Mike Madden

Putting History in Their Hands


Dr. Ava L. McCall

To view a slide show of Mike at work click here.





Teaching Strategies

Assessment Strategies

Teaching Expertise

            Mike Madden is one of two fourth-grade teachers at Sevastopol School, a K-12 school serving all students in the Sevastopol School District, a rural area outside of Sturgeon Bay. Mike’s large classroom is filled with Wisconsin studies artifacts, a daily museum environment for studying Wisconsin history. However, these objects are not kept under glass cases, but displayed on the classroom wall and regularly used. Mike’s passion for history is evident as he introduces the objects, demonstrates how to use them, and encourages his students to handle the artifacts. The fourth-graders also take many field trips throughout the school year to learn more about Wisconsin’s history and contemporary life, which provide a context for the artifacts and places and times they read about. Mike believes that if he can put “history in their hands,” history will come alive for his students. Through direct experiences with historical objects and places in Wisconsin, Mike hopes the fourth-graders will have a sense of living history and understand social studies can be fun.

Wisconsin Studies Goals

            Mike’s main goal in Wisconsin studies is to make history come alive for his fourth-graders. He believes that directly touching and seeing history are necessary for students to understand that history is enjoyable, interesting, and alive rather than something to read about in a text. Mike endeavors to offer first-hand experiences in order to promote children’s learning and interest in lifelong study. He provides his students with rich learning opportunities through the use of artifacts and numerous field trips to such places as Whitefish Dunes State Park, Heritage Hill, Milwaukee Public Museum, and to local farmers and small industries in Door County. Since agriculture is one of the most important Door County industries, Mike finds field trips to historical and contemporary farms enable his fourth-graders to understand changes in farming in Door County from the 1800s until the present.

            Mike also uses trade books, including Farmer Boy, Traders in Time, and Miracle on Maple Hill to place children back in time to the period of 19th century immigrant farmers, 18th century French fur traders, and a 20th century family learning to make maple syrup. Mike believes the power of story not only brings history to life, but leads to greater learning among his students than a list of facts. Through reading engaging stories, his fourth-graders are learning history.

            Another important goal is for Mike’s students to understand their geographical location in the world, including the hemisphere, continent, state, county, and city in which they live. As students study Wisconsin history, they also learn where important historical events occurred within the state. Mike wants his fourth-graders to know significant features of Wisconsin’s geography such as important rivers, lake boundaries, larger cities, and surrounding states. Additionally, he guides the students in understanding the physical features of different regions of Wisconsin, which influence the number of people who live in each region, the types of activities they engage in, and the industries they develop.

            Appreciating Wisconsin’s first inhabitants, Native people, and their cultural values of living in harmony with nature, cooperatively meeting basic needs, and valuing their families are also important goals. Mike wants his students to understand what Native American children’s lives were like because they can make connections with their own lives. Mike hopes his students comprehend that Native Americans controlled much of Wisconsin’s land, but did not claim to “own” land they were not using. Our European American ancestors took advantage of this different conception of land ownership for their own benefit. Through a field trip to the Milwaukee Public Museum, Mike believes his fourth-graders develop a better understanding of Native American powwows and Native people’s influences on food and transportation.

            Although Mike wants his fourth-graders to have fun with social studies, the standards are not forgotten. He has been teaching long enough to internalize the standards and use only those enjoyable instructional activities which teach the standards. The teachers at Sevastopol School reviewed the state standards and benchmarks for each area of the curriculum, including social studies, and formed their own standards and benchmarks. Mike’s school district social studies standards and benchmarks are very similar to the state’s.

Wisconsin Studies Curriculum

            In the fourth-grade classrooms at Sevastopol School, Mike Madden and Kathy Marshall focus on Wisconsin studies for most of the year. They devote one month to the study of the regions of the United States and the states within each region, but still compare different states and regions to Wisconsin. They also emphasize Door County’s history within state history because students are more familiar with the area of the state in which they live.

