We’re Part of the History All Around Us
To view a slide show of Mark at work click here.
Mark Waggoner teaches fourth- and fifth-grade at Elmore Elementary School in Green Bay, one of 28 elementary schools in this large school district. One of the most unique aspects of Mark’s teaching is his students’ original research into the history of their school or of their own family. Mark believes fourth grade is not too young to encourage students to explore their own research questions and use primary documents during their study. Through primary documents with rich, descriptive language, Mark reasons that students learn that other people’s lives are very similar to their own. During the 2002-03 school year, Mark and his students investigate what happened to the first Elmore Elementary School, which existed before the current Elmore school building. They are also exploring who served as the namesake for Elmore Elementary School. Through such investigations, Mark wants his students to understand that they are part of history, they are living through history, and that history is all around them.
Wisconsin Studies Goals
Overall, Mark’s goals are for his students to like social studies, be interested and excited about learning, and understand how Wisconsin history is part of their lives. Therefore, Mark chooses to concentrate on family and community history, which are both very close to his fourth- and fifth-graders. Mark believes that if children study nearby history, including the history of their own school and families, they will be more interested, even passionate about, learning history.
At the same time the fourth- and fifth-graders are studying the history of their school, they are also learning about the history of Wisconsin and Green Bay. Andrew E. Elmore, believed to be the school’s namesake, served on the territorial legislature, participated in writing the state constitution, and secured a major railway passage through Titletown. His son, James Henry Elmore, was the first mayor when Fort Howard and Green Bay united. Simultaneously with investigating their own family history, they are learning about the history of Wisconsin and Green Bay. Most of Mark’s students’ families have had relatives in Wisconsin and Green Bay for over a century. Their families directly experienced 100 years of Wisconsin history.
Their study of the history of Elmore Elementary School is also connected to Mark’s students’ families because they often have relatives or acquaintances who attended the first or current school. During the process of completing research on the school’s history, Mark hopes his students will understand that historical research is similar to finishing a puzzle or investigating a mystery as they search for all the pieces, evidence, and answers to their questions. However, because they are conducting and reporting on original research which no one has done before, Mark wants his students to understand they are trailblazers. By the end of the project, he expects the class will produce a timeline summarizing important events in Andrew E. Elmore’s life, who is believed to be the school’s namesake. Mark’s students have learned more about Andrew E. Elmore, his family, and the school’s history than most of the children’s families, the school staff, and the majority of residents in Green Bay. Mark believes his fourth-graders enjoy teaching others what they learned.
When Mark guides the fourth- and fifth-graders in investigating genealogy or their family’s history, one of his goals is that the children develop a better sense of who they are, an understanding of their roots, and pride in their own ancestry, including their cultural background. Another of Mark’s goals is for his students to learn about their ancestors, who they were, the countries they came from, how they came to the United States, the languages they spoke, and the jobs they held once they settled in their new homes. The children should also notice their ancestors share many similarities, including social class and jobs. Ultimately, Mark wants the fourth- and fifth-graders to recognize their ancestors’ lives are connected to theirs, their families’ immigration to the United States made their own lives in Wisconsin possible, and their predecessors came from a different world than the world they currently inhabit. Through genealogical study, Mark believes his students understand and appreciate the past.
Through the process of conducting genealogical research, Mark endeavors for his fourth- and fifth-graders to experience the many challenges of this type of investigation. Such research requires perseverance, thoughtfulness, and organization, which are qualities and skills his students need for future success in school. Fourth- and fifth-graders need to persist as they search for information about their families, review documents carefully for the most important ideas about their ancestors, then organize these ideas into a final family history document. Although the students’ families provide some help in completing the genealogical study, the children are also able to share new information they gained with their relatives.
Wisconsin Studies Curriculum
In Mark’s classroom, Wisconsin studies is a year-long curriculum. However, Mark prefers to vary the content and activities each year to keep it interesting. He alternates large projects with small units of study, but addresses all areas of the Wisconsin studies curriculum as outlined on the Green Bay Public School District’s fourth-grade report card. Teachers check which component of the social studies curriculum they address each grading period on the report cards. The curriculum is divided into five areas: Behavioral Studies: Regional and Cultural Identity; Civics: Governmental Structure; Economics: U.S. and Wisconsin Economy; Geography: Wisconsin, U.S. and World; History: Wisconsin Histories. Mark usually focuses on one area each grading period, but integrates history throughout the Wisconsin studies curriculum during the school year.
