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Educators learn about Place-Based Humanities in workshop hosted by University Liggett School faculty

At the end of July, fifteen educators from Michigan and Ohio engaged in a three-day workshop to learn how to use historical sites to teach the War of 1812. “Reconstructing Narratives: the War of 1812 in the Michigan Territory” was hosted by LocLore, an organization under the umbrella of University Liggett School’s (ULS) Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL), and co-directed by ULS faculty members Adam Hellebuyck and Chris Hemler. The workshop was based out of Monroe’s River Raisin National Battlefield Park. 

The workshop offered teachers an innovative and immersive professional development opportunity and a collaborative forum to discuss teaching strategies. The goal of these workshops, according to Hemler, is to create an experience, unlike anything educators have experienced before.

“Unfortunately, a lot of teacher professional development is designed and provided by experts who are not actively teaching in a classroom,” said Hemler. “As a result, despite the best intentions, many teachers walk away from these opportunities without seeing any tangible benefits. With our workshops, we strive to provide teachers with ideas and activities that they can implement immediately upon return to their classrooms.”

LocLore’s innovative approach to educator workshops is not lost on its participants.

“Teachers rarely get the opportunity to engage in the same sense-making activities, deep learning, and joy of discovery that we aim to offer our students,” said Sarah Neely, a teacher at Maire Elementary in Grosse Pointe. “CITL LocLore gives me those opportunities.”

In addition to the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, educators used the Fallen Timbers Battlefield in Maumee, Ohio, and Fort Meigs Historic Site in Perrysburg, Ohio, as the centerpiece of their place-based exploration. At the sites, workshop participants engaged with experts from the National Parks Service, Wyandot of Anderdon Nation, Metroparks Toledo, and the Fort Meigs Association before discussing pedagogical application with LocLore leaders.

“As a result of our work in the field, I have grown as a thinker, citizen, and teacher,” observed Neely. “I take that inspiration and build more place-based opportunities for my second graders.”

LocLore’s place-based program extends from a model of teaching U.S. history that has been implemented at ULS since 2014, in which students learn about national themes and narratives through local lenses, case studies, and site visits. A large goal of the place-based approach is to inspire students to become involved in their communities and understand local issues.

“I have learned a lot about my local community by participating in CITL’s place-based workshops,” observed Vanessa Smolenski, a fourth-grade teacher in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools. “Over the past three years, the [ULS] team has brought me closer to understanding how our state’s history truly unfolds through multiple perspectives.”

These workshops have been made possible by a $250,000 Educational Leadership Grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation, located in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to teacher workshops, the grant is providing ULS with the opportunity to facilitate the creation of local learning cooperatives, encourage student “historians-in-training” to contribute to digital journals and podcasts and develop a robust online presence to engage all participants.

“The Edward E. Ford Foundation’s support has allowed us to create these robust experiences for teachers and students,” said Hellebuyck. “We look forward to hosting our first workshop for teachers outside the Great Lakes region next summer and welcoming students from around the country into our journal and podcast programs.”

The Educational Leadership Grant is awarded to a very select number of schools with innovative and replicable programs that promise to have a significant impact on practice and thinking in the national independent school community.  The grant requires a 1:1 funding match, encouraging recipient schools to leverage the grant to generate support from their communities to create impactful and sustained programs.