Sunday, November 15, 2015

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Who Are The People We Honor?

This morning I was looking at the historical register for Montana, gathering ideas for upcoming lessons.   As I waited for inspiration to strike, I checked my email.  There was something from the Zinn Project  "Its Not Just the Confederate Flag" .  

I have a friend who lives in South Carolina.  I worry about her safety and the safety of her family.   When I was in the service another friend and I invited one of our instructors to visit Montana.  He looked at us smiled and said a firm no.  He had no intention of ever returning to Montana.

He had traveled through Montana in the late 60's to get to a family funeral.  He remembered stopping for gas in Montana and being stared at.  At the time I laughed and said small towns do that with every outsider.  Little did I understand how sinister those actions would feel to someone who had experienced violence because of the color of their skin.

The news stories of today make me wonder if I have fallen into a time warp or an alternate universe where the 60's just continued without a change of course.  I ask myself how does this happen?  Why is it continuing?  What can we do to change it?  I believe understanding our history and heritage is the responsibility of being an informed citizen.

As an educator I believed the lynchings and bombings of the 60's were behind us.  That as a society we had turned the corner and were becoming a more enlightened society.  I was wrong!

In the Zinn Project post they wrote about two men I had never heard of.  The first was Ben Tillman South Carolina Governor and US Senator.  (His statue stands in front of the South Carolina Capitol.)  They also wrote about Robert Smalls another man I had never heard of.

The article makes the suggestion that perhaps it is time to honor heroic men and women and replace the monuments and statues of individuals whose actions we now view as despicable by reasonable people.

I do not live in South Carolina, I do not face violent discrimination every day.  I am an outsider looking in.  So what does this have to do with US Senator Ben Tillman and Robert Smalls?

The last several years it has been my privilege to facilitate workshops about teaching with primary sources.  I tell teachers that history is messy.  There are layers and many contradictions.  I remind teachers to view the language and documents within the context of the times.

Our textbooks write a sterilized paragraph or two about events.  Raw history is messy, violent and often does not end happily ever after.  It is about people.  Complex, unpredictable people whose lives are complicated and controversial.

I wonder what discussions we would have in our classrooms if we gave them primary sources surrounding both these men, and asked them who deserved to be honored in front of the South Carolina Capitol?  Whose perspective is not represented?
  In 1900 on the Senate floor  US Senator Tillman stated -  
“In my State there were 135,000 Negro voters, or Negroes of voting age, and some 90,000 or 95,000 white voters. Now, I want to ask you, with a free vote and a fair count, how are you going to beat 135,000 by 95,000?”

Senator Tillman often bragged about his involvement in the "Hamburg Massacre" 
Here is the article "DEMOCRATIC REFORM THE HAMBURG MASSACRE." as was published in the State Journal dated Aug 11, 1876  - Aug 11, 1876
In the article "Saving the Nation" The National Tribune wrote about Capt Robert Smalls

As a society we need to be having conversations about who we honor and why.  Can you imagine what those conversations would sound like in your classroom?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Charlie Russell and the Margin Project

Charles M Russell created over 4000 pieces of art in his lifetime  (documented numbers).   Charlie often illustrated his letters to friends.  Writing for him was a challenging endeavor, his spelling is thought provoking.

In 1902 B.B. Kelly loaned Charlie his copy of A. C. Laut's "The Story of the Trapper".  When Charlie returned the book  B.B. discovered to his delight about 16 new illustrations in the margins.  B.B. died in 1920 at which time he conveyed the book to his infant godson, Stephen A. Birch.  It remained in his private collection until his death in 2009.

The Birch heirs have leant it to the Montana Historical Society where it is on exhibit.  Several of the illustrations have been reprinted as cards that can be purchased at the Museum Gift Store.

Charlie's talent is amazing, but using art to synthesize reading is within all students ability.  Corbett Harrison uses Mr Stickman in his classroom.  You can find his original handouts at along with how some of his students used it in their notebooks.

