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May 1, 2023 | by Laura Wakefield, National Council for History Education
Since 2017, NCHE has offered professional learning colloquia that focus on “Technology’s Impact in American History (TIAH).” Funded by a Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources grant, our 3-day long programming has guided hundreds of teachers in exploring how technology has shaped history while simultaneously developing teachers’ ability to design, implement, evaluate, and share primary source based historical inquiry.
We have designed 15 TIAH colloquia with numerous partners at many sites from Florida to the state of Washington. Each place presented an opportunity for teachers to explore a particular institution and bring new resources to their classroom. Our ability to partner with institutions like the Astronauts Memorial Foundation at Kennedy Space Center in Florida (4 times), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia (3 times), the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (4 times) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and the Museum of History and Innovation in Seattle, Washington have made these colloquia special.
In October 2022, we realized that funds in our TPS grant would enable us to offer an additional colloquium in the spring of 2023. For this last TIAH colloquium, we wanted to see how modern technology is helping to uncover the diversity of the past in an iconic city: St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565. We believed that the nation’s oldest city would be the perfect setting for teachers to explore the extraordinary richness of Florida’s colonial past.
NCHE’s colloquium model brings together a team of scholars. We emphasize the scholarship of historians and that of scholarly teachers. Our first step was to invite Dr. J. Michael Francis, who was a keynote speaker at the 2015 NCHE conference held in St. Augustine, to be the historian for the colloquium. Francis has spent years translating Spanish records and uploading them to a remarkable website entitled La Florida: The Interactive Digital Archive of the Americas. This website includes a free open-access searchable population database of thousands of individuals who lived in colonial Florida. The innovative site provides a multidisciplinary perspective of three centuries of competing colonial powers, free and enslaved blacks, and Native Americans interacting to shape this diverse landscape. Given the Library of Congress’s mission to connect its archives with others across the nation, we were excited to add another dimension to the current Library of Congress resources for teachers. With Francis’s help, we began to frame a colloquium to focus on the pre-19th century period and chose the title, “Uncovering Lost Voices in American History.” Because of her experience with the Library of Congress records and the records of La Florida, we asked Dr. Jennifer Jaso, an award-winning Florida middle school teacher, to serve as our master teacher. We met with our team of scholars three times, beginning in January, to plan the content for the April colloquium.
Next, we connected with Flagler College to see if they would host the teachers on their beautiful campus in the heart of St. Augustine and were thrilled when they said “Yes.” Knowing the difficulty teachers face in securing a substitute teacher for their classroom, we decided to begin on Friday night so teachers would not miss more than one day of class to travel to the colloquium, and we decided to end on Sunday afternoon. This meant teachers would only need to stay two nights in St. Augustine instead of three. The grant provides a modest stipend for teachers to offset travel costs, but with current hotel costs, it doesn’t cover enough.
We posted the registration opportunity for teachers on the NCHE website on a Friday night in January. By Monday morning, we had over 40 applicants from 12 different states for 30 slots. Within a week, we closed registration because we had so many applicants. An NCHE team reviewed the applications and accepted 30 teachers, placing others on a wait list. We built an online Canvas site for the colloquium where we posted detailed information for teachers traveling to St. Augustine and created a private Facebook group so participants could begin to get to know each other. We also contacted hotels in the historic district and arranged for a room block at a reduced rate for teachers interested. We arranged for breakfast and lunch to be catered on site for participants to have more time to connect with each other and the content.
A hallmark element of NCHE colloquia are excursions that allow teachers to explore the area or the institution where we meet. Despite the short weekend, we built in several trips to get teachers out of the classroom. First, we traveled to the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park where the original indigenous village had been located in 1565 when the Spanish arrived. A second trip was to Fort Mose Historic State Park, the location of the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in what is now the United States. The Spanish established it in 1738 as a settlement for those fleeing slavery from the English colonies in the Carolinas. We didn’t have enough time to take the teachers to see the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fortification in the continental United States built between 1672 and 1695. However, we arranged for teachers to have free access to the Castillo after the colloquium ended on Sunday afternoon. In addition, we asked Dr. Michael Butler, a historian at Flagler College, to take the teachers on a walking tour after the colloquium ended to learn about the significant places in the history of the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine. Although the colloquium did not focus on this more modern period, we knew teachers would be interested to learn about it.
NCHE colloquia focus on building teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge, and a key aspect of this work is ensuring that teachers have a deep understanding of historical content. The month before the colloquium, teachers read “Madalena: The Entangled History of One Indigenous Floridian” by Scott Cave and discussed the reading on the Canvas site. They also searched for a primary source from the 16th century to 1821 that interested them and posted it for discussion on Canvas. They brought a copy of their primary source with them to the colloquium and analyzed these sources further in person. At the colloquium, in addition to the excursions, teachers learned from Michael Francis many stories of the diverse peoples of Colonial St. Augustine and the region as well as how to use the La Florida site. Jennifer Jaso showed teachers strategies to take the content back to their classrooms and how to use the Library of Congress’s primary sources, ensuring that they know how to teach this specific content well.
The “Uncovering Lost Voices in American History” colloquium was held in April 2023. Here are some comments from participants about the experience:
“The most useful idea learned is that I can incorporate the history of Florida and indigenous tribes into larger conversations about early America, making colonial education more relatable for my students.”
“This was a very well-organized colloquium, and the facilitators were approachable and enthusiastic.”
“Outstanding instruction and content! Absolutely enjoyed working with so many knowledgeable and talented professionals!”
“The experts and their ability to engage their audience with meaningful experiences made something that had the potential to be dry and dated more relevant and impactful to my understanding of the people of St. Augustine and the far-reaching impact they had on our history.”
“Thank you for offering these to teachers. They are very useful and unique in that they have a pedagogical component that others don't have. Please continue offering these wonderful programs in the future.”
At NCHE, we are proud of the professional learning we provide to teachers, and we continue to value our partnership with the Library of Congress’s Teaching with Primary Sources program.
Laura Wakefield recently retired after being part of many NCHE colloquia over the past 20 years.
The National Council for History Education provides professional and intellectual leadership to foster an engaged community committed to the teaching, learning, and appreciation of diverse histories.
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