Total Number of Students Involved: 


Community Members and Teachers who participated

Liberty County MuseumLiberty County Library
Broken Mountain Geneology Society

Gifts of Scholarhip Created

This Week In Local History
Geocaching Caches
Family Heirloom Papers
Local History Minute
Historic Building Research
Web Timeline
Research Papers

A Narrative History of the 2005 Project

Ask: Questions posed by Students

Traditionally, schools have not been very good at having students answer complex questions.  Most students, when asked a question in school, expect to be able to go to a textbook and find the correct paragraph with the perfect wording for the answer.  Essential questions, the focus of the Montana Heritage Project, do not work that way.  Answering an essential question is a long, broad, intensive process.  Students do not traditionally have much experience looking for an answer that must be drawn from multiple sources that may have more than one interpretation.

This year’s students took on the task with enthusiasm.  From the first assignment that centered on finding the history behind a family heirloom, to the final research paper, students learned to ask, re-ask, and question everyone’s memory.  One student summed up the research process by concluding that truth in history can be hard to find since history depends on the faulty memories of people who often perceive the same event differently.

Learning to ask: ask the right question, ask the right person, ask at the right time, ask in the right way is an art.  This year’s students seemed to grasp the idea of essential questions quite easily.  Our questions revolved around discovery:  Discovery of self and community through researching concrete objects such as family artifacts and community buildings. 

Listen: Researching the Historical/Literary Record

It’s not a fluke that listening, the second most important aspect of researching comes just after ASK.  There is no framework for listening without the question(s) devised in ASK.  But once that question has been framed, before any real answer can be fashioned, a researcher must listen.  For me as a teacher, this is the hardest part I must get must students to do.  I can teach them to ask good, essential questions, but since listening is a learned art, developed over time, and to be done will must take time, students are not always good about either listening or knowing what to listen for.

Students get aid in learning this skill from the very people most capable of helping them: their community elders.  Since the subject matter discussed is one both students and adults are interested in; students can learn to listen.  Who better to teach students how to listen than those who have the information students need and want to hear?

Listening, for the students, is probably the most enjoyed aspect of researching for once they learn its benefits.  This year was no different.  Our family heirloom project led several students to want to explore their family histories in more depth.  That’s the direct result of learning how to listen to the record.  One student’s final research project was based on a question that revolved in understanding himself in light of what he discovered.  Students explored family letters, the local news record, local history collections, as well as interviewing community members in their quest to listen for answers. 

Explore: Contributing to Local Knowledge

The hardest part of EXPLORE for me as a teacher is that I don’t get to experience all the excitement the students do as they pursue their leads.  Further, I’m not even involved—students are not learning from me; everything comes from outside the classroom, from outside the usual paths of school information.  This real world information that students collect gains its real meaning by help them understand the past, the themselves, and by extension, the present.  For students who are just becoming mature enough to use the past to understand the present, this is very new.  Traditionally, classroom literature and history classes are offered to help students make these connections, but it is the personal exploration by students during the Montana Heritage Project research that provide the most personal and immediate opportunities for students to create those connections.  The student becomes the bridge between his family and community’s past and his own present and future.  Students examine both their family heirlooms and community and seek to understand , they documented both the present community (family and place), as well as their relationship to those communities.

Reflect: Student Reflection Activities

One thing the Montana Heritage Project has reinforced in my teaching is my belief that true learning does not happen until students have written about what they have listened to and explored.  It is the writing, not the speaking, but the writing that makes the learning real.  Writing is the reflection that makes the learning real.

Reflection in the research classroom takes two forms.  The first form is that of the paper itself.  Writing the research paper should, ideally, come once the students completely understand the subject, but unfortunately, it is often writing itself that helps students understand. Luckily, that is one of the purposes of writing—to make sense of what we know—to articulate it clearly.  Students often have never had to so precisely convey what they know and understand about a subject in such a sustained fashion—ten pages.

