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Last modified: Thursday, November 5, 2009

History, Education faculty improve teacher content knowledge through programs in two states

New program under way this fall in Indiana, collaboration continues in Alabama

Nov. 5, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Faculty members from the Indiana University School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences are beginning newly funded projects to enhance the teaching of U.S. history in schools, thanks to grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

Lynne Boyle-Baise

Marilynne Boyle-Baise

Print-Quality Photo

The grants are from the Teaching American History program, which the department describes as a program designed "to raise student achievement by improving teachers' knowledge and understanding of and appreciation for traditional U.S. history." The grants go directly to school districts around the country.

Monroe County, Ind., project

The Monroe County Community School Corp. (MCCSC) received a $497,917 grant over three years. Marilynne Boyle-Baise, professor of curriculum and instruction, James Madison, professor of history, and Pat Wilson, social studies chair at Bloomington High School North, are co-directors of the project. The effort, called the History Educators Project, brings together faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Education, along with staff from the Monroe County Historical Society, to work with a group of 30 selected MCCSC teachers over three years.

"There are three goals," Boyle-Baise said. "To enhance the teaching of traditional U.S. history, to promote innovative teaching practices, and eventually to raise student achievement."

Leah Shopkow

Leah Shopkow, IU associate professor in the history department, teaches pre-service social studies teaches as part of the MCCSC project.

An important aspect of the grant is the translation of historical knowledge into engaging teaching practices.

"The heart of the grant and what we will be doing with the half-million is putting a dozen IU Bloomington historians in workshops with local school history teachers over the next three years," Madison said.

The collaboration builds on a history of partnerships between the School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences, including the 21st Century Teachers Project, which focuses College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education faculty on teaching courses to help K-12 teachers better deliver content to their students.

"This innovative three-year professional staff development model is a dream come true," Wilson said. "Providing teachers with the additional tools and knowledge to promote conceptual thinking, inquiry and venues for supporting civic action is the foundation to enhancing a vibrant country that embraces democracy."

MCCSC teachers are developing three lesson plans throughout the year. Last weekend they held a retreat at historic New Harmony, Ind. Two more retreats as well as discussion sessions with historians are part of the schedule through the spring. Resources and lesson plans will be placed for any teacher to access at the project's Web site,

Boyle-Baise said the MCCSC project came about also because of a strong collaboration between the school corporation, the IU School of Education, the Department of History, the Monroe County Historical Society and Bloomington-based nonprofit Agency for Instructional Technology.

"This is a community effort," she said. She added that the grant is especially important because social studies programs are often subject to program cuts in schools. "Many of us just feel that this is a perilous situation," Boyle-Baise said. "We're fighting back to preserve and enhance democracy education for kids in elementary through high school."

Lee County, Ala., project

Continuing an ongoing relationship on a history teaching project with Auburn University in Alabama, Associate Dean for Teacher Education Tom Brush, also an associate professor in the Department of Instructional Systems Technology, is heading an IU School of Education effort that is part of a more than $1.7 million dollar Teaching American History grant. The federal government awarded $1,723,751 over five years to Lee County, Ala., schools for a project headed by John Saye, alumni professor of secondary social sciences in the Auburn University College of Education. Brush is developing online learning and instructional tools as part of the project called "Plowing Freedom's Ground."

The collaboration expands longtime work by Saye and Brush on the "Persistent Issues in History Network," an Auburn and IU partnership that has produced a set of Web-based tools and resources designed to support history teachers interested in implementing problem-based inquiry strategies in the classroom (online at

"It's a wonderful collaboration between two universities that really are committed to providing quality programs for practicing teachers," Brush said, "particularly ones in areas where it may be difficult for them to receive these professional development programs without projects like this."

The Alabama grant will provide teachers from fourth grade through high school with enhanced knowledge, inquiry strategies, and interactive online tools to help teach about five periods of U.S. history: the Revolution and the birth of the nation, the expansion period, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the development of modern America, and contemporary America. Brush will be examining how to best deliver the teacher professional development using technology. "So that we won't always have to be meeting face-to-face to do professional development activities, to do collaboration with teachers and faculty at Auburn and Indiana," Brush said.