Last week, the Whaling Museum hosted the annual teacher institute, Portraits of a Port, in which educators from New Bedford Public schools gathered at the Whaling Museum’s Research Library to explore, learn, and share ideas about incorporating aspects of local history into their curriculums. The focus this year was on the people and places of New Bedford during the time of the Civil War, 1860-1865.
Portraits of a Port is a yearly program supported by the Whaling Museum, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, and the New Bedford Historical Society. From the outset, the goals have been for area teachers to become familiar with historical resources and cultural organizations which are available to support the study of 19th century Massachusetts history and to integrate these resources and content areas into existing school programs. This year’s version continued within that framework.
The week started with presentations from local experts on source materials, including the wealth of logbooks and journals available at the Whaling Museum. After receiving this introduction, the teachers split off into groups to work on developing programs that utilize New Bedford’s local history and historical organizations.
“The goal is to tie-in local history to what is already being taught in the classroom,” said James Calnan, director of history and social studies at New Bedford Public Schools. “It furthers the connection with the community.”
One of the main focuses this year – even more so than usual – was the usage and understanding of primary sources. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) will be expanding the role of primary sources in upcoming tests, so students will need to be more versed in these types of documents.
“We’ve always taught the story, but not necessarily the accounts,” said Anne Adamowicz, director of English, also of New Bedford Public Schools. “Because of this, primary sources are on of the main areas that we’re concentrating on here.”
On the MCAS tests, students will have to be able to not only read and understand primary source material, but also be able to interpret the greater meaning and answer questions. In this way, vocabulary is hopefully improved as well.
Another important aspect of the programs born from the teacher institute is the connections that students have with their hometowns and communities. The institutes over the past few years have encouraged local educators to utilize the wealth of resources contained at the area’s historical institutions.
“It truly makes history come alive,” Calnan said. “The students and teachers are available to see how the city became what it is today.”
There is also the very important ancillary effect of Portraits of a Port: teachers from the different schools in the New Bedford system are able to come together and share ideas with peers who they don’t normally interact with. According to Calnan, this “cross-pollination” isn’t always easy to accomplish, so institutes and workshops are important in standardizing the subject matter throughout the schools.
The teachers and administrators were also working on incorporating field trips into their curriculums, with the Whaling Museum and other New Bedford organizations among those listed as destinations.
Funded, in part, through a generous grant from the Braitmayer Foundation.