The two main components of Mark’s Wisconsin studies curriculum are focused on community history and genealogy. These two large units of study are the avenue through which his students learn about Wisconsin. One means of investigating the history of the community around the Green Bay area is through a study of tombstones in the Fort Howard Cemetery. Mark’s students record the gender, birth year, death year, written sentiments, and symbols inscribed on the tombstones. This information leads to discussions about the average age of death, possible causes, and the meanings of tombstone symbols. Overall, Mark encourages his students to arrive at some conclusion about the people’s lives who are buried in the Fort Howard Cemetery.
Another avenue to investigate the history of DePere is by comparing original census reports from 1870 and 1905. Because the population changed very little during this era, students find the same families on the census records from both time periods and compare changes. They investigate the different kinds of jobs held by family members, size of family, family structure or who lives in the household, languages spoken in the home, and family members’ place of birth. By the end of this study, Mark also hopes students understand how families changed or remained the same over this 35-year time span.
At times Mark brings community resources into his classroom to enrich his students’ understanding of Green Bay and Fort Howard. For example, he has invited Heritage Hill historical re-enactors to explain their roles and clothing to the students. Additionally, Debra Anderson, Director of the Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay and Mark’s life partner, brings original documents for students to see and touch. One notable document is a French fur trader’s beaver skin accountant book from the 1700s.
Another community history project which Mark and his students embarked on during 2002-2003 is a study of the history of their school and the school’s namesake. Mark guided his fourth- and fifth-graders in investigating the fate of the first Elmore School, clarifying whether the school was named after Andrew E. Elmore or his son James Henry Elmore, and reasons for the school being named after a member of the Elmore family. During their research, they discover differences between the first and current Elmore School buildings and locations, investigate the first school’s fate, and learn when the current Elmore School was built and dedicated.
They also gather considerable background on the Elmore family, including Andrew E. Elmore, who served in the territorial and state government, became a prominent business person after his move to Fort Howard, and purchased a great deal of land on which he built a “mansion” for the family. Andrew E. Elmore named streets after his family members and friends and eventually sold portions of his estate called “Elmore’s Addition.” The first Elmore School was built on Elmore Street, land originally owned by Andrew E. Elmore. The class also discovers that James Henry Elmore was the first family member to move to Fort Howard, became involved in banking and owned a shingle mill, and was the first mayor of the consolidated city of Green Bay and Fort Howard. Unfortunately, due to women’s status during the time period, Mark and the children are less able to gather much information about the Elmore women, including Andrew’s life partner Mary Field Elmore, their twin daughters Augusta and Mary, and their youngest daughter Phebe. Near the end of the school year, Mark guides the class in concluding that the school was named after Andrew E. Elmore, and they summarize important events in his life on a timeline.
Genealogical study is another significant component of Mark’s Wisconsin studies curriculum. Mark first asks his fourth- and fifth-graders to complete a family group sheet for both parents, even if the children no longer live with them. With family assistance, the students collect information about their maternal and paternal grandparents’ dates and places of their birth, marriage, and death; their occupation, military service, and church membership; and names of their grandparents’ parents.
Next, the children finish a pedigree chart as much as they can. For this chart, the students list themselves and their date and place of birth, then they record the names of their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and great great grandparents and their date and place of birth, their marriage date, and date and place of death.
Third, Mark guides the students in using the Social Security Death Index to find a relative from their pedigree chart who died within the last 30 to 40 years. Through this data base, they might gather new information about a family member.
Following this search, Mark’s students use his personal subscription to Ancestry.com to search for a family member listed on the pedigree chart who was alive in 1930. They search through the 1930 census on this data base for additional information about their ancestor and print the page of the census report on which their family member is listed. In order to help all students successfully find a relative on the data base, Mark usually completes some preliminary research for each student using Ancestry.com. In most cases, he is able to locate a family member for all students. When he could find no information for one of his Hmong students, Mark guided the child in investigating one of the teacher’s family history on Ancestry.com.
