UM-Dearborn will work with Plymouth-Canton schools to improve the way American history is taught in elementary schools

June 9, 2006

DEARBORN/June 9, 2006---Faculty members at the University of Michigan-Dearborn will work with teachers and administrators in the Plymouth-Canton Community School District and the Huron School District on a three-year project to improve the teaching of American history in elementary schools.

 The project received a grant of nearly $1 million from the U.S. Department of Education, announced on June 1. The grant will support “summer institutes,” where 50 participating teachers will spend a week on an in-depth exploration of a significant theme in American history.

 Morning sessions will feature lectures weaving together the latest scholarship and content knowledge with analysis of primary sources. In the afternoon sessions, the teachers will work in small groups modeled after graduate seminars. History professors from UM-Dearborn will lead the summer institutes, along with researchers and curators from the Henry Ford, the Michigan Historical Museum and the Plymouth Historical Museum.

 “We will be working to enhance the ‘content knowledge’ of the elementary teachers, but we also want to work with them on teaching strategies and methods that have been successful in getting students actively engaged in what they are learning,” according to Martin Hershock, professor of history and chair of the Department of Social Sciences at UM-Dearborn.

 Other UM-Dearborn faculty members involved in the program are Georgina Hickey, Gerald Moran and Pamela Pennock. They are working with Beth Savalox, a teacher and administrator in the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, who received her bachelor’s degree in history from UM-Dearborn in 1990.

 “During the elementary years, teachers have the greatest ability to gradually increase the complexity of skills, concepts and processes for their students,” Savalox said. “In addition, elementary-aged children have a natural curiosity that is the core of effective history education.”

 The resources provided by the Henry Ford and the Plymouth Historical Museum will allow the Plymouth-Canton teachers and students the opportunity to examine and study primary documentary sources and artifacts essential to the study of local history.

 “Allowing elementary students to review materials like these is key to getting them to think like real historians,” Hershock said. “On our side, we’re also seeing new pedagogical approaches that we’ve been able to incorporate into our own instruction at the college level.”

 For example, Hershock cites a role-playing experience planned by a 4th-grade teacher to help her students think of issues surrounding the first contacts between European settlers and Native Americans.

 “Her students were enthralled, and came away with a rather sophisticated understanding of a very complex process that most students don’t consider until high school, if then,” Hershock said.

 UM-Dearborn faculty members have been working with Plymouth-Canton teachers and administrators on a very similar three-year project to enhance American history teaching at the middle- and high-school levels. That project is wrapping up at the end of the current school year.

 “In reviewing that program, we found that teachers were empowered to pursue more knowledge, ask engaging questions, implement primary resources that grab and challenge students, and become an active participant in an effective professional learning community,” Savalox said. “And we saw parallel benefits with regard to student achievement.”

 The Plymouth-Canton schools’ grant was one of 124 similar grants to school districts in 38 states awarded earlier this month by the Department of Education.

 "Our nation's founding fathers believed the study of history and citizenship should be at the core of every American's education," U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said. "Yet, with studies showing less than one-quarter of American students are proficient in either subject, far too few U.S. students are learning the lessons vital to life in our democratic society.”

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CONTACT: Terry Gallagher
PHONE: (313) 593-5518
The Office of University Relations
Room 1040, Administration Building
University of Michigan-Dearborn