UT and ETHS Help Teachers Hone History Skills

KNOXVILLE –- By visiting Tipton-Haynes Historic Site, Rocky Mount interpretive center, Sycamore Shoals and Jonesborough, 15 teachers from across East Tennessee will get hands-on history lessons this week, thanks to the University of Tennessee history department and the East Tennessee Historical Society (ETHS).

The five-day institute is funded by a U.S. Department of Education Teaching American History grant awarded to UT and ETHS to train teachers from Blount, Bradley, Loudon, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties, as well as Lenoir City and Sweetwater. The partnership recently learned it has received another $996,963 grant to fund three more years of history training for area teachers.

“We are making a difference in the way history is being taught in rural East Tennessee schools,” said Todd Diacon, head of UT’s history department.

The theme of this week’s institute is Revolution and the New Nation. Teachers meet Monday in Knoxville and then travel to Tipton Haynes Historic Site in Johnson City, where 11 buildings tell a story of Tennessee’s history from early settlement to the Civil War era. On Tuesday, they’ll travel to Rocky Mount, once capital of the Southwest Territory, and to Elizabethton to visit Sycamore Shoals, the first permanent settlement outside the original 13 colonies. On Wednesday, they’ll visit Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee.
UT Professor Emeritus W. Bruce Wheeler will lead several sessions.

Lisa Oakley, ETHS curator of education, said programs funded by the grant “provide content-rich professional development for fourth-, fifth- and eighth-grade social studies teachers and high school U.S. history teachers.”

Teachers attend free and receive stipends. Grant money also buys books to help participating teachers build history libraries in their schools. It also provides the means for teachers to encourage their students to participate in the National History Day competition.

The U.S. Department of Education reports “history is one of the core academic subjects under the No Child Left Behind Act; however the National Assessment of Educational Progress … commonly known as the ‘Nation’s Report Card,’ shows that less than one-quarter of America’s students in grades 4, 8 and 12 are proficient in American history.”

To improve student achievement, the department created the Teaching American History grant program to “immerse history teachers in American history content and research-based teaching strategies, to help them engage and instruct students more effectively.”

Teachers can earn in-service credits for attending the programs; some earn graduate credit hours in history.

Oakley said the programs are set up to help school districts continue the training in-house.

“After three years, the school districts will be able to continue providing content-rich professional development to all their social studies teachers through the resources this grant has provided, and through the master and mentor teachers in their districts who have been trained through this grant program.”

This fall, when the new grant commences, five-day institutes will be replaced by one-day institutes and two- and three-day workshops to allow more teachers to attend. Some meetings will immerse teachers in history topics; others will pull in education experts to coach teachers on how they can best teach history topics to students in different grade levels.

Nationwide, 124 Teaching American History grants totaling more than $118 million were awarded this year.

Locally, ETHS is project director while UT’s history department is academic director. UT Special Collections Library and the Knox County Public Library’s Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection also are involved.

Contacts:

Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu
Todd Diacon, (865) 974-5421, tdiacon@utk.edu
Lisa Oakley, (865) 215-8828, oakley@east-tennessee-history.org