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June 11, 2001

UW-RF to Host National Summer Institute
By Jolene Bracy
UW-RF News Bureau

Beginning this summer, educators from Wisconsin and Minnesota are asking, "Who are Americans?" The search for answers is the topic of discussion during "Still Searching for America: Conversations on National Identity," a curriculum development and demonstration project funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The UW-River Falls campus will host 24 teachers from across the region during a July 9-27 institute. The participants will return in 2002 for a one-week summer follow-up program and a meeting during each of the next two fall semesters.

The institute is open to secondary, middle and upper elementary teachers in the subjects of social studies, history, literature, language and humanities. This is a new category of NEH seminar, involving both content and teaching techniques. The content portion exposes participants to the American "Search for Character" from a historical perspective with special emphasis on the last half-century. The technique portion offers hands-on teaching opportunities to help participants extend these conversations to their own students. Teachers learn from the expertise of local and regional scholars in the subjects of American and world history, American literature and film, as well as specialists in the field of education.

During the project, participants will design and implement lessons on the "Search for the American Identity" in their own classrooms and then present an in-service plan with matching support from their home district. During each of these activities, teachers work with mentors from UW-RF and enjoy access to resources via a lending library and national website devoted to the project.

Project director and UW-RF teacher education Professor Geoffrey Scheurman, suggested that teachers must find ways to deal with issues related to citizenship and history: "The focus of the seminar is on understanding the changes that have taken place over time and helping teachers to develop authentic ways to bring important discussions about American culture to their students."

History Professor Kurt Leichtle, seminar co-director, described the need to redefine the American identity: "There is a cycle that exists for identity, which coincides with historical periods." He went on to explain how American culture has struggled for a sense of singularity in a nation so tolerant of diversity. According to Leichtle, seminars covering highlights in American History with special emphasis on patterns and case studies since 1945 will help teachers understand these cycles.

Scheurman added, "Innovative teaching techniques will be emphasized to help teachers and students make sense of the many images of America that have confronted people throughout history, from famous documents to popular media." Referred to as "authentic instruction and assessment," these methods of analysis are as important to learning as the facts. Students develop skills to interpret and negotiate the meaning of information rather than learning by rote.

Out of 112 grant applications for NEH programs, only 22 were awarded funds. Scheurman, Leichtle, Keith Reynolds, a teacher at St. Paul North High School, and Michael Yell, a social studies teacher at Hudson Middle School and the 1998 winner of the Middle School Teacher of the Year wrote the grant. The money ­ $180,245 plus costs shared by the university ­ is used to pay attendees a stipend of $250 per week, provide allowances for travel and materials, and cover fees for workshop and presentation leaders.

In addition to Scheurman, Leichtle and Yell, instructors include these UW-RF faculty members: English Professor Teresa Brown; Political Science Professor Tracey Gladstone-Sovell; Teacher Education Professors So-young Zeon and Jose Vega; Valerie Malzachar, associate director of Chalmer Davee Library; and Karen Ryan, director of the Education Technology Center in the Walker D. Wyman Education Center.

Other nationally recognized leaders who will serve as guest speakers and consultants to the project are:

Fred Newmann, leading advocate for educational reform and professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Patricia Avery, associate professor of education at the University of Minnesota; Lisa Sutterer, certified trainer for History Alive!, a commercial curriculum produced by Teacheršs Curriculum Institute; and Yang Dao, administrator in the St. Paul Public Schools.

Scheduled for 2002 participation is Barry Beyer, a nationally recognized leader in critical thinking from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who will help teachers develop ways to implement standards without sacrificing student thinking.

The National Education Association has recognized the UW-RF College of Education and Graduate Studies as one of the 10 most innovative teacher preparation programs in the nation. The UW-RF campus is located in the scenic St. Croix River Valley, about 30 minutes east of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, Minnesota.

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