February 1, 2016

Indiana Classrooms Going 200 Years Back In Time

Karen Mengle answers a question from fourth grade student Myzshia. - Shelby Mullis/TheStatehouseFile.com

Karen Mengle answers a question from fourth grade student Myzshia.

Shelby Mullis/TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is the place fourth grader Hannah Stratton calls home.

Hannah, a student at Westwood Elementary School in Greenwood, Indiana, already knows what she is doing to celebrate the state’s 200th birthday on Dec. 11, 2016.

“I’m gonna ask my mom and dad if we can get a cake,” Hannah said. “But like I always say, it’s not a party until someone gets cake on their face.”

It is in Karen Mengle’s classroom where Hannah and her 18 classmates were acquainted with Indiana history.

Mengle, a first-year teacher at Westwood, tries to maintain a balance in her classroom where she is required to meet all Indiana standards for math, language arts, science and social studies, which includes Indiana history. As an advocate for teaching Indiana history in the classroom, Mengle said she finds several reasons to support it.

“There are Indiana standards for fourth grade Indiana history, but it’s not a high stakes testable area,” Mengle said. “There is so much focus on science and literacy and math, so there’s not a lot of time that you can devote really digging into Indiana history.”

As important as the other subjects are, Mengle said by not putting an emphasis on Indiana history, kids are “losing out on this feeling of community, feeling of belonging, knowing where they’re from and being proud of where they’re from.”

In order to incorporate state history into her daily lessons, Mengle finds ways to combine social studies lessons into math story problems and literacy workshops.

“I think it’s important to build well-rounded kids that have some sense of belonging,” Mengle said. “The state standards drive our curriculum. You kind of have to work it in and the best way I find is to work it into literacy as much as you can — making homework with it. Today, they’re writing poems and using Indiana as the topic.”

Mengle is one of hundreds of Indiana fourth grade teachers trying to find ways to implement state history into her daily lesson plans. The Indiana Historical Society is sharing techniques to help teachers balance test prep and social studies.

“The more students know about where they come from, the more they learn about and love Indiana, the more likely they are to become good stewards of the state,” said Becky Scholmann, IHS Bicentennial Programs Coordinator.

Schlomann said time is a challenge not only for Indiana educators, but also for teachers across the nation as standardized testing rises.

“It’s really hard for teachers to find the time to do all of that test preparation with their kids and then teach all of the things that the state tells them that they have to teach,” Schlomann said. “A big part of what those of us involved in advocacy for social studies education would like to see is for us to move away from so much testing to free up some time for teachers to teach history.”

Since 2014, Schlomann has been in charge of coordinating a series of bicentennial teacher professional development workshops. The workshops are designed to educate teachers on ways to integrate state and local history into their classroom curriculum.

Nearly 80 educators are registered to attend the Feb. 3 workshop at the Indiana Historical Society. Schlomann said about 650 teachers have attended the workshops over the last two years and she aims to reach a total of 1,000 teachers by the end of 2016.

“One of the messages we really want to get across is that history is all around us. Everywhere. No matter who you are and no matter where you’re from,” Schlomann said.

“Math facts don’t give you a sense of belonging,” Mengle said. “Doing vocabulary words doesn’t really give you a sense of belonging. And I think that’s the human connection where you can do that. History and any thing in this helps them know where they come from — why things are the way they are.”

Watching her students grow in the classroom through this engagement is what Mengle focuses on. Fourth grade student Hannah said she’s learning more about what makes Indiana special.

“Probably freedom and not paying taxes,” Hannah said. “It’s my home and it’s awesome.”

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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