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Footprints of Freedom ... A Constitutional Lens on American History

These southern California districts include low-performing schools with diverse student populations. History teachers in the district have expressed an interest in making constitutional heritage and democratic values more meaningful to students. Each year of the project, teachers will participate in seven days of professional development—including direct interaction with scholars who specialize in topics related to traditional constitutional and presidential history—and at least 16 additional hours of professional development to increase their content knowledge and capacity to provide effective instruction. The annual activities will include a 4-day content institute at a historical archive followed by four meetings using the Scholar Sessions model, which features a lecture/question-and-answer session, an academic reading and discussion session with a scholar, and a content application activity requiring the teachers to demonstrate their subject knowledge. Eighth-grade teachers will participate for all five years, while others will attend institutes specific to the subjects they teach. The project will explore four constitutional themes: governance, freedom of religion and expression, due process, and equality. Central themes will focus on the principles of freedom and democracy articulated in the founding documents and historic cases and controversies of the U.S. Supreme Court. Strategies will include building infrastructure through collaborative groups to make U.S. history a high priority in the districts; creating an open education resource Web site; and providing an experimental evaluation to gauge the project's impact on teacher content knowledge, historical thinking skills and capacity to provide effective instruction. Participants will make presentations about the project at national and local forums and submit journal articles for publication.