            Mike and Kathy juggle a cyclical and a chronological approach to their Wisconsin studies curriculum. At the beginning of the school year they focus on how archaeological evidence informs us about the lives of the first Native people and early European settlers living in forts. By the end of the year, they concentrate on contemporary industries, such as tourism, manufacturing, and agriculture. However, they also return to important topics throughout the school year in order to build students’ understanding and make Wisconsin studies meaningful and memorable. For example, they study early immigrant life and first industries, such as lumbering and farming, during the first few months of the school year, but then review 19th century immigrant life and industries later in the year as they investigate contemporary industries. Famous people in Wisconsin are introduced during the era in which they lived and the contributions they made, but Mike’s students choose a significant person in Wisconsin’s history to research later in the school year.

            For both Mike and Kathy, their Wisconsin studies curriculum primarily focuses on history, but they also integrate geography and archaeology with history. They devote some time to map skills at the beginning of the year and continue to integrate maps with other aspects of Wisconsin history, such as the location of lumbering communities and geographical reasons for their locations. Geography is emphasized when all fourth-graders are expected to learn their location in the world including the hemisphere, continent, country, state, county, and city in which they live; important geographical features of Wisconsin such as major rivers, cities, and lakes; and the five geographic regions of Wisconsin. For each region, Mike focuses on the physical features which make the region unique and their influence on human activities, especially economic endeavors.

            Throughout the school year, Mike addresses many different topics. He begins with the first Native people of Wisconsin, then later Native people who lived in the area before Europeans arrived. He introduces current Native American nations in the state, including various views on treaties and treaty rights. Mike teaches about the first Europeans in Wisconsin, including the French fur traders, British occupation before statehood, and the process of becoming a state.


            As Mike and his fourth-graders study immigration to Wisconsin from different countries, they also investigate the industries, such as lumbering, lead mining, and farming, which attracted early immigrants to the state. They study early immigrant life, especially the experiences of farming and attending one-room schools. Among the different types of agriculture in the state, Mike focuses on the cranberry, dairy, and maple syrup industries. Students learn about the longevity and importance of cranberry production and the significance of and changes in dairy farming in Wisconsin. When Mike and his fourth-graders study maple syrup production, they investigate the process of making maple syrup during earlier times and the importance and process of maple syrup production in Door County now. Mike focuses on the three most important industries to Door County today, including tourism, manufacturing, and farming. State government and how it functions are also part of Mike’s Wisconsin studies.

            As Mike teaches about different aspects of Wisconsin’s history, geography, economy, and government, he also integrates Wisconsin studies with other aspects of the curriculum. Students learn about Wisconsin through reading, language arts, science, mathematics, and art.


            Reading is integrated with social studies through the inclusion of different trade books and selections from the reading text. As a class, Mike’s students read Farmer Boy to understand what farming was like in the 1870s and Miracle on Maple Hill to learn the terms and process of making maple syrup. Mike also reads aloud Traders in Time and Cranberry Thanksgiving, which provide opportunities for the fourth-graders to become aware of the lives and the time period of the French fur traders and the process of harvesting cranberries, an important crop grown in Wisconsin. When students read a story about wooly mammoths from the reading text, Mike introduces the important relationship between wooly mammoths and early Native Americans. They also read excerpts from Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek from their reading text which reinforce early immigrant life experiences of traveling to a new home and enduring a severe winter storm.

            Writing activities are also integrated with Wisconsin studies. Students are encouraged to write in journals to record what they are learning in social studies. They might write about life as a lumberjack in a lumber camp or write a story about using different historical logging tools. When they study maple syrup production, Mike’s fourth-graders create mini-books which illustrate each step in the process of preparing maple syrup. As they study tourism, the fourth-graders create stories in which their families take vacations to places of interest within Wisconsin.

            Another subject which is connected to social studies is science. When Mike and his students study logging in Wisconsin, they also study trees, including trees which are native to the state. A number of Mike’s social studies artifacts are also examples of simple machines, an important topic Mike teaches in science. As students take field trips to farms and other places related to Wisconsin studies, Mike calls attention to simple machines they see.

