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Grant supports program for history teachers

By : Rachel Coker


A nearly $1 million grant will support the continuation of a professional development program for area history teachers offered at Binghamton University.

The Broome-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services recently received a $961,290 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to strengthen the teaching of American history. BOCES will work with the University’s Center for the Teaching of American History during the next three years to provide teachers with workshops, conferences, book groups and special events. It’s the third time the center has been a partner in such a grant since 2001.

“This will make history classrooms in the area much more exciting and intellectually interesting places,” said Thomas Dublin, professor of history and director of the Center for the Teaching of American History.

Plans call for workshops during which 15-20 teachers will develop lesson plans, peer-review conferences at which the best lessons will be shared, book “circles” that will challenge teachers to read the latest American history scholarship and special events such as a workshop on biography with a guest speaker from Syracuse University.

Tim Cooper, curriculum specialist for the Center for the Teaching of American History and a retired Johnson City teacher, said the new grant will add a literacy component to the program. That’s of special value to older social studies teachers who might not have had that emphasis earlier in their careers, he said.

“We’re really looking at what makes teachers better and what makes it easier to be a teacher,” Cooper said. “We’ve made a real impact on all of the districts in the Southern Tier.”

The program will use the New York State standardized tests to evaluate how students of teachers in the workshops are doing compared to students of teachers who don’t attend and compared to students of those teachers before they attended. Doug Titus, director of communications and development at Broome-Tioga BOCES, said the test data will help program leaders target trouble areas for teachers and then give them special attention.

“I think the program has been configured to be a win-win for everybody involved,” Titus said. “It’s a great opportunity for teachers to network with their peers. This has definitely been a rich and rewarding experience for people who have gone through it.”

Teachers of students in grades four to 11 may participate in the workshops, and special consideration is given to those in fifth-, seventh-, eighth-, 10th and 11th grades. Those are the years in which U.S. history is taught in New York, and program organizers feel the teachers benefit from interacting with colleagues at other grade levels.

“We have a lot of wonderful and very committed teachers,” Dublin said, “but the kind of pressures on them in their day-to-day teaching life make it hard for them to continue to grow and to learn and follow the way the American history field is evolving.”

For example, the Civil War was taught quite differently 40 years ago than it is today, he said. The roles of women and African-Americans in the war are now understood in greater depth, and the war itself is considered a transformative event in American history.

“Really none of that was a part of the way history was taught to our area teachers,” Dublin said. “By introducing them to that literature and to primary documents that address those issues, they’re ready to teach the Civil War very differently.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08