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Action, Set, Learn

Ron Hustvedt and student Matthew Gearou
October 19, 2017

Social studies and history classes get real.

Imagine a classroom where the motto is action; where middle schoolers investigate community problems and offer solutions to government officials. Imagine a classroom where on any given day, the mayor of Elk River or the Sherburne County Sheriff could show up to discuss citizen involvement.

Ron Hustvedt '98 runs his classroom like this, where students take on issues of the day and more. He teaches 6th, 7th, and 8th grade at Salk Middle School STEM Magnet Program in Elk River, Minn. and the examples above are from his classes. It's no wonder that in 2016 he was named Outstanding Middle Level Social Studies Teacher of the Year by the National Council for the Social Studies.

Ron's classes aren't restricted to current events but they do follow one guideline, "It's got to be relevant," he says.

In history class, there are no boring lectures. Students conduct interviews and do research before the papers are written and their findings are presented. Whenever possible, history makers come into the class, through documents, photographs, recordings  — sometimes even in person.

"One group of students interviewed Billie Jean King for a research project on Title IX," Ron says. "Another student created a website on the 1968 Olympic protest and interviewed Tommie Smith. Those stories made an impact."

Ron's students have interviewed Holocaust survivors, people who lived through D-Day, and great-grandparents who told stories about the strikes on the Iron Range. "One student interviewed a scientist who worked on the Manhattan project," Ron says. You can't get closer to history than that.

Action is the key to making his classroom vibrant, and empowerment is the key to driving a topic home. Ron shakes it up by letting students choose their method of sharing. "Websites, performances, documentaries, and exhibits are all welcomed," Ron says.

For example, last year, one of Ron's students, Matthew Gearou, advanced on from the Minnesota History Day Contest to the National History Day Contest in the Washington, D.C. area. Matthew presented his 10-minute performance called, “Hip Hop Dance: Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History.” Matthew's performance showed the impact hip-hop has had on history and highlighted its roots from the music of Africa to music today. (See photo of Ron and Matthew above.)

As if that isn't enough, Ron has a side project that sometimes merges with his teaching job. Ron was with the Statesman for four years, two as Editor in Chief. During his senior year at UMD, he put his experience on the Statesman and his love of the outdoors to work and began writing professionally for Outdoor News and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It's been a constant in his life, and he still continues with it today. Check it out.

Ron is pleased that students enjoy his classes. "It's been a great 20 years of teaching and the lessons I learned at UMD were a strong foundation for what's been a tremendous career thus far."

"Learning about government, geography, the economy, and history will have a long term effect on students," he says. "Empowering students to get involved will make them better citizens, and that's good for us all."

About the UMD Department of Education