NEW ULM - "The history around us" truly came alive for seventh- and eighth-graders from St. Paul's Lutheran Elementary School, as they completed a unit about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
The unit, which combined classroom and experiential learning, was developed by Principal Greg Thiesfeldt, who also teaches some history courses.
"2012 is historic year in New Ulm, marking the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War," said Thiesfeldt, discussing the impetus behind creating the unit.
Seventh- and eight-graders from St. Paul’s Lutheran Elementary School in New Ulm recently toured sites associated with the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 as part of a history unit about the war developed by their teacher, Greg Thiesfeldt.
"We have all this history around us, and the community put a lot of effort in recognizing it by commemorating the events."
"We felt it would be good for the students to make connections, to look at the various places and visualize how things happened and who was involved," said Thiesfeldt.
Thiesfeldt developed the series of lesson plans, including material made available by state and area historic societies and newly-published works by area authors. He tried to represent a balanced, nuanced perspective, he said, and also developed an assessment component to the unit.
After learning in the classroom, the students toured various sites in town and in Brown, Nicollet and Redwood counties associated with the war. These included the Brown County Museum, stops in downtown New Ulm, Milford Monument, Fort Ridgely, Birch Coulee, the Lower Sioux Agency and others.
The learning took on a very personal element for the students, as they discovered several "quirks of history" during the lessons and tour that touched upon the lives of people they personally know.
It turned out that the barricades built by the defenders of New Ulm ran right by the house currently occupied by one of their teachers.
Another teacher counts an ancestor among the defenders of New Ulm and shared parts of the family history, including diaries that contained some fun, mischievous stories, despite the seriousness of the times.
The personal perspective added a human dimension to the events.
Thiesfeldt said the students and their teachers are grateful for the accommodating staff at historic sites who came in outside regular hours and took the time to guide and explain things to students.
The Dakota War unit tied into what the students happened to be learning as part of their "regular" curriculum (Civil War history) and helped them gain a deeper perspective of national events, said Thiesfeldt.