            Geography is integrated with mathematics as students take a “world tour” and calculate the distance from their home state of Wisconsin to different places around the world. As students refine mathematics understandings of distance, they are also comprehending their place in the world. Mathematics is included in the study of maple syrup as students learn how to measure sugar content in sap and the number of gallons of maple sap needed with a specific sugar content to produce a gallon of maple syrup.

            Finally, art is integrated with social studies as an avenue for students to demonstrate what they have learned. After studying European immigration to the state and Laura Ingalls Wilder, an important Wisconsin author, students create a covered wagon. This art project reinforces what students learned about transportation during the 19th century. After studying Woodland Native Americans, students construct models or dioramas of early Native American homes and lifestyles. As they read Miracle on Maple Hill, the fourth-graders illustrate a significant scene from each chapter as a means of reviewing important ideas from the text.

Wisconsin Studies Teaching Strategies

            Mike selects teaching strategies for Wisconsin studies which are hands-on and involve the five senses. He believes the more he can engage his students’ senses to allow them to see, touch, hear, taste, and smell, the greater their involvement and learning. Mike’s teaching is also characterized as enthusiastic, no matter if he is leading field trips, demonstrating the use of artifacts, cooking with his fourth-graders, or reading aloud. All of his students’ senses are involved in learning about agriculture in Wisconsin. They read Farmer Boy to learn more about farming in the 1800s and observe and handle ice harvesting, grain harvesting, and cooking tools used during this era. Mike’s fourth-graders read Miracle on Maple Hill as they study the maple syrup industry, use the necessary tools and materials to collect maple sap from the maple trees in the school forest behind the school, observe and smell the preparation of maple syrup during a field trip to an historical farm, see the makaks or birchbark containers Native Americans made to collect maple sap each spring, taste the liquid as it changes from sap to syrup, taste completed maple syrup over ice cream, and observe and listen to a contemporary farmer’s description of their maple syrup production.

            Mike also appears to be a social constructivist teacher. He begins lessons on new topics by first drawing out students’ prior knowledge and experiences on the topic, then introducing new knowledge about the topic through various resources, clarifying the meanings portrayed by the resources, and encouraging students to summarize what they are learning. Learning is encouraged through many class discussions integrated with a variety of instructional activities. The fourth-graders are provided with numerous opportunities to explain and demonstrate their new knowledge. When students read print resources, Mike often elaborates on the text and asks students to clarify the meanings. When Mike introduces artifacts, he asks fourth-graders to speculate on their purpose and use and note differences among various artifacts, then elaborates on their understandings. When Mike demonstrates artifacts, he asks for students’ observations of their use and then has students use some of the safe objects. Mike’s fourth-graders are fortunate to have direct experience with artifacts to increase their understanding of them.

            One example of Mike’s sophisticated constructivist teaching occurs during the study of the first people who lived in Wisconsin. When Mike introduces his students to the first Native Americans through the pottery they left behind, he encourages the fourth-graders to describe objects they use to store food in their own homes and speculate how early Native people stored food. Then he has students simulate an archaeological dig by putting “cookie shards” together and identify the pottery pattern and era the pottery likely came from. Students describe what they learned from this activity during a class discussion. They then view and discuss a video on archaeological evidence from the first Native people, including rock art and effigy mounds. Next the fourth-graders take a field trip to Whitefish Dunes State Park, where they observe the site of an earlier archaeological dig and hear Mike, who participated in the archaeological dig, describe some of the evidence of early Native people found at the site. The students are able to view and hear Mike’s detailed explanation of a recreated Woodland village and Oneota home and garden area. Since Mike led volunteers in building the replicated homes for Woodland and Oneota people, his students are treated to very complete descriptions and responses to their questions. Finally, students work in small groups to use natural materials such as rocks, birchbark, twigs, and sand to create their own understanding of a Woodland village. The models provide a concrete example of the new knowledge students constructed about the homes and lifestyles of Woodland Native Americans.