I would also like to share some information about the "Margin Project" and how some teachers and librarians are using it with their students.  Select books are chosen to be written in.  (You didn't ever think you would hear that from a librarian.)

The first reader adds notes as he/she reads.  Then the book is passed on.  The second reader add their own notes and sometimes responds to the notes from the previous reader.  Then the book is passed on.  Reading has become a more social experience.  My friend Kathi has used the Margin Project to the delight of some of her book clubs.

Read more at Jen Malone's site!margin-project/cpa5

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Attending the Charlie Russell Symposium

I grew up seeing Charlie Russell's art on calendars, and knick-knacks.  Reproductions hung in homes. I remember the first time I saw an exhibit of his work.  It would have been in 1979 after I moved to Helena, Montana.  I visited the Montana Historical Society and they had some of his work on exhibit. My favorite pieces were some letters he had illustrated.  They spoke to me but I didn't understand yet what they were saying.

During the intervening years I would have a nodding acquaintance with the artist.  A few years ago I was participating in a writer's challenge.  I had chosen Montana A-Z.  I was stuck for a place for the letter "U".  My husband said let's go to Utica.  That was the town in one of Charlie Russell's paintings.  And my journey began.

A Quiet Day in Utica

I came to understand Charlie Russell was not only a gifted artist but above else he was a story teller. 

The Montana Historical Society has been celebrating the 150th anniversary of Charlie's birthday.   It has been my honor and pleasure to be able to attend the Charlie Russell Symposium that they organized this year.  Scholars and authors,  actually they are Rock Stars in the Charlie Russell world.  
What I notice is the connection and friendship that these scholars and historians have developed over the years.  They have been generous with their time and knowledge.  It has been an incredible few days.  

Here is a list of some of the presenters:

Jodie Utter
Peter Hassrick
Mary Jane Bradbury
B Byron Price
Kirby Lambert
Jennifer Bottomly- O'Looney  
Brian Dippie
Larry Len Peterson
Kathryn Kramer
Jack Gladstone
Montana PBS

And of course there are the wonderful books.  Larry Peterson gave 50 copies of his book "Charles M. Russell:  Photographing the Legend, to Montana Schools.  I decided on two books "Montana's Charlie Russell" by Jennifer Bottomly-O'Looney and Kirby Lambert.  And "The 100 Best Illustrated Letters of Charles M. Russell" by Brian Dippie.  My husband tried to talk me out of purchasing them.

As I was paying for the two books.  The fellow from the bookstore turned to my husband and said.  "You weren't successful".  You see Dan had been planning to buy them and give them to me for a present.  I think today I will point out several other books I have my eye on.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Library of Congress iBooks

The Library of Congress now has a dozen free ibooks.  They are great tools for putting primary sources into students hands.     The ibooks are an interactive tool - students can highlight and draw on documents.

Group of African American children playingChildren's Lives at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Children of a century past: How were their lives different from today's? How were they the same? Especially for early grades.

extract from the U.S. ConstitutionThe Constitution

The drafts and debates that brought the Constitution and the Bill of Rights into being, including notes by the documents' framers.

Migrant pea pickerThe Dust Bowl

Songs, maps, and iconic photographs document the daily ordeals of rural migrant families during a disastrous decade.

Langston HughesThe Harlem Renaissance

Discover some of the innovative thinkers and creative works that contributed to the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Immigrants looking out over waterImmigration

The immigrant experience in America from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in primary sources.

Breaker boys, Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, PaThe Industrial Revolution

The U.S.'s tumultuous transformation into an industrial power, as revealed in films, images, songs, and stories.

Japanese-American childJapanese American Internment

Compelling photographs, including many by Ansel Adams, illuminate the experience of Japanese Americans interned during World War II.

Negro going in colored entrance of movie house on Saturday afternoonJim Crow and Segregation

Powerful photos and documents illuminate a century of segregation and the struggles against it.

A severed snakePolitical Cartoons and Public Debates

Political cartoons and other documents from three centuries of U.S. history shed light on the persuasive strategies used in public debates.

