UNT's Center for Teaching, Learning and Assessment received a three-year, $984,400 Department of Education grant with the Irving Independent School District to create training workshops for American history teachers in three grades and create pedagogical games that the teachers can use in their classrooms.
The goal of Project Building Excellence in History Teachers is to development, implement and strengthen the teaching of traditional American history as a separate academic subject. Kelly McMichael, project director and associate director of the center, says most public schools incorporate American history into social studies curricula.
In the Irving ISD, she says, 80 percent of teachers answering a poll from the district's social studies coordinator says they had taken only six college credit hours of U.S. history - the two general survey classes in the subject that the state of Texas requires for all undergraduate college students.
"The general history survey classes are traditionally taught in a large lecture format, leaving students with little opportunity to clarify or question points during the course. As a result of lack of in-depth training in U.S. history content and historical methods in college, teachers like those in Irving face a great challenge when they have to design interesting, engaging and meaningful units for their social studies students," McMichael says.
All 96 social studies teachers in the Irving ISD will participate in the project. During this academic year, they will attend four workshops that will introduce them to 16 online learning modules, including exploration and colonization before 1704, the American Revolution and establishment of representative government, westward expansion of the 1800s, and industrialization and urbanization in the Gilded Age from 1877 to 1900.
McMichael says each history lesson within the modules will be created by history faculty members who specialize in that period, and also include information on art, music and geography of that period to create "a truly cross-disciplined lesson to increase teachers' knowledge."
"For example, the history lesson in the learning module on 'Westward Expansion, 1828-1852' will include background on the political, social and cultural climate of the United States that led to the ideology of Manifest Destiny - the idea that Americans were destined to spread across the continent," she says.
Each learning module will also include case studies, such as the Pullman Strike of 1894 for the Gilded Age learning module, and the Shays' Rebellion uprising in Massachusetts in 1786-87 for the Constitution learning module.
In addition to the history lesson, each online module will contain a downloadable, detailed curriculum manual with instructions for how to modify the case study for fifth-, eighth- and 11th- grade students. McMichael says the lessons will be presented in a highly interactive format and will include text, primary source documents, images, music, video clips and flash animation activities. Monitored discussion boards will be created for each module.
"The Irving ISD has a technology grant to make laptop computers available to every student, facilitating the students' use of the case studies," McMichael says.
The workshops will be partially led by staff members from Fort Worth's Amon Carter Museum and the Southwest Branch of the National Archives, who will provide training in the use of primary source documents.
Of the 96 teachers identified to participate in the project, 36 will be designated as master teachers to provide continued training to the other teachers. The master teachers will attend a three-day colloquium next summer that will be led by a historian from the National Council for History Education and cover themes identified in NCHE's "Building a United States History Curriculum" booklet. NCHE will also supply a master classroom history teacher who will assist the teachers attending the colloquium to incorporate the first six lesson modules and case studies into their daily curriculum planning.
At the end of three years, all 96 teachers will be trained in the modules, and the master teachers will continue training and mentoring their fellow teachers beyond the grant period.
McMichael says she applied for the Department of Education grant for the project after receiving another grant to redesign a U.S. history survey course at UNT, which is a required course for all students earning bachelor's degrees. The redesigned course uses 15 highly interactive lessons on the Internet that cover U.S. history until 1865, as well as online games.
"It made sense to do a similar approach at the K-12 level," McMichael says. "Teaching and learning through historical case studies builds critical thinking, reflecting and creative skills and improves students' abilities to interpret primary source documents and apply them to historical situations."
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Nancy Kolsti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.