            Field trips are an important component of Mike’s pedagogical repertoire. However, Mike plans them very carefully to make sure they are beneficial for students. He contacts or visits each site to determine the trip’s focus, then guides students in learning specific content during the trip. Mike also provides important follow-up activities after the field trips to reinforce students’ learning. For example, early in the school year, all the Sevastopol School fourth-graders travel to Heritage Hill and participate in a one-room school experience to learn about children’s lives in Wisconsin during the 1800s. They also read about the main character’s experience in a one-room school in Farmer Boy. Later in the year, Mike and Kathy simulate another one-room school experience with both fourth-grade classes. They crowd all the desks together in Mike’s classroom and dress and emulate the behaviors of teachers and students in one-room schools, which they learned during the earlier field trip. Throughout their one-room school simulation, they study early Wisconsin industries such as lead mining, logging, and farming and contemporary industries, especially tourism. A walking field trip to an antique store near the school introduces students to an important component of Door County’s tourism industry. The fourth-graders also review various tourist spots around Wisconsin, discuss their experiences in visiting these places, and plan future family vacations to their favorite tourist locations.

Wisconsin Studies Resources

            Mike has an extensive collection of Wisconsin studies resources to draw upon in his teaching. He has obtained many materials through school funds; personal funds; donations from organizations, such as Friends of Whitefish Dunes, who purchased some resources for all school districts in Door County; and through free materials from organizations such as the Cranberry Growers Association.

            His “best” teaching resources include curriculum guides, textbooks, trade books, books from the Badger History series, videos, websites, artifacts, and field trips. Two older resources, which still provide valuable content, teaching activities, and maps, are Wisconsin Past and Present, 1998 edition, published by the Graphic Learning Corporation, a curriculum guide with a class set of desk maps, and Follett Social Studies: Exploring Our State Wisconsin, a textbook published in 1977. Mike uses Wisconsin Past and Present by Graphic Learning because his students can write on the desk maps individually or in small groups and develop various map skills. Although this curriculum guide used to serve as Mike’s core curricular materials for Wisconsin studies, he now integrates these materials with other resources. He primarily employs the Wisconsin Past and Present curriculum to teach his fourth-graders about Wisconsin’s population, famous people, the five geographic regions, tourism, and agriculture. Mike continues to use the text Follett Social Studies: Exploring Our State Wisconsin as an outline for Wisconsin studies and a reference for introducing his fourth-graders to important people in Wisconsin, such as John Muir, Henry Dodge, and Black Hawk. He finds the individual vignettes on famous people in Wisconsin are very engaging for his students to read.

            Another resource Mike draws on for Wisconsin studies is the newspaper, Great State Wisconsin: America’s Dairyland, published monthly from September through May. It is written for fourth-grade students and includes articles on Wisconsin history, such as travel and transportation, lumbering and forests, and Old World Wisconsin, one of the state’s historical sites. Mike purchases a subscription to provide class sets of the newspapers every month.

            In addition to the core curricular materials, Mike reads aloud or has students read trade books such as Traders in Time, which deals with fur traders’ lives, Farmer Boy, which depicts farming in the 1870s, and Miracles on Maple Hill, which describes preparing maple syrup from maple sap. He occasionally uses parts of books from the Badger History Series, especially Digging and Discovery: Wisconsin Archaeology and Learning from the Land: Wisconsin Land Use. However, Mike finds these texts are difficult and time consuming for his students to use.

            Free print materials from organizations, such as the Cranberry Growers Association, the Department of Natural Resources, the Wisconsin Agribusiness Foundation, and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism are integrated into Mike’s Wisconsin studies curriculum as well. Mike selects sections of the booklet “This Business Called Agriculture” to integrate with other curricular materials and field trips when teaching about agriculture in Wisconsin. In addition, Mike finds the curricular materials “Wisconsin: The Rise of Wisconsin’s Early Industries” published by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism valuable in teaching about Wisconsin’s early industries, such as lead mining, logging, farming, and transportation of products and people by steamboats and railroads. The materials also promote tourism as a means of learning about these early industries since tourism is one of the three most important industries in Wisconsin today.