Betsy Ross sewing the U.S. flagSymbols of the United States

Watch six well-known symbols of the U.S. change over the centuries. Especially for early grades.

Planet earth with the moon and starsUnderstanding the Cosmos

Astronomers' depictions of the universe, from before Copernicus to after photography.

Suffrage Parade, New York CityWomen's Suffrage

The battle for women's right to vote comes to life in the scrapbooks, posters, news stories, cartoons, and firsthand accounts of suffrage activists.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Parsnips and the President

When I was 15 I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with 40 other 4-Hers for about 3 weeks.  We left Lewiston, Idaho and headed for Washington DC.  We stayed there for a week and then headed home.  We were in Washington DC for Club Congress and Leadership Training.

We saw so many wonderful things.  One highlight was our visit to Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello.  I remember being in awe of all the things he invented.  I remember standing out front and our tour guide pointing to the Smoky Mountains in the distance.

I still have the reproduction butter stamp that I bought in the gift store. Sometimes the odd nickle will trigger a walk down memory lane.   What does this have to do with parsnips or Presidents?  Well long story short.  When Thomas Jefferson's name comes up I will often stop to check things out.

This morning I had been on the TPS Teachers Network and from there read a post from Teaching With the Library of Congress Blog  As I was reading another post caught my eye.

Teaching with Thomas Jefferson’s Vegetable Market Chart  by Cheryl Lederle .  She shares a wonderful resource, a chart that shows when certain vegetables were available over a two year period.  This chart was among Thomas Jefferson's papers in the Library of Congress.

It made me think of possible connections.  Comparing and contrasting regions, products, graphs.  Lots of Math and Science possibilities.  Then it made me think of weather.  What weather records would be available for that region.  So many questions.  I wonder how many of my students have even tasted parsnips?


Thursday, June 11, 2015

History Games

Montana Office of Public Instruction sponsors a Best Practices conference every year.  There are always wonderful sessions to attend and learn from.  This year one of my favorites turned out to be a presenter from Montana PBS.  PBS and the Dept of Education and teamed together to create a video game called Cheyenne Odyssey

It is based on an actual historic event.  There is a section for teachers that provides resources to use the game in the classroom.

I was very impressed when I learned how closely they had worked and listened to the Northern Cheyenne Elders and Cultural Committee.  The art work corresponds very closely to the real geographical area.  When you listen to the avatars speak you are hearing tribal members.

Best of all my students love the game.  They have asked to play it on a number of occasions.  Mission US has several other games based on historic events.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Winding Down

This has been a roller coaster year.  Our school population is growing.  Next year they are adding 3 more classes.   The art and music teachers are losing their shared classroom.  They will be teaching from a cart next year.  I am losing 1/2 of my library space.  I still don't know where the 3rd classroom is going to be.  There are no more available rooms.

I understand the need, but at the same time it breaks my heart.  I listen to the people from facilities and others.  It comes back very clear most people have no clue what it takes to maintain and teach within a library.  At one point they wanted to take out my sink!  I happened to come around the corner and heard the comment.  I explained that there are times when books come with syrup and jelly and other sticky substances.  I would rather not be hauling those books down the hall looking for a sink.  They seemed surprised by this revelation.

They told my principal later that they had taken a sink out of one of the other libraries to make room.  I told her, "Yeh I know which one.  It has been a problem!"

As I look around the country and see so many states have totally gutted their libraries.  I am grateful that Montana maintains a strong library program within its schools.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Last Good Bye

Sunday was challenging, a friend had tried to reach me by phone.  When my phone got charged and turned on I read her message and returned the call.  A great friend of her's and her husband was gone.  We talked for quite a long time.

Sadly I headed for bed.  Dan usually reads the paper in bed.  As I came to bed he said, Pat died.   A second blow.  He had fought hard for a long time this man with gentle humor and a love of teasing.  Many of his accomplishments I knew some I wish I had known.  He was a complex man.  A man of vision.  A man who loved his family and his people.

