National History Day Contest Deepens Understanding and Appreciation of History

My colleague, Mia Howerton, and I were invited to serve as judges for the National History Day (NHD) competition finals in College Park, Md., on June 17, 2014. History is an area of special interest for us, as we both serve as program officers for the Teaching American History program. Mia also taught social studies at the middle school level for six years in Richmond, Va. It was refreshing to have the opportunity to leave our Washington, D.C. office for a day and interact with students. Being able to see the exemplary projects students have created in pursuit of their quest for historical knowledge and understanding helped us to better appreciate the impact that national education programs can have on individual students.

Students from Whittier Middle School in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the group documentary “The Mark of McCarthy.” (Photo by  Route 1 Multimedia, courtesy of National History Day)

Students from Whittier Middle School in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the group documentary The Mark of McCarthy. (Photo by Route 1 Multimedia, courtesy of National History Day)

NHD offers middle and high school students the opportunity to create a history project of their choosing based on an annual theme — Rights and Responsibilities in History for 2014. The project categories are exhibit, performance, documentary, paper, and website. All project types can be done by individuals or groups, except for papers, which must be individual. Projects are judged on three evaluation criteria: historical quality (60 percent), relation to the theme (20 percent), and clarity of presentation (20 percent). Prizes are also awarded to projects that focus on particular themes in history, such as the Civil War History prize sponsored by the Civil War Trust, the Outstanding Entry on an International Theme prize sponsored by The History Channel, and the Native American History prize sponsored by the National Park Service.

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New Jersey Teachers Discuss History and Civics with Supreme Court Justice

Every year, hundreds of American history teachers participating in Teaching American History (TAH) projects across the country gather in our nation’s capital to experience our history, politics, and culture firsthand. For many of these educators, this travel-study experience is their first journey to Washington, D.C., and, as such, marks an important milestone in their careers. For a group of 18 teachers from Ridgewood, New Jersey, however, a summer trip in 2013 also represented their first engaged discussion with experts in government and politics who are in elected and appointed offices of the federal government. The capstone event of the Ridgewood TAH project included a private audience with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Breyer:  Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer discusses a range of topics with the Ridgewood TAH project teachers.  (Photo courtesy of John Domville of Ridgewood High School)

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer discusses a range of topics with the Ridgewood TAH project teachers. (Photo courtesy of John Domville of Ridgewood High School)

In preparation for this event, the participating teachers read and discussed The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction by Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times journalist Linda Greenhouse. In addition, under the guidance of the project’s three master educators, the TAH teachers developed a list of discussion topics to share with Justice Breyer. A number of the selected topics were relevant to Justice Breyer’s vast experience and expertise in legal theory and administrative and constitutional law; others were more pertinent to the teachers’ classroom work and efforts to improve civic engagement in their schools and communities, such as the roles of civic education in public life and the federal government in K-12 education, and the impact of Supreme Court decisions in American life, among others.

As a result of their experience at the Supreme Court, the teachers have developed lessons on equality (14th Amendment) and the interpretation of language in the U.S. Constitution (Federalist Paper #56). All of the lessons integrate one or more of the Common Core State Standards and use the Understanding by Design instructional framework.

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OII Grant Invigorates Partnerships with History and Humanities Organizations

The late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who himself made history as the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, was passionate about the importance of the U.S. Constitution — he carried a copy in his suit-coat pocket — and about American history. He believed strongly that students need a deep understanding of the significant events and turning points in our Nation’s history. Under his legislative leadership, important opportunities were created for teachers of American history to strengthen their knowledge and improve their pedagogy, notably OII’s Teaching American History (TAH) grant program.

Authorized in 2001 to improve student achievement in American history by providing high-quality professional development to K-12 teachers, TAH grants have supported hundreds of school districts. The grant program supports professional development programs that put a premium on teachers engaging with primary sources via partnerships with a wide variety of cultural entities — from humanities programs of colleges and universities to museums and libraries to state and local historical societies.

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Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary Joins Back-to-School Bus Tour

OII’s Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary (ADS) Nadya Dabby will participate in the Department of Education’s annual Back-to-School Bus Tour. The Secretary’s bus tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, will run from September 9 – 13, beginning in Santa Fe, N.M., and concluding in San Diego, Calif., with stops along the way in Texas and Arizona.

