Northern Nevada Teaching American History Project
The Northern Nevada Teaching American History Project (NNTAHP) is a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to the Washoe County School District. It began in 2001 and has continued to develop useful U.S. history content for educators. Partners include the University of Nevada, Truckee Meadows Community College, the Nevada Museum of Art, the Nevada Historical Society, Nevada Humanities, KNPB Channel 5, the National Automobile Museum, and Coordinated Management Services.
The NNTAHP website contains a decade's worth of K12 standards-based lessons in American history developed by Nevada teachers. Two TAH grants, one focused on grades K6, and another for grades 712, provide professional development opportunities for teachers in Northern Nevada. Both the elementary and secondary portals serve as a clearinghouse for lesson plans, units, research, and a calendar of events for teachers. In addition, guidelines for developing lessons based on essential questions are provided for visitors.
The NNTAHP website, although designed as a "one-stop" destination for professional development for its participating teachers, offers dozens of relevant links for any educator visiting the site. Elementary educators will find over 200 lesson plans covering pre-Columbian history to the present. Secondary educators can browse through nearly 400 lesson plans. In addition to categorizing lessons by state standards, others can be found under "historical skills" and by chronological order, as well as through specific workshops and PLC (professional learning community) projects. The sheer volume of the lesson plan subsection provides a rich repository of ideas for teachers.
Using the Project
In addition to lesson plan resources, a template and guideline section can serve as inspiration for developing sound lessons in American history. The pedagogical underpinning at the heart of all of the NNTAHP lessons centers on developing effective Essential Questions (EQs). Kathryn Obenchain, as well as NNTAHP project leaders Angela Orr and Susan Davis, recently published an article that draws heavily on various notions of what EQs should accomplish from notable education scholars such as Sam Wineburg, Bruce VanSledright, Grant Wiggins, and Jay McTighe. In the end, the goal of the NNTAHP project is to allow teachers to center their lesson plans on key EQs that could bridge the past and present, broaden and deepen the understanding of American history, and help students develop the critical skills needed to examine historical events. For this particular TAH project, five EQs serve as the "anchor" for lessons plans on the project website.
Many of the lesson plans on the site predate the implementation of the project's focus on EQs, so educators searching for EQ-based lessons should look for those created in 2010 or later. Citing Wiggins and McTighe's belief that effective EQs are "valuable for framing courses and programs of study around the truly big ideas," Orr and Davis encourage teachers to use this basic concept in developing what they call Historical Questions (HQs). The questions, as they note, should be open-ended to illicit multiple responses by students. But EQs should also be worded in way that is accessible to ELL students and struggling readers (a consideration often lost while discussing EQs). In other words, students should not have to overcome a language barrier before dealing with a problematic historical question.
Although lesson-specific EQs are not included in earlier lesson plans, the submissions cover a diverse set of topics and often include novel approaches to teaching American history. Additionally, it becomes quite clear while browsing through the hundreds of lesson plans that clear learning objectives are at the heart of this TAH project. So, while some teacher participants may have not had the opportunity to implement EQs in their daily teaching and planning, most of the lessons provided possess a clear focus and provide for a student-centered learning environment. For example, a lesson on the civil rights movement in Reno offers teachers outside of Nevada a less-known case study on the civil rights era. This lesson, in turn, can enrich the teaching of civil rights in any classroom by serving as a model of how lessons can bridge local concerns with national issues while dealing with "big ideas."
Obenchain, Kathryn M., Angela Orr, and Susan H. Davis. "The Past as a Puzzle: How Essential Questions Can Piece Together a Meaningful Investigation of History." The Social Studies 102(5) (2011): 190199.