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Voice: September 2018
In the musical “Hamilton’’ there is a famous line, “When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game.’’
Joe Welch, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History’s 2018 Pennsylvania History Teacher of the Year, starts with that quote when he begins to describe his teaching philosophy.
“In education, especially history, if you allow students to be part of the story, and to really interact with their story, and to put their own view on the story, I think that is huge for student engagement,’’ said Welch, a middle school social studies teacher in the North Hills School District, Allegheny County.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a national organization that promotes K-12 history education by providing schools with resources and teachers with various training opportunities. As part of its activities, it names state teachers of the year. As the 2018 Pennsylvania recipient, Welch, who was nominated by a fellow teacher, received a $1,000 cash award and a spot in one of the institute’s teaching seminars. His school’s library received an archive of books and resources.
In honoring Welch, the institute cited his use of creative and innovative projects that require students to see history through the eyes of those involved in it, and those affected by it.
For example, in studying the first colonial settlement at Jamestown, students look at weather, ship manifests to see what supplies were brought to the New World, and journals about the relationships with Native Americans. They then relate that to what settlers must have experienced.
Studies of other historical events may take students to do interviews with military veterans, or to senior citizens in nursing homes.
That is followed by using technology to put together written and visual presentations that Welch stresses “must be based on facts – not just a pretty video.’’
The common thread is for students to see themselves and others in history.
“Often in a movie, we watch characters and we connect with them,’’ Welch said. “I try to do this with my students.’’