Thursday, July 12, 2012

Liberty Today! Summit Reflections

panoramic view of Monticello

The past week I have been fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Liberty Today! Summit at Monticello in Charlotesville, Virginia.  For all of you out there who have no idea what or where this is, let me give you a brief little overview.  Monticello was Thomas Jefferson's home, and as it turns out, is a very appropriate and perfect place for a history conference about the Revolutionary time period.  The program I'm participating in is called Liberty Today! which "Will help teachers make history relevant through new media, and create a growing community of educators to contribute to our modern understanding of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  Liberty Today will be a highly innovative scholarship program for top teachers and international fellows using state-of-the-art on-site and on-line training."  So I've been asked to help create this Liberty Today website which will help teachers and students learn, interact, and become immersed in the rich history of Jefferson and the Revolutionary era.

Jefferson's Home

Whew, okay, so now that the background info is done, I can get on with my personal thoughts and reflections about the summit.  I guess I should preface first that I have joined with this program one year into it, so most of the amazing teachers here have been working on this project for a year or so.  With that said, I haven't had any of the background work they all have had already.  At first, I thought I was going to be an outsider and really "out of place" since this was a group of people that had been working together for so long already and done so much work and I'm this random gal from the midwest who's going to encroach on their thoughts and work.  Wow, was I completely wrong; not only have these teachers been so welcoming and friendly, they've seemed to welcome an "outsiders" opinions and insights on the work they've already done.  I kind of feel like since I have such "new eyes" on this project I can maybe help with ideas and such that maybe have been at a stalemate or looking for a new perspective upon which to look.

So onto the actual, we've done a lot in such a short amount of time!  Instead of giving you a step-by-step of what we've all done, I'm going to instead tell you what I've gotten out of the summit and what I've been inspired with.  First off, we've gotten to spend much of our time at Montalto, a gorgeous building atop the taller mountain next to Monticello.  With a view like this, you can't help but be inspired and immersed in the time period.  Honestly I think that just the atmosphere we've been in all week has greatly helped my own thoughts and ideas (so any of you out there who are reading this and planning a conference: LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION! A good location makes for a fabulous conference!)

View from Montalto


Besides the awesome view and location, I have been inspired by so many things this week.  The first is just the feeling I got from touring Monticello and Montpelier (James Madison's house).  Wow, what an incredible feeling it was to walk in the houses where our presidents and their families lived over 200 hundred years ago.  I was inspired and yearning to learn more about not only Madison and Jefferson, but also the period in history.  I wanted to find out more about the dinner parties Madison had, or how Jefferson may have been a bigger weather nut than me.  With this information excitement coursing through my veins it hit me: this is what I want my students to feel when we are learning about history.  I want to make them excited and "come alive" when we are talking about events in history.  This really changed my focus for the week: how can I come up with different challenges and lesson ideas that would make this happen with my students?  So I began to brainstorm different ideas and really tried to immerse myself into the resources we have at MRH and how I can use that to make history come alive for my students.  I then used the resources and collections provided by Monticello that will be used in the Liberty Today site to fuel these ideas.  I remembered back to our Bellefontaine Expedition in May and how much that made the Civil War come alive for students, and I tried to think of ways to recreate that excitement every day in the classroom using the Liberty Today site and resources.

All in all, after seemingly being overwhelmed and "outsider-ish" feeling, I've come to realize that those feelings weren't justified; really this summit has inspired me to embrace history and strive to make it come alive for my students, so that they develop a passion and appreciation for the past, and that they question things not out of spite, but because they are yearning to learn and explore more about the past. 

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