Tour of local historical site helps students improve teaching skills

A docent hands iron ore to a student during a demonstration at the Centre Furnace Mansion in State College. Credit: Kevin Sliman / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — To better understand how to teach history powerfully in the elementary years, a cohort of undergraduates from the College of Education took a field trip to the Centre Furnace Mansion in State College. The trip, which is organized through the College’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, helped students who are in the childhood and early adolescence education (CEAED) program understand how to effectively teach history by using local resources.

“We do this trip so that our students leave Penn State with a solid understanding of local history and Penn State's beginnings, especially the relationship of the land to its people, economy, civic life and history,” said Stephanie Serriere, CEAED program director and associate professor of education. “We also do this trip to ignite their thinking about the rich historical resources preserved in the many places that they may teach.”

A docent at the Centre Furnace Mansion teaches the tour group about the furnishings of the mansion and the culture of the time. Credit: Kevin Sliman / Penn StateCreative Commons

This is the second trip to the mansion. Serriere said she plans on continuing the trips each fall because the experience is important in the students’ development as educators.

“We do this so that these future educators don't just look at standards and teach those,” said Serriere. “Rather they look at the rich curriculum of life around them and teach standards through that life and community.”

The mansion’s docents, who are former teachers and expert educators, guide the tour.

“These docents understand what the students need to know to reach elementary age students,” said Christine McDonald, a professional development associate who works through the College’s Professional Development School (PDS).

A docent shows a student the location and name of Penn State (then known as The Farmers' High School) on a map from 1861. Credit: Kevin Sliman / Penn StateCreative Commons

“They can articulate the content and the how to appropriately and effectively convey it to students. The docents also seem to genuinely care about history and making it relevant to our pre-service teachers and elementary grade students.”

The docents guided the tour sharing information with the Penn State students in two ways. First, they explained the information on an adult level. Then they provided guidance for when they would speak to elementary students, offering the pre-service teachers insight into how to effectively teach younger students.

Morgan Marasco, a senior in the CEAED program and a PDS intern, said that the docents’ experience teaching students in the classroom and through tours was very beneficial.

“I really enjoyed the stories they shared with us about what students typically say on the tour and how they handle it,” said Marasco.

A tour of the mansion's kitchen shared the equipment and the food preparation styles of the late nineteenth century. Credit: Kevin Sliman / Penn StateCreative Commons

Marasco said that the tour showed her the importance of local history, the connections students could make to local history, and it provided a great example of a historical field trip.

“This tour was unique and helped me as a future educator because I essentially got two tours in one,” said Marasco. “I was able to experience the tour as an adult interested in the historical information and as an elementary-aged student on the tour with their class.”

Kyrah Nagy, a senior in the CEAED program and a Schreyer Honors Scholar, also participated in the tour. She said that the docents have an idea of what it takes to capture children's interests, get them to ask questions and engage them in a dialogue about history.

“I think it's important for pre-service teachers to learn from experienced teachers because they have collected evidence of what does and doesn't work in the classroom,” said Nagy.

The tour concluded outside with the docent teaching the group about the mansion's architecture and its grounds. Credit: Kevin Sliman / Penn StateCreative Commons

According to Mary Sorensen, the Centre County Historical Society (CCHS) executive director, the Centre Furnace Mansion serves future teachers as an educational tool and inspires an appreciation for education opportunities outside the classroom.

“We look at this partnership as an important one for both future teachers and for CCHS,” said Sorensen. “I felt it was important to share with the class an awareness of historical societies and historic sites and to encourage the students to seek these sites out in the communities where they live one day.”

Nagy added that the tour gave her ideas about how to introduce students to museums and museum learning.

“Children, particularly elementary-aged children, require more explanation when touring sites for a field trip than if the tour was being given to adults,” said Nagy. “The tour made me realize that every field trip, regardless of the destination, can be centered around the promotion of children's interests and learning if framed in just the right way.”

As a part of the class, the students completed two readings about teaching history powerfully and with multiple perspectives in mind. After the tour, a student-led discussion ensued in which the students related aspects of the tour with theories of teaching children history.

“I hope this group of future teachers connect what they learn here to their future teaching,” said McDonald. “I want them to create opportunities to teach history effectively.”

Last Updated October 30, 2014