Sunday, July 31, 2016

Thirteen Colonies Seminar Princeton University (July 24-30, 2016)

Sometime in early January, an acquaintance of mine on Voxer posted a link to the Teacher Seminars with The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. I am hardly a history buff, but they sounded very interesting and I figured there was no harm in applying. I was pretty sure I would never be selected but I applied for my school to become an affiliate (which is free) and then filled out the application. I applied only for two sessions: Thirteen Colonies and the American Revolution. Both were restricted to K-8 teachers and that appealed to me because it was confined to grades I am able to teach. I promptly forgot all about it until March when a reminder I had set on my phone told me to check my application status and low and behold, I had been accepted! Travel arrangements and lots of anticipation later, the end of July came and it was time to go.

I had never been anywhere near Princeton and I never stayed in a dorm before because I always lived at home while I was in college.  I was pretty pleased with myself for figuring out the train situation from Newark to Princeton all by myself without having to ask for directions (to say I am directionally challenged is an understatement). I did end up going out of the station at Princeton the wrong way so I wandered around for 45 minutes before I finally figured out where I was supposed to be but otherwise, things were very smooth.

The first day we got checked in and settled and then met as a group and walked across campus to the building where our lectures were going to be. We had a catered dinner the first night and did some introductions. There were about 30 people in our group (maybe a bit more) and we were all from very different backgrounds and teaching situations. How lucky was I to learn with so many people who have such different perspectives? 

We did a short little tour of the campus that first night before heading to our dorms to settle in for the evening. Monday morning the fun began!

A typical day went something like this:
9-12 Content Lectures
12-1 Lunch
1-2ish Content Lecture
2ish-4 Activity and/or Gilder Lehrman presentation
Evenings varied with some evenings being free and other evenings having activities

The Lectures
The lectures all occurred in the same room and were given by historian John Fea. We had been assigned three readings for the seminar and asked to read them before we came as all of the lectures would be referencing and focusing upon the content of those books. I won't share what the lectures are about because I don't want to spoil it for future seminar attendees, but I will tell you that Dr. Fea is an amazing speaker. He is charismatic and so passionate about his subject that I seriously could have listened to him all day. The lectures were heavily content based so teachers in the program had background for developing the lesson plans required as a sort of "exit slip" as we completed the program. 

One of my favorite things about listening to Dr. Fea speak was how he challenged us to really consider the British Colonial Settlements as if the American Revolution never happened. Honestly, at first, some of us were like "but DID happen!" After awhile, however, through the lectures we realized very quickly how much deeper you can go into the Thirteen Colonies when you act as if the Revolution never happened. Let me again say I am the least historically inclined person (a fact that drives my history-buff husband insane) and I was absolutely drawn into these lectures. I easily took 40 pages of notes in the four days of lectures we had. So many ideas that challenged what I had been taught as well as what I will teach in the future.

Side note: As a third grade teacher, I do not teach currently teach Colonial American but the knowledge I gleaned can still be carried over into Michigan History which is what I teach in third grade. 

The Gilder Lehrman Sessions
The Gilder Lehrman sessions were run by the fabulous Nate, a master teacher with GLI. His task was to run the teachers in the group through how to set up the type of lessons we would be creating by the end of the week. They were really fun and informative and I'm glad to say I learned a couple of new teaching strategies as well. I loved seeing lessons that Nate had created for his own students and then learning how we could adapt even difficult primary sources down for the youngest of learners. I think sometimes our inclination is to say it will be too hard for kindergarten through second or third graders and these sessions really challenged that notion which I vastly appreciated (I am well known for pushing kids farther than they think they can go). 

Meal Times 
Seriously...despite all of the walking around I did, I'm sure I gained at least a few pounds (I didn't check when I got home because I didn't want to know!) from all of the yummy deliciousness offered in the cafeteria. All of our meals were provided and there were tons of choices every day. A lot of summer camps for elementary, middle and high school students were also ongoing so it wasn't uncommon to see kiddos sneaking ice cream at the end of breakfast too :) In all seriousness, however, the vast availability of choices was much appreciated. The best part of the meals was the opportunity to sit with different members of our group, including Dr. Fea and Nate, and learn about them and their teaching situations. We really became like a family during the six days we were together. 

Field Trips and Walking Tours
Of course I cannot speak for any other Gilder Lehrman session because this was my first one, but the field trips and other activities they included in our schedule were amazing. We had a guided tour of Princeton University, a side trip to the Princeton Cemetery (where we got rained on!), a rare books event at one of the libraries (which was so awesome!) and a day trip to Philadelphia to tour the historic areas that were around during colonial times. We walked around so much that one day I had over 20,000 steps on my vivoFit! 

The Verdict
This was such an amazing opportunity and I am so glad that I was not only selected but able to follow through and attend. It would be difficult to describe exactly how awesome it's the kind of thing you have to experience for yourself. Truly. If you have the opportunity to go to any of the sessions, I would highly recommend it.

What can you do now? Head on over to and search for the teacher seminars and you can sign up to be reminded of when applications are being accepted. It cost me $25 to register once I was accepted and I had to buy the books for the seminar but all travel expenses (up to $400) are reimbursed so essentially I had this incredible week long professional development for $75. By far the cheapest and most amazing PD I have ever attended. 


  1. This sounds amazing and thank you forvsharing. I will consider applying to have this experience next summer!

  2. Thanks for sharing what sounds like a great learning experience. I have recommended the program to the teachers in the social studies department in my district based on your recommendation.

  3. Well said! It was a fabulous week!

  4. Well said! It was a fabulous week!

  5. Raye this is why I love reading your blog! Your enthusiasm and excitement just oozes from your writing. I have signed up for this pd based on your recommendation. I now can't wait for next summer. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Aw, you are too kind :)

      It's not hard to be excited about something that just makes you excited to bring learning back to students! It was the most fun PD I have ever had, seriously. So relevant even though I don't teach the 13 colonies anymore. It's well worth it!