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New, veteran history teachers learning together at community event

History educators at symposium

History educators at the "Teaching the 20th Century in the 21st Century" symposium on Friday, January 29, at the McLean County Museum of History.

Illinois State University has the largest and one of the most rigorous history-social sciences teacher education programs in the state. Each spring semester, Illinois State co-sponsors a spring history symposium inviting past and present students to learn from other educators in their field.

The annual event creates a ripple effect among educators and their students. By showing teachers new techniques, they are better equipped to educate students across the state.

The symposium has been a longtime community partnership between the Department of History, McLean County Museum of History (which frequently hosts the event), and the Regional Office of Education 17 in Central Illinois.

This year’s event, “Teaching the 20th Century in the 21st Century,” was held January 29 at the McLean County Museum of History. Jason Klokkenga ’99, M.S.E. ’04, teacher at Normal Community West High School, has attended the symposium since its start in 2008.

“(ISU) puts its money where its mouth is. They are constantly putting energy and investments into current, past, and future students.” —Jason Klokkenga

“(The mission) is to provide opportunities to engage historical issues, explore promising teaching strategies, and develop meaningful ways to prepare our students as citizens in a rapidly changing world,” said Richard Hughes, an associate professor in the Department of History who stepped into the role of one of three lead organizers this year.

This year’s event, “Teaching the 20th Century in the 21st Century,” was held January 29 at the McLean County Museum of History. Jason Klokkenga ’99, M.S.E. ’04, teacher at Normal Community West High School, has attended the symposium since its start in 2008.

McLean County Museum of History

The McLean County Museum of History in downtown Bloomington is one of the event’s co-sponsors.

“(ISU) puts its money where its mouth is. They don’t just say, ‘Our job is to prepare you for four years and then good luck.’ They are constantly putting energy and investments into current, past, and future students,” Klokkenga said.

Hughes notes all graduates in the history education program are required to attend this event at least once prior to graduation. After receiving their degree, they are invited back to continue to learn each year.

“Some of the people here are 22-year-old student teachers, and some are people who have taught for 20 years, and they are still trying to do a better job. That collaborative effort is kind of neat. They are sitting next to each other in the same session and they bring different perspectives and, clearly, a different level of experience, but they are all trying to grow,” Hughes said.

McLean County Museum of History interior

The event brings over 100 educators of different experience levels together to explore new content and best practices. (Photo via McLean County Museum of History/Facebook)

The event brings over 100 educators of different experience levels together to explore new content and best practices in the teaching of history and the social sciences, said Monica Noraian, Ph.D. ’07, associate professor of history at ISU and creator of the symposium.

“Every time I come back, I’m walking out with a reading strategy, a literacy strategy, a content piece, a website to check out, a connection with a veteran, whatever it’s going to be. You have lots of opportunities here,” Klokkenga said.

Diane Wolf ’89, ’92, M.S. ’95, Ed.D. ’15, is assistant superintendent at the Regional Office of Education. The four-time alumna’s office provides funding for the event.

Topics covered during the sessions included teaching religious concepts in public schools, using historic documents to teach cultural history, and veteran panels.

“The teachers here today (have) worked very hard so that they could be the best that they could be. So that’s my passion. Making sure that they are always reminded that we are given a gift, which is children,” Wolf said.

The Department of History has a rich tradition, going back to at least the 1970s, of providing professional conferences for history teachers throughout Illinois. The current iteration of the spring symposium originated from the collaboration of Noraian, Wolf, and the museum’s Candace Summers, M.A. ’06, starting in 2008.

Mary Cullen can be reached at mmculle@IllinoisState.edu.

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