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Turning Points in American History: Knowledge, Understanding and Perspectives

Turning Points in American History will serve 70 public schools and 27 independent schools in rural northwestern Vermont; based on a survey, many of the teachers in these schools have a limited knowledge of American history. This professional development program will provide opportunities for long-term partnerships with local and regional historical organizations by centering activities around local museums. Events will include (1) three scholar-led seminars per year to build teachers' content knowledge and chronological-thinking skills; (2) book and primary source study groups, which will focus on one historical era per year; (3) summer field studies at national sites and local historic sites and museums; and (4) teacher leadership institutes, which will encourage teachers to discuss content and pedagogy through shared experiences and the new digital classroom. This model will (1) create inquiry-based study groups for teaching content and historical thinking, (2) add existing knowledge for best practice for creating digital learning communities, (3) produce new lessons around teaching with historical sites, (4) institute new policies around peer-to-peer professional development, and (5) build strong school-museum partnerships. The teachers will pre-read historical materials and attend lectures followed by small-group discussions with the scholars, learn to analyze and interpret primary sources and develop writing assignments to exhibit historical-thinking skills, and post their interpretations to a digital classroom for peer feedback. The project will create a Web site that features exemplary activities, lectures and other resources created by the project; in addition, it will produce new curriculum resources, including lessons, units, streaming video of study groups, historical writing assignments and benchmarks.