In order to focus on the key pieces of information about their ancestors from the page they printed from the 1930 census, Mark asks the students to recopy the original handwritten census data about their relative onto a blank “1930 U.S. Federal Census” form. With significant adult assistance in reading the original records, the students record:
1. Place of abode or the street, avenue, road, or house number of the residence.
2. Name of each person who lives in this place of abode in this family.
3. Relationship of each person in the place of abode to the head of the family
4. Home data; is the home owned or rented? What is the value of the home? Is there a radio set in the home? Does this family live on a farm?
5. Personal description or the sex, color or race, age at last birthday, marital condition, and age at first marriage.
6. Education; did the resident attend school or college any time since Sept. 1, 1929? Is the occupant able to read and write?
7. For each occupant, the place of birth, country of birth or state/territory of birth, and the names of the father and mother.
8. The language spoken in the home before coming to the U.S.
9. Citizenship: year of immigration to the U. S., whether naturalized or alien, and whether able to speak English.
10. Occupation and Industry: the occupation (trade, profession, or particular kind of work as spinner, salesman, or riveter), industry (industry or business as cottonmill, dry goods store, shipyard, or public school), and the class of worker.
11. Employment: whether actually at work or unemployed.
12. Veterans: whether a veteran of the U.S. military or naval forces mobilized for any war or expedition. If yes, what war or expedition?
Next, the students discuss what they learned about their family member from the 1930 census, noting commonalities and differences in names, birth country, jobs, and value of homes. They also write a brief summary of their family history based on their research.
Mark also teaches his students about Wisconsin agriculture and Green Bay area businesses when he focuses on economics. He wants the fourth- and fifth-graders to learn about the importance of different types of agriculture to the state as well as significant businesses in their local community. When concentrating on civics, Mark introduces his students to important state symbols and state government. He addresses the governmental structure, such as the state assembly and senate. Wisconsin’s geography is introduced through maps, and Mark asks the fourth-graders to create brochures about interesting places to visit throughout the state.
Although Wisconsin studies is a distinct part of the curriculum in Mark’s classroom, he also integrates social studies with reading, language arts, mathematics, and science. Reading is emphasized as he and the students read, interpret, and summarize important ideas from primary documents. Primary documents are usually challenging to read and require extensive class discussions about vocabulary, the time period, and the implicit and explicit meanings.
Writing is integrated with Wisconsin studies when Mark encourages his students to read primary documents and notice the author’s purpose, feeling, voice, word choice, fluency, and ideas, the six traits of writing. These six traits of writing are the same traits his students are developing. Mark believes when his fourth- and fifth-graders read examples of good writing, which include primary documents, they will more likely become good writers. Additionally, they use four-square writing when they take notes and write about social studies topics. Four-square writing is a graphic organizer for identifying the topic and main ideas about the topic. It not only helps to organize students’ writing, but also helps them comprehend text through their note-taking.
In addition, Wisconsin studies is connected to mathematics. As Mark and his students discuss time periods, such as AD and BC and the years encompassed within the 19th century, they are dealing with mathematics. Mathematics is also involved when students calculate a person’s age at death after knowing the birth and death years. When they graph information gained from tombstones or census records, they are using mathematics.
Finally, science is integrated with social studies, especially during the study of the local community. As Mark and his students investigate the information on the tombstones at Fort Howard Cemetery, they also study the different types of stones used for the tombstones and how they change over time. Mark’s students compare the effects of weathering on sedimentary, sandstone, and metamorphic stone.
Wisconsin Studies Teaching Strategies
Mark’s teaching reflects many qualities of a social constructivist teacher. He encourages students to contribute their ideas, prior experiences, and knowledge when studying topics. Many class discussions are used to guide students in the collective construction of knowledge. However, Mark also contributes ideas, clarifies meanings, or corrects misunderstandings during discussions. Mark participates as a knowledgeable guide, but someone who is still learning. He presents unique historical questions as mysteries for students to solve. Mark’s students learn about history by doing historical research.
