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As University of Montana researchers Sally Thompson and Kim Lugthart drove down U.S. Highway 12 on their way to Billings recently, they noted Painted Robe Creek near Lavina.

The two women wondered how the creek got its name and were curious about the people who once lived along its banks.

Their fascination for the history behind places has led the two of them to develop a Montana history curriculum based on historical maps.

"If you know a place and come across a story from that place … then something changes for you in terms of your connection to that place," Thompson said.

'Place-based education'

The way she figures it, places are what tie people to history, and maps provide students with a vehicle to study that history. She calls the curriculum "place-based education."

Thompson, an anthropologist, is director of the Regional Learning Project of the UM Continuing Education Center. She and Lugthart, a researcher and publicist for the Regional Learning Project, presented the map-based curriculum during the Indian Education for All Institute held earlier this week. The two-day conference, sponsored by the Little Bighorn Tribal College, offered educators an introduction to the state's Indian Education for All initiative.

Historical maps

Thompson and Lugthart developed a series of full-color historical maps of Montana, beginning with one of the earliest American Indian maps of a portion of Western Montana all the way through to the present. To be used in conjunction with the larger map set, four additional regional series have been produced, and later this summer, a fifth and final set will be available. Each of the five regional map sets corresponds with tribal territories.

The historical maps show an evolution of discovery, place names and the migration of the people living on the land. Each mapmaker from each era contributes to the history of the landscape.

"Each map is a story unto itself," Thompson said.

Thompson and Lugthart said they see the materials being used at most every grade level and shared among teachers. All of the maps can be reproduced for student use.

The Regional Learning Project has developed several informational Web sites for educators and students and five documentary films on Montana history with an emphasis on American Indian culture. Three of the films were produced for the Montana Office of Public Instruction. They also facilitate workshops for teachers to show them how the materials can be used in the classroom.

The large map set costs about $90, and the regional map sets cost $45 each.

The collection of resources produced by the Regional Learning Project is just one of many teaching aids that have emerged to meet Montana's Indian Education for All requirements.

Educators who attended the Indian Education for All Institute were also introduced to Full Circle Curriculum and Materials, which includes professional development for teachers and curriculum materials. A monthly classroom calendar and support materials for the 2006-2007 school year costs $300.

By law, Indian education is required in all Montana schools, and until this year, the mandate went largely unfunded. During the December special legislative session, lawmakers allocated some $7 million in one-time funds for the implementation of Indian education in all grade levels and across all core subject areas.

The Billings School District received $446,204 at the elementary level and $227,648 at the high school level for implementation. In addition to the startup funding, the district received about $200,000 in ongoing money for the elementary district and $119,000 for the high school district to continue to provide Indian education in every classroom.

The district is spending about $120,000 of its Indian Education for All funds for staffing and to create an administrative position to oversee the implementation of programs and curriculum. At an annual salary of $73,743, Carol Blades, former principal of Crossroads Alternative High School, will be stepping into that position.

The remaining funds will be used for curriculum development, supplies and teaching materials.

Curriculum design is in the early planning stages, and the purchase of teaching materials and ready-made curricula will depend on how the district intends to implement Indian Education for All.

According to Marcia Beaumont, an Indian education programs coordinator at the Billings School District, teachers have been eager to take Indian education professional development courses, and some 40 teachers have completed an OPI course provided through Dull Knife and Little Bighorn tribal colleges and the Western Heritage Center.

A K-8 social studies curriculum adoption team has been working for two years, mindful in the process of the state's requirement for Indian education.

Starting this fall, Indian education will be included in a mandatory seventh grade class, now called Connections. The course is offered mainly to ease students' transition between elementary and middle school and focuses on study skills and social resiliency. Indian education curriculum will be integrated into the nine-week course, and Beaumont said a teaching manual will be available before the start of school.

In addition to the Connections course, Montana's Indian tribes are introduced as part of the district's Montana history studies, which are taught in the fourth, eighth and 11th grades.

Billings School District Associate Superintendent Jack Copps said administrators are working closely with OPI staff to make sure everything that's taught in the Billings School District is aligned with the OPI's content standards and grade level expectations.

The OPI's Indian education standards are a work in progress as well, said OPI Indian education specialist Mike Jetty. Work is under way to define grade level benchmarks specific to Indian education, and accreditation standards already require specific attention in grades four, eight and 12 to the history of Montana's tribes and the contemporary issues they face.

Jetty said OPI staff is also in the process of developing related curriculum that will adhere to the state's content standards, and some resources are already available.

"Everything we put out from OPI will be offered for free," Jetty said.

The OPI does not endorse any privately produced curriculum but will check out the reliability of resources, and the OPI's Indian education advisory board also reviews teaching materials and reference books for accuracy. Jetty said materials developed by the UM Regional Learning Project and Full Circle are quality resources and adhere to state Indian education standards.

Contact Laura Tode at or 657-1392.