Strong-StartActing ADS Dabby will begin her travels on Wednesday, Sept. 11th, attending the Secretary’s school visit to Sunnyside High School in Tucson, Ariz., for presentations on the use of technology in the classroom. That afternoon, Ms. Dabby will tour Bisbee High School, in Bisbee, Ariz., an Investing in Innovation (i3) Implementation grantee site, where she will meet with teachers receiving a new professional development program that is part of the i3 grant project.

On Thursday, Acting ADS Dabby will spend the day in Phoenix, touring two charter schools and meeting with leaders from both public charter and traditional public schools to discuss charter schools in the state and areas of collaboration between charters and traditional public schools. She will also visit Trevor Browne High School to tour civics and history classrooms and meet with teachers who are participants in an OII Teaching American History project. They will discuss the unique and content-specific professional development the teachers have experienced through the grant.

In Chula Vista, Calif., near San Diego, Ms. Dabby will join Secretary Duncan for the final event of the bus tour at one of the schools in the Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood. The Secretary and Ms. Dabby will attend a pep rally for students and families and take a tour of the campus. The tour is followed by panel discussion and town hall with Secretary Duncan, members of the Chula Vista community, and other local education stakeholders.

You can follow Acting ADS Dabby’s trip at https://twitter.com/ED_OII and also look for the hashtag #edtour13 for updates on Strong Start, Bright Future events throughout the week. Also visit ED’s bus tour page at ed.gov/bustour.

Teaching American History Program Participants Receive National Honor

The more than 85,000 participants in OII’s Teaching American History Program are winners of the 2013 Friend of History Award from the Organization of American Historians (OAH). The award, which is given in recognition of outstanding support for historical research or the public presentation of American history, was presented to two representatives of the TAH program at OAH’s 106th annual conference on April 13.

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Teaching American History Participant Named National History Teacher of the Year

Students in Stacy Hoeflich’s fourth-grade classroom at John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., don’t just learn American history, they live it through encounters with primary sources and historical reenactors, participation in “Colonial Day” fairs, field trips to historical sites, operas about historical figures such as George Mason and Thomas Jefferson that are written and performed by the students, and more. Ms. Hoeflich’s efforts were recognized last month by the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, which awarded her the prestigious 2011 National History Teacher of the Year Award. Co-sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute, HISTORY®, and Preserve America, the award was presented in a ceremony at the Frederick Douglass Academy in New York City and is accompanied by a $10,000 cash prize.

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New Civil War Poster Pieces Things Together for American History Classrooms

In proclaiming October as National Arts and Humanities Month, President Obama said the arts and humanities “speak to our condition and affirm our desire for something more and something better.”  A new poster from the National History Clearinghouse, “How Do You Piece Together the History of the Civil War?,” employs images of objects such as a quilt, a map, some photographs, a haversack, and a receipt to deepen understanding of the Civil War and about how historians piece together the past.

This 24-by-36-inch poster features a collage of primary sources and related questions that get students thinking about how we know what we know about the past, as we do with all history, but especially in relation to our country’s most devastating conflict, the Civil War. The question, “How can geography impact a battle?,”  accompanies a map of Gettysburg while a slave receipt prompts students to think about the laws, economics, and, most importantly, people involved in the institution of slavery.

The Clearinghouse, a professional development resource center funded through OII’s Teaching American History program, is making these posters available free of charge to classroom history teachers. The Clearinghouse has received more than 15,000 requests for the posters.  Click here to order your copy.

civil war posterAs a special bonus for teachers, the Clearinghouse has created an interactive version of this poster with links to teaching materials and websites related to the Civil War. Topics include military history and life on the battlefield, children’s voices during the Civil War, African American perspectives, emancipation, women’s roles, and Civil-War-era music.

This poster and online resources illustrate that it takes many sources and perspectives to develop a rich understanding of the Civil War in all of its complexity. As noted recently by Richard Byrne in the Free Tech for Teachers Blog, “Through both the poster and the site you can introduce students to the idea that a historical artifact is more than just an object; it can be the start of a great story.”

The National History Education Clearinghouse is directed by George Mason University through a contract with OII’s Teaching American History program.  The Clearinghouse provides high-quality professional development resources to K-12 history educators to make sure these educators have the best tools for teaching American history as a separate academic subject. “Teachers across the country and around the world are using Teachinghistory.org to deepen their content knowledge of American history, learn new strategies for teaching history in engaging ways, and expand their use of primary sources in the classroom,” according to the Clearinghouse’s director, Dr. Kelly Schrum. Editor’s note: Watch this space for another article in observance of Arts and Humanities Month and click here to read Secretary of Education Duncan’s ED Blog on the observance.