I’m sitting in a session at the KSDE Assessment Conference here in Topeka, Kansas listening to Keil Hileman. I’ve gotten to know Keil over the last four years and always enjoy hearing what he has to say. Keil, the 2004 Kansas Teacher of the Year and one of three national finalists, teaches middle school kids at Monticello Trails Middle School.

He’s been at our office several times talking to local teachers and I can’t get enough! He puts the energizer bunny to shame. The guy just loves to teach and it shows.

His hook? Keil is convinced that using artifacts as teaching tools is the best way to teach history.

He recounts the story of how he got started using artifacts as his focus by remembering the reaction of his students while showing the movie Glory.

Kids laughed and joked during the final scenes depicting the charge on Fort Wagner

He later ran across some old Civil War minie balls and when the unit came around again, shared them with his kids and provided some context. They got it. This time when he showed Glory, the kids were quiet & respectful. Some were crying.

“I suddenly realized that those three or four Civil War bullets were better teachers than I would ever be.”

Kile also cites the letter written by Holocaust survivor Chaim Ginott who wrote

My eyes have seen what no man should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers; children poisoned by educated physicians; infants killed by trained nurses and women shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request? Help your students become human.

He suggests that good social studies teachers can help kids learn how to be human.

“Artifacts help make our students human. The thing never to forget is that every artifact has to have a story attached or it’s just a piece of old junk.”

Days like today are the good days. Days that remind me of all the great teachers out there who love what they do and who are good at it.