One important example of Mark’s teaching approach is evident as he and his students begin their study of the history of Elmore Elementary School. Mark first asks students for ideas of different sources for historical research, students contribute ideas, and Mark encourages them to remember they are also a source of information about the history of the school. Then Mark solicits students’ prior knowledge about the history of the school and the source of this knowledge. As students contribute ideas, Mark records them. Next Mark shows six different old photographs of the first and current Elmore Elementary School and invites students’ observations and comparisons among the photographs. As the students discuss the differences among the photographs, they realize they are viewing two different buildings. Mark then presents this conclusion as a mystery to solve: What happened to the old Elmore School? Why would there be two Elmore Schools? How could we find out what happened to the first Elmore School? Mark shares his own puzzlement about the two schools and clarifies that he does not know what happened to the first school. By the end of the discussion, Mark and the students have identified a real historical question to investigate.
As Mark and his students continue to investigate the history of their school and which Elmore family member serves as the school’s namesake, they use different primary and secondary sources, critique the sources for accuracy, record new information gained, and ask new questions. When they read challenging original documents, Mark often reads aloud, interprets or elaborates on the text, asks students for their interpretations, records important ideas, and summarizes what they are learning. As each new source is reviewed, Mark encourages students to compare the ideas with what they have learned about the school’s history from other sources. The fourth- and fifth-graders are asked to read critically and accept facts which can be verified by other sources and be more skeptical of those facts which cannot be verified.
Students have the opportunity to complete original historical research by interviewing family members who attended the school and reporting their findings to the class. As a class, they interview a guest who attended the first Elmore School to find out what the school was like and what happened to it. During one after-school field trip, nine of Mark’s 24 students travel to the Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay to examine original documents housed at the center. In preparation for the students’ visit, the Area Research Center staff collected many documents which pertained to the Elmore family and the school. Through the guidance and assistance of the Area Research Center staff, Mark, and one of the student’s parents, the children work in partners and small groups to gather information on the Elmore family and the school. They photocopy a biography, death certificates, probate court records, city directory entries, and old newspaper articles about members of the Elmore family, take notes on the blueprints of the current Elmore School, and copy an old photograph of the first Elmore School. These resources are shared with the rest of the class the next day, and Mark leads the class in making a timeline of James Henry Elmore’s life. At this point, Mark and the class consider the possibility that the school may be named after James Henry Elmore.
During a break in the school history study with the students, Mark collects additional documents from the Area Research Center and the Brown County Library to share with the fourth- and fifth-graders. He reviews and copies obituaries and probate files for both Andrew and James Elmore. By the end of the study, Mark and the class gather an impressive array of primary and secondary documents about the Elmore family and both Elmore Schools. For the Elmore family, they have census records for 1870, 1875, and 1880, city directory information for 1898 and 1900, a marriage certificate, death certificates, obituaries, and biographical sketches as well as newspaper articles about both Andrew and James. For Elmore School, they have photographs of both schools, the new school’s dedication program, and a newspaper clipping about the old school.
As they close their school history study, Mark proposes to the class that they create a timeline of Andrew E. Elmore’s life and asks students why they believe Andrew is the school’s namesake rather than James. He encourages the fourth- and fifth-graders to clarify the meaning and purpose of a timeline and important things to include. During this discussion, the children offer ideas, Mark records them on the chalkboard, and elaborates with his own ideas. Then Mark reads aloud two biographies about Andrew E. Elmore and asks students to identify important events to include on the timeline. As he reads, Mark explains vocabulary, enlarges on ideas in the text, and points out significant events in Andrew E. Elmore’s life. Mark records the events and dates he and the students identify as important on the chalkboard while the fourth- and fifth-graders write them on paper. Mark encourages the students to take notes which make sense to them. As a class, they decide how many events would fit on the timeline without making it crowded and possible photographs of the Elmore family they might include. Mark then demonstrates on the classroom computer how to use the Time Liner computer program to create a timeline. The final step is class time in the school’s computer lab during which all the students make their own timeline of Andrew E. Elmore’s life using the Time Liner program. Mark and other adults help students individually as they work on their timelines.
Wisconsin Studies Resources
Mark has a large collection of teaching resources for Wisconsin studies. These materials are purchased primarily through school district funds, although Mark also uses some personal funds to acquire resources he wants. In addition, the school’s Parent Teacher Organization has a small amount of money available to teachers who request funds for classroom materials to support a specific project.
