- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 25, 2006

American history is more than stories of people who lived a long time ago, says Richard McCluney of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The founding ideas of American government are concepts every student should grasp, he says. For that reason, the foundation, a private, nonprofit educational institution that preserves the restored 18th-century capital of Virginia, has created new teaching resources for teachers and students across the country.

Students now can experience the world’s largest living history museum even if they can’t visit it in person, says Mr. McCluney, vice president for educational outreach programs at the foundation.

“We as a nation understand the competitive needs with science and math, and basic skills like literacy,” Mr. McCluney says. “We have lost the understanding that the reason for a public education is to train citizens to help each succeeding generation to be competent in the management of our society, for making intelligent choices. This can best be done with the skills of a historical context.”

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has packaged history using modern technologies — the Internet, interactive television, DVDs and CD-ROMs — in an attempt to reach a larger audience and bring the 18th century to life.

The foundation offers printed lesson plans (www.history.org/teach) and materials for students in kindergarten through grade 12, as well as classroom simulations of items from the era.

Fifteen years ago, none of the new programs would have been possible, says Bill White, director for educational program development at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Digital technology has broadened the educational arms of the organization.

“There will always be a physical place that is Colonial Williamsburg,” Mr. White says. “There is no way to replicate walking through the historical area, but it’s not the only relationship the museum can have with visitors any longer.”

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation recently partnered with textbook publisher Pearson Scott Foresman on several projects, he says.

“We provided materials for the national textbook series,” Mr. White says. “We produced two CD-ROMs for them. We also authored their California textbook submission, which has been adopted in California, and they’ve been selling it to school districts there.”

Giving teachers instructional strategies is one of the main goals of the education programs, says Tab Broyles, director of teacher professional development at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Every summer, the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute hosts a weeklong seminar for 500 teachers from across the country. It offers workshops that offer ideas for the classroom, she says. Participants spend time at Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. Tuition is $1,800. For an additional fee, teachers may apply for three hours of graduate credit.

“Teachers are totally immersed in Early American life,” Ms. Broyles says. “They learn content that meets state learning standards, but they learn it in an active, engaging and exciting manner.”

For instance, teachers can participate in a court trial, debate a resolution for independence, or take the role of a patriot or loyalist. The organization encourages teachers to purchase primary sources. Instead of simply reading from a textbook, using copies of original documents, such as a letter or newspaper article from the era, can be memorable.

For those teachers who are unable to attend the summer program, the organization hosts Teaching American History Conferences from September through April at school districts across the country. So far workshops are scheduled in California, Wisconsin, Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Video conferences also are available for teachers, Ms. Broyles says. It is as if teachers are at Colonial Williamsburg, but the seminar is done virtually, she says.

One year, the organization focused on primary sources and biographies, examining diaries, letters, paintings, personal possessions, furniture, court records and county records, such as wills and inventories.

Last year, the association reached a total of 1,300 teachers, each with at least 30 students per year, she says. A middle school or high school teacher might teach 120 students per year.

“The whole reason behind what we are doing is students need to know their history to grow up and be actively participating citizens,” Ms. Broyles says. “They need to know the events from the past that shaped who we are as Americans.”

Teachers are not the only ones who can travel virtually, says Frances Burroughs, director of operations of educational programs at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The organization offers electronic field trips once a month from October to April for fourth through eighth graders.

Classrooms can view the programs through streaming video or real-time broadcasting over the Internet, or an open broadcast to PBS or cable stations. The series costs $500, or $120 for individual programs per school.

The topics include the battle of Yorktown, mapmaking, consumerism, freedom of the press, the slave trade, technological revolution and Jamestown. There is a live, toll-free call-in for students during the broadcasts, when they can ask questions.

“It allows students to go a lot of different places that they might not have time to go, or could afford to go,” Ms. Burroughs says.

If students can debate, create or present something in regards to history, they are more likely to retain the information, says Jodi Norman, educational materials editor in the department of education outreach at the foundation.

The educational materials from the organization give teachers more options, she says.

“The more variety a teacher can put in the classroom, the better,” Ms. Norman says. “We want to make the teachers heroes to the kids. The best way to do that is to make their job as easy and interesting as possible.”

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