Braintree PD

This two-hour workshop will:
  • Introduce teachers to a free library of American history lessons developed for elementary, middle, and high school teachers by Braintree teachers and other district partners
  • Provide examples of inquiry-based primary source activities and how to implement them in the Braintree classrooms
  • Enable teachers to align and adapt their curriculum to the Common Core State Standards for Reading and Writing in History and Social Studies
  • Demonstrate strategies for assessing student mastery of American history content using essential questions
  • Document teacher impact by collecting pre- and post- evaluation data analyzed by an independent evaluator.

The project will consist of:
  • Developing a new or enhancing an existing lesson or unit plan incorporating the elements from the two-hour workshop
  • Aligning the lesson or unit plan with Common Core state standards in reading and/or writing in History and Social Studies as well as the MA History and Social Science Curriculum Frameworks
  • Planning for implementation in the classroom during the 2013-2014 school year.

GOAL: To help you create and use your own inquiry-based American History lesson using the resources available at the Becoming America Project and other in-person and online sources.

Getting Started -- Look at Lessons!

Want an awesome lesson that engages your students?

Examine the following lessons from the Becoming America Project. What do they have in common?

To view more lessons, visit the TRITEC Becoming America Lessons page by units or by topics.

What did you list?


"Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand."
“Inquiry is any process that has the aim of augmenting knowledge, resolving doubt, or solving a problem.” ---Wikipedia

In inquiry-based learning teachers emphasize the development of inquiry skills and habits of mind that promote lifetime learning and creative thinking and problem-solving skills. Students make observations, collect, analyze, and synthesize information, and draw conclusions about a question or problem. Inquiry often does not seek a “right answer” because often there is not one. Teachers focus more on "how we come to know" by presenting evidence and information and encouraging student questioning which leads them to construct their understanding of the stated problem.

Questions are at the heart of inquiry learning. While questions are also a part of the traditional classroom, the sources, purposes, and the questioning itself are quite different. The traditional classroom is focused on mastery of content; the inquiry approach is more focused on using and learning content as a means to develop information-processing and problem-solving skills. This inquiry approach is more student-centered, with the teacher acting as a facilitator. Students are more involved in the construction of knowledge through active involvement. They make observations, collect, analyze, and synthesize information, and draw conclusions about a question or problem. Inquiry often does not seek a “right answer” because often there is not one. Teachers focus more on "how we come to know" by presenting evidence and information and encouraging student questioning which leads them to construct their understanding of the stated problem.

This means that the nature of the questions asked is vitally important. Questions must be essential!

Dennie Palmer Wolf ("The Art of Questioning," Academic Connections" (Winter 1987): 1-7.) suggests that there are four major types of questions: inference questions, interpretation questions, transfer questions, and questions about hypotheses. Click on the link to learn

Historical Thinking!

What is historical thinking? Why does it matter?

"Historical thinking matters. Not only does it matter, it needs to be learned."
"Boring names, facts, dates - this is history for a lot of people. But historians think about history differently. They see themselves as detectives, often unsure about what happened, what it means, and rarely able to agree amongst themselves. This process of trying to figure out things you don't already know is as different from mindless memorization as you can get."


The Historical Thinking Matters team provides a "framework that teaches students to read documents like historians. Using these 'habits of mind,' they will be able to interrogate historical sources and use them to form reasoned conclusions about the past. Equally important, they will become critical users of the vast historical archives on the web."
View the FLASH movie Why Historical Thinking Matters where
professor Sam Wineburg of Stanford University discusses how historians investigate what happened in the past.

Look at these Historical Thinking Benchmarks from the American Historical Association, in particular items 1, 2, 5, 6, 10 in their lists -- these are double starred and on pages 4-7 and 4-8 in your Project notebook. How can you incorporate these forms of historical thinking into your learning about history and lesson?

For another view, see the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA's "Standards in Historical Thinking" website. It gives an overview and detailed information about the definition and application of each of their historical standards.

Now you've got a model of an effective lesson and goals for your students...

How do we help our students achieve historical thinking through inquiry?

Through Backwards Planning and...

Backward design begins with the end in mind:
What enduring understandings do I want my students to develop?
How will my students demonstrate their understanding when the unit is completed?
How will I ensure that students have the skills and understand the concepts required on the summative assessment?

These are the kinds of questions that teachers pose at the earliest stages of the backward design planning process. By beginning with the end in mind, teachers are able to avoid the common pitfall of planning forward from activity to activity, only to find that some students are prepared for the final assessment while others are not. Using backward design, teaching for understanding, and requiring students to apply and demonstrate their learning are not new concepts. Many of the best teachers have been using this approach, even if they didn't have a name for it. The resources on the linked web pages below attempt to explain the backward design planning process and show how it can be used to design thematic, multi-genre units that promote enduring understanding.

...With Clear Standards and Assessment!

Take a look at the Common Core State Standards for Reading and Writing in History and Social Studies.

What do you notice?
How can your students achieve these standards?

Take a look at the Massachusetts State Curriculum Frameworks
and explore what the Mass DESE has for sample lessons and explanations of the Common Core.

What do you notice?
How can your students achieve these standards?

