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Teachers’ Guides for JAHA Sites

The unique draw of local history

Local history may be the most under-rated subject in the curriculum for getting students enthused! Most people probably admit that local and state history are important for students to learn. The recent Pennsylvania History Standards mandate much more of it than in the past. But most haven’t realized the potential of local history to excite students, make them want to learn more, become self-motivated, polish investigative skills, analyze evidence, and draw thoughtful conclusions.

Think about it: Local history is like legalized gossip about your neighbors! It has built-in relevance that can be used as a local lens through which to view national events. The primary sources for studying local history are right at hand, not secured at the Smithsonian or National Archives. The eyewitnesses of local history are our neighbors and family members. Studying local history cultivates respect for the efforts of those who have gone before, as it sharpens our assessment of the choices they made that created the communities we live in. Hopefully, it produces citizens who are able to make better choices about the place they inherit.

Facing the challenges

The biggest challenge facing teachers who wanted to teach local history has always been the (understandable) lack of textbooks and other instructional resources at a local level. The economy-of-scale required for successful publishing will never favor the traditional textbook approach for local history study. The lack of textbooks is a blessing in disguise! Without secondary sources like textbooks, students must work with primary sources and learn to think critically for themselves.

That is where the Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA) and this site come in. Through the generosity of a private donor, JAHA has spent several years digitizing its collection of primary sources and creating this web-based teachers guide. The goal is to help educators in western Pennsylvania use JAHA’s three historic sites — the Johnstown Flood Museum, the Frank and Sylvia Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center, and the Wagner-Ritter House — effectively to teach local history now and to light a spark of curiosity in their students that will continue to burn for years to come.

Using this Teachers’ Guide

For each of JAHA’s three historic sites there are three flexible thematic threads. Threads focus on different disciplines and topic areas to help you tailor class visits to meet your instructional goals. Each thread includes discussion topics, primary sources, and learning activities for students before your visit, during your visit, and further exploration after your visit. With extensive galleries of artifacts, photos, and documents from the JAHA collections, even classes outside of western Pennsylvania should be able to complete most of the learning activities located on this website.

The Pennsylvania History Standards suggest that students study Pennsylvania and local history at three levels — upper elementary, middle school, and high school. Therefore, these materials aim for the middle, since most teachers are quite adept at adapting instruction up or down to meet the ability levels of their students. JAHA has also referenced standards from all subjects that touch upon the topics discussed here. The referenced standards are available for each thread.

Please let us know your suggestions and experiences working with these materials. We look forward to seeing you and your class!