Ankeny teacher named History Teacher of the Year
Kimberly Meller-Angus, a social studies teacher at Northview Middle School in Ankeny, has been named the 2018 Iowa History Teacher of the Year.
Meller-Angus has taught American history for 12 years and has been with the Ankeny Community School District since 2014. Her focus in the classroom has been teaching with meaningful primary resources, connecting the past with the present, and using varied assessments.
Focusing on primary resources allows students to place themselves into a time period in history. Meller-Angus believes it’s important for students to be historians in class, become the experts, and make historical interpretations. Students are empowered and build critical-thinking skills when they debate the issues, contemplate challenging questions and, based on the resources, draw conclusions on their own. She wants her students to have the ability to make deep, long lasting connections in various areas of history.
“So often, social studies teachers hear ‘Why does this even matter, it’s the past?’” Meller-Angus said. “However, if a teacher connects the lessons to the present, that question goes away. The connection to the present is found in every single unit in my classroom.”
Helping students make crucial connections from the past to current day is evident, for example, when she teaches about monopolies.
“It may be hard for students to find relevance to Rockefeller’s Standard Oil being broken up by the government,” Meller-Angus said. “However, by learning if those same principles could someday be applied to Amazon, and by studying the similarities and comparing the companies, students are a captive audience who is invested in knowing what happened in the past because they want to know if Amazon’s future could turn out the same.”
Bev Kuehn, principal at Northview Middle School in Ankeny, agrees.
“Kim is very invested in helping students make connections between the history they study and their daily lives,” Kuehn said. “She is a strong advocate for developing active, informed citizens. We are very fortunate to have Kim at Northview Middle School.”
Assessing students’ progress in multiple ways is also important to Meller-Angus because it spurs creativity and allows students to apply their historical skills in new ways. She evaluates students through projects, tests, and papers, which means utilizing the same rubric, same content, and same standard, but providing different ways for students to excel.
Additionally, Meller-Angus considers writing an essential part of the formative and summative assessment process. She believes that working on claims and writing arguments is an essential skill that students can transfer to any academic area.
“In my class, students have debated and written a persuasive essay about taking down or leaving up the Confederate monuments,” Meller-Angus said. “Having students write a compelling, argumentative piece about if reconstruction really worked and linking it to current issues shows a deep knowledge of the historical context while applying it to current day issues.”
Outside the classroom, Meller-Angus is passionate about traveling. and believes it has shaped who she is and how she teaches. She spent some time student teaching in Bath, England, and back-packing around Europe. She has also attended teaching seminars in Asia and around the United States.
“I believe it’s very important in today’s society for students to be connected to the world,” Meller-Angus said. “I’m very excited to use those experiences to teach eighth grade American history and ninth grade Global Studies at Northview this year.”
“As a teacher, I continue to try new things to help make me a better teacher,” Meller-Angus said. “But it’s my commitment to learning from primary resources, connecting the past to the present, and developing differential assessments that help my students grow the most as historians, but more importantly as critical thinkers. If I can get eighth graders to critically think about the past, then hopefully they will do that in any situation for the future.”
Meller-Angus’s award is through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, following a recommendation from an Iowa Department of Education committee.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute promotes and celebrates accomplishments in American history education and scholarship, and every year honors one exemplary, elementary, middle, or high school history teacher from all 50 states, Department of Defense schools, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories. State winners receive a $1,000 prize, an archive of classroom resources, and recognition at a ceremony in their state, and are considered for the National History Teacher of the Year.
What spurred your interest in history, and when did you decide to become a history teacher?
I was unsure if I wanted to be a teacher, but after taking Professor Kelly’s Educational Psychology class at the University of Iowa I knew I was going to be a teacher. However, I was inspired to teach social studies because of the math teachers at Danville High School. I know it’s an odd way to end up as a history teacher. I hated math; I was terrible at it. Nevertheless, I took every class I could because I had three amazing teachers who believed in me and what they taught. I wanted to bring the same passion and energy to social studies because I loved it. I remembered going to an archeological dig site as a kid, watching the History Channel, and discussing politics with my Dad. I wanted to light a fire the same way my math teachers did for me.
How would you define "social studies," and why is studying it so important?
Social studies is examining people’s lives and learning from them so we can make our own lives better. It doesn’t matter if you teach psychology, economics, government, sociology or history. All of these subjects teach students to think critically about the choices that are being made and how to apply it to their future. If students can leave your classroom with the ability to do this, then there is hope one day that these skills will be used to improve the community, the state, and even the nation we live in.
How do you engage your students and make history come alive in your classroom? Why is engaging students important?
Students have to find a connection between the past and the present for them to be engaged. If it doesn't relate to them, they will not connect to it, and they are not going to learn the content. I truly believe this is the foundation of anything you do as a social studies teacher. For example, when teaching about the women’s rights movement in the Progressive Age, you are going to have more buy-in by starting with the #Metoo movement.
How do you emphasize state and local history in your classroom?
Connecting to state and local history is important because it creates a deeper understanding of the past and the world we live in today. For example in Global Studies, if we are studying the Chinese economy, it’s important to understand there is a strong relationship between our countries through agriculture. A country halfway around the world that seems so completely unrelatable to my students, doesn’t seem that different after all. In U.S. Studies, the Ankeny Area Historical Society Museum has helped connect students with the past through a local resident that shared her family journey through Ellis Island in 1892 to Des Moines. Having this local history makes the stories of the past seem more real for my students. Lastly, it’s important to hear from the local people who made history. I have worked to bring veterans into my classroom throughout my teaching career and have assemblies to honor them. When students hear the stories of the local heroes, it’s no longer a faceless paragraph in a book; it’s a living breathing person who we care about.
What would you like to tell teachers across Iowa?
I want to say thank you to all the teachers and coaches who have helped me throughout the years. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them. I came from a small school in Danville, Iowa and then went to the University of Iowa. At both of those places, I had many teachers that invested their time and effort and helped me believe in myself. I know I wouldn’t have made it through my first years of teaching if it wasn’t for my amazing supporting colleagues at Clear Creek Amana. I leaned on them for support through my first years of teaching. I have also been lucky enough to make many new contacts and friends through various conferences from around the state and country that have shared their resources and ideas. I continue to grow and develop professionally because of the dedicated and hardworking teachers at Ankeny School District. On a scale of 1-10, they truly are an 11. I enjoy working and laughing with them as we create lessons. I honestly think it has taken hundreds of teachers to get me to where I am today, and I’m so grateful for them.