Marilyn Penn

Wisconsin Studies Across the Curriculum


Dr. Ava L. McCall

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





Teaching Strategies

Assessment Strategies

Teaching Expertise


            Marilyn Penn is a fourth-grade teacher at Royal Oaks Elementary School, one of five elementary schools in Sun Prairie. In her classroom, Marilyn teaches Wisconsin studies throughout the day by connecting it to various areas of the curriculum. As Marilyn and her students discuss current events and refine their skills in reading and identifying the main idea in nonfiction newspaper articles, they focus on Wisconsin and locate where the events occur on a Wisconsin map. When Marilyn’s fourth-graders read historical fiction and biographies suggested in the Sun Prairie’s fourth-grade reading curriculum, they learn about people from Wisconsin. As Marilyn’s students learn to read, understand, and order large numbers in mathematics, they are comprehending census data about Wisconsin’s population. As the fourth-graders complete research from various resources and prepare a written report highlighting important ideas they learned, they focus on aspects of Wisconsin. When Marilyn’s students develop their writing skills in summarizing, writing paragraphs, and using correct punctuation and spelling, they are illustrating what they learned about Wisconsin all year in their unique “All About Wisconsin” alphabet books. Even when the fourth-graders participate in a Halloween party, they play games Wisconsin children and adults played during the 19th century. Through the careful integration of the study of the state throughout the curriculum, Marilyn’s students benefit from a very rich Wisconsin studies curriculum.

Wisconsin Studies Goals

            Marilyn believes social studies, including Wisconsin studies, is equally important to literacy and mathematics, even though school districts do not emphasize social studies as they do literacy and mathematics. However, children can learn social studies content through reading and mathematics. According to Marilyn, it is through social studies that children become citizens. They learn about the past and understand their obligations for contributing to society in the future. Furthermore, Marilyn emphasizes current events within Wisconsin studies, which helps her fourth-graders understand problems, issues, and changes within the state which affect them. When Marilyn teaches about Wisconsin, she emphasizes the top of the fact pyramid (Buehl, 2001) or the main ideas and important concepts, generalizations, and conclusions her fourth-graders should remember 10 years after studying their state. If students are interested in going beyond the main ideas, she offers resources for their investigations. However, she does not want children to become bogged down in small details or facts which detract from the main ideas.

            By the end of their study of Wisconsin, Marilyn wants her students to understand and take pride in the history and people of the state, their uniqueness and progressive ideas as leaders in environmental, political, and equality movements. As they study notable people in Wisconsin such as Aldo Leopold, Marilyn hopes her fourth-graders understand that ordinary people can make a difference and influence future directions in the state. Another important outcome for Wisconsin studies is for Marilyn’s students to value the chance to choose their leaders. Marilyn also hopes the fourth-graders appreciate the opportunity to live in a state with a strong and interesting history and beautiful geography. Through a study of the five geographic regions of Wisconsin, she believes her students understand the strengths and weaknesses of each region and how state government must accommodate the different economic needs and special interests of each region. For example, when making decisions about Wisconsin forests, the state government must balance the needs of people working in the forest industry with environmentalists’ interests.


            As they study Wisconsin’s early industries, Marilyn emphasizes the cyclical nature of their importance. At one time the first industries such as lead mining became very significant, attracted new immigrants to work in the industry, then declined.

            Marilyn integrates nonfiction and fiction reading about Wisconsin in order to encourage her fourth-graders to develop additional knowledge about the state’s significant people, geography, historical time periods and events, and current developments and issues at the same time they are developing literacy. As they read biographies of famous people in Wisconsin, books set in Wisconsin, or texts written by Wisconsin authors, Marilyn’s students are increasing their knowledge about the state, which provides important background for understanding the books they read. As they read nonfiction newspaper articles about their local community, county, and region, they make personal connections to current issues in Wisconsin and their significance.

            One of the reasons Marilyn integrates math with Wisconsin studies is to encourage students to read and interpret the everyday use of numbers and graphs. Rather than understand that math means problems from a textbook, she wants her fourth-graders to realize math is part of their lives everyday. Through the integration of mathematics with the study of the state, Marilyn hopes her students learn that Wisconsin is composed of different ages, races, educational levels, and incomes, and that their own community of Sun Prairie is representative of the state as a whole whereas Dane County is not.

