AK History Learning "Out of the Classroom"

Tuesday, July 4, 2023 by Catherine Gilliland | American History

We can encourage our children to invest themselves in understanding historical events and their effects on their populations by modeling interest in history. Take time to enjoy historical literature together, visit museums, many parks, and other historical locations (including the smaller roadside historical pullouts). Follow up your experiences with casual and enjoyable conversations about how the historical events or places you have learned of shaped people's lives.

The entire state of Alaska boasts of its rich historical heritage. How much do you know about the people and events that shaped the Land of the Midnight Sun? Summer is a great time to get out and explore the places where pivotal events occurred. What are you curious about? Aviation? Military history? Cultural events? Native Alaskan people groups? The Great 1964 Earthquake? Which four historical sites could you visit with your family during July to foster their ongoing interest and value in the history of Alaska? Please let me know about your great discoveries!

How many museums in Alaska have you explored?

Completing a quick overview of a museum website will help you to prepare for the topics about which you can learn. Find an appropriate balance for your family between reading every exhibit and none! If safe, maybe your readers can explore museum areas on their own while non-readers stay with a parent who can read or interpret exhibits for their level of learning. Above all, have fun learning, imagining life as displayed in the exhibit, and thinking of questions to continue your discovery after you leave the exhibits.

Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum

Alaska Museum of Science & Nature Alaska Museum of Science & Nature

Alaska Native Heritage Center

Alaska Public Lands Information Centers Visit one of the four APLIC across the state in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, & Tok.

Anchorage Museum

Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum (Fairbanks - period autos and fashion displays) 

Islands and Ocean Visitor's Center (Homer) 

Kenai Museum

Maxine and Jessie Whitney Museum Maxine & Jesse Whitney Museum

Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry

Pratt Museum (Homer)

Seward Community Museum Seward Community Museum

Soldotna Historical Museum

University of Alaska Museum of the North

Road systems often grow to link places of history together. In Historic Roads of Alaska, you will find an abundance of stories of how those places were linked by different roads and tunnels throughout Alaska. Be alert to road signs indicating an Alaska National Historic Landmark or pullout is ahead. Take a quick break from your drive to learn more about your state's history.

The National Park Service administers 424 sites around the United States! The NPS administers 63 National Parks, eight of which are in Alaska, yet other sites within the national park system are administered as designated national monuments, national historical parks, national battlefields, national historic sites, and so on. NPS administers nine additional sites within Alaska. Give yourself a peek into the window of Alaska's past. The NPS website is full of pages for you to learn about the people of Alaska, their economic discoveries and innovations, their culture, and their archeological discoveries. Take these stories with you as you explore national parks. Because only a small percentage of Alaska is accessible by road, Alaska NPS also maintains a YouTube channel (and specific park channels) so you can learn about far away Alaska's history, too!

Alaska's parks are diverse in their science and history. Although the NPS administers 15 sites in our great state, others are administered by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Are you familiar with the National Every Kid Outdoors programGet a pass to explore America’s public lands and waters with your family for free—just for being in the 4th grade! Your 4th grader's pass is valid at over 2,000 public lands and waters, national parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuges. Up to three adults (age 16 and older) and all kids (under age 16) get in free—so bring your family along! **See where you can use this pass in Alaska**

On the state and local levels, there are additional resources to fulfill curiosities about those Alaskans who came before us. The Alaska Department of National Resources maintains some resources. So do the Alaska Historical Society and various high school AK History online courses such as Alaska History and Cultural Studies ( The Anchorage Public Library maintains a specific Alaska Collection. Lastly, numerous local authors such as Laural Bill, author of the Aunt Phil's Trunk series have written numerous books for children (and adults) about Alaska History. 

Any of these resources can be used as a springboard to creatively plan all of your Alaska historical outings! Keep your eyes and ears open. Opportunities for learning outside the classroom about Alaska's history are seemingly endless!

Studying History Using Historical Literature

Tuesday, July 4, 2023 by Catherine Gilliland | Uncategorized

We can encourage our children to invest themselves in understanding historical events and their effects on populations by modeling interest in history and its value in everyday life. Take time to enjoy historical literature together (historical fiction, biographies, and primary sources), visit museums, historical parks, and other historical locations. Follow up your experiences with enjoyable conversations about how the historical events or places you have learned of shaped people's lives.

A simple internet search will net you with a plethora of titles from which you can select stories to share together with your family. I am including only a few titles and series that our family especially enjoyed! 

We enjoyed nightly read-aloud times, snuggled in blankets during the winter, or sacked up in sleeping bags while camping during the summer. Are you spending some time driving this summer? Checking out audio versions of your favorite stories from your library or Audible to help those miles to slip by with enjoyment. As you read, remember to ask open-ended questions that encourage your children to think about the problem the character(s) need(s) to solve, the events leading up to the climax, the characters themselves, and the theme(s). Ask your listeners how they agree and disagree with the story's outcomes, and whether or not they would have responded the same as the characters if faced with similar situations.

Elementary Years

American Girl books by various authors.

