By Annie Gruenwald, Upper School Head Social Studies Teacher
This past summer I was honored to receive a PA grant to attend my second professional development seminar with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. I studied for a week at the University of Southern California with 35 other educators from around the country, learning about the Americas during the Age of Discovery (1492-1625). Having participated in a Gilder Lehrman seminar before, I knew I could expect excellent lectures from and discussions with esteemed professors and historians, as well as connection and collaboration with fellow educators working in a variety of subjects, grade levels, and schools. My experience provided all that and more. All of my expectations were met in a series of graduate school-like lectures, and I received the added bonus of experiential learning.
We visited one of the oldest missions in Southern California, as well as took a trip to the famous Huntington Library research center and botanical gardens. I did not expect the seminar to be so focused on learning from primary source documents from all over the Americas and Europe. I even had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to touch and peruse some of these valuable historical artifacts. These experiences added depth to a wealth of new knowledge, and left me brimming with ideas on how to restructure large swaths of both my U.S. History and Global Studies curricula in the upper school.
I chose this seminar because I wanted to make major changes to my first U.S. History unit of the year: Pre-Colonial America. I wanted to move away from the narrative of Native Americans as victims and create more of a focus on the vast history and heritage of the people and cities that were here before European contact. Thanks to Gilder Lehrman, I started the year with an entirely new unit incorporating two Native American empires that were completely new to me. My 10th grade students researched the Chaco and Cahokia societies, two major cities that existed during the Middle Ages in two different regions of North America. We compared those societies to medieval Europe and had a panel discussion analyzing the success of each one, while also touching on the more abstract idea of what creates a “successful” society.
Because the seminar incorporated information on the entirety of the Americas, I was also able to gain new insights into Latin America, which is a unit I teach in Global Studies in the spring. Similar to my Pre-Colonial America unit, I was hoping to put more focus on Mesoamerican societies before European contact. After learning about Aztec codices, I now have access to a wonderful primary source that gives incredibly specific and detailed information on how the Aztec people might have lived before Europeans arrived, enabling students to better understand the changes created after the encounter and to see each group as individual players rather than as oppressors and oppressed.
I am incredibly grateful to have been able to participate in such a rich learning experience this summer. I thank the PA for all its help and support.