Wisconsin Studies Curriculum

            In the Sun Prairie School District, Wisconsin studies is limited to one academic year. Marilyn and the other fourth-grade teachers at Royal Oaks Elementary School emphasize the geography and history of the state. Marilyn begins with geography and map skills, introducing students to current events in the state, locating them on a state map, and clarifying that Wisconsin is part of different regions in the U.S. Marilyn wants her students to understand that Wisconsin shares commonalties with other states who are part of the manufacturing and dairy belts, the Midwest, and the Great Lakes states.

            An important aspect of Marilyn’s Wisconsin studies curriculum is the study of five different regions within the state, which integrates geography and history. Marilyn introduces the location of each region, the landforms, rivers, and other geographic features, and the glaciers’ effects on the terrain. She also focuses on the population, early industries of each region, such as lead mining and lumbering, and current industries and products produced, including cranberries and dairy products. Students also learn about important events which occurred within the region.

            Marilyn then moves to a chronological approach to state history and introduces her fourth-graders to early Native American groups who first lived in the area and how they met their basic needs through natural resources without wasting any of these resources. She especially wants her fourth-graders to understand that the first people were swept aside and not treated well by people with greater knowledge and equipment. Next, Marilyn introduces the students to French fur traders, early explorers, the inevitable nature of European exploration of the Americas, the countries from which explorers came, and their reasons for coming to this part of the world. Marilyn’s fourth-graders should understand that the first explorers were risk takers who endeavored to spread their own religion and find treasures.

            Marilyn connects explorers’ discoveries of Wisconsin’s resources, such as lead and lumber, to reasons attracting European immigrants to the state to make money from these resources and escape from conditions in Europe. At this point, Marilyn describes her Wisconsin studies curriculum as encompassing “three block towers,” which she teaches simultaneously. She builds one tower by introducing her fourth-graders to Europeans who settled in Wisconsin, began new industries, participated in government, and forced out Native Americans. At the same time Marilyn builds the first tower, she introduces a second curriculum tower focusing on Black Hawk’s efforts to help Native people remain in Wisconsin during the Black Hawk war, which resulted in Native people being forced to move to Iowa and Minnesota or placed on reservations. Along with the first two curriculum towers, she builds the Wisconsin government tower by teaching her students about the process of becoming a territory and a state.

            When focusing on immigration, Marilyn concentrates on the Norwegian and German immigrants because most families in Sun Prairie share this cultural background. She also introduces her fourth-graders to Irish immigration due to the potato famine and utilizes her personal experiences and resources gained through a recent trip to Ireland. Contemporary immigrants, such as the Hmong, are also addressed. Marilyn concentrates on reasons precipitating immigrants’ movement from their home countries, motivations for settling in Wisconsin, and her and her students’ family immigration stories. She also wants her fourth-graders to understand the many difficulties immigrants faced in deciding to leave their homes and traveling to Wisconsin and the precious artifacts or objects they brought with them. Through the local museum director, Marilyn’s students are introduced to early immigrant life in Sun Prairie.

            In studying early industries, such as lead mining, Marilyn wants her students to know the uses for lead, which precipitated the industry’s development, and the reasons for the decline in lead mining. She also introduces her fourth-graders to the location of lead mining areas in Wisconsin, the process of mining lead, and the archaeological evidence lead miners left behind.

            Marilyn finds one of the most challenging components of the Wisconsin studies curriculum for her fourth-graders is Wisconsin government. She focuses on the historical process of becoming a territory and a state, but also addresses contemporary governmental issues all year through current events. Marilyn introduces the different levels of government, including local, county, state, and federal, important governmental positions such as mayor or governor, the representation citizens have at each level, and the jurisdiction of each level. For example, when Marilyn and her students discuss a new city dog ordinance, she wants the children to realize the ordinance affects only Sun Prairie. However, Sun Prairie citizens must obey the dog ordinance as well as state and federal laws. Marilyn makes the local government study more personal with descriptions of some of her work as the chair of the Sun Prairie Parks Commission and a member of the Sun Prairie Planning Commission.

