Teaching American History in North Carolina
Serving teachers in Pender, New Hanover, and Brunswick counties, this North Carolina project needed to meet the needs of a geographically-dispersed group of teachers. How to form a supportive community of peers while at the same time not taking teachers away from their work and lives too often? Teaching American History in North Carolina solved this problem through a combination of online discussions, local small group meetings, and in-person workshops and seminars.
In 2009-2010, Teaching American History in North Carolina focused on colonial history. For 2010-2011, the project moved on to U.S. history from 1801-1877, taking the theme "Unity and Division." Throughout the year, the project's 28 K-12 teachers gather in person to participate in 68 hours of workshops and seminars. Between these hands-on learning opportunities, teachers download reading assignments from Blackboard. Every two weeks, they post responses to the current reading, and engage with each other's responses.
But online discussion partnered with in-person workshops and seminars isn't anything new, is it? What sets this grant apart?
Every month, in addition to the online discussions, teachers get together in Professional Learning Communities—self-selected groups of three to five. In these groups, teachers get to know each other and exchange ideas on how to adapt the content and strategies they're learning to their own classrooms. Here, without supervision, teachers can form connections that will last beyond the life of the project. After each meeting, the group leader uploads meeting minutes to Blackboard for supervisors and other participants to read.
Like the best TAH projects, Teaching American History in North Carolina shares the resources it creates not just with its participant teachers, but with the teaching community at large. Participants create five lesson plans throughout the year, and anyone can download them at the project's easily-navigable website. As of this writing, the website hosts more than 100 lesson plans, divided up by grade level and time period ("Colonial Era," "American Revolutionary Era," "Founding Era," and "Other Eras"). Lessons plans use an "essential question" model and clearly-stated teacher objectives and encourage engagement with primary sources and substantive assessment. Non-participant teachers may download the suggested lesson template and rubric at the site. Tried one of the plans in the classroom? Rate it! The site offers an easy one-to-five-star rating system.
All participants, past and present, can check out the project's traveling trunks. Filled with teacher resources developed by project participants, as well as books, artifacts, and DVDs, each trunk covers a different period in history (Colonial, Revolution, Founding Era, American Indian, Westward Expansion, Civil War and Reconstruction), and can be borrowed for free for up to two weeks. "Online trunks", collections of links to online resources on the same topics, are in development. Currently, the Founding Era "online trunk" is the most complete, with links to resources from 13 different websites.
Pender Country School District partnered with the University of North Carolina—Wilmington, the History Teaching Alliance, Cebula Historical Consulting, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History for this project. While the university provides content expertise, the History Teaching Alliance seeks to connect southeastern North Carolina history educators with local resources and with each other. The Alliance uses materials developed by project participants in its outreach activities, another way in which the products of the project reach out to benefit the wider community. Cebula Historical Consulting evaluates the grant and helped design the project, bringing to it experience working with previous TAH grant projects. Through on-site and online observation and consideration of teacher feedback, it helps keep the project responsive and focused. The Gilder Lehrman Institute partnered with the grant during its first year.