Monday there was no school.  I stopped by the college to talk with John about my workshop Tuesday evening.  He had already done my printing.  I was antsy and subdued.  I still needed to get going.  The trip always takes me about an hour to make Pryor,

I had lots of time to think as first the weather was windy, then rainy, then snowing.  I arrived at the high school parked.  I was only a few minutes early I found a seat.  The color guard came in.

Most people have one major career.  Pat had three.  Tribal government - Tribal Chairman.  High School teacher of history and language. Retiring from that occupation he served as a pastor since 1978 to his death.

As we paid our last respects people filed past the open casket.  There on his chest was his bible. Placed on a corner of the open lid hung his war bonnet.  We had come to say goodbye to this good man.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

#31, What She Finds

A fissure opens
carefully constructed

something sinister

Desperate searches
deepest darkest
of the past

what she finds
could destroy everything
even her own life

From the back blurb of "Close My Eyes" by Sophie McKenzie. A friend passed this on to us. I haven't read it yet.

Monday, March 30, 2015

# 30, My Aha Moment - and the Word Varmint

Thursday is my traveling library day - I am at my second school.  I have a 5/6 combo, a 6, a 2nd and a 3rd.  My students at this school are mainly upper middle class.  It is always amazing to me to see the similarities and differences between the two schools I teach at.

My Thursday classes have been doing some individual writing.  I decided to share the Pensee poem, Chipmunks, that I had posted on my blog.  As a class we read and discussed it.  I then showed the entire post - pictures were a hit.  At no time did I identify myself as the author.

Several of the kids referred to the author as "he".  Internally I shook my head but went on with the lesson.  I then handed out copies of the poem and had them glue it into their notebooks.  I asked them to circle words that were interesting, important or  words they didn't know.

The word varmint was mentioned several times.  I shared this definition with them.

The kids did not like the second definition "a troublesome and mischievous person, especially a child."  I laughed inside and then asked, "Which definition was the author referring to in the poem?"

I then challenged them to deconstruct the poem.  We did line 1 as a whole group.  One of the boys thought he was being funny and stated the first line had two syllables.  The look on his face was priceless when I told him that was a great observation. Then I let them partner up to deconstruct the other four lines.  I gave them about 10 minutes to annotate the poem.  Then we debriefed.  

I then handed out a slip of paper with the template for the Pensee Poem.  I asked them to re-look at the poem in their notebook and another poem I projected, "Did the author meet the Pensee rules for each poem?"  They quickly evaluated the poems discovering that one of the poems had more syllables then the Pensee instructions.   (I realized that I had not done a great job counting the night before oh well.)  It turned out fine.  It created an interesting discussion.

Then it was there turn.  I told them to write about an animal (wild, pet, or mythical) using the Pensee instructions.  They got right down to business.  I didn't get one comment about what did I want them to do.

My "aha moment".  Deconstructing the poem first really helped them to understand the form as well as gain meaning. 

As they finished I looked at their work.  I then asked them to write two additional poems.  One about food, the second was a topic of their choice (school appropriate).   At the end of the time they asked if they could share their poems.   They were so excited about getting up in front of the class and sharing! 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

#29, Root Beer Memories

Have you ever drank homemade root beer?  Occasionally we would go to town and stop at the drive-inn and have a frosty mug of root beer or a root beer float.  I remember how creamy and smooth it was.  The ice cream, thick bubbles and laughter.  Eating my drink with a spoon.  Then finishing it up with the straw.  Root beer floats were awesome.  A very special treat.

We lived in the country when I was very little.  Mom and I would take daily walks along the paved road in front of our house.  We would pick up pop or beer bottles that had been tossed from passing cars.  If you turned them in at the store beer bottles were worth a penny and pop bottles were worth 2 cents. Later the pop bottles jumped to a nickel. These were put into the shed until there were enough to turn in.  That was our fair money.  Money to spend on rides and treats.

Usually once a year mom would make homemade root beer.  I remember her going to the store and getting a box of root beer extract.  We would sit at the table and she would carefully open the box.  Remove the folded recipe and instructions.  Opening the paper, she would read it over.  Then carefully lay out all her needed ingredients. There was a box of boughten bottle caps.  I would get the bottle capper stored in the back of the cupboard.   She would take some of the pop bottles, wash them real good and then put them in boiling water to sterilize them.

