Ashlea Rosinski Shepherd with her computer and a poster of tribal nations

Teachers at all levels have had to think creatively to engage students in remote learning. Whether it’s creating virtual tours, using interactive online tools, or asking students to write their favorite movie on an interactive slide deck, teachers like Ashlea Shepherd Rosinski, seventh grade social studies teacher at Kulshan Middle School, are going above and beyond to keep students engaged and learning.

Remote learning has also offered opportunity. For example, the challenges of remote teaching and learning was the impetus for seventh grade teachers to increase their collaboration, and to expedite their change to a year-long focus on Washington state history. Formerly, seventh graders spent half a year on Washington state history and the other half on medieval world history. The change was initiated when the state changed the social studies learning standards. As a result, sixth grade studies world history, seventh grade studies Washington state history and eight grade studies United States history.

Shepherd was a part of the working group over the summer that decided to forge ahead with two key changes: making Washington state history year-long for seventh grade and continuing to integrate Since Time Immemorial concepts and perspectives throughout the year. Since Time Immemorial is the teaching of the history of and current day realities of local Native peoples and Tribal Nations.

Here are excepts from a Feb. 16 interview with Shepherd about her work over the last year:

How have you and your fellow social studies teachers adapted to some of the challenges of the last 12 months?

Knowing that the year was going to look a lot different and that we would have limited time with students, the summer work team I was a part of decided it made sense to shift to the new social studies learning, since the units that we’re creating this year could be used again and we could build upon them.

My teaching partner, Quinn Rathkamp, and pilot each social studies lesson prior to sharing them with our seventh-grade colleagues. We understand it’s such a challenging time and we acknowledge that we’re teaching in such a unique set of circumstances. Our hope is that we are creating lessons that help our colleagues.

Tell us about how you teach Indigenous history and varied perspectives.

The virtual tour of the Whatcom Museum’s People of the Cedar and Sea exhibit is just one example of covering Indigenous people and culture. However, we spend the whole year on this. You can’t teach Washington state history without the history of Indigenous people.

It’s important that history is not told just by those who are in power, but that it’s also told by those whose voices have been diminished throughout history. We are now at a point where we understand that all voices are important, and that history is experienced through a variety of perspectives and that every single one of those perspectives matter. And if we are going to continue to progress as a society, we must continue to lift up all voices within our socio-political atmosphere, not just locally in Whatcom County but as a state, as a country, and as a global citizen.

At Kulshan, we explore Indigenous perspective into every unit we teach. We look at teaching Washington state history from a variety of stakeholder perspectives. Stakeholders are those who are impacted by anything we are talking about. For example, we just introduced the topic of dams, and for dams the stakeholders student will examine are Indigenous people, government, citizens who live in Washington state, people who work at dams and salmon. This helps our students learn that it is not one perspective that matters.

How have you adapted teaching and learning to remote learning?

Key to this year was, how do we condense a lot of information but still include multiple perspectives? It would have been easy to break the unit up and say, here’s the government of Washington state, here’s when the constitution was written. But, we wanted to make sure that in every unit students explored how the government, Indigenous people, settlers, and immigrants have been impacted building our state. That was our challenge – ensuring that in this condensed unit of study, that multiple points of views were represented.

We try to bring in a variety of primary and secondary sources to have students examine. One example of this during remote learning was to create a virtual museum.  We were so lucky to work with Drew Whatley, lead museum educator at Whatcom Museum, to do this.  My intern in the fall, Brooklyn Pittman, used the photos from the museum and broke them down into units of study- Indigenous history and settler history focused on logging, fishing and canning. Students then worked through the virtual museum to analyze Whatcom county’s history from a variety of stakeholder perspectives- Indigenous people, settlers, immigrants, and the government.

A mural in Bellingham that features a canoe, salmon, indigenous people and white settlers.

An example of this is the mural that is in between the two museums. We used this as inspiration for what we wanted out students to learn from. Students wrote about how this mural represents local history here in Whatcom County, which was one of their assessments. And they then used evidence of what they learned or listened to in class to support their reflection. This mural does a good job of showing settlers as well as the Indigenous people of Whatcom County, and it led to really good discussions.

“The three industries of mining, fishing and logging are the base line of Whatcom. To further explain, the mural represents industries as well as traditions. I would assume that industries are on the mural because they provided jobs to settlers, as I stated earlier. These industries may have taken part in how our city and town looks today because of how the three industries were based off three main resources.”

-from student Carina McDonald’s reflection.

What’s another example of student projects during remote learning?

Our students wrote a newspaper article using Native Knowledge 360, using primary sources, or documents and photos from the time period we were studying. The article was about the “fish wars” talks about the perspective of Indigenous fishermen and why the Bolt decision was so important for Washington state and Tribal Nations.  Students used a tool from the Smithsonian website that allows you to create a newspaper editorial article and pull in historical photos.

How are students learning differently with these changes to social studies?

I have noticed that students really enjoy learning about Indigenous perspectives in Washington state.  It makes them feel connected to a variety of culture that exists in our community. They’re shocked often when they heard what happened to local Indigenous people. And you can see that they are truly engaged in the lessons they can learn from an Indigenous perspective. Students are able to evaluate the decisions that the United States government made and how White settlers impacted Indigenous people that have lived here since time immemorial.

I see their critical thinking lightbulbs going on, their own perspective on what has happened over the course of history.

How does teaching history from a variety of perspectives affect students who are Indigenous or otherwise under-represented in previous history coursework?

For Native students, people of color, and immigrants or students from immigrant families, I can see that their response to what we talk about helps build their identity of who they are. That’s really our goal, to teach our students that yes, your history matters and is important, and so is learning about other people’s stories.

Tell me more about the shift to a year-long focus on Washington state history.

I feel like we can help our students build social studies skills better by staying in one content area.

I am very passionate about social studies and middle school is really when our students get to dive into it as a subject by itself. I focus on nonfiction evidence and how it helps us understand the society we live in. Focusing on one topic allows Quinn and I to help students develop social studies like comparing and contrasting ideas, looking at multiple perspectives, and practicing how to use evidence to support ideas.

Having year-long Washington state history also provides more opportunity for us to explore Indigenous perspectives.


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