The second phase of reflection is more personal for the students.  Here, I ask them to tell me what they did right, did wrong, learned, enjoyed, hated.  I use these reflections to plan my next year’s work.  But more importantly, these final papers provide closure for the students to their work.  Answering the questions gives the students a chance to figure out how learning—especially this learning, matures, enriches and changes them. 

Teach: Students as Teachers

Remember the old proposition “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” The same can be said of the Montana Heritage Project.  If students don’t share what they have learned with the community, has it meant anything?  Of course, just like the tree, which of course makes noise whether anyone is there to hear it or not, the learning does have meaning.  But the learning, like the tree, has more meaning with it is heard: shared.

Chester students share with their discoveries with the community on a continual basis.  While no large scale community heritage night has developed, students regularly contribute both artifacts and research on those artifacts to the local museum.  Students present their family heirloom research to their families during the annual Parent-Teacher conferences in the fall, and the column “This Week in Local History” is featured in the local newspaper every week.  In addition, students are invited to share their research by addressing local groups, through the newspaper, and through special requests for research.

The Chester website, maintained now for the third year, also reaches a wider audience of the Chester community, those who have moved, but still have attachments here.  Anecdotal feedback tells us that this method of providing access to the student research, accompanied by appropriate historic photos, is enjoyed and used.

After three years of wishing and planning, for the first time, this year, research done by former students is being transformed into short “History Minutes” for the school’s TV channel.  The first spot is completed, and the second is started.  A student in a individualized, accelerated program is reviewing research done by former Montana Heritage Project students, and then is scripted with appropriate historic photos for distribution on a school owned cable TV channel.  The student, Micayla Lakey, has had to learn several specialized programs, how to storyboard, how to write scripts, and to make simple movies.  This trial run is to be repeated with a larger multi-media class next year, distributing more of the student work with the public. 

Personal Reflections

As I reflect on 10 years of heritage education in my classroom, I see a few apparent truths emerging about heritage education and the school.  From my experience, heritage education fills a void in the community that no one, including me and community members even knew existed.  I cannot over emphasize the cooperation, input, help and even enthusiasm exhibited by community members toward the project.  For example, four years ago my students studied a 1917 Estonian style house northwest of town.  That project has been officially closed for three years, but several months ago a past owner of the land donated to the Heritage project photos of the house with an original family members as well as an original oil painting.  There was no concern about what the Project would do with the photos or artwork.  What a compliment!  Students truly have impressed locals with their serious approach to the work they do.

A second truth has to do with not just the need of the community for students to take on some of this work, but the need of the community to have its history, its values, and it choices validated by a new generation.  If not validated, at least acknowledged.  It is that validation, realized through students who listen to community elders, that reinforces the ties between the school and the community.  When adults believe that the students, at least to some degree, understand their past, then those adults are even more willing to support the needs of the students: in large part the school.

But as much as the community as a whole, as well as individual adult members of it, need the students, the students need to find their place in the community as well.  Remarks like “I never even thought that was an interesting building,” or “I didn’t know the town had been so wild,” or “I understand why things are the way they are, better now,” are common as students begin to step outside themselves and look at the world through the eyes of another person from another time.  This process is pure education.  It is the rebirth of the age old practice of the community teaching its young the lessons and values that the community holds dear.  Modern education doesn’t allow for this process, or even value the process.  Modern education has been sanitized, regulated, standardized, and professionalized until there is no place for the proven, centuries-old method of learning from the community’s elders.  Their stories, wisdom, and understanding have been mostly disregarded in this youth oriented, institutionalized culture that runs modern education.  The Montana Heritage Project provides a small opportunity for students to experience this purest form of education again.  All sides seem starved for the opportunity.Each year these truths seem more obvious and more integral.  The project revolves around asking essential questions.  It also answers essential community needs. 

Posted by on 01/11 at 03:22 PM

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