I can still see the big pot on the stove.   Bottles rolling, bubbles gurgling and steam hovering over the pot.  Then she would take the bottles out one by one.  Line them up  on the towels laying on the counter.  In another pot was the simmering syrup: extract, sugar, water, and yeast.  The brew even now I can see cooling just a bit.

The sterilized funnel went into the neck of each bottle.  Then she would ladle out the brew.   I watched as the dark liquid raced into the bottle crashing against itself as the line of dark brew raised to the top.  It was my job to notice when it was at the correct place on the neck.  Too much and it would pop early.  Too little and there would be no fizz.

Then it was my job to take one of the bottle caps and put it on the bottle.  Mom would set the bottle on the capper machine.  She would pull the handle down and it would crimp the cap.  After the bottles had been capped they would go in the wooden pop bottle crate.  From there they were moved to a dark closet.  I remember being told not to open the closet door because they needed the darkness to become root beer. She would also put a newspaper and towel on top of the bottles and under the crate.

As a small child I thought those bottles had to stay in there for months.  As I look online at old recipes it was actually probably only a week.

Occasionally you would hear a loud pop come from the closet.  That was a bottle that had not sealed properly and had exploded.  I'm guessing that was why the towel and newspapers were assembled.

I still feel the anticipation of finally being allowed to open the closet door and examine the remaining bottles.  The dark liquid beckoned.  I can still see that small person carrying a bottle to the fridge.  Until there were about six chilling.  Knowing that later mom would pop the caps and we would have the ultimate treat - cold root beer or maybe a homemade root beer float.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How Do You Use Trading Cards?

Do you collect trading cards?  Do you create them?  If you do how do you use them?

Sports trading cards have been a main attraction.  I remember boys collecting cards when I was a kid.  I don't think I paid much attention though.   As an adult I'm still not collecting but am more aware.

The Library of Congress (think primary sources) have  a great collection of the old sports trading cards.  You can download copies of them at

For many years our district created trading cards of high school students - these students were chosen because of their accomplishments in academics, sports, music, etc.  The cards were given to the elementary schools to be used as rewards for goals chosen by the schools.  The kids on the trading cards came around and talked to the younger kids.  The kids who collected the most at the end of the time period got to have lunch with the trading card kids.

Recently I learned that many of the National Parks have created a set of trading cards (these can be downloaded) or collected in person.  The theme is Civil War to Civil Rights.   You can find out more at this site .    You can download them from flickr here

Here are some unusual ways cards have been used:

Ways to create your own cards:
Bingo Card Maker -

Friday, March 27, 2015

#27, A Tanka Poem On the Beartooth Highway

Are my eyes deceived?
Top hat on the spiral road

Twisty, hairpin turns
Wind whistling, cycle roaring

The top hat continues on.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

#26, Playing with Pensee Poem and Photos

Small striped beggars

Bold, scampering quickly, gone

Top of Beartooth Highway, rest stop
Funny, charming varmint

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#25, Breaking New Ground - Medicine Crow Middle School

President Obama awarding Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Photo Credit: Bacone College

Our district just broke ground for a new middle school.   It is being named after Joe Medicine Crow.  Joe is 101 and an amazing storyteller.  He is a Crow historian, a  decorated WWII veteran.  In 2009 President Obama bestowed the nation's highest civilian honor - Presidential Medal of Freedom on him.

I have been fortunate to hear Joe tell about when he and other committee members worked to have the museum built at the Chief Plenty Coup State Park.  He told us he and other Crow tribal members (English was their second language) worked with a Czechoslovakian architect (English was his second language) to build the museum.  Joe and the others stressed the importance of having the main door facing East.  Everyone agreed and went on their way.  When the committee came back together that fall they went out to the park to find workers in the final stages of the project.  Workers who only spoke English.   The important East facing door nowhere to be seen.

