Five Questions with the Iowa History Teacher of the Year
When Lamoni teacher Josh Culberson was a young boy growing up in Stratford, he loved to take a step back in time, whether it was through his grandmother’s stories or History Channel documentaries on television. Today, Culberson, 37, brings the past to life for his fourth-graders at Lamoni Elementary School.
His combined love for history and passion for teaching recently earned him the 2013 Iowa History Teacher of the Year award. The award is sponsored by The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, HISTORY® and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation on behalf of its Preserve America program.
Q: How do you make history relevant and interesting to fourth-graders?
Culberson: I try to tie history to things that they’re interested in. I try to make it fun and interactive, whether that be through games or through literature. One of the things I have them do is research information about each state in the region. We do a (virtual) travel video of our trip across the United States. I used iMovie last year and I filmed in front of a green screen, so when I put it together, it looked like they were actually at the place they were talking about.
I use a lot of the Dear America books, which are written like a journal or a diary written from the perspective of somebody from the time period. There was one that took place during the Salem witch trials, and we talked about what was going on in that time period.
Q: Constitution Day is September 17. What’s the most important thing for your students to know about the United States Constitution?
Culberson: I know in years past, when I’ve talked to kids about the Constitution, they’ve looked at me like they don’t know what it is. I think teaching them and giving them an understanding of what it is, why we have it, and why it’s an important part of our country and our government – those are the things I need to share with them. I try to relate it to how we have rules in our classroom and in our school and how the Constitution kind of guarantees that we have certain rights and because of this document, these things cannot be taken away from us. I try to connect it to something in their lives that they would be familiar with. If we wrote a Constitution, what kind of rights would we want to have that somebody couldn’t take away from us?
Q: Why do you think you developed a love for history as a child?
Culberson: I think it was the stories my grandmother used to tell me. She used to tell me about when she was a little kid and what life was like back then. I always was fascinated by things that were historical and what life was like at a particular time and wishing I could somehow step back into that time frame. Now I wish I would have written it down. Now that she’s gone, you can’t go back and get those stories anymore. That’s why I use a lot of the historical books and that perspective to give my students a peak at what life was like during Civil War times or Revolutionary War times and when the settlers were headed west.
Q: The Iowa Core social studies standards for grades 3-5 include a portion on history. One of the essential concepts and skills at that level says students should “understand the role of individuals and groups within a society as promoters of change or the status quo.” How do you help fourth-graders master that skill?
Culberson: When we talk about the Northeast – and I talk a lot about it because that’s where our country began – I use a lot of the American Revolutionary time period and discuss with them how our Founding Fathers weren’t happy with things that were going on with taxes and other issues and they decided to stand up and make a change, and that led to a revolution. We also talk about as citizens of our country, we can make our voices heard by voting, by talking to our representatives and elected officials, and we talk about how they can make their voices heard.
Q: What’s the best thing about teaching fourth-graders?
Culberson: Just their eagerness and their willingness to learn. They’re so excited to come in for the day, and they just want to learn new things. I try to share with them my excitement and get them involved, whether that’s through the use of technology or I even have a puppet that I use in the classroom. I do what I can to make learning as fun and interactive as possible. When I see that excitement and joy in their faces, I realize that’s why I became a teacher.