Keizer teachers to investigate Civil War geography, bring home lesson plans

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Teachers Matt Faatz and Alan Town are headed to the east coast in June to tour Civil War battle sites and develop lesson plans for geography classes. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Teachers Matt Faatz and Alan Town are headed to the east coast in June to tour Civil War battle sites and develop lesson plans for geography classes. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

For all the knowledge available in books, there’s something to be said for seeing historic sites in person.

Two Keizer teachers, Matt Faatz and Alan Town, will be doing that next month with a trip to Civil War battlegrounds in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what to expect,” said Faatz, a teacher at Whiteker Middle School. “I’ve got these places in my head as living in a particular point in time, and there are going to be McDonalds and Walmarts right around the corner. I’m trying to brace for the shock of that.”

On the other hand, it was a chance neither of them could pass up.

“It’s like somebody’s opened this door and if I don’t walk through it, I’m missing a great opportunity,” said Town, a Keizer resident and teacher at Waldo Middle School.

Faatz and Town both applied for the opportunity through Portland State University and they’ll receive continuing education credits for the venture, but it won’t all be fun and games. While visiting the sites, Faatz and Town will be gathering information about specific topics to turn into lesson plans for middle school students all around the world.

Topics were assigned to the cohort of 25 graduate students and current teachers taking the trip and the pair has spent the past couple of months reading and preparing to ask the right questions. Faatz will be looking into the effects of climate on Civil War battles. Town is looking at the area’s watersheds and how rivers and streams advanced and hindered military goals.

“Specifically, I’ll be looking at troop movements along the waterways and how they were used to get soldiers from one place to another. The goal is for all of us to come up with lesson plans that can be used in geography classes,” Town said.

Faatz is starting from a broad definition of climate that includes weather elements like temperature, precipitation and humidity, but also takes into account vegetation and other elements.

“They tended to fight three-season wars back then in the spring, winter and fall. Not much fighting was done in the winter,” he said.

One of the most interesting things Faatz has discovered in his reading is that the Civil War was the presage to the siege warfare battles fought in World War I. Siege warfare is defined as conquering through attrition or assault.

“The physical theater of the Civil War was actually bigger than World War I. Every time I dig a little deeper in the research, I end up getting sidetracked by something else,” Faatz said.

For both teachers, the trip will be their first visiting a site with the specific purpose of adding to their teaching toolbox. It was the vision of the Gray Family Foundation, which is funding the program through PSU’s Center for Geography Education in Oregon, to provide teachers with these specific types of experiences.

“The grantor’s mother was a teacher and she never got to go to places she taught about. They have a group going to Italy studying farm-to-table sustainability,” Town said.

It’s an opportunity, said Faatz, to see history through a different lens than the ones available in Oregon.

“Oregon was settled relatively quickly in about 75 years, it was the modern era before things even started developing here. In Oregon, we can sift through pots and pans and marbles – the minutia of people’s lives – but it’s a different thing entirely to see how big a hill an army had to climb to take a piece of land,” he said.

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