Faculty assist in professional development of area history teachers

BLACKSBURG, Va., July 17, 2006 – At the end of July, a group of 38 K-12 Montgomery County teachers will conclude a three-year professional development opportunity designed by faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech to increase student achievement in traditional American history.

Funded by a $648,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the program has increased not only teachers’ content knowledge, but also their ability to teach history in an engaging manner that encourages active student participation.

“Working with public school teachers from Montgomery County has been a very worthwhile experience for members of the History Department,” said Daniel Thorp, chair of the department. “One of the best things we can do to improve the quality of students is to help public school teachers in their efforts to enhance the American history curriculum in Virginia's public schools. The Teaching American History grant has provided a valuable, and enjoyable, opportunity for faculty from Virginia Tech and the Montgomery County public schools to collaborate in a project from which we both benefit and from which students will continue to benefit for years to come.”

While it is early to gauge longitudinal results, early indications from the school’s district report card (publicly available at the Virginia Department of Education website) indicates that there has been marked improvement in history/social studies SOL scores in grades 3,5, and high school.

Through instruction and mentorships offered by historians from Virginia Tech, Radford University, and the Virginia Historical Society, the program has included monthly seminars, an annual summery academy, field trips, and group and independent reading.

This final workshop, which will be held July 17-28 at The Inn at Virginia Tech, concentrates on 20th century history with segments on the end of the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, Privacy Rights and the Supreme Court, the American Environment, as well as various other topics.

Organized by Virginia Tech’s Tom Ewing, associate professor of history, and David Hicks, associate professor in the School of Education, the partnership has provided the opportunity for teachers to create content-rich lesson plans that include primary and secondary source materials; test questions, rubrics, and high impact motivational hooks and strategies to engage students. These teacher-created materials will be included in an American History Database System, which is being created as part of this project. The database will serve as the project’s primary vehicle for achieving replication and sustainability.

For example, at the conclusion of the first year of the program, participants created 114 lesson plans that focused on the historical period from pre-settlement to 1806. For year two, they submitted products that focused on the teaching of American history up to the 1930s. And this year, the local teachers have continued to develop instructional materials that support the teaching of 20th century American history.

“In our evaluations, teachers have noted appreciation for the range of topics and various approaches to teaching presented by historians,” said Ewing.

“One of the unanticipated outcomes from the project,” noted Hicks, “was the increased level of K-12 dialogue with regard to planning, conducting, and assessing history instruction, and an improved sense of collegiality within and across grades and schools in the district.”