Des Moines Public Schools, ISU receive $1.5 million grant to strengthen history education

AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University history and curriculum and instruction faculty will be working with teachers in the Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) -- the state's largest school district -- over the next five years to make history education more effective through a new $1.5 million Teaching American History grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Iowa State and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History are the primary partners in the grant to Des Moines Public Schools to redesign middle school and high school history instruction. ISU faculty will train approximately 225 teachers to improve their content knowledge, understanding of and appreciation for traditional U.S. history.

Named "Project Clio" after the Greek muse of history, the program's main goal is for teachers to learn new ways to make history more relevant, exciting and engaging for students.

"This is really exciting because it will shorten the distance between teachers and historians," said Mimi Lee, an ISU associate professor of curriculum and instruction, who will be working with the Des Moines teachers. "Obviously, we don't want to make all K-12 students into historians, but we really want them to have some experiences on what history is really about so that they do not think that history is merely a bunch of unrelated facts and dates."

"It is so important that students have a stronger sense of our past as our country moves forward," added Charles Dobbs, professor and chair of history at Iowa State. "This Teaching American History grant with Des Moines Public Schools helps Iowa State demonstrate its commitment to teaching and the understanding of our past."

Both Iowa State and the Lehrman Institute will deliver comprehensive professional development programs to teachers during the five years of the grant. Lee says Iowa State faculty plan to conduct a pair of two-day institutes with teachers starting next summer.

"Teachers will be engaged in historical discussions with Iowa State historians in the morning, and will discuss how they might transfer the knowledge and skills to classrooms in the afternoon," she said. "I will teach them how to use that new historical knowledge in their classrooms."

According to Lee, Iowa State historians will also be leading book study groups with the teachers throughout the academic year. The ISU faculty plan to provide the teachers a greater, enduring understanding of history.

"As a teacher, you are trying to teach all these facts as a unit," Lee said. "Once there's this big, enduring understanding the teacher is trying to focus on, it really anchors the unit."

Des Moines Public Schools reached out to Iowa State as a primary partner in order to fill one of the grant's requirements.

Authors of the Project Clio grant proposal identified an external evaluator. The evaluation will take various forms, including measuring teachers' content knowledge, which was required by the Department of Education.

If successful, the program could become a national model for other school districts.

"That's what the U.S. Department of Education and DMPS is thinking," Lee said. "Dissemination of knowledge will take place in various phases, including conference presentations, journal articles and innovative curriculum."