History Teachers at NHD Summer Institute
Mark Robinson, November 1999
This institute has expanded my thinking. I have searched for broader horizons and I've found them here," said history teacher Letha Caudle. "I have searched for a way to reinvigorate history in the classroom and I have found it in National History Day!" Many times the focus of learning is concentrated on student and not teacher development, but National History Day is working to reform history education by developing the skills of both teachers and students. The 1999 National History Day Summer Institute on the Civil War was designed to do just that.
Twenty-five teachers from across the nation gathered at the University of Maryland to examine the Civil War as related to the NHD's theme for 2000, "Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, and Events". They came from very diverse backgrounds and schools, but they all came to develop their teaching skills and share their knowledge with their peers. Judging from the participants' tremendously positive response, the institute confirmed both the need for, as well as National History Day's ability to provide, assistance and training to teachers. The White House Historical Association, Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania and Columbia Gas of Maryland, The New York Times Newspapers in Education Program and The National Park Service sponsored the institute and made it possible for teachers from districts of all economic means to participate in the program.
The objectives of the program were two-fold: to provide teachers with the latest historical scholarship and to provide information on practical applications for the classroom, particularly regarding the use of primary sources. To accomplish these goals, NHD worked closely with scholars from across the country, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Park Service to provide a hands-on learning experience for the teachers. The scholars and NHD staff gave practical presentations on use of primary sources in the classroom and ways to examine the Civil War through these sources. "I wish that my college and graduate school courses in history and education had been constructed like this course," stated Crystal Bailey of Iowa. "I would have been much better prepared as an educator if they had. The interplay of the primary source exercises and the incredibly professional and interesting lectures was wonderful."
The teachers did not just stay in the classroom. Like students participating in the NHD contest, they visited historic sites and agencies. At the Civil War Battlefield of Antietam the teachers discussed how this battle was a turning point in the war and how it influenced the release of the Emancipation Proclamation. They were able to examine the actual document at the National Archives and talk with archivists about using the multitude of Civil War photographs and documents available on line at the National Archive's web site, http://www. nara.gov/education/historyday. The White House Historical Association arranged for a tour of the White House as well as lectures and a preview of their new web site, http://www.whitehousehistory.org.
In addition to including new ideas and methods into their own teaching, those who participated in the program are committed to conducting workshops for teachers in their own states. Thus, teachers nationwide will benefit from the institute and NHD's commitment to education reform.
Students and teachers can find out more about how to participate in National History Day in their home states by contacting the NHD office at (301) 314-9739, e-mail: email@example.com, or the web site http://www.NationalHistoryDay.org.
—Mark Robinson is a member of the NHD staff.