            Mike finds the video series “Exploring Wisconsin Our Home” to be a valuable resource on some topics in Wisconsin history, including the different cultural groups which immigrated to Wisconsin and where they settled in the state, the Peshtigo fire, and shipwrecks off the tip of Door County. Other valuable resources to use when studying the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, are the video and trade book Paddle to the Sea. The most significant website resource Mike has found is the State Historical Society’s website which includes “Mammoth Dig,” an engaging website activity for students. When Mike’s fourth-graders read about wooly mammoths and early Native people’s hunt for food, including the wooly mammoth, they complete the “Mammoth Dig” activity.

            Field trips to places which teach about Wisconsin history are another important resource. Mike schedules many field trips early in the year to provide students with direct experiences they can draw from all year. Mike introduces his students to early Native people and their lifestyles through a field trip to Whitefish Dunes State Park. Students observe different Native American villages, learn about early Native American children’s games and the materials available for games, and the importance of archaeology in learning about early people in the state. When studying about life in Wisconsin territory before statehood and early schools, Mike and his students go to Heritage Hill to learn about everyday activities in Fort Howard in 1836, including attending school. As they study European immigration and early cities in the state, they attend the exhibit “Streets of Old Milwaukee” at the Milwaukee Public Museum. During this museum visit, Mike also emphasizes contemporary Native American life, especially the meanings, symbols, and ceremonial dress of powwows. Finally, their study of small industries and agriculture in Wisconsin include field trips to a Door County glass blower, an historical farm with 19th century buildings and equipment, and a local farmer who successfully manages diversified farming today. This farm includes a sawmill, cherries and other crops, pigs, dairy cows, and maple syrup production.

            The most notable among Mike’s extensive array of resources are the artifacts displayed on his classroom wall. For 30 years Mike has collected artifacts and began displaying them in his classroom 17 years ago. His artifacts depict late 19th and early 20th century farming and kitchen tools and 19th century logging tools. Because of the importance of cherry crops and ice harvesting in Door County, Mike also includes artifacts used in picking cherries and cutting and storing ice.

Wisconsin Studies Assessment Strategies

            Mike uses both traditional paper and pencil tests and performance-based assessment strategies. Although he admits he does not utilize tests very often, Mike occasionally employs vocabulary tests and traditional tests with true-false and multiple choice questions to assess students’ understanding of important Wisconsin studies content. In determining his fourth-graders’ understanding of significant geographical concepts, he has them complete written and oral tests on where they live in the world (hemisphere, continent, country, state, county, and city) and Wisconsin’s main rivers, large cities, and surrounding states. He utilizes the same geography tests several times during the school year until all fourth-graders are successful. Performance-based assessments are used when Mike asks students to create mini books illustrating the steps in making maple syrup from maple sap and construct models of early Woodland Native American homes or villages depicting what they have learned about homes and lifestyles of some of the first people in Wisconsin before European contact.

Wisconsin Studies Teaching Expertise

            With 30 years of teaching experience, including 15 years of teaching Wisconsin studies, Mike is an expert. He developed this expertise through formal educational experiences, support from family and school personnel, and his own interests, hobbies, and love of learning. Mike regularly engages in such educational experiences such as teacher exchange programs to other countries, courses at different institutions, environmental education programs, and school district inservice sessions. The Sevastopol School District also sustains Mike’s teaching through the creation of an outdoor classroom area for the study of trees and lumbering and a former school superintendent who encouraged Mike’s interest in the natural sciences and history. Within the school district, there is encouragement for teachers to take risks and be innovative.