            One of the most unique aspects of Marilyn’s Wisconsin studies curriculum is her sophisticated integration with other components of the curriculum. As students study mathematics, they use census statistics about Wisconsin because Marilyn finds this source current and trustworthy. Marilyn believes math is made more meaningful when her fourth-graders read large numbers, solve word problems, and develop their understanding of mathematical concepts connected to their local community, county, and state. For example, Marilyn believes her students understand the number 200,000 because it is Madison’s population, a familiar city. She introduces her fourth-graders to the population of Wisconsin cities and school districts; the number of people from different racial, age, and gender groups as well as education and income levels; the percentage of people who are unemployed or employed in different industries; and the median home value for various school districts. As students learn more about the people of Wisconsin, they are also learning to read, order, and understand large numbers; clarify the differences among median, mean, and range; read and interpret graphs; understand the meaning of probability, statistics, and percentile; and develop the concept of weight in pounds and tons. As students learn to read maps, they are introduced to ratio. One inch on a state map represents one mile in actual distance.

            Language arts is integrated carefully with Wisconsin studies as Marilyn’s fourth-graders investigate different aspects of the state’s regions using diverse resources and write summaries depicting the main ideas they learned. One of the booklets each student creates during the school year is “All About Wisconsin.” Following an alphabetical format, the “All About Wisconsin” booklets contain each student’s summaries of what they have learned about Wisconsin. Their 26 summaries, each for one letter of the alphabet, include such topics as “C is for Cranberries” or “G is for Glaciers.” The completed book summarizes what students have learned about Wisconsin past and present. Marilyn reports most families keep these books as unique, concise portrayals of their child’s learning about Wisconsin.

            Language arts is also integrated as Marilyn’s students read Aldo Leopold: American Ecologist. Marilyn’s fourth-graders are introduced to Leopold’s writing about the natural world and changing seasons in Sand County Almanac, and they record their own observations of nature in their “Sun Prairie Almanac” booklets. Marilyn wants her fourth-graders to see nature the way important Wisconsin environmentalists did. Each month, Marilyn takes her students to the outdoor classroom on the school grounds where they observe nature and record their observations in their journals.

            The Sun Prairie School District’s fourth-grade reading curriculum is integrated well with Wisconsin studies. In reading, the teachers focus on historical fiction and biographies set in the state. All fourth-graders read primary texts, including Little House in the Big Woods, Aldo Leopold: American Ecologist, and Paul Bunyan and Tall Tales. They may choose to read additional books related to the primary texts, such as The Birchbark House, which may be read in conjunction with Little House in the Big Woods. The reading curriculum offers suggestions for before reading, during reading, after reading, and extension activities for each text. In preparation for reading Aldo Leopold’s biography and discussing his influence on the state, Marilyn and her fourth-graders read and discuss short biographies of other people who contributed to Wisconsin. They read about Henry H. Bennett (inventor), Ada James (suffragist), James D. Doty (early governor), and Zona Gale (writer).

            Marilyn also integrates reading with Wisconsin studies through nonfiction newspaper articles and independent reading programs. In order to address the school goal of increasing students’ experiences in reading nonfiction, Marilyn chooses newspaper articles focusing on current events and issues in Wisconsin, such as chronic wasting disease and Lake Michigan’s sturgeon population. As she and her fourth-graders read and discuss the articles, Marilyn encourages the students to identify the most important ideas and their significance for themselves and other people in Wisconsin.

            In addition, Marilyn’s fourth-graders are invited to learn more about Wisconsin throughout the school year by reading books independently. At the beginning of the year, Marilyn introduces her first independent reading program, biographies of significant people from Wisconsin. Her classroom display of biographies includes many diverse texts at varied reading levels to address differences among her students. However, Marilyn requires that all her fourth-graders read at least one biography of an important person from the state, summarize what they learned about life in the past from the biography, and contribute to a bulletin board of famous people who lived during different time periods in Wisconsin history. Marilyn also insists her students participate in other independent reading programs focusing on books set in Wisconsin, texts by Wisconsin authors, and tall tales, especially Paul Bunyan. By reading and completing follow-up activities for these additional books, Marilyn’s fourth-graders’ understandings of Wisconsin’s geography, past, present, seasons, sights, smells, and sounds are increased.

