Transforming history lessons
Virginia Center for Digital History partners in $1 million grant
Photo by Dan Addison
|Andy Mink speaks at the press conference announcing the grant.
By Jane Ford
The evolution and growth of democracy in America has deep roots in Virginia. Ideas of democracy, civil liberties and equality were nurtured at the colony of Jamestown, in the homes of our Founding Fathers at Montpelier and Monticello as well as during the Virginia Civil Rights Movement in Virginia.
Thanks to a $1 million award from the U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching American History Grant Program, teachers in Charlottesville and four surrounding counties will have an opportunity to explore ways to teach the history of this legacy in a program designed to enhance teaching American history in public schools. The grant will fund “The Virginia Experiment: Growing Seeds of Democracy in Four Hundred Years of American History,” a three-year project designed to provide resources and training for teachers to gain a deeper understanding of the evolution and growth of democracy in America using new skills and primary resources.
The University of Virginia’s Center for Liberal Arts, Center for Technology and Teacher Education, Miller Center of Public Affairs and Virginia Center for Digital History are partnering with the City of Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Greene, Madison and Orange. The project will introduce teachers to content and research to increase their knowledge of American history and improve the quality of instruction, with the goal of increasing student achievement.
The offerings made possible by the grant will address issues of teacher retention, leadership and help further careers beyond the teaching practice, said Andy Mink, director of outreach and K-12 education at VCDH.
Approximately 70 local teachers of American history in grades four, five, six, seven and 11 will be able to partake in some aspect of the project.
“In each offering we will draw explicit parallels between the role of local and state events, people and places to foster a deeper understanding of the evolution of traditional democratic ideals,” Mink said. “Participants can take part in any or all of the offerings.”
This program provides a catalyst to schools to transform the way history is taught using primary sources and technology, said Glen Bull, co-director of the Center for Technology and Teacher Education at the Curry School of Education. “Web-based archives of primary materials are readily available to scholars and already have changed research on the university level. Now the world is changing inside K-12 schools in terms of accessing information. Students will have an opportunity to learn history in a deeper and more personal way that is less abstract and more understandable.”
During each year of the project, an annual series of eight lectures by world-renowned historians, experts from 17 major universities, will speak on a wide range of topics, at local historical and historical-related sites.
Also, each year 30 participants will have an opportunity to attend a multi-day institute on teaching strategies. In the first year, the Polis Center at Indiana University-Purdue University, one of the project’s partners, will send experts to VCDH to lead this portion of the program.
“The Polis Center’s expertise lies in using GIS [Geographic Information Systems] technology and methodology in teaching American history,” Mink said. “Participants will learn to make maps and geography come alive in the teaching and interpretation of history.”
A week-long summer immersion component is designed to enhance professional development, as well as to maximize teacher interest, participation and learning to improve the teaching of history. In each of the three years of the grant, teachers will gain hands-on experience in the field to develop a deeper understanding of key historical topics related to the three areas of history that are the focus of the program.
In the first year, participants will explore the birth of the nation, focusing on Jamestown, which is celebrating its 400th anniversary in 2007. Their time will be divided between hands-on experiences at Jamestown and work with the Virtual Jamestown project (www.virtualjamestown.org/), an online resource at the VCDH.
Those who choose the second year will focus on the Constitution and the growth of the nation. This session will be hosted by the Center for the Constitution at Montpelier.
During the third year, participants will focus on the Civil Rights Movement. Fieldwork in Danville, the site of some of the most violent events of the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia, and the exploration of a unique U.Va. Web-based archive at VCDH — the Civil Rights Television News Archive, 1950-1970 (www.vcdh.virginia. edu/civilrightstv) — will be invaluable primary sources for research.
Each year, 10 teachers — two selected by each of the school divisions in the participating counties — will be teaching fellows. They will be introduced to leadership training and will become curriculum developers. Fellows will delve deeper into content in order to research, create and implement learning modules that focus on classroom application, which will be made available to share with colleagues. These teachers will come back as master-teachers the second year.
Partners in the ‘Virginia Experiment’ project are: the City of Charlottesville and public schools in the counties of Albemarle, Greene, Madison and Orange; U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences, Center for Liberal Arts, Center for Technology and Teacher Education, Miller Center of Public Affairs and Virginia Center for Digital History; Polis Center at Indiana University-Purdue University; Center for Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier; Monticello Foundation; Virginia Council on Indians; Virginia Foundation for the Humanities; Virginia Historical Society; Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History; Eastern Shore of Virginia Public Library; Library of Congress; and Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.