Ky. History Documentary Comes to Class

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 25, 2011) — The final credits of "Kentucky – An American Story" rolled on KET last night, but the meaningful film and its message have only just begun.


Kentucky students will get a chance to connect to history on a local level this fall with an educational initiative as important as the film's star-studded narration.


If University of Kentucky history professor and Center for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching director Kathi Kern has learned one thing from her experiences working with Eastern Kentucky history teachers through the US Department of Education's Teaching American History Grant program, it's the need to make history relevant, significant and alive to students of all ages in the Commonwealth.


"Kentucky has a rich history," Kern said. "We want students to feel connected to where they are from and to the larger picture."


Many Kentucky students don't see their own state's name in a history book until President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty in the late 1960s, according to Kern. "Students learn that all history happened elsewhere, in Boston, New York and Philadelphia," she said. "Why can't teachers teach American history from a Kentucky perspective?"


That's just what Kern and UK College of Education professor Kathy Swan set out to do at the beginning of the collaborative "Kentucky – An American Story" project with UK Corporate Relations Officer Jan Swauger, UK history professors Ron Eller and Tracy Campbell and former UK history professor Daniel Smith in 2004.


"The film provides teachers an intensive workshop on Kentucky history, while showing students that their home region is a vital part of our nation’s past," said Kern. "The response from our sponsors toward the educational initiative was overwhelming."


The educational outreach component will reflect and build on some of the stories in the film and will provide an important instructional need for K-12 history and civics teachers across the state.


Kern and Swan are developing a wide range of educational materials and opportunities for Kentucky teachers to implement in the classroom this fall, including an instructor’s guide to the film series; an interactive CD containing series sources and footage to enable students to create their own mini-documentaries; and an interactive website for students and teachers called the History Scene Investigator (HSI). The HSI site, created by Swan and William and Mary professor Mark Hofer, is modeled on the popular TV show CSI and presents students with historical cases to solve.


With additional funding, the professors hope to be able to offer six state-wide professional development seminars for teachers and a virtual course for teachers’ continuing education and professional development.


Last year, UK announced a statewide initiative, the P20 Innovation Lab, whose major objective is to use higher education expertise in partnership with school districts and the Kentucky Department of Education to create and assess new ways of teaching and learning using technology. As a result of this initiative, the College of Education faculty involved with "Kentucky: An American Story" are creating a 21st Century Social Studies Lab, which will provide new opportunities to expand the programs and resources related to the film.


Kern hopes that the film and its accompanying outreach will continue to change the nature of history classes in Kentucky. "I am passionate about keeping history from becoming boring," she said. "History is more than numbers, names and dates. You can localize history and make it come alive to the students who are learning. Students then feel connected to the past and engaged in the present."

MEDIA CONTACT: Erin Holaday Ziegler, (859) 257-1754, ext. 252;