One of the unique features of Mark’s collection of Wisconsin studies resources is that he either is the primary author or contributed to several publications. For one of the Badger History texts, Working with Water: Wisconsin Waterways, Mark and his class interviewed a former ice harvester, which is excerpted in the teacher’s guide. For the publication, 150 Intriguing Investigations: Interesting Facts and Stories about Wisconsin and Its People, he is one of the 150 teachers who contributed an activity for investigating something unique about Wisconsin. For the curriculum guide, Learning About Wisconsin: Activities, Historical Documents, and Resources Linked to Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Social Studies in Grades 4-12 published in 1999, Mark is the primary author.
When Mark focuses on geography and mapping with the students, he utilizes the resource materials Mapping Wisconsin History: Teacher’s Guide and Student Materials. Mark’s students also use desk maps published by Nystrom. As Mark and the class study Wisconsin agriculture, they utilize the publication This Business Called Agriculture, produced and distributed by the Wisconsin Agribusiness Foundation. For teaching about Wisconsin government, Mark is piloting new materials developed by the Green Bay Public School District’s staff development department. The “Investigating the Government” packet briefly focuses on the state constitution, the three branches of government, including the legislative, executive, and judicial branches and the steps in passing a new law. When Mark introduces important state symbols, he uses the song “Wisconsin” from the cassette recording WISC Songs by Friedeljuice.
Although Mark has a wide variety of resources, he seems to use those materials related to genealogical and community study the most. Mark incorporates technological resources, such as web sites and computer programs, as he and his students investigate their school’s history or their family’s history. Such resources are examined as a whole class activity within the classroom or at the computer lab. Mark either brings a laptop computer and projector into the classroom and shows students information from pertinent web sites or bookmarks those web sites for students to study at the school’s computer lab. He shows his fourth- and fifth-graders a web page which includes a map of Green Bay in 1867. Mark’s favorite web site is provided by the State Historical Society because of all the primary documents he can access. During the school history study, Mark shows students newspaper articles about the Elmore family housed on the State Historical Society’s Digital Library Archives web site. Mark also uses the computer program Time Liner for recording important events and when they happened in Andrew E. Elmore’s life. His classroom computer and the school’s computer lab have this program available for use.
Technological resources are very important when Mark and his students complete genealogical research. Mark has a personal subscription to Ancestry.com, a web site which includes census data through 1930. The fourth- and fifth-graders can access this web site through Mark’s password in the school computer lab when they search for information on their family. Mark also guides the students in searching for birth and death dates for family members through the Social Security Death Index. Moreover, Mark helps his students look for additional data on their family through Familysearch.org, the Mormon Church’s extensive database of records.
Finally, Mark has a small collection of primary documents which are photocopied and laminated for students to use in their study of the history of their community. He has multiple copies of the 1870 and 1905 census of the community of DePere for students to compare family changes during these two time periods. For the school history study, Mark and the students collect a number of resources about the Elmore family, including: census records for 1870, 1875, and 1880, city directory information for 1898 and 1900, a marriage certificate, death certificates, obituaries, biographical sketches as well as newspaper articles about both Andrew and James. They also find photographs of Andrew, James Henry, Phebe (youngest daughter), and the family home. For Elmore School, they have several photographs of both schools, the new school’s dedication program, and a newspaper clipping about the old school. These resources are crucial for students’ understanding of their school’s history.
Wisconsin Studies Assessment Strategies
One important assessment strategy which Mark relies on is his own observations of students’ participation in class discussions. He watches for children’s attentiveness, responses to questions, and ability to stay on task and ask relevant questions. When Mark reviews the fourth-graders’ written work, he checks for thoroughness. At times, he also verifies students’ learning through brief quizzes. Mark admits he would like to try more performance assessment measures, such as students’ oral presentations, dramatizations, or role plays in which they demonstrate what they learned.