I remember him saying, "Now imagine some Crows trying to talk to that Czechoslovakian, who then had to explain it to the workers.  It was too late to put in a door, so we had them put in a circular window instead.  Someday if they ever build on maybe we will get the door."

When I first heard this story I marveled at the process of building such a structure.  The work, the translations, the frustrations and the celebrations.  I was joyful when I learned the new school would be named in his honor.  I was saddened by some of the comments that some people made.  We are still breaking ground in society.

His autobiography "Counting Coup" by Joseph Medicine Crow, is an amazing story.  (It only tells his early life through WWII.) It is a fast read and recounts how he returned home and recounted his military experience to the elders. As he recounted his experiences it was determined that he had met all four War Deeds and had earned the right to be a War Chief.

Joe is an amazing man, always with a twinkle in his eyes.  He once told me he wanted to live longer than his mother.  She lived to be 113.

It will not surprise me when he accomplishes it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

#24, Wall Dogs and Ghost Signs

Who or what is a Wall Dog?  Until yesterday I didn't know.  Clue - Norman Rockwell was once one. How does a Wall Dog connect to Ghost Signs.  Ghost Signs are those old fading advertisements that were painted on buildings.  In one of the communities there is one painted on an old grain elevator.  The elevator hasn't been in use for at least 50 years and the sign is crystal clear.

I was reading the recent copy of "Montana Magazine" and came upon the article "Ghost Sign Scrutiny" by Claudia Rapkoch .  She says wall dogs were sign painters hired by companies to paint advertisements across the country.

I loved this quote from the story by Nancy Bennett- "Wall dogs is what the old-time painters were called that did the company signs like Bull Durham and Coca-Cola.  They earned the nickname because they worked like dogs on the wall all day," she said. "We honor and respect the history of these signs by developing a plan that accurately restores the original colors but doesn't make it look too new."

We have quite a few ghost signs in Billings.  I think it would be a cool citizen history project to photograph and document the signs that still exist in our communities.

The Wall Dogs are a group of sign painters and muralists that are trying to keep the old skills alive.  I found their website here

Further Exploration

Ghost Signs of Fort Collins

Ghost Sign Weekly

Meet the Ghost Sign Hunters

Ghostsigns The Ads

Flickr:  Ghost Signs

Ghost Sign Project

Monday, March 23, 2015

Living Gluten Free: the Journey

My journey with living gluten free actually started a few years ago after reading a Slice of Life .  I started reading about "One Little Word".  I chose health for my one little word for 2013.  A positive word.

What followed was much different than I imagined.  I was starting with a new doctor and new tests.  He was concerned with my liver level enzymes.  More tests - I was not hearing back from the good doctor so decided to try my own research.

I started with Mayo clinic website.  As I looked at possibilities many I was able to eliminate out of hand.  Towards the bottom was "gluten sensitivity" could be the culprit.   My mind thought ah this will be an easy check.  I have a new test in two weeks I will eliminate gluten and see if it makes a difference.  (For those who understand, yes I was NAIVE with capital letters.)

I went gluten free, I was clueless.   About two weeks in we met friends for dinner.  I ordered the broasted chicken and peeled off the skin thinking problem solved.  Before we left my stomach was queazy.  We got home - I spent the next three hours in the bathroom, vomiting and coping with problems on the other end.

I realized that peeling the skin off did not solve my problem.  The meat was pressure cooked forcing the gluten into the meat.  I also realized that I did have a sensitivity.

The next round of tests took me to a new doctor.  I asked about testing for gluten sensitivity.  She said that in order to get a good reading I would need to be eating gluten when they tested me.  Once the results were back the only thing they would tell me was not to eat it.  I decided to skip the tests, I already knew that answer.

Sadly it was not the answer to the liver problem.  They decided they had no answer and would continue to monitor.  I have now been living gluten free since January 2013.

Fortunately I have many more choices than people had even five years ago.  Then there is the internet, lots of support.  I have friends and family who look for new foods to share.  And I have a husband who reads labels.  I am truly blessed.