By Katherine Schake
“Can we do it again?” is a common response of youngsters working through “The Art of Gold Panning” lesson developed by Marc Swanson for the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA). This newest lesson offers students an authentic experience panning for gold, testing metal conductivity, learning specific properties of metals, distinguishing between density and weight of materials, and discovering the historical drivers of gold panning in Alaska.
KMTA provides curriculum for primary and secondary students that enable youth of Southcentral Alaska to learn about their backyard through inquiry-based learning. Through field trip excursions and examining historical maps, photographs, and documents, students are immersed in the art and science of historical research – all while learning about the colorful characters who shaped the KMTA corridor into what it is today.
Marc Swanson of Seward was granted funding by KMTA beginning in 2012 to develop this curriculum in conjunction with a Teacher Training Program. Swanson integrated historical stories of the land and people of the eastern Kenai Peninsula while creating engaging and accessible Alaska Studies lessons explicitly tied to state content standards.
Over the past several years, he collaborated with numerous volunteer editors, videographers, narrators, and musicians on this project. The Governor’s Office recognized Swanson as the 2016 Alaska Studies Educator of the Year through the Awards for the Arts and Humanities program, a collaboration between the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation and the Office of the Governor.
Two separate curricula have been developed for primary and secondary students, with supplemental materials applicable to all ages:
• Designed for elementary and middle school students, This is Now and That was Then: Stories that Weave through the Eastern Kenai Peninsula, is an award-winning educational film series consisting of 12 short episodes. Each episode focuses on a landmark within the KMTA corridor such as Mt. Marathon, Exit Glacier, Hope and Moose Pass. Historical details of these features are discussed, and then lessons launch into broader stories of the region. The Booklet Guide and Field Trip Notes provide teachers with lesson tools to accompany the film series and highlight the history of the KMTA corridor. This film, narrated by local students, received the 2nd place National Association of Interpretation Digital Media Award.
• The high school Alaska Studies program will be greatly enriched by Trails across Time Curriculum, based on the book Trails Across Time: History of an Alaska Mountain Corridor by Kaylene Johnson. Resources for teachers include: Full Curriculum consisting of 10 Lessons; A Reader’s Guide to Trails Across Time; and Exploring the Corridor: Selected Field Trip Stops. These lessons ask students to look around them – to observe the landscape and culture that they may take for granted – and discover the story etched there.
A plethora of supplemental teaching resources are also available on the KMTA website. An index of topics includes Exploration; Geology; Indigenous People; Russian Alaska; Transportation; Individual Stories; and more. Under each topic there are lists of relevant books, news articles, maps, multimedia online resources, and KMTA curriculum chapters.
The relevance of each resource is rated and bookmarked page numbers provide teachers with quick and easy access to desired materials. For instance, under “Mining” links are provided to the Prospecting and Mining Journal where students can read about Alaska’s Hope-Sunrise Mining District while referencing the Kenai District Mining Map from 1910.
The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area strives to recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic resources and cultural landscapes of the KMTA corridor. The KMTA curriculum tells the stories of the land and people, as it enables students to explore and discover the historic, cultural and natural resources within the KMTA Heritage Area.
For more information and to access the full curriculum packages, visit the KMTA website: http://www.kmtacorridor.org/curriculum-guide-title-page/