Based upon numerous time periods in American History, from the mid-1700s to the late 1900s, these stories tell the everyday experiences of a fictional character: her challenges, day-to-day life, and what changes she faced. A different fictional character represents each different time period.

If You … Scholastic book series various authors

These books are actually great for many ages. Their layout is simple with plenty of colorful illustrations and a reader can skip around to look for specific information without losing continuity.

Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

There are very few who are not acquainted with these timeless children's stories which recount a young girl's experiences growing up in America during its westward expansion.

Indian Captive (Lois Lenski)

The story of Mary Jemison, taken from her family's farm in eastern PA in 1758 by a band of Seneca Indians. She learned with them to a Seneca village on the Genesee River (western NY) and learned how to live as one of the Senecas.

Sarah, Plain and Tall (Patricia MacLachlan)

Set in the Midwest during the late 1800s, two children wait in anticipation for someone to answer their father’s newspaper advertisement for a new wife and mother. The woman who answers has never lived in this type of farm setting before.

Stickeen (John Muir and Donelle Rubay)

The story of one of John Muir's adventures in SE Alaska. 

Middle School Years

G.A. Henty Historical Fiction. Mr. Henty, a prolific writer of historical fiction during the 1800s, authored several American History titles.

Across Five Aprils (Irene Hunt)

A compelling classic of a boy's coming of age during the Civil War. This tale is based on stories the author's grandfather told her about his life during The War Between the States.

Amos Fortune, Free Man (Elizabeth Yates)

Taken as a young man from his tribe, African Prince Atmunshi is captured in the mid-1700s and taken to America as a slave. Renamed Amos, he masters a trade, purchases his freedom, and dies free in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, in 1801.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (Jean Lee Latham

The story of Nat, a young boy who is forced to leave school to be apprenticed to a tradesman during the Revolutionary War era. He never gives up on his dreams of becoming a Harvard University student and continues to teach himself higher-level mathematics, Latin, and French. Eventually, Nat becomes a navigator on the high seas, recognizes numerous mathematical errors in the navigational tables of the day, and sets out to correct them all, saving the lives of countless future sailors.

Farewell to Manzanar (James D. Houston, Jeanne W. Houston)

Farewell to Manzanar describes the experiences of Jeanne Wakatsuki and her family before, during, and after their internment at Manzanar internment camp during WWII as a result of the US government's internment of all Japanese Americans.

Guns for George Washington (Seymour Reit) 

During the winter of 1775-76, Gen. Washington needed guns and ammunition to help reclaim the city of Boston which was blockaded by the British. This is the story of Colonel Henry Knox and his brother Will transporting 183 cannons from New York's Fort Ticonderoga to Boston to free the colonists. 

Johnny Tremain (Esther Forbes)

The story of a young apprentice in Boston during the weeks leading up to the 'shot heard round the world'.

On to Oregon (Honore Willsie Morrow)

The epic journey of the Sager children by covered wagon from Missouri to Oregon in 1848 along the Oregon Trail.

Out of the Dust (Karen Hesse)

Written in diary form, the story details two years in the life of a young daughter of a struggling farming family in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the mid-1930s, The Dust Bowl years. After a tragic accident results in the death of Billie Jo’s mother and baby brother, she and her father must find a way to reconcile the past and prepare for the future.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare)

Set in colonial America, prior to the famous Salem Witch trials. A young girl, whose guardian has just died in Barbados, sails to America to live with last remaining relatives. Their Puritan ways are very different than those to which she is accustomed, including the ways they relate to a particular Quaker woman.

High School

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)

Huck runs away from his abusive father. With his companion Jim, the runaway slave, makes a long voyage down the Mississippi River on a raft. During the journey, Huck encounters almost every class living on or along the river, a variety of characters and types whom Twain memorably portrays. As a result of these experiences, Huck overcomes conventional racial prejudices and learns to respect and love Jim. 

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

Called "The Great American Novel", this is the story of a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River in the 1840s. Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid. Twain's story tells of Tom's adventures–those of a typical young boy in that setting.

Harriet Tubman: Conductor of the Underground Railroad (Ann Petry) 

A 1955 biography, takes readers on a journey through Harriet Tubman’s life, from her March 1922 birth to enslaved parents on a Maryland plantation to her death as a free woman in New York in 1913.

Sounder (William H. Armstrong) 

The story of an African-American boy living with his dog, Sounder, and his sharecropper family in the 1950s whose difficulties increase when the father is imprisoned for stealing a ham from work. 

Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)

In May of 1943, a young American military lieutenant, Louis Zamperini, crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Louis Zamperini, a bombardier and a former Olympian drew upon all his courage, cunning, and fortitude following his plane crash in enemy territory to survive in this epic account.

Why Study American History?

Tuesday, July 4, 2023 by Catherine Gilliland | American History

Have you ever asked yourself, "What is the value of studying history?" If you haven't, maybe your son or daughter has. What is your answer? 

Over the past year, I engaged in an opportunity to take a deep dive into studying US History. I rediscovered American History's capacity to fascinate and thrill me. Its value to me as a topic of rumination and discussion expanded, and the echoing of its accounts led me to retrace a wild journey of emotions associated with the human experience.