            Marilyn’s fourth-grade science curriculum is also connected to Wisconsin studies. When her students study Aldo Leopold, his love of nature, and his efforts to create parks and save nature for future generations in reading, they also study plants in science. In social studies they connect the Leopold biography and their plant study to past lumbering and current forestry industries, the Menominee forest industry, and the importance of Wisconsin’s parks and forests for the state tourism industry. When they study different types of rocks, especially those found in Wisconsin in science, they investigate the influence of the glaciers’ effects on the terrain in Wisconsin studies.

Wisconsin Studies Teaching Strategies

            Marilyn utilizes teaching strategies which engage her students actively in learning about Wisconsin, understanding the relevance of Wisconsin studies to their own lives, and completing activities to match their different achievement levels and learning styles. First of all, Marilyn provides a wide range of reading levels in her Wisconsin studies materials to match the reading achievement ranges of her fourth-graders. Marilyn encourages students to read simple picture books as well as challenging chapter books for the independent reading programs dealing with biographies of significant people from Wisconsin, books set in Wisconsin, texts by Wisconsin authors, and tall tales. In addition, she structures follow-up activities to guide students in reading for a purpose and communicating what they learned from the texts. For example, after students read a text set in Wisconsin, they record what they learned about different elements of the setting, such as time, season, date, past, present, and/or future; location or place; the physical environment, sights, sounds, and/or smells; and circumstances or what is taking place.


            Secondly, Marilyn employs a variety of instructional activities to address her students’ learning styles, including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. For example, during their study of lead mining, Marilyn’s fourth-graders read about lead mining, identify lead mining areas in Wisconsin on a map, summarize the steps in lead mining during class discussions and in writing, handle samples of galena lead, create a model of a lead mining shaft, and categorize drawings of lead mining artifacts.


            Marilyn’s teaching reflects many qualities of a social constructivist teacher. She questions students about their prior knowledge and understandings of different topics, helps them make personal connections to what they are studying, introduces many resources for students to extend their prior knowledge, guides students as they complete their research, and provides opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning. When Marilyn and her fourth-graders read Wisconsin studies resources as a class, Marilyn checks that students understand the vocabulary, verifies children’s understanding of the meanings, corrects students’ misconceptions, emphasizes main ideas, and checks that all fourth-graders can summarize the main ideas or the top of the fact pyramid (Buehl, 2001). Additionally, Marilyn suggests why the main ideas are important for students to know and their connections to students’ experiences. For example, when reading about and discussing immigration to Wisconsin, Marilyn encourages the fourth-graders to reflect on their own experiences of moving to a different state, reasons for the move, and possessions they brought or left behind.

            When Marilyn and her students investigate the different regions of Wisconsin, she urges her students to make personal connections to each region. The fourth-graders complete a survey with their families which clarifies the regions they have visited, those regions from which they have family members, and areas of personal interest within each region. Then Marilyn introduces many resources for students to investigate a region, including Wisconsin history textbooks, old Badger history magazine articles, picture books, videos, web sites, newspaper articles, and pamphlets. However, the fourth-graders learn to critique the resources for their reliability. Marilyn invites students to notice who created the source and if the author or sponsoring organization is trustworthy, check the copyright date for current information, and look for main ideas which are repeated in several different sources. The fourth-graders are encouraged to believe those ideas which several authors and resources include.

            Another aspect of Marilyn’s social constructivist teaching is her efforts in guiding her students in completing research. Individually, with a partner, or in small groups, the fourth-graders read different resources and take notes or highlight the main ideas. As a class, Marilyn and her students summarize the most important concepts and generalizations they gained from each resource. Finally, Marilyn leads the students in synthesizing what they have learned by reviewing all their notes and writing a summary of the most significant ideas gained from their research.

            Another of Marilyn’s pedagogical strengths is her use of specific strategies to guide her fourth-graders in focusing on the most important ideas from various web sites when they investigate Wisconsin products or historical figures using the Internet. Marilyn previews web sites first to determine their suitability, then book marks a specific web site on the student computers in the school’s computer lab for the students to use. During their class computer time, Marilyn gives explicit directions on what the fourth-graders should focus on and the notes they should record from the web site. Following their computer class session, students summarize the main ideas from the web site. Marilyn also leads the students in identifying the authors of web sites, their reliability, and the importance of using several different sources of information for learning, including the Internet, texts, and videos.

