Education, not indoctrination...

A student-centered project-based approach integrating United States History and American Government into a single course.

Photo of Shawn Dougherty
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Education, not indoctrination:

De-myth-tifying Our History and Government

Seeking education rather than indoctrination, this student-centered project-based approach integrates the teaching of United States History and American Government into a single course taught over five semesters comprising a student’s Junior and Senior years.  The centerpiece of the program is the class' collaborative contribution to (a yet to be fully realized hub) as well as each student's independent project that would take place during the third (summer) semester of the course.

As envisioned, would be a collaborative on-line (project/community/resource/host) where high school classes across the country and political/cultural divide would seek to develop a deeper understanding of U.S. History and American Government through their collaborative research, writing, design, and publishing of a virtual-textbook.

The classroom itself would be organized more like a journalism course than a more traditional History or Civics layout.  For each unit of study, the students, placed into teams of four, would be assigned the task of collaboratively researching, writing, designing, and publishing their responses to a series of "essential questions." Following each class, all student will be required to complete a brief Google Form reporting their progress and assessing both their team's as well as their own collaborative efforts.  At the conclusion of each unit, in order to encourage and ensure the teams have been working collaboratively, each student will be required to take, an in-class, timed, formative writing assessment based on one of the essential questions sourced from the questions assigned to their particular team.

At the beginning of each unit of study, the collaborative teams are shuffled. Intentionally done, to both expose students to different group dynamics and to provide them with the opportunity to experience their own bias by adjusting the group dynamics of their team, this process is the at heart of this approach.  With each rotation of the project, as the students become more conscious of themselves and how they function in a collaborative effort, the teams have tended to evolve.  Better able to identify and source material, perceive bias and both cooperate and collaborate within the shifting dynamics of their groups, the students experience how history is agreed upon and how our government was intended to function.   

How this program could scale up to meet this lofty goal is yet unclear.  What I am confident in is this program's potential to build greater understanding and encourage dialogue across the cultural divisions that threaten our union.  In the Information Age, our students and fellow citizens must learn to discern fact from fabrication, to question sources, to perceive bias and, to hold our government accountable.  It is an old adage that “every nation gets the government it deserves” and, writing this in the wake of what has been perhaps the most shocking presidential elections in our nation’s history, I fear it might be true.

Yet, I remain hopeful.  Our government, like this program, is intended to be a reflection of who we are; as a nation, a state, and for the purposes of this sentence, a classroom or school.  It is my hope that moving forward, our nation, with a greater appreciation of who “We the People” actually are, can face our future with greater awareness and more unified understanding of our history, our government and, the quintessential diversity of our American Culture.

I thank you for this opportunity and look forward to working with the Teachers Guild and their partners in the further development of this program.

Here is working Google Doc on the project,  I would appreciate any suggestions or insights you may have to offer, Thanks...

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A graphic novel of Nat Turner's rebellion contributed during the 2015 pilot...


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Photo of Donna Teuber

Shawn! Great idea! You've managed to take two mandatory high school courses that are often dreaded and turn them into an amazing, relevant, engaging course! I noticed that you're currently running a beta version of the course this year. What outcomes have you seen so far? Can you share the link to your course? I would love to see you develop this idea on the Guild for other teachers to use. Please reach out if you have questions about next steps. 

Photo of Shawn Dougherty

Thanks for the feedback.  I ran a pilot (offline) during the 4th quarter of last year.  This year, I'm running the project (linked below) with five classes.  In the first go-round, as expected, buy in has been slow. Having little to no experience working collaboratively the students have been substituting cooperation, attempting to divide and conquer their projects.  The transition from the first to the second unit will be taking place next week.  Any feedback or insight is welcome.

Photo of Donna Teuber

Powerful content! Thank you for sharing the link to your site. I love that you're building this out and iterating as needed. I also like how you're pushing students to actively collaborate and not just cooperate. This is what civic engagement is all about. It takes time to build that collaboration because many of our students have been in traditional classes where learning the facts and taking the test is a priority. I feel sure that you will build this culture as the year progresses.

Photo of Maggie Favretti

Shawn, I'd love to talk more about this idea.  Fantastic!  I have had kids do this for parts of the course, but never whole hog.  I'm a fan of building collaboration through activities and skills and assignments that force it...the spaghetti-marshmallow challenge, the analogy to sports or dramatic productions, co-creation of a poem or historical fiction Letters project--co-creation.  Anyway, what I like best about your idea is the empowerment that comes from students realizing that they are historians, too.

Photo of Shawn Dougherty

Thanks for the encouragement.  The biggest challenge I've faced so far is getting my students to distinguish between cooperation and collaboration.  I'm hoping they will have more success in the next round...

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