Teaching Educational History: Ideas and Resources

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To promote more dialogue between college-level educators who teach US educational history, I openly share these curricular resources, which were designed to enrich learning in my Educ 300: Education Reform Past & Present course for Trinity College undergraduates. Many of these pedagogical ideas arose from my own experiences as a student and/or teaching assistant with professors who influenced me — Michael Fultz, Linda Gordon, Carl Kaestle, Jurgen Herbst, Lisa Smulyan, Eva Travers — as well as valuable conversations with many colleagues at meetings of the History of Education Society and through its journal, the History of Education Quarterly.

HES 2019 Beyond Lectures: Engaging Students in the Process of Doing History panel, organized by Amato Nocera

When I first began to teach educational history in the early 1990s, as a TA for Carl Kaestle at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he taught me the value of bringing intro-level undergraduates to the archives during the first week of class. Starting the first week of classes with a “history lab” shakes up students’ pre-conceptions of how we learn about the past and present. Guiding our students to “think like historians” requires creating active learning exercises for them to discover the past by exploring primary source materials, not just passively listening to lectures. I’ve continued this pedagogical tradition for the past two decades while teaching my Educ 300: Ed Reform Past & Present course at Trinity College in Hartford CT. Below are my “history lab” teaching resources, which I share on the public web so that other educators can modify and adapt for their own classrooms, and to inspire others to widely share their own materials.

  • History Lab 1: Students begin their exploration of the 19th-Century Common Schools movement by examining school textbooks created in that era to ask: what do these sources reveal about the ideologies of reformers? Check out the Educ 300 syllabus, as well as the introductory slides and history lab worksheet with questions and source materials, and my blog post on Teaching Race and Education in the Archives.
  • History Lab 2: During our unit on the Progressive era, students examine the 1940 US Census manuscript online for a page of residents of any town/street, to ask:  What are typical highest levels of education completed? They compare results in a shared Google Sheet.
  • History Lab 3: During our unit on student experiences of school reform, we examine late 1960s racial protests and co-education on the Trinity College campus by comparing different types of archival sources (administrator’s memos, student newspapers, college catalogues). The exercise asks: What does each source reveal — or obscure — about the past? See the Google Doc template, and also what students wrote on this shared document in 2019.

HEQ 2016 Teaching Forum: Behind the Scenes —  The editors prompted us with a question — how do we teach history with case studies? — and pushed us to think about it as broadly as possible.

HES 2013 Teaching School Reform, Past and Present:  Multiple perspectives on a history of education course, panel organized by Bob Hampel

LINKS BELOW HERE may be broken, and I’m updating them!

Teaching Students to Become History Detectives — A four-page handout from my HES 2006 teaching workshop session on integrating information literacy questions into the syllabus
– see related slides (10-21) from a 2004 NELIG conference presentation with Jenny Groome and David Tatem
– see updated Research Guide to information literacy resources, created by Librarian Katy Hart and me for Ed 300 in Spring 2008

Teaching with Oral History — A series of handouts that I provided for an HES 2005 oral history panel, to illustrate how I attempt to guide students through an oral history project. This particular set was created for an historical component in my Ed 308 Cities, Suburbs, and Schools seminar in 2002, where students interviewed participants from Project Concern, a city-to-suburb desegregation transfer program in metropolitan Hartford from the 1960s to the 1990s. This class project eventually generated an co-authored article with one of my students, published in TCR in 2004.

Teaching Brown — Essays published with several colleagues in History of Education Quarterly 2004 special issue. My essay explained one approach to teaching competing historical narratives on desegregation from the perspective of two different Southern Black communities
– see updated Curry & Cecelski reading guide used in my Ed 300 spring 2008 class
“Schooling and Civil Rights” presentation on teaching Brown for high school teachers at “History is Central” Teaching American History workshop, Central Connecticut State University, March 2008

Teaching with the Writing Process — A two-page handout from my HES 1999 teaching workshop session on transforming the traditional term paper assignment into a more meaningful writing experience
– see the updated Research Paper Proposal and Research Paper Criteria handouts used in my Ed 300 spring 2008 class

Teaching with Archival Materials — Two handouts developed while working with Trinity archivist Peter Knapp, who has guided my Ed 300 students through focused explorations of primary source materials at the Watkinson Library, such as the Henry Barnard collection of nineteenth-century common school textbooks, and Trinity College archival materials from 1960s campus protests and coeducation

My Ed 300: Ed Reform Past & Present syllabus, with current and prior versions to show how the course has evolved over time:
Spring 2013
Spring 2012 – first time taught on public WordPress site
Spring 2008
Spring 2007
Fall 2005
Spring 2005
Spring 2004
Spring 2002
Spring 2001
Fall 1999 – my first semester at Trinity, with a different course title and number, where we focused on an oral history project of Trinity coeducation during the second portion of the semester

History of Education Society 2008 teaching workshop, organized by Heather Lewis and Bethany Rogers

H-Education, an H-Net moderated discussion listserv, sponsored by the History of Education Society (US), for on-line conversations about ed history topics, including teaching

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