Wisconsin Studies Teaching Expertise
Mark has been teaching Wisconsin studies for only nine years, but he has developed considerable knowledge and skill during this time. His expertise stems from his personal interests and hobbies, formal educational experiences, professional activities, connections with significant people, and support from his school and school district. Mark’s personal interest in family history and original records as well as his own genealogical research enrich his Wisconsin studies teaching. Mark is familiar with family history resources through personal research experiences, which enable him to provide meaningful guidance to his students as they investigate the history of their families. He is also passionate about teaching Wisconsin studies, curious about the past, and enjoys trying different activities and projects. For Mark, being an innovative teacher keeps him fresh and interested in teaching about the state.
Mark has connections with significant people who support his expertise in teaching Wisconsin studies. While Mark was completing his master’s degree in curriculum from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, he worked with Dr. Margaret Laughlin, a nationally known social studies educator, in preparing a major paper on teaching Wisconsin history. Part of the paper involved the evaluation and critique of several Wisconsin history textbooks. The paper also outlined alternatives to a textbook approach, including lessons using primary sources in studying genealogy, oral history, architecture, and local/community history. The paper and research required to complete it obviously inform his teaching. Mark’s life partner, Debra Anderson, is the Director of the Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. Mark volunteers at the center, which allows him to become familiar with many of the original documents for family and community history research.
Participating on the advisory board for the Office of School Services, which publishes the Badger History texts and other resources for teaching Wisconsin studies, allows Mark to become familiar with and very knowledgeable about new teaching materials as they are planned and produced. Furthermore, Mark has worked with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction as they developed social studies standards and assessments, which significantly informed him of the expectations for what students should accomplish in fourth-grade social studies. Mark’s connections with the Office of School Services and the Department of Public Instruction as well as his willingness to complete the research and additional work led to his contributions to several Wisconsin Studies publications. These include: Working with Water: Wisconsin Waterways, 150 Intriguing Investigations: Interesting Facts and Stories about Wisconsin and Its People, and Learning About Wisconsin: Activities, Historical Documents, and Resources Linked to Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Social Studies in Grades 4-12. Additionally, Mark has responded to leadership opportunities offered by the Green Bay Public School District in social studies education. He was asked to serve on the district-wide social studies committee representing fourth-grade to make recommendations for curriculum and materials to use in teaching Wisconsin studies. Mark also helps provide inservice sessions for all fourth-grade teachers in the school district on new Wisconsin studies materials and the integration of technology with Wisconsin history and geography.
Finally, the staff at Elmore Elementary School supports Mark’s Wisconsin studies teaching. According to Mark, within the school there is an atmosphere of appreciation for individual teacher’s special talents and interests. Mark is known among the school staff for his knowledge and skill in Wisconsin studies, history, and technology while Mark openly admires other teachers’ expertise in art and reading. In addition, the library media specialist Lou Ann Zimmerman supports Mark’s teaching by purchasing books on Wisconsin for the school library’s collection, finding resources from the school’s collection and from other schools in the district about the state for special projects, and by informing fourth-grade teachers of particular programs or seminars dealing with Wisconsin. Ms. Zimmerman is also willing to collaborate with fourth-grade teachers on Wisconsin studies projects, but admits her half-time status at the school hinders the planning needed for such endeavors. Mark also appreciates the support from his principal, Dr. Kathryn Tillo, who encourages Mark’s involvement with state curriculum level work, his presentations at conferences, and his interest in innovative teaching. Dr. Tillo is familiar with Mark’s teaching through observations and review of his lesson plans and advocates different teaching strategies for meeting the standards. She is particularly interested in the findings of the school history project, a major focus for Mark and his students in Wisconsin studies during the 2002-2003 school year.
Advice to Wisconsin Studies Teachers
Mark encourages Wisconsin studies teachers to try new teaching strategies and projects, even if they do not always have the desired outcome. However, he urges teachers to admit to their fourth-graders when special activities or projects may not “work” as expected. According to Mark, children respect teachers and other adults who acknowledge their errors.
Mark also suggests that fourth-grade teachers engage in innovative projects which promote higher levels of thinking among their students. If children are given opportunities to think indepth and question why, they may develop into independent learners and researchers. Fourth-graders also may develop a positive attitude about Wisconsin studies if they are given the freedom to engage in challenging projects, even if they are not as successful as one hopes.
Teaching Social Studies