Katy Swalwell, an assistant professor in the ISU School of Education, will this summer lead “Teaching and Learning Iowa History,” an innovative new course that aims to fill the current gap of teaching about Iowa history. Photo by Christopher Gannon.
Katy Swalwell, an assistant professor in the ISU School of Education, will this summer lead “Teaching and Learning Iowa History,” an innovative new course that aims to fill the current gap of teaching about Iowa history. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Iowa State aims to fill gap in teaching of state history

Iowa State University will this summer offer an innovative new course that aims to fill the current gap of teaching about Iowa history.

“Teaching and Learning Iowa History” is a four-week, mostly online class that will be offered for the first time this July. Its mission is to tell the history of people in Iowa whose stories don’t often get told — from groups who are marginalized to people involved in social movements.

The class will be open to students, teachers, and members of the public. It will tackle issues of diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice.    

“I’m really interested in uncovering a more diverse, more multicultural history of Iowa than what is typically told in schools,” said Katy Swalwell, an assistant professor in the School of Education who came up with the idea. “I want to encourage and ignite a love for Iowa history, and a curiosity about Iowa history, and in particularly a celebration of these amazing stories.”

The new course comes in response to a lack of resources related to Iowa state history education — especially history related to social justice and diversity. Iowa history was not taught at any of the regent universities for more than a decade, from 2001 to 2014, said Jeff Bremer, an assistant history professor at Iowa State.

“This is a class that can provide Iowa teachers with a wealth of knowledge to improve the teaching of Iowa history,” Bremer said. “I hope that this course will lead to an increased emphasis on Iowa history among secondary teachers and schools.”

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Civil rights will be the focus of this summer’s Iowa history course. This memorial bridge in Des Moines is named after American civil rights pioneer Edna May Griffin. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

History will come alive for those taking the course. It will take national events such as the civil rights movement, and use local examples and “primary sources” to demonstrate Iowa’s role.

“We know in terms of best practices for teaching, kids really glom on to something if they see the connection in their own backyard,” said Stefanie Wager, a K-12 social studies consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “If you’re connecting it back to Iowa, kids are going to be able to find it relevant to their lives.”

Blending teacher education with community outreach

The new offering is a collaboration between four units at Iowa State University, along with the Iowa Department of Education and State Historical Society of Iowa. Iowa State partners include the School of Education, Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, and the history department.

A College of Human Sciences Innovative Teaching Initiatives Grant helped to launch the inaugural year of the course. Those grants support development and delivery of innovative approaches to enhance student learning.

The Iowa history course blends teacher education with community outreach. It will be open to students for either graduate or undergraduate credit, to teachers for continuing education credit, and to members of the public interested in learning more about Iowa history who can take the course without credit for free.

“I wanted there to be a way for community members, teachers, and Iowa State students to all come together in the same learning experience with the same goals, the same curiosities, and have a way to mix together,” Swalwell said. “For me, the issue is not so much how to teach people to be historians of Iowa history, but how to get them excited about Iowa history.”

A recent Iowa Department of Education survey of teachers found that there are very few professional development opportunities for Iowa teachers in the area of social studies education.

The mostly online course will feature interviews with experts, video documentaries, articles, and primary sources. All of the historical content will be online. The course will also include two face-to-face days, including a “museum visit day” and a best practices workshop aimed at helping teachers make this particular content come alive.  

“There is no other class that I know of in the state that provides such content review, combined with pedagogical techniques,” Bremer said.

Iowa history could soon be included in the newly revised K-12 state standards for social studies. The offering of the course by the ISU School of Education is a proactive step that will help to ensure that teachers are ready to meet those requirements.

Exploring the civil rights movement

The Iowa history course will explore a new topic in depth each year, from migrant workers to the labor movement, women’s history, and different religious traditions in Iowa.

This year’s course will look at the roots of the civil rights movement in Iowa. In particular, students will look at the abolitionist movement and early civil rights cases like the Case of Ralph — the first Iowa State Supreme Court decision that protected a formerly enslaved man’s right to freedom.

“It will focus on the African-American experience here in Iowa, a subject that has been much neglected,” Bremer said. “There was no survey of the subject until about 2000.”

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American civil rights pioneer Edna Griffin

The course will look at challenges to the Jim Crow laws in Iowa during the 20th century. It will include stories of early efforts for equity and desegregation like the racially integrated town of Buxton, acts of civil disobedience like Edna Griffin‘s sit-in at the Katz Drug Store in Des Moines, student activism in 1968 at Waterloo’s East High, as well as union struggles against discrimination in Waterloo’s packing houses.

Those taking the course will look at white resistance to racial equality in Iowa like the Davenport school district’s refusal to desegregate schools for seven years in the 1970s and Ku Klux Klan activity around the state.

The course will also look at Iowans’ contributions to the civil rights movement nationally — from white students who went to the South to participate in Freedom Summer, to the work of J.L. Wilkinson to desegregate professional baseball, and the leadership of Alexander Clark — a 19th century civil rights leader based in Muscatine.

Sign up for the course

This summer’s class is open to up to 50 students seeking credit. An unlimited number of teachers and members of the public can participate. Fees vary depending on whether the participant is seeking credit for the course.

“If you’re a person in the state who just wants to learn about this, you can access the content for free,” Swalwell said. “If you are a teacher who wants to get licensure renewal credit, there will be a small fee associated with each credit. And then the course credit will be regular tuition for undergraduate and graduate students.”

Those with knowledge about Iowa civil rights who have stories that they think should be told as part of the class should contact Swalwell. For more information and to sign up for the course, go to the Teaching and Learning Iowa History website.

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KEY CONTACTS:

Katy Swalwell, assistant professor, School of Education, Iowa State University, 608-852-3056, katyswalwell@gmail.com

Jeff Bremer, assistant professor, history, Iowa State University, 515-294-5620, jrbremer@iastate.edu

Millie Frese, education and outreach manager, State Historical Museum, 515-281-6860, millie.frese@iowa.gov

Stefanie Wager, K-12 social studies consultant, Iowa Department of Education, 515-725-7842, stefanie.wager@iowa.gov  

Clyciane Michelini, program coordinator, online learning and development, Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching (CTLT), Iowa State University, 515-450-2378, clyciane@iastate.edu

Denise Schmidt-Crawford, associate professor, School of Education, Iowa State University, 515-294-9141, dschmidt@iastate.edu

Ralph Napolitano, associate director, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), Iowa State University, 515-294-9101, ren1@iastate.edu

Lynn Campbell, communications specialist, College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University, 515-294-3689, lynnc@iastate.edu

 

  • Quick Look

    “Teaching and Learning Iowa History” is a four-week, mostly online class that will be offered for the first time this summer. Its mission is to tell the history of people in Iowa whose stories don’t often get told — from groups who are marginalized to people involved in social movements.


  • “We know in terms of best practices for teaching, kids really glom on to something if they see the connection in their own backyard. If you’re connecting it back to Iowa, kids are going to be able to find it relevant to their lives.”

    Stefanie Wager