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History Sparks: Improving History Instruction by Bringing History to Life Through Primary Sources

The Dallas Independent School District serves many students with limited English proficiency, a contributing factor to low history scores. In a recent year, just 54 percent of eighth graders and 68 percent of high school students passed the first-semester exams. Each year History Sparks will begin with a kick-off day during which teachers receive independent study materials, review student work, and participate in sessions delivered by historians and master history educators. Other activities will include Saturday seminars and summer institutes, supplemented by field trips to a local site in Year 3 and a national site in Year 4. A cohort of 50 teachers will be selected from the district's 24 low-performing middle and high schools. Any teachers who leave the program before the final year will be replaced, so the curriculum for each year will be self-contained. History Sparks will help teachers learn to deal with complex questions of historical thinking, form habits of mind for studying historical events, people, and issues, and make connections to contemporary events. Years 1-3 will feature separate strands for middle and high school teachers, each presenting broad, chronological surveys of historical eras. In Years 4 and 5, all teachers will join in deep exploration of selected content. The project will employ primary source documents, books, videos, and Web sites—each accompanied by study questions and bolstered by online discussions that include project leaders and university historians. Participants will leave the professional development with classroom teaching resources and lesson plans that align with state standards and the History Sparks blueprint for effective history teaching and learning.