HM - February 2019 - Blum

Professional Development Profile


The Power of Place: Experiential Learning at the Monticello Teacher Institute

by Kenneth A. Blum

Standing on the engraved step of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King made his speech, one can understand the “Power of Place.”  Even when students cannot stand in these iconic spots, a teacher experiencing that location has a renewed enthusiasm and an enriched experience to teach that subject.
Such is the case with the Monticello Teacher Institute.  Thomas Jefferson’s home provides two separate week-long Barringer Research Fellowships in American History opportunities each summer in Charlottesville, Virginia.  This Fellowship is an opportunity to research and develop a lesson plan on any of the many aspects of the colonial life on the Monticello property. 

Inside the Jefferson Library, trying out his 5 book carousel

Participants spend time inside the Monticello home, speak with on-site archaeologists, research at the Jefferson Library, chat with countless experts on the era, and work with historical documents at the University of Virginia. We sampled fresh vegetables straight from the garden, toured the house with different guides and their historical focus, and enjoyed downtime after-hours on the Little Mountain. 
The culminating activity is a presentation of each participant’s lesson plan.  
Topics during my Fellowship covered elementary through high school, music to media, history to technology.  Lesson plans included:
  • DBQ on the Founding Fathers’ views and actions on slavery
  • The Relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams
  • Jefferson’s Struggle as Governor of Virginia in Wartime
  • The Music of Hamilton as a Teaching Resource
  • How Indigenous Religions were perceived by the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Thomas Jefferson
  • Using Video to explore Jefferson’s Impact
  • Jefferson Role as seen in art and paintings of the era
  • Political Party dynamics of the Election of 1800
  • Considering Jefferson’s beliefs and works in today’s cultural, political, and social landscape
I left this Teacher Institute with more than a renewed energy for the life of Thomas Jefferson.  My colleagues’ projects opened up a wealth of other teaching ideas beyond just the facts of history.  We realized the importance of telling the full story - that people in history were ordinary, flawed individuals, but that each made a contribution to the people of their time and beyond.  It was a time to collaborate with new people, to see a historic site far more closely than the average tourist, and to delve deeply into a subject with experts in many different areas.  Finally, I have kept in contact with Monticello since my studies, participating in virtual field trips for my students and supporting Monticello at state conferences.  
The power of place is present from Jefferson’s study, to the steps where enslaved families were sold, and even in the halls where FDR relaxed; to find that last connection, you’ll have to join the Barringer Fellowship!
Applications are due March 1st of each year, and more details can be found at

Kenneth Blum is the Library Media teacher at Oak Grove Elementary, Peachtree City, Georgia (Fayette County Schools)

About NCHE

The National Council for History Education provides professional and intellectual leadership to foster an engaged community committed to the teaching, learning, and appreciation of diverse histories.