Category Archives: Causes of Conflict 2010-2011

Guest Post: A teacher’s journey

This guest post is written by Amy Johnson, a fourth and fifth grade teacher in Longview Public Schools.  In it, Amy describes the how Teaching American History Grant support influenced her teaching and has improved her district.

Roanoke & Jamestown Storyline, Winter 2012

Sadly, our Teaching American History grant is coming to an end…but the impact and inspiration this  project has had on me and numerous others will keep the work alive. Reflecting on the opportunities during the past three years as a collaborator, a teacher and a learner I am forever grateful to have been a part of such a program.  The professionalism, the high level of collaboration, and the friendships made with fellow educators have forever changed me.

Reynolds Memorial, Gettysburg National Park, Spring 2010

Starting out three years ago, little did I know what a huge impact the TAH grant, with a group of middle school teachers, would have on me professionally and personally.  Experiencing, Causes of Conflict: The American Civil War, in 2009-2010 was just the beginning of the journey for me.  Lesson study, with a group of fellow teachers as collaborators, introduced me to lesson design and analysis for the very first time.  Again, little did I know the process would become a passion.  Because of this project and the collaborative spirit, brilliant pieces of student work emerged…evidence of student learning beyond what I thought possible.  I became a learner in this process and was moved by the experiences during my first year because I saw results and excitement in my students.

North Bridge, Concord Massachusetts, 2011

As the TAH grant moved into  2010-2011, Causes of Conflict: The American Revolution, once again I found myself immersed in lesson study and design.   In a group of fellow elementary teachers I was confident, taking risks to create even more engaging opportunities for my students.  It was at this point I realized how much I became a learner too…I was learning about the birth of our nation in Boston.  As an American it was a personal experience.  This experience excited me and I couldn’t wait to bring back to my students. I was living a moment in history and I was able to give it life in my classroom. Again, it paid off.  Because I lived it…student engagement and evidence of student learning skyrocketed.  And, then something special and unique happened.  We became a close cohort group of teachers who could collaborate in an atmosphere of trust.  As a group we found ourselves naturally collaborating and creating engaging lessons for our students.  It was exhilarating and had such power professionally.  I am changed.

As this chapter closes I know with confidence the work started seven years ago continues.

Teaching with Primary Sources Workshop, March 2012

Amy moved from a recipient of  professional development recipient to a pd leader when she organized a Library of Congress TPS workshop for her district earlier this month.  Her students and her district are lucky to have her! Teaching American History grants made a real difference for thousands of teachers and their students and will be missed.


A parent writes about teacher professional development

Learning and socializing on the beach (Spree2010)

Today’s guest post comes from Tony Liberatore.  Tony is a high school teacher at Columbia River High School in Vancouver.  He writes:

As a TAH grant teacher (twice) I had some great experiences; James Madison’s Montpelier, standing at Dr. King’s pulpit, marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge, and working with amazing educators; however my favorite experience is when my 5th grade daughter had a TAH teacher this past school year. As a self-proclaimed history geek I have always struggled on how to “pass on” my love of history to my kids and I have had mixed results. This school year something clicked with my oldest and her teacher Mrs. P. We had dinner time discussions about Jefferson on how a person who wrote those beautiful words “all men are created equal” could still own other human beings? On a spring walk we talked about the Bill of Rights and when my daughter wrote a CBA the topic was school uniforms and the 1st Amendment (I had to hold back and actually let her do the work).

When I ponder my daughter’s experiences it encapsulates the purpose of TAH grants; professional teachers who take the purpose of social studies education seriously, providing students with genuine historical inquiry, and training in best history teaching practices (the list is long). I’m frustrated that the TAH grants have not been funded but proud to have been involved in many aspects of the grant. Most importantly I’m a better student of history and so is my daughter. Thanks Mrs. P.


The end is nigh

While we may have thought that we made it through May 21 unscathed, I received two messages yesterday that our friends in the colonies might have considered providential signs.

The first was an email from Peggi Zelinko at the Department of Education.  She wrote to say that no new Teaching American History proposals would be awarded FY 2011, ending any hope that “Competing Visions: Debates that Shape America”, the excellent proposal we submitted in March, would be funded.   This confirmed my suspicions – but was disappointing nevertheless.

The second was a posting on the National Coalition for History site:


The House Education and Workforce Committee this week approved, by a strict party line vote of 23-16H.R. 1891 the “Setting New Priorities in Education Act.” This bill would eliminate 43 programs at the Department of Education including Teaching American History (TAH) grants.