Wisconsin Studies Resources

            Marilyn and the other fourth-grade teachers at Royal Oaks Elementary School have a plethora of resources to draw upon when they teach Wisconsin studies. All the fourth-grade teachers work closely together and share materials. The funds for Marilyn’s extensive collection of resources stem primarily from the school district, with a small amount ($100) available to teachers from the school’s parent organization. Each year Ms. Klaas, Royal Oaks principal, allocates $600 - $800 per teacher to use in purchasing classroom materials to enhance their teaching outside of basic textbooks. Marilyn usually acquires new social studies and science resources and math manipulatives with these funds. In addition, the school sometimes has additional money available for teachers who want to purchase approved resources beyond the initial $600 - $800 amount. Marilyn finds that the fourth-grade teachers stretch their budget by pooling their funds and purchasing the materials they want for teaching science and social studies. Another way they stretch their budget is by taking advantage of Marilyn’s 30% discount on any resources purchased from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Marilyn receives this discount because she volunteers at the State Historical Society Museum on Saturday.

            All the fourth-grade teachers at Marilyn’s school search constantly for good resources in teaching about Wisconsin. They attend conferences and workshops, and Marilyn reviews all the resources available at the State Historical Society Museum shop. Ms. Pat Wende, the school’s media center director, also purchases good materials and resources on Wisconsin written by state authors. When the teachers need additional resources for teaching about the state, Ms. Wende borrows materials from other school district media centers, university libraries, and other public libraries in the area.

            Marilyn’s extensive collection of materials include textbooks, teacher resource books, magazines, trade books, videos, web sites, and newspapers. Another of Marilyn’s strengths is her skillful integration of many diverse resources to teach about various components of Wisconsin studies. She uses two older texts as an introduction to some topics: The World and Its People: Wisconsin Yesterday and Today, published in 1985, and Follett Social Studies: Exploring Our State Wisconsin, published in 1977. Marilyn also relies on the newer Badger history texts, Learning from the Land: Wisconsin Land Use, Digging and Discovery: Wisconsin Archaeology, Working with Water: Wisconsin Waterways, and They Came to Wisconsin. These current resources are valuable because of their accuracy, focus on main ideas, helpful teacher’s guides, and suggested activities and handouts. Each week the fourth-grade teachers receive class sets of the Wisconsin State Journal free of charge. They use the newspapers to introduce Wisconsin’s current events and to read and interpret numbers about the state.

            In teaching geography, Marilyn relies on Wisconsin Past and Present, 1998 edition, published by the Graphic Learning Corporation, due to the curriculum guide and class set of write-on maps. She also uses the curriculum Mapping Wisconsin History because of its accuracy, color transparencies, and good overview of Wisconsin history. Marilyn continues to use the class sets of the old Badger History magazines for some issues and topics, such as geography, fur trade, lead mining, and famous people from Wisconsin, although she reminds her students some articles may not be accurate or use appropriate terminology. When Marilyn introduces her fourth-graders to lead mining, she carefully integrates components and activities from many different resources, including Wisconsin Past and Present, Mapping Wisconsin History, an article about lead mining from one of the old Badger History magazines, and sections from the newer Badger history texts, Learning from the Land: Wisconsin Land Use and Digging and Discovery: Wisconsin Archaeology.

            For teaching about each of Wisconsin’s geographic region, Marilyn has collected many excellent resources. She uses children’s picture books, pamphlets, videos, curriculum units, and web sites. Marilyn continues to build her collection of “best” teaching resources for each region. When studying the northern highlands region, she focuses on the lumber and paper industries. Marilyn integrates the Menominee nation’s forestry program, in The Menominee Forest Management Tradition: History, Principles and Practices, with the history of forestry in the state from the curriculum Wisconsin Forests Forever with the paper industry described in the curriculum Paper Makes Wisconsin Great. Identifying and using good web sites for teaching about the different regions is challenging because of the time needed to review web sites for availability, suitability for fourth-grade students, and reliability of the web site’s author. Once good web sites are identified, Marilyn struggles to find ample time for her students to use the school’s computer lab to learn from the web sites.

