Teaching South Dakota History

I’ve recently come across a few people concerned with the availability of teacher resources and continuing education for South Dakota history.  One was particularly looking for digital and primary digital resources to use with an existing curriculum plan.  I have only moderate experience with planning and hosting youth programs and no professional experience with curriculum development, but I do love research and learning about history.  Their conversations made me think about whether the digital research sources I use on a regular basis, or come across randomly, could help teach significant South Dakota stories.  So this post is thinking out loud about this question…  Let me know if anything here is helpful and please do comment with other ideas or great examples of teaching SD history!

There are a lot of great digital archives and some local digital resources in South Dakota, some of which I’ve covered in previous posts, but here is a starting list at least:

*** Keep in mind that creating and maintaining digital collections requires a lot of time, expertise, and resources, so tell them thank you! and share with them how you are using the materials–the more examples they can show their boards and donors, the better. ***

Other digital resources for state history:

The South Dakota State Archives have a few teacher resources on their website, here.  Includes SD4History, for 4th grade state history, and, for older students, Teaching with Primary Sources.  They also do great tours and, again for older students, have lots of research material.

Our South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center has tours and gallery classes at the museum, but also ‘suitcase’ lessons for rent that cover topics in native history, ranching history, the fur trade, homesteading, environment, Lewis & Clark, one-room schools, archaeology, immigration, mining, significant places, transportation, and early commerce.  Learn more from their Education website, and they have links to program info about the suitcases on that website, here.

The State Historic Preservation Office has several documents written with research about South Dakota historic places, some by property type and some by geographic or ethnic context.  At the bottom of that page is a link about an older resource, Places Worth Exploring: A Curriculum Guide–not sure if they’re still selling copies or not.  The National Park Service website has copies of nominations to the National Register of Historic Places for listings in South Dakota, you can search by state/county or state/city, or resource name.  Nominations contain physical descriptions of the historic place and a statement of significance and historic context.

The National Parks’ websites each have educational materials or options, like this one for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, or Jewel Cave National Monument.  Even those parks known for their natural features have a history… though their curricula options might not have that as a focus…  Each park also has a section on History & Culture under the “Learn About the Park” tabs.

The National Park Service also hosts programs that may be of use, one called Teaching with Historic Places and one called Discovering our Shared Heritage.  From both, there are lots of options for national history, but these are the ones with direct South Dakota connections that I’ve spotted:

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
From the lesson plan intro: “The Minuteman system transformed the prairie into a military and technological frontier. As the first solid-fuel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile ever deployed by the United States, the Minuteman enhanced America’s military capabilities. It was a key component of America’s Cold War policy of deterrence and by extension helped facilitate a peaceful end to the Cold War. Designated in 1999, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site protects and preserves two significant sites on this former Cold War missile field in rural South Dakota.”   More good stuff on their NPS website too.

Roadside Attractions
A look at roadside architecture, the history of travel, etc. which includes Dinosaur Park in Rapid City.

Pierre and Fort Pierre, South Dakota: Travel Itinerary
Learn about, visit, and explore the authentic historic places that illustrate the history and development of Pierre and Fort Pierre, South Dakota from its earliest settlement to modern times.

Battle Mountain Sanitarium, Hot Springs
Part of the Travel Itinerary for National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.  Includes a tab called “Teach It!” that links to the Teaching with Historic Places for the National Soldiers Home in Dayton, OH.

Belle Fourche Dam
Part of the Travel Itinerary for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Historic Dams, Irrigation Projects, and Powerplants.

Spirit Mound
Part of the itinerary for the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

I also hope that teachers are making good use of local archives and museums beyond field trips.  I am sure some organizations don’t have the capacity to do much more than the standard school tour, but some may be open to other ideas.  Other local heritage groups, including historical societies, genealogical societies, historic downtown associations, or historic preservation commissions, might be excellent resources to keep an eye out for too.

  • Ask if they could pull collection material specific to the piece of South Dakota history you are working on, and many have local materials that would give students insight into broader themes like Native American life, Euro-American settlement, transportation, women’s history, etc. even if you’re not working on South Dakota history.  They might bring materials (depending…) or lessons to your classroom, either for them to present or to support the teacher’s lesson.
  • For older students, ask if there might be the chance to have a volunteer day at the museum or a behind-the-scenes tour to talk about the work of an archive/museum, whether they could host a student or two for sustained volunteering, or whether they would let students write reviews of their tours, exhibits, or websites with suggestions for improvement.
  • Local history organizations might also have resources to do history tours through town and get students to look with history-eyes at the landscape they move through everyday.
  • They take coordination and time, and training, but older students might be able to assist local preservation groups with research about historic buildings, or surveys of historic architecture in their communities.
  • Local museum or historical society members might be willing to be an audience for student history presentations–a teacher from Redfield recently won a Governor’s Award for History for a program that had students giving biographical presentations at, I believe, the historic depot.
  • Students might be able to share some of their history-writing through a local historical society newsletter.
  • Local history organizations also tend to do a lot of public talks and other events that could be fodder for student extra-credit if that’s on the table.

Last, I’ll make a plug for National History Day, particularly when done well.  If you are working with students the right age for National History Day, it’s a great program to get kids doing research themselves.  If you encourage local topics, or topics with a local impact, have students use the resources of local archive/museums, and/or do history interviews with elders in their communities (…ask around the local historical or genealogical society).  They also let students choose from a variety of presentation techniques giving them different experiences with writing or speaking for an audience, and thinking creatively about exhibit or website content and design.  I never participated as a student, but I have judged twice (once locally and once for the state competition).

Ok, no, actually the last idea is to follow the social media pages of South Dakota archives, museums, and other history organizations because they put out good content that might generate ideas for teachers.



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