Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Education: Expanding heritage education 

04-24-2019 10:59

A collaborative workshop, “Expanding the Classroom: Integrating Your Community with Curriculum," was held in Salt Lake City from June 25 to 27. The first step in a larger heritage-education initiative, the workshop brought together a diverse group of people-teachers, curriculum specialists, architects, planners, and school administrators-to participate in developing an integrated curriculum model that uses the built environment as a primary source for teaching a variety of subjects. The workshop helped to focus programs that have been evolving for years and initiated the development of a curriculum that can be easily integrated into the classroom.

The roots of this initiative are found in the Utah Heritage Foundation (UHF) school program, which began in 1976 as a volunteer effort to make students aware of historic sites and neighborhoods. The UHF curriculum has expanded its focus over the years to include the built environment as a reflection of culture, a concept that can be used to teach history, art, social studies, literature, city planning, and science. A primary goal of the UHF school program is to help Utahans benefit from the preservation of the best of the past.

The UHF's successful experience over the past few years substantiated the need to clarify its approach and develop a curriculum that could be easily understood and thus readily transferred to teachers and the classroom. In partnership with the western regional office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the UHF planned a regional workshop and follow-up training to help realize this goal.

What we experience as "place" is the result of specific decisions made at a specific time for complex reasons. An understanding of this decision-making process, which goes beyond a mere description of architectural styles or building materials, is important for a meaningful analysis. In order to use the built environment as a primary resource, teachers and students needed a tool to help them understand this design decision-making process and the stories that buildings tell. Therefore, the volunteers of the education program of the UHF developed a tool that would form a basis for the curriculum.

The tool begins with a "need to build" and ends with "place." Between the "need" and "place" is a group of five filters: physical environment, economy, aesthetics, culture, and technology. "Place" results from how the "need" is processed through the filters. Each filter represents an influence on the decision-making process. The physical-environment filter includes such factors as climate, topography, context, and environment. The economy filter includes budget, resources, and finances. The aesthetics filter contains image, style, and attitude. The culture filter takes into account social values, history, and regulations. Technology is the filter that includes materials, structure, and equipment. By understanding the societal influences through the use of these filters, teachers can integrate the primary resources of the built environment into the curriculum. Teaching activities can be developed to use each filter in various grade levels and to demonstrate how they all work simultaneously to result in "place"-a site, neighborhood, or community.

“Place” represents the built environment, which is a result of how the “need to build” is processed through the five filters:
1. Physical environment includes factors such as topography, climate, and context.
2. Economy includes such factors as budget, finance, and resources.
3. Aesthetics includes factors such as image, style, and attitude.
4. Culture includes such factors as social values, history, and regulation.
5 Technology includes factors such as materials, structures, and equipment.
Source: Gillies Stransky Brems Smith Architects, Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Trust's western regional office and the UHF began working together to develop a collaborative model that could use the five filters to assist teachers in using the built environment in their curricula; it became clear that collaboration would be essential in order to translate the expertise of architects, planners, and geographers into curriculum language understandable to teachers and relevant to their content areas. The workshop would be the first phase of this initiative; field testing and lesson-plan preparation would follow. A broad range of local and nationally known practitioners from six states assembled to plan the workshop, serve as faculty, and review the products. Financial support for the workshop was provided by the National Trust's Preservation Services Fund as well as by the Heritage Education Initiative, the Michael Foundation, the Swanson Foundation, the Hemingway Foundation, and Hank Louis. Funding for participant scholarship came from the Utah Humanities Council, Utah AlA, Cooper Roberts Architects, and UHF board members.

Participants included classroom teachers, curriculum specialists, architects, planners, geographers, artists, and university faculty. The participating teachers included a mix of elementary and secondary teachers covering all subject areas. This mixture of background and expertise contributed greatly to the success of the workshop.

The workshop involved active participation by all who attended. Participants were organized into six teams of approximately twenty people. Each team had a core group of two faculty members-one from Utah-and two support people. The core group also included at least one design professional and one Utah historian. Each team applied the "five filters" tool to develop preliminary lesson plans. The teams used Salt Lake City for a day of field activities to apply the filters and develop the lesson plans. Activities included site visits, building tours, sketching, photography, and walking tours. It became clear that the "five filters" tool could easily be applied to any community.

The workshop proved effective in a variety of ways:

  • The power of the "five filters" tool was demonstrated. It is simple, comprehensive, easy to understand and use. It is applicable to any content area at all grade levels. Workshop participants were able to quickly apply the filters to diverse subject areas.
  • Although the vocabularies, priorities, and approaches of the design and education communities still need to be integrated, the workshop brought diverse people together in effective collaboration to develop curriculum together. Teachers had access to professional expertise while professionals had access to the teachers' experience with what works for students.
  • The hands-on workshop, with emphasis on process and participant involvement, is effective in stimulating thought and encouraging collaboration. Teams of people with diverse expertise used their collective ability and energy to develop draft lesson plans.
  • The method is transferable. It can be applied anywhere. Using the filters, students can trace in the built environment, the issues, events, and people that have shaped their community over time and consider what kind of community they want in the future.

The workshop empowered many people to integrate this model into their subject areas. Similar workshops are already being planned by participants in several other locations. The draft lesson plans developed at the workshop are now being refined into a consistent format. The "five filters" tool is being integrated into each lesson plan so that the students and teachers can relate the built environment to their content areas. The draft lesson plans will be field tested by the workshop participants during the 1992-93 school year. Final evaluation and publication by UHF and the National Trust are planned for 1993-94.

Publication date: November/December 1992



Author(s):Stephen B. Smith

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