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Becoming Historians: Teaching American History in the Elementary School

Becoming Historians is designed to improve instruction in American history in a cross section of elementary schools in New York City's Community School Districts 1-6 in the Borough of Manhattan, with a particular focus on those schools designated as being in need of improvement, where 44 percent of fifth grade students are scoring below grade-level expectations on the state social studies assessment. To nurture teachers' historical "habits of mind," several professional development activities will be offered each year: a weeklong summer institute; five day-long sessions that include a colloquium with a historian, discussion of scholarly tests, work with primary sources, visits to local cultural institutions, and development of lessons aligned with city and state content and history standards for grades 4 and 5; and collegial sharing with teachers at participants' home schools through the creation of professional learning communities. Also, the districts will work with schools to update American history curricula and implement academic and structural interventions to improve student achievement. Each year for the first three years of the program, 25 fourth grade teachers and 25 fifth grade teachers will join. Every teacher will be encouraged to participate for the life of the program. Teachers will explore the development of American democracy from the founding of the nation to the beginning of the 21st Century. They will use inquiry and project-based learning to engage students in analysis and interpretation of historical events and issues. A project Web site will provide a venue for the sharing of ideas, information, resources, and teacher-created lesson plans and curriculum guides.