            Mr. Joe Majeski, Mike’s principal, supports Mike’s teaching expertise in numerous ways. For example, Mike’s classroom is larger than most teachers’ classrooms within the elementary wing of the school because he has the “science” room. Such a large classroom allows Mike to store and display science equipment as well as his extensive collection of artifacts, a wigwam, stretched skins, and tanned hides. Another important avenue Mr. Majeski uses to support Mike’s teaching is by “staying out of his way” and insulating him from the bureaucracy and state mandates which Mr. Majeski believes can sometimes interfere with teaching and learning. Mr. Majeski also credits his efforts to pair Mike with a strong fourth-grade language arts teacher, such as Kathy Marshall, important in encouraging Mike’s expertise in social studies. The partnership allows Mike to concentrate on science and social studies and continue to invest his time in innovative activities and projects in those subject areas. The principal’s willingness to fund all the fourth-grade field trips, participate in some of Mike’s class activities, and his recognition of the quality of Mike’s teaching and the positive responses from Mike’s students and families are also examples of significant administrative support.

            In addition to administrative affirmation for Mike’s excellent teaching, Mike finds significant support from Ms. Bridget Bowers, the media center specialist for the elementary section of the school. Ms. Bowers finds web sites for Wisconsin studies, book marks the best web sites for students to use in the computer lab, and works with Mike and Kathy when they bring their classes to the computer lab each week. When students complete their research on famous people in Wisconsin, Ms. Bowers is very helpful in finding on-line resources for students to use. Anytime Mike requests resources for teaching about Wisconsin, such as books, posters, or charts, Ms. Bowers finds what he needs. She also orders all the books and videos on Wisconsin studies which Mike requests for the school media center.

            Kathy Marshall, Mike’s fourth-grade teaching partner, also provides important collegial support for Mike’s teaching. Mike and Kathy usually plan lessons together, affirm one another’s ideas, and contribute different suggestions and areas of expertise to their plans. Mike appreciates Kathy’s expertise in reading, language arts, and assessment while Kathy values Mike’s knowledge in science, social studies, and community resources.

            Mike credits Barbara Madden, his life partner, in supporting his excellent teaching. Barbara regularly communicates her interest, enthusiasm, and encouragement for many of Mike’s Wisconsin studies activities and projects. Barbara shares Mike’s interest in traveling, exploring new things, and learning, especially history. Barbara’s family had a farm in Door County for over a century and provided a rich resource of farming artifacts, a history of farming, and interest in the land. Mike’s artifact collection has also been bolstered through gifts from others and his penchant for attending garage sales and auctions to find objects to add to his collection.

            Mike’s varied interests and love of learning contribute to his teaching expertise. He enjoys working in the woods and cutting wood, which allows him to speak with authority about the use of logging tools. Both Mike and Barbara are interested in history and have been members of the Door County Historical Society for over 20 years. Through this organization, Mike has learned much more about Door County’s history, including the importance of logging and ice harvesting. Barbara and Mike are both intrigued with archaeology and participated in the archaeological dig at Whitefish Dunes State Park in1992. This experience contributed to Mike’s understanding of the first Native people in Wisconsin. Mike built on the archaeological dig by visiting the recreated Ojibwa village on the Lac du Flambeau reservation, then led volunteers in recreating Woodland and Oneota homes and villages at Whitefish Dunes State Park. Through these personal interests, educational experiences, volunteer activities, and a supportive school environment, Mike has become an outstanding teacher of Wisconsin studies.

Advice to Wisconsin Studies Teachers

            Mike encourages fourth-grade teachers to use props or tangible objects when teaching Wisconsin studies. Props, such as artifacts, make the curriculum concrete and attract students’ interest. He finds students usually come alive when they have objects to see or handle. Mike has witnessed many different teachers’ success in using props to engage students of all ages in learning.

            Mike also advocates teachers bringing their personal interests into Wisconsin studies. When teachers meld their personal interests with the social studies curriculum, they are usually more knowledgeable and enthusiastic in their teaching. Ultimately, students benefit.

Wisconsin Studies

Teaching Social Studies