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Keil Hileman and artifacts in the classroom

I’m sitting in a session at the KSDE Assessment Conference here in Topeka, Kansas listening to Keil Hileman. I’ve gotten to know Keil over the last four years and always enjoy hearing what he has to say. Keil, the 2004 Kansas Teacher of the Year and one of three national finalists, teaches middle school kids at Monticello Trails Middle School.

He’s been at our office several times talking to local teachers and I can’t get enough! He puts the energizer bunny to shame. The guy just loves to teach and it shows.

His hook? Keil is convinced that using artifacts as teaching tools is the best way to teach history.

He recounts the story of how he got started using artifacts as his focus by remembering the reaction of his students while showing the movie Glory.

Kids laughed and joked during the final scenes depicting the charge on Fort Wagner

He later ran across some old Civil War minie balls and when the unit came around again, shared them with his kids and provided some context. They got it. This time when he showed Glory, the kids were quiet & respectful. Some were crying.

“I suddenly realized that those three or four Civil War bullets were better teachers than I would ever be.”

Kile also cites the letter written by Holocaust survivor Chaim Ginott who wrote

My eyes have seen what no man should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers; children poisoned by educated physicians; infants killed by trained nurses and women shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request? Help your students become human.

He suggests that good social studies teachers can help kids learn how to be human.

“Artifacts help make our students human. The thing never to forget is that every artifact has to have a story attached or it’s just a piece of old junk.”

Days like today are the good days. Days that remind me of all the great teachers out there who love what they do and who are good at it.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Did he mention where he gets his artifacts?

    November 1, 2008
  2. glennw #


    Great question! He obviously spends a lot of time at flea markets and estate sales. But he says that the vast majority of his collection has come from friends and relatives of his students. He’s gotten some truly amazing stuff from grandparents and parents.

    For example, he has a Nazi Party banner that was hanging in Nuremburg as US troops entered the city in 1945. A 500 year old bronze slave collar from interior Africa, a Brownie camera from WWI with film still inside (hasn’t decided to develop or not because not sure how or where), an image taken during the Civil War of a young girl with a small gold locket hidden in the frame.

    Basically, it has snowballed once parents, community, etc heard what he was doing. He also suggests putting messages in church bulletins, America Legion newsletters, retirement community bulletin boards asking for donations.

    He loves talking with people. If you’re interested, I can connect the two of you.


    November 2, 2008
  3. Hi #

    I’m in Mr. Hilemans class at Monticello Trails Middle School. He is my favorite teacher. He’s funny and I can tell he loves teaching. If the class was taught by anyone else it would be very boring but he makes it fun. His whole room is full of artifacts. He doesn’t even have enough space left in his class room for all the things he has. He even has things on the ceiling. In his Museum Connections class he has all of us students do projects about one of the things we learned about. He lets us do anything we want for our projects. Because we all love his class so much we all do really cool projects. He also displays some of the best projects in his class room and uses them to teach with.

    February 8, 2010
    • glennw #

      I would have loved to have been in his class as a middle school student! His classroom is so full of history and stories.

      Tell him that I said hello!


      February 8, 2010
  4. Suzie Dirbs #

    I would lo e to present indian artefactos yo my 4th grades when working On learning about Native American Indians that lived in Texas .
    Can you direct me to where I can receive e these artifacts on loan basis ?

    October 24, 2015
    • glennw #


      You might try your state historical society. Here in Kansas, our society does a great job of creating what they call traveling trunks. Each trunk is stashed full of real and simulated artifacts along with lesson plans and teaching ideas. You might also check with your state’s Council for the Social Studies – they might have connections to organizations with teaching artifacts.

      Good luck!


      October 26, 2015

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