My first experience with US History was in an 8th-grade public school classroom. My memories of the class are distant in regard to the class content, yet clear as I recall the encounter was dull and boring. What was the difference between my then and now experiences? How can I encourage my students to value all that the study of history has to offer?

I believe the foundational answer lies in simply curating a value for understanding the world, people (in general), and oneself. From there, the interest follows. 

The fact that the world is constantly changing becomes evident as a learner is exposed to a myriad of historical stories. The story of humankind can be experienced through literature (short stories and novels), "field trips", movies, and oral accounts. Ask grandparents or older friends to tell stories about what their life was like when they were young. Select an engaging family read-aloud that is set during a period of history and enjoy the story together!

Events never occur in a vacuum. As students ponder history, emotions may arise as they recognize and reflect upon how individuals and groups experienced the events and culture of their day. To unfold an appreciation for the remarkable uniquenesses of humankind and depth of understanding for people in general ask questions such as, "How do the people respond to the favorable events or culture within which they live?" and conversely, "What reverberations are observed to poor and even harmful events and culture?". Follow up a grandparent's stories by asking questions about their it. "Was this a difficult experience?" "Why did this happen?" Between chapters in a family read-aloud, engage yourselves in the story through casual discussion. "What caused X to happen?" "How did the event(s) benefit/harm the characters?" "How are things the same/different now?"

Together, historical events and human responses form repetitive themes of history. Often students need coaching to recognize these themes. Once recognized, ask oneself (or prompt a student to answer) progressively probing questions. "What conclusions can be drawn from these observations?" "What corrective ideas or actions would remedy the adverse themes?" "What strategies would promote advantageous themes?" As students are challenged to consider solutions to the issues of their day and the chronicles of the past, they begin to understand themselves. Further your read-aloud conversations by considering if the characters have avoided the problems. If so, how? If not, what other actions or responses may have led to a solution?

How can I encourage my students to value the study of history?  Provide clear, engaging accounts of its actual events in story form. Undertake moments of reflection on the human experiences from different periods of history. Create real-time and simulated participation in problem-solving as it relates to historical and current events. Immersing oneself, your students, and your family in the historical record invites history to come alive for everyone!

The Urgency Behind Dyslexia Interventions

Sunday, June 25, 2023 by Catherine Gilliland | Dyslexia Support

"Dyslexia is a persistent, chronic condition, and … it does not represent a temporary lag in reading development," (Shaywitz, 34-5). These claims, substantiated by significant scientific research, answer three long-term questions: whether parents and educators should be concerned about temporary snags in a child's reading development, whether there is a real importance to identifying dyslexia in children early on, and what is the exigency for ensuring a dyslexic reader receives the interventions.

"The differences in reading between typical and dyslexic readers not only appear as early as first grade but, importantly, persist through adolescence. … [D]yslexic readers do not catch up (emphasis added) with typical readers primarily due to large differences observed as early as first grade. (Shaywitz, 35) Thus, every conscientious parent and educator will recognize the value of early dyslexia screening and the implementation of immediate, evidence-based interventions. Early screenings and immediate intervention are the only way the persistent reading achievement gap between dyslexic and typical readers will be diminished. 

If time is of the essence, how can parents identify the possibility of dyslexia? Dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading. Individuals with dyslexia do not have a concurrent deficit in IQ. Sometimes dyslexics can be gifted. In other words, your child can be incredibly bright and be an unexpectedly slow reader. Kids are also masters at masking their struggles in reading and will develop personal coping skills for their phonological deficits. Still, there are early warning signs that can belie looming reading challenges. Parents are wise to note the following:

  • delays in learning to speak

  • persistent pronunciation difficulties

  • difficulties in detecting rhyme

  • confusion with words that sound alike

  • 'jumbling' up words when speaking

  • word retrieval struggles

  • becoming that 'quiet child' or exhibiting a hesitation to speak  

  • habitual use of words that lack specificity

Parents just learning about the persistent gap in reading abilities between typical and dyslexic readers are justified to find this information alarming! Simply considering the long-term downstream effects of this gap is a reason for great pause. Sadly, there are often accompanying social-emotional hardships and other painful effects when dyslexia is not addressed early and seriously. 

There is great news, however! First, research agrees that there can still be a bright future for dyslexic readers. The positive results of securing evidence-based intervention from a trained interventionist early in a child's life are well documented. Participating in that instruction frequently and consistently can facilitate mastery of reading fluency, comprehension, and spelling skills. Self-esteem usually increases; former socio-emotional challenges often slowly clear up. 

Possibly of greatest importance are the outcomes resulting from dyslexic readers walking the path required for learning to read fluently: growing personally as they develop skills of diligence, endurance, and teamwork to overcome their dyslexia. Their dyslexia often becomes their superpower! Simultaneously, these individuals become fluent readers and specially equipped to face life's other challenges with tenacity and grit, proven skills in problem-solving, and a can-do attitude that, when embraced, will equip them for success for the rest of their lives.

Shaywitz, Sally and Jonathan Shaywitz. Overcoming Dyslexia, Second Edition, Sheldon Press, 2020, London. (34-35).