I’m starting a week at the University of Colorado with Fritz Fischer and Maureen Festi. Fritz is a professor of history at the University of Northern Colorado who focuses on the idea of teaching future history educators. His goal is to better prepare teachers to understand content and quality instruction. Maureen is a fifth grade teacher from Connecticut and the Gilder-Lehrman 2007 Teacher of the Year.

The two are leading 21 of us in a Gilder-Lerhman seminar titled Teaching American History with Primary Sources. Most of “us” are elementary teachers and the goal of the week is to discuss educational best practices.

We spent this morning discussing the clash of cultures between Europeans and Indian Nations in North America. We started by listing adjectives and nouns that came to mind when we think of North American Indian Nations. The list led to a great conversation about that clunky phrase. Why was “indian” used by early explorers? How and why did the phrase “Native American” begin? What is appropriate and why?

Fischer argues that “Indian” is a word that most teachers and students assume was used by Columbus because he thought he was in the East Indies. It is most likely that the word was used because it defines “others” or “the other.” So some negative connotation. Native American is a term that begun as part of the American Indian Movement of the 1960s and 70s and because it was a term that created by the group itself, it was more acceptable.

Fritz suggests that many Indian groups now prefer Indian Nation.

But the list is a great way to start a conversation about how we view Indians today and how Europeans viewed Indians at the time. What is accurate, what isn’t?
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We spent part of the afternoon doing what one teacher called Frozen Theater. A quick overview?

Give kids a photo or painting and ask them to fold a piece of paper in half. The kids should be trained to look at parts of an image by looking at specific parts of the image. They should select a person or particular part of the image to think about.

On the left side of their folded paper, kids should describe what is happening, what the person may be feeling and what the person may be thinking. At the bottom of their page, ask them to describe the theme or message that the artist or photographer is trying to create.

An option at this point is to provide a set of documents that kids can read to gain a further sense of the event. Kids should then recreate the event depicted in the image by “freezing” in place as a group. Kids should then take turns briefly describing how their character is feeling. No props are allowed.

After the the Frozen Theater, have kids reflect on their paper by asking them to describe how their feelings have changed as a result. Some pretty powerful stuff!

We used the image of Washington crossing the Delaware. Good times!