An amendment was offered by Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), and cosponsored by Representatives Davis (D-CA), Woolsey (D-CA) and Wu (D-OR) that would have potentially preserved TAH. The amendment would have required the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence to determine if the United States was experiencing a shortage of linguists. If it was found that was the case, Department of Education funds could have been used to improve foreign language education, economic and financial education, arts education and the Teaching of Traditional American History. The Holt amendment was defeated by the same party line vote of 16-23.

House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MI) has decided to adopt a piecemeal approach to reauthorizing the ESEA, considering a series of targeted bills instead of one large one. H.R. 1891 is the first of those bills to be introduced and passed by the panel.

H.R. 1891 will now be considered by the House where it is expected to pass. While this is disheartening, the bill would still have to pass the Senate and be signed by the President which is unlikely. Traditionally, there has been strong bi-partisan support in the Senate for the TAH program.

In the Senate, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) will soon introduce a single all encompassing ESEA reauthorization bill. It was expected he would introduce the bill right after Easter, but that has not occurred. There is no indication at this time what Chairman Harkin’s position is with regard to TAH in particular or history education in general.

It’s a shame.  Based on our experience, I believe that TAH projects have catalyzed important change, critically supporting teachers in ways that renew and expand their vision and capacity to improve students’ learning experience.  I hope that teachers find creative ways to continue the work on their own.

I look forward to next week’s demonstration lesson in Castle Rock and our final “Causes of Conflict” program June 29 & 30.  Enjoy the long weekend!

Another round of Lesson Study!

It’s been a provocative season of demonstration lessons with 4th and 5th grade teachers!  Using the lesson study process, teacher groups planned a lesson, then gathered to watch the lesson be taught and studied how students interacted with the material.  In the past week plus, I’ve been at five schools where young learners took on a variety of historical challenges, including:

  • analyzing correspondence between John and Abigail Adams to consider what the American Revolution meant for women;
  • interpreting images to hear multiple perspectives on British efforts to manage the American colonies;
  • using primary images and texts related to different events to evaluate their role in leading to the American Revolution;
  • evaluating competing narratives to determine who was at fault for the Boston Massacre; and
  • identifying who lived at Fort Vancouver and how each cultural group contributed to its success.
The impact of the lessons on student learning varied from session to session, but the impact on teacher learning seemed consistently strong.  Here are a few representative snippets of participating teachers’ conversation and writing:
Observing other 5th grade students grapple with challenging text/images impacts my universal understanding of how students learn. To be given highly engaging historical documents and to work collaboratively with their peers stretches their thinking and informs me about my own expectations for student learning. It’s easy to feel isolated at times in regards to teaching history. Being a member of the lesson study team broadens my own perspective and fosters a need and a desire to dig deeper personally into historical thinking, teaching, and learning.

I saw a way to involve my Intensive Reading students in a more active way rather than just being passive learners.
I saw that I did not have to teach history the way I was taught as a student… Planning lessons with a group & revise them has heightened my teaching abilities and my students will benefit greatly.
 As we begin to revise the lesson, we are generating more thoughtfully developed ideas and questions.
I was surprised by how each of the teammates helped support one another.
We can’t work in a vacuum. Self-reflection is important, but our teaching will improve much more drastically by peer review and debriefing.
It takes me from direct instruction to guided, researched, and discovery learning. It makes me feel that history is really alive!
I’ve used different strategies before to make history more exciting – but never to make it more real!
At first, we were concerned about who would be the demonstration teacher. Then, there came a point in our planning where we realized that any of us would do it – because the only thing we’d be worried about would be to stay accountable to each other.
I’ve learned that students will rise to the occasion if you ask them to.
I’ve learned that there is so much about the past that I don’t know, but that I can tell the students ‘as you’re learning, I’m learning too.’
 It’s led me to see that history is more than recall.
This has reminded me that I need to be open to my students as people.  It’s made me a better kidwatcher.
One historical question should lead to another. That’s really happening for me now – and it didn’t before this year.
I’m looking forward to meeting with teachers June 29 & 30 to study what students did with the revised lessons.  I should note that this work was made possible by a Teaching American History grant from the US Department of Education.  That program, along with many others (including the National Writing Project), is described as wasteful and inefficient by House Bill 1891 and targeted for closure. You can read more about HB 1891 here.
Teachers:  Please add your input to the comments section!

Why do you love studying history?