            When teaching about the first people to live in Wisconsin, Marilyn uses multiple sets of large posters dealing with the Paleo Indians, Archaic Indians, and Woodland, Mississippian, and Oneota Indian groups. These posters are very readable and include excellent drawings and timelines for when each group lived in Wisconsin. Marilyn finds Mapping Wisconsin History and web sites from Native nations good resources for the study of Native Americans’ removal from their homelands to reservations or lands outside of Wisconsin. As Marilyn’s students learn about contemporary Native Americans, they rely on trade books, such as The Chippewa and A New True Book: The Oneida.

            When teaching about immigration, Marilyn integrates guest speakers, artifacts, and print resources. She invites Mr. Klein, director of the Sun Prairie Museum, to explain artifacts and old photographs of early Sun Prairie residents, churches, mills, and schools. Marilyn also elaborates on her own family artifacts, including her great grandparents’ trunk which they brought when they immigrated from Germany to the United States. Marilyn reads aloud excerpts from immigrants’ letters printed in the publication Voyageur: Northeast Wisconsin’s Historical Review and the students read sections of the new Badger history text They Came to Wisconsin to learn about why immigrants left their homes and settled in Wisconsin and the challenges they faced.


            For teaching about Wisconsin government, Marilyn and the other fourth-grade teachers are using a new resource available at a small cost from the publishers of the Wisconsin State Journal. The 2003 Legislative Directory focuses on the governor, court system, state senate and assembly, and representatives. Marilyn believes her students will learn by being able to highlight important ideas. Another important resource for teaching Wisconsin government is a field trip for all fourth-graders to the state capitol.

            Finally, the fourth-grade teachers share the class sets of trade books which integrate reading with Wisconsin studies as part of the Sun Prairie reading curriculum. John Muir: Wilderness Prophet, Aldo Leopold, American Ecologist, Aldo Leopold: Living with the Land, Paul Bunyan Swings His Axe, Little House in the Big Woods, My First Little House Books: Winter Days in the Big Woods, and The Birchbark House are read by students during the year.

Wisconsin Studies Assessment Strategies

            Marilyn assesses students’ knowledge of Wisconsin studies through their daily work, special projects, and tests. When they complete special projects, such as making a model of a lead mining shaft or creating a packed trunk immigrants might carry from their homeland to Wisconsin, Marilyn usually assesses through a checklist or rubric. She may also offer different options with a distinct grade for each. For example, when students categorize drawings of lead miners’ artifacts, they could earn a B if they created a chart or an A if they spent more time and creativity in developing a museum display or diorama. However, both projects must be very complete and neat with objects classified in defensible categories.

            An important project which students complete throughout the school year is the “All About Wisconsin” alphabet books. Marilyn assesses the students’ books for both the Wisconsin studies content and the writing. For each page of the book, she evaluates students’ punctuation, spelling, and correct paragraphs for the writing grade and the main ideas for the social studies grade. However, students may use any available resources to summarize important ideas they learned about the specific topic of the page.

            At the end of each Wisconsin studies unit, Marilyn assesses students’ knowledge through tests. She asks different levels of questions according to Bloom’s Taxonomy in order to allow students to demonstrate basic knowledge and their ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. Marilyn’s tests include open-ended, general questions to permit all fourth-graders to respond successfully with varying degrees of detail. She also keeps her test questions focused on the main ideas at the top of the fact pyramid or supporting details in the middle of the pyramid (Buehl, 2001). For example, at the end of the immigration study, Marilyn wants her students to explain why immigrants left their homeland and why they came to Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Studies Teaching Expertise

            Although Marilyn has been teaching for 25 years, she has taught Wisconsin studies for only six years. Her prior experiences of teaching in many different states and grade levels broaden her understanding of her students and the uniqueness and differences among states. During the six years of teaching fourth grade, Marilyn has developed considerable expertise in teaching about the history and geography of Wisconsin. Her command of the subject stems from her own interests and initiative, stimulating colleagues, and a supportive school staff and school district. Marilyn places a high priority on teaching Wisconsin studies and emphasizes it through its integration with reading, language arts, mathematics, and science. Before moving to fourth grade where Wisconsin studies is the focus of the social studies curriculum, Marilyn spent a summer traveling around the state to develop a better background on different regions. She continues to learn about Wisconsin through reading, traveling, and attending conferences and workshops. Marilyn has also contributed and refined her Wisconsin studies expertise by serving on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Office of School Services Advisory Committee for several years and by judging History Day projects.