Select one of the Common Core standards and one of the Mass Frameworks for History.
What lesson could you craft that would meet these standards?

Before you write the lesson, write a two-item rubric that addresses each of these standards.

Rubrics are assessment tools that identify criteria by which student processes, performances, or products will be assessed. They also describe the qualities of work at various levels of proficiency for each criterion. Think of them answering the question, "What will be the demonstrations of understanding?" In other words, "What are the end goals of the lesson? How will we know what the students know?"

Rubrics are helpful in that they identify, in advance, the learning goals. Giving students the rubric at the beginning of the unit or lesson helps these learners to identify the learning goals and to see examples of performance. The standards contained in the rubric serve as models for the students and enhance understanding.

Rubrics have the power to guide our instructional choices as we design learning experiences in lessons. They are different from checklists and rating scales.
  • Checklists are lists of criteria that do not distinguish among levels of performance. They are used to assess the presence or absence of certain behaviors, and are most suitable for assessing processes (for example, “Did the student perform all the necessary steps?”). Because they require “Yes/No” judgments from the assessor, checklists are easy for students to use in peer assessment.
  • Rating scales ask assessors to rate various elements of a process, performance, or product on a numerical scale. They do not provide complete descriptions of performance at various levels.

A sample rubric table with one assessment item (for a lesson about using rubrics in evaluation) would look like this:
Students will be able to....
Use rubrics in evaluation
Fully complete all columns of the rubric;
Coordinate tasks in lesson to
descriptions of the task and
descriptions of performance.
Lists all performance tasks in
Fills in all columns.
Lists several tasks but
not all in the lesson;
briefly describes levels
of performance.
Fills in some columns.

Lists several tasks but
not all in the lesson;
does not describe all
levels of performance.
or no

Would you like to type directly into the PDF? Download and open this version of the PDF.
You can save your rubric using Adobe Reader 8 or higher. (Reader is free)
Fillable PDF rubric. Save text using Adobe Reader.

[242 KB]

MS WORD version

Rubrics help the design of lessons. Click here for more explanation and links to examples of rubrics. See below for more!

What's Good for a Lesson?

Primary Sources!

Every great history lesson works with the "stuff" of history!

Primary Sources are the "stuff" of history.
This could be copies of paper documents, or it could be other resources, such as material objects or digitized interviews.
Learn more by reading this description of primary sources.

Consider this graphic as a summary of primary source types. What could you add to it?

Look around you -- where can you find primary sources?

Here are some places to consider for finding documents, especially digitized sources.

If you desire to conduct more research, look at this page to get helpful hints about the process .

Use this worksheet (below) to help you build inquiry-based learning and primary source documents into your lesson planning.
Inquiry-Based Learning and DBQ Worksheet

Brainstorming Your Own Ideas

What must you consider?

Tasks and Roles

First recall what the essential understandings (learning goals) of your lesson. Then consider how you want your students to engage with the essential questions and primary source materials to reach that goal.

One way is to use the Understanding by Design (UbD) approach to create a Performance Task Scenario. Click here to see a list of questions that will help guide your thinking. The goal is to create an authentic task that will create an active role for the learners.

Also, WebQuest Taskonomy: A Taxonomy of Tasks provides ideas on how to engage your students with different types of performance tasks.

Review the sample lessons you examined -- what were their tasks and roles?

See if you can brainstorm additional examples of performance tasks and roles.

Primary Source Use

One you have decided on a task and role for the learner, think again about how to incorporate your primary sources into your lesson.

Ideas for incorporating primary sources into four phases of instruction: focus, inquiry, application, and assessment can be found at American Memory’s Learning Page
The Library of Congress also has a web site called DocsTeach that has ready to use tools for teaching with primary source documents in the classroom. Try looking at the documents and activities for their lesson "Immigration Challenges for New Americans."
The National Archives has lessons related to The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900) and The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930) sure to look at the teaching activities.
Using Primary Sources in the Classroom provides some examples of activities. It was compiled from the National Digital Library's Educators' Forum held in July, 1995 and from the Library staff. Educators at the Forum, like many throughout the country, know that history comes alive for students who are plugged into primary sources.


Finally: Brainstorm!

Use this worksheet to help you compose your lesson ideas:

Now that you have developed your own plan for your lesson, it's time to write!

Lesson Writing

There are two sides to every lesson: Student and Teacher.
The student-side of the lesson is what your students experience in your classroom.
Think carefully about this experience. What essential understandings should your students have gained at the end of the lesson?

Start from this end goal, determine what the nature of the student inquiry should be, gather your documents....

It's time to write!

For information on the student-side of the lesson, go to the Student Side Lesson Workshop.

For information of the teacher-side of the lesson, go to the Teacher Side Lesson Workshop .

Use the template forms provided to create a draft of your lesson.

As you write your lesson, be sure to include both links to your digital primary sources and citation information.

As directed by the History Department Chair, submit your final lesson in either hard-copy or as a Wiki page.

Feedback and Follow Up

Let us know what you think!
Complete this survey -- thanks!

When you get together again, enjoy sharing your lessons!

Additional Resources

Visit the following links to learn more.

Inquiry Method

Backward Design Process

Historical Thinking