Phyllis Cohen Stevens
Deputy Director of News Services
"INVENTING THE PEOPLE” BRINGS AMERICAN HISTORY
TO LIFE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS AND STUDENTS
-- Thanks to $2 Million in New Federal Grants, Queens College is Training
History Teachers In Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn –
Flushing, N.Y., September 22, 2006 – How many of us ever heard of the Battle of Golden Hill, an encounter that took place in New York City on January 19, 1770 and precipitated the American Revolution six weeks before the Boston Massacre?
The students who take American History with Avram Barlowe at the Urban Academy, an alternative school in Manhattan, certainly know about it, thanks to $2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education for two new programs that began this fall.
Barlowe, who has been teaching high school history for 25 years, is also the project director for one of the two programs, “Inventing the People,” a collaboration between the New York City Department of Education and Queens College. The college will oversee and evaluate the program for 7-12th grade teachers.
For Barlowe and about 60 elementary and secondary education teachers, the focus is on innovative teaching methods. The funding provides access to archival materials such as 18th and 19th century journals and primers; interactive Web tools; presentations and workshops by noted historians and educators; and other classroom aids and activities that challenge students and make American history come alive.
“When I take students on walking tours through downtown New York and visit the sites where pre-revolutionary events like the Golden Hill battle took place, seemingly obscure and irrelevant occurrences become more vivid and real,” says Barlowe. “By digging into primary source documents, where colonists talk about their struggles for jobs, economic hardship and military occupation, students can better relate to and understand these issues, which ultimately makes the study of history more meaningful.”
Adds David Gerwin, an education professor at Queens College: “Textbooks only offer bare-bones summaries of events, but don’t address why the events happened--which could explain historians’ distrust of them. ‘Inventing the People’ encourages students to broaden their perspectives and learn history by going beyond the memorization of facts to think, explore and inquire.”
The second program, “Learning History Together: The Content, Documents and Artifacts of U.S. History for the Elementary Grades,” is a partnership among Queens College, the New York and Brooklyn Historical Societies, and low-performing elementary schools in Region 4, which encompasses Middle Village, Ozone Park, Long Island City and Maspeth in Queens, and Bushwick and East New York in Brooklyn.
Queens College is helping design lesson plans, training materials, teaching activities and strategies for the classroom that directly relate to the state’s required curriculum. The elementary school teachers will deepen their knowledge of American history by participating in four sessions a year on specific historical topics and summer retreats led by Queens College faculty and historians.
“With all the emphasis and funding funneled into improving literacy and math skills, social studies – particularly professional development – often gets pushed aside,” says Beverly (Lee) Milner Bisland, a Queens College education professor and this project’s director.
“Very few elementary school teachers have a deep knowledge of history, which makes this first-time grant at that teaching level all the more important. The benefits to the teachers, and ultimately their students, are direct, substantial and long-lasting.”