Why is studying the past valuable?  Not why should we teach it, or why should the students in your classes learn it, but why do you love it?  That’s the question that we asked the elementary teachers we’ve been working with this year at the start of last week’s workshop.  The question arose, in part, as a result of Rich and I noticing that many of the teachers seemed to always be looking for ways specific experiences on our trip might be transformed into specific lessons – rather than developing a foundational appreciation for the discipline that, in turn, would deepen an approach to history.  If our yearlong study only left folks feeling more prepared to teach young people, it might not lead to inspiration for young people (and their teachers) to learn about the past.

After participants had some time to collect their thoughts individually, they assembled lists in their lesson study groups.  So, what did they say?

Sense of patriotism
Sense of belonging
Connection to our past/present
National pride
Connecting to the people of the past
Feeling-learning about our history thru their voices
Sense of where we come from
Learning from past why? where? how?
Facts not fiction about our history as a nation

Makes things you have read about “real” by going on location
Origin of common phrases
Better appreciation of the contrast between now and then
Past lays foundation for the present and future
Less biased
Amazed by the ingenuity of the historical figures
Inspiration of life long learning
Helps make the past more concrete
Historical fiction or biographies give a story/context to attach new information

Stories (esp. w/ personal application)
Know the past to connect to a better future
Cyclical nature of it
Escape to a different time
Brings events and people to life
Back stories of secondary personalities
Length of certain civilizations

Emotional!  It’s real connection to past
Important to preserve our freedoms
Learning about motivations of people-character.  Human nature.
It’s a great true story.  We can visualize it.
It goes beyond timelines!  Historical questioning.
Building loyalty to our country.

Putting faces to the facts
Sense of story
Past is things- History is the story.
Putting the puzzle pieces together
History is on-going
Multi-perspectives, different points of view
Concrete at first- then as you learn more it becomes fluid(different levels of complexity)
In road to teaching citizenship(builds loyalty to country)
Sense of self - roots?
Knowing the outcome – then going back and learning what led to that outcome.
Voices echoing forward
Power of an individual

Touching artifacts
Connecting w/real people/events
Knowing the outcome & going back  to see how they got there
Connecting the dots of the present with the past
Questioning intent/outcomes
Stories of people overcoming adversity
Stories of the common people

I think that it’s a pretty interesting list, both for what it features and what doesn’t appear.  Many of their entries were on my list, many weren’t, and some of my entries didn’t make it to their lists.  I’m struck by the extent to which these teachers see the study of history as playing a role in developing heritage/patriotism/citizenship – clearly an intended consequence of the Teaching American History program (funding struggles for which you can read about here), but one which I hadn’t expected.

What’s on your list?  Why do you love studying history? What value does the study of history offer?

History on Location Day Five: Bunker Hill

Links to Days One, Two, Three, and Four.

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Our trip to Massachusetts wrapped up Friday, April 8, with a culminating talk with Frank Cogliano on Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty, a visit to Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and the Paul Revere House, and a walking tour of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

A big thank you to everyone whose efforts made it a wonderful trip:

  • Lead scholars John Demos, Frank Cogliano, and Gloria Sesso;
  • Victoria Lain and Lance Warren from Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History;
  • Kim VanWormer, Summer Confuorto, and the interpreters at Plimoth Plantation;
  • The staff at Rebecca Nurse Homestead;
  • The docents at Peabody Essex Museum;
  • National Park Service Rangers along the Freedom Trail, at Minute Man National Park, and Bunker Hill;
  • Zerah Jakub of the Old South Meeting House;
  • Alison Falotico, Paul O’Shaughnessy, and the rest of the staff at the Lexington Historical Society;
  • ESD 112 Program Assistant Patricia Cole;
  • The US Department of Education’s Teaching American History Program; and
  • All the others I failed to mention!


  • What do you think were the important historical ideas discussed?  What makes them important to study?
  • What historical questions were answered and what new ones emerged?
  • What new ideas about teaching and learning does this leave you with?

History On Location Day Four: Lexington & Concord

Link to Days One, Two, and Three.

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Frank Cogliano started the day with an examination of the calls for liberty emanating from Boston in the 1770s.  We then traveled to Lexington for guided tours of the Hancock Clarke Parsonage, the Buckman Tavern, and the Lexington Depot – all presented by the Lexington Historical Society – then on to Minute Man National Park and the North Bridge.  We concluded with a conversation with Cogliano about contingency and causation.


  • What do you think were the big ideas we examined?  What makes them worthy of study?
  • What historical questions were answered?  What new ones emerged?
  • What new ideas about teaching and learning history did this day leave you with?