4th grade teachers bring Oregon history alive

4th grade teachers bring Oregon history alive
Covered wagons at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center at Flagstaff Hill, outside Baker City, Ore.

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Whether role playing as gold prospector Henry Klippel, one of the first white men to see Crater Lake in 1853, or building a historically accurate replica of a Northern Paiute dwelling, the activities in Anna Meunier's fourth-grade class are akin to going on a pioneer adventure.

The Jacksonville Elementary teacher has conjured up the activities during 20 years of teaching the fourth grade, the only level when students learn a comprehensive history of Oregon, but she didn't realize what she had until a representative from a national textbook publishing company visited her classroom.

"There's never been a strong Oregon history curriculum, so I thought all the other teachers were doing the same thing," Meunier said.

The representative told Meunier she was "sitting on a gold mine," Meunier recalled, and not the kind Klippel was looking for.

Meunier had been piloting Houghton Mifflin's 57-page "Oregon, Our State" in her class to help Medford School District officials decide which of two fourth-grade Oregon history textbooks to adopt as the district's fourth-grade social studies curriculum.

But she was deeply dissatisfied with the book.

"It had great pictures and maps; it was beautiful, but unfortunately, it just was not enough content," Meunier said. "There were only two pages on the Oregon Trail. In the explorers section, they didn't even mention Sacajawea."

Sacajawea, along with her husband, interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, were part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805 and 1806.

Meunier realized what she had to offer was a better option, so she went to Todd Bloomquist, Medford schools human resources director who also oversees curriculum, to ask whether she could write the district's Oregon history curriculum.

Bloomquist showed up at Jacksonville Elementary School a couple of days later to see Meunier's materials and hands-on activities.

One of the activities was a game in which students role-played characters in history who were struck by various historic misfortunes such as plagues that destroyed crops. They had to react according to their characters' profession and available resources. Later in the year, the students visited pioneer homes and cemeteries in Jacksonville to see where their characters lived and died.

"The kids get so stoked," Meunier said. "They'll say, 'That's my house!' "

Bloomquist was impressed with what he saw, so he paired Meunier up with fellow fourth-grade teacher Sarah Flora to write the curriculum.

For two years, the teachers spent after-school hours, weekends, holiday breaks and summers writing the 1,373-page curriculum, complete with pictures, activities, work sheets, study guides and performance tests. The teachers even rewrote adult history books at a fourth-grade reading level so students could use the information for research.

The curriculum is made up of seven units: maps, geography, Native Americans, explorers and fur traders, the Oregon Trail, economics and government, said Debbie Connolly, Medford schools curriculum supervisor.

The teachers' main obstacle was obtaining copyright for pictures they wanted to use to illustrate the curriculum. In some cases, they ended up taking photos themselves.

Meunier enlisted the help of an employee at a campsite, where she and her family were camping on the Oregon Coast, to show her a spot where she could photograph some salmon berries, one of the foods American Indians ate. Before that moment, she said, she didn't know what a salmon berry looked like.

"But it was fun. Sarah and I both really enjoyed writing it," she said. "The framework was already there, but it was lot of fun doing the writing."

The district now is looking for a way to share the curriculum with other Oregon school districts free of charge, as public monies were used to develop it, Connolly said.

"That curriculum is directly aligned with every single state standard," Meunier said. "There's no fluff. If you look at the (Houghton Mifflin) book I got, it's not aligned to state standards."

The fourth grade is the only year during a public school student's education when Oregon history is studied in-depth, so it's important not to miss the mark.

"Oregon has such a great history that begs to be told, but there just is no one place to go to read the history," Meunier said.


Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/


Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.