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Trip Combines Teachers’ Professional Development with Students’ Experiential Learning
Since launching the 2014 five-year Strategic Plan, Rowland Hall teachers have collectively attended hundreds of hours of conferences and workshops each year to boost their expertise. But when Upper School history teachers Dr. Fiona Halloran and Dr. Nate Kogan ’00 learned the American Historical Association’s (AHA) January 2017 annual meeting would be held in nearby Denver, they recognized a unique opportunity beyond traditional professional development.
“It's so close and so easy to get to that the travel seemed so much more reasonable for students and faculty alike,” Dr. Halloran said, contrasting Denver to previous AHA meeting locations such as Boston and Washington, D.C. “We wondered whether this would be a chance to enrich the curricular experience for a small group of students and, at the same time, to provide an intensive professional development opportunity for faculty.”
So the teachers and six upperclassmen flew to snowy Denver January 5–8. Collectively, the group attended 33 meeting sessions with titles such as “Teaching the US History Survey in a Global Context,” “Translating Scale: Space and Time between Science and History,” and “History in the Federal Government: Careers Serving the Policymakers and the Public.” The latter panel included representatives from the Navy, National Archives, Department of State, and Department of Education. Read the full list of sessions attended here.
Dr. Halloran said it was extraordinary to see the students—juniors Isaac Ball, Sophi Cutrubus, and Skylar Diamandis; and seniors Jason Cowdrey, Will Matheson, and Maddie Barker—embrace the varied topics at the meeting.
“I wasn't sure whether they would be interested in the more abstruse panels but I was completely mistaken,” Dr. Halloran said. “They began to read through the program before we left town, downloaded the app, marked their favorite sessions, and then attended anything and everything they had the slightest interest in.”
Dr. Kogan added the meeting gave students insight into historians’ work environment and the type of narrow research they explore. After a full day of sessions, one of the most interesting chats he had with the juniors and seniors dealt with what it meant to be an adjunct professor. “It provided an authentic opportunity to talk about funding issues at the university level, the hierarchy of professors, the tenure process, and the ways in which these features of academic departments might impact their experience as students,” he said.
Students valued the opportunity to see experts at work firsthand. “It built on my experiences at Rowland Hall and extended my engagement with the field, helping bridge the gap between high school and the professional world,” Will said. A seasoned Rowland Hall debater, Will added he enjoyed the academic arguments that arose on the panels. “Seeing the disputes between historians was both hilarious and inspiring.”
Maddie said she most enjoyed the opportunity to listen to specific historical topics not covered in high school. Skylar’s favorite part was seeing and meeting historians—such as William Cronon and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich—whose works he has read.
And of course, our teachers and students alike took full advantage of the meeting’s book fair. “Free books, cheap books, signed books, even gift books,” Dr. Halloran said. “On the way back, we had to check bags because...books.”
Dr. Halloran and Dr. Kogan said while the AHA would like more high schoolers to attend, Rowland Hall might have had the youngest students at the roughly 3,500-person conference. The conference is targeted toward professors and graduate students, but it was a hit with our upper schoolers, and Dr. Halloran and Dr. Kogan hope to do something similar again in a couple of years.