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Academic Spotlight on 8th Grade History: Unlocking A Trove of Untold Stories

Middle School history teacher Mark Stetina doesn’t want his students to memorize dates for his class. Instead, he asks them to think critically about the context of the events they cover and to consider whose story is being told. In the case of Revolution-era American history, it’s usually NOT the Native Americans, who Stetina has given a voice to through a new project in his eighth-grade history course.

Inspired by his professional development experience at the 2019 Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Teacher Seminar, “Native Peoples, Settlers, and European Empires in North America, 1600-1840,” Stetina developed a unit focused on the events, interpretations, and perspectives of the murder of the Conestoga Indians in 1763, the theft of their land, and ensuing pamphlet war in colonial Philadelphia.

Stetina challenged his students to explore whose point of view was reflected in primary source documents and political cartoons from 1763-64. Students also read Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga, a new graphic novel told from the perspective of the Conestoga People. Then, they created political cartoons from the Conestoga’s perspective and presented them to classmates. The unit concluded with research and a report on a current event paralleling the events of the Conestoga massacre.

In addition to exploring how power dynamics, race relations, and notions of justice shape their understanding of this historical event, Mr. Stetina wants students to have a conversation about Native American courage, strength, and resilience.

“History is a collection of stories, and all stories matter,” explains Stetina. “However,” he continues, “many of those stories go untold. I want my students to acknowledge their responsibility in integrating the voices and experiences of those who have been excluded from historical narratives in their own study of history.”
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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.