            Marilyn’s close working relationship with the other fourth-grade teachers at her school embellishes her expertise. The teachers share their enthusiasm for teaching about and living in Wisconsin and important ideas and resources gained from workshops and conferences. When the fourth-grade teachers procure new teaching resources, they collaboratively plan lessons, activities, and projects and evaluate their success with students. Marilyn credits the open space physical environment of the school as encouragement for collaboration with colleagues.

            Ms. Kathi Klaas, Marilyn’s principal, supports Marilyn’s motivation and initiative for enhancing her Wisconsin studies teaching expertise. When Marilyn asks to use new materials or take advantage of an opportunity to improve her teaching, her principal agrees. Ms. Klaas is also very familiar with and affirms Marilyn’s teaching goals, curriculum, and main teaching strategies. In addition, she stimulates professional discussions about educational issues by sharing and discussing educational articles and resources with individual and groups of teachers at her school. Marilyn credits Ms. Klaas’ encouragement to bolster students’ experiences in reading and understanding nonfiction as the impetus for her use of nonfiction newspaper articles about current issues in Wisconsin.

            Ms. Pat Wende, the school’s media center director, also supports Marilyn’s teaching of Wisconsin studies by purchasing resources Marilyn suggests, gathering books from various libraries, and identifying good web sites which could be used in teaching about Wisconsin. Marilyn especially values Ms. Wende’s dedication to finding books for her independent reading projects, which enable her students to read a wide range of biographies of famous people in Wisconsin, books set in Wisconsin, and texts by Wisconsin authors.

            Marilyn is fortunate to be part of a school district and parent-teacher organization which provides her and the other fourth-grade teachers at Royal Oaks Elementary School with generous funding for the purchase of new teaching resources. The Sun Prairie School District also provides release time for teachers to develop materials for teaching about Aldo Leopold and to prepare the fourth-grade reading curriculum, which focuses on historical fiction and biographies set in Wisconsin. Additionally, the school district furnishes the funds for teachers to attend conferences or workshops, although now the staff development focus is on literacy, mathematics, technology, and differentiated instruction.

Advice to Wisconsin Studies Teachers

            Marilyn encourages all fourth-grade teachers who teach about Wisconsin to address their students’ different learning styles, including auditory, visual, and kinesthetic, but make the fourth-graders accountable for what they accomplish from a variety of activities. For example, in teaching about immigration and the packed trunks immigrants brought with them, Marilyn brought her great grandparents’ trunk for students to see and touch, showed a video about immigrant trunks, guided the fourth-graders in reading about and discussing trunks, and asked the children to create a packed immigrant trunk. However, students were expected to take notes about what they learned from the video, share their understanding and responses to the reading and “real” trunk, and include what they learned about immigrants’ important items in their model trunk.

            Marilyn also urges Wisconsin studies teachers to provide many opportunities for a wide range of abilities within the classroom for students to learn and accomplish a task. She suggests defining the minimum standards everyone must meet, but encouraging students to exceed those. As a result, all students can successfully complete the assignments, but at varying levels of sophistication. For example, during the lead mining study, Marilyn explains and shows the important components the fourth-graders must have in their lead mine models, but the amount of detail students add to their models may vary.

            Finally, Marilyn encourages fourth-grade teachers to teach all subject areas. Such teaching situations allow teachers to integrate Wisconsin studies with other areas of the curriculum, which deepens their children’s understanding of Wisconsin studies content. By teaching all subject areas, teachers know their students better and the subjects in which they do well and those in which they struggle. For some fourth-graders, the consistency and familiarity resulting from being with one teacher most of the day may be important for their progress. By teaching all subjects, teachers also reduce the discipline problems that often result from students’ movement and transitions between classrooms.

Wisconsin Studies

Teaching Social Studies