1 Boston University School of Education (UNITED STATES)
2 Seed Education Consulting (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2010 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Pages: 2713-2720
ISBN: 978-84-614-2439-9
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 3rd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 15-17 November, 2010
Location: Madrid, Spain
As history teachers attempt to engender historical thinking in their students, most studies and every state curriculum recommend partnering with historic sites to help students “learn about history.” However, there is a widespread perception among teachers and professors that historic sites are solely for enrichment, not education.

Since 2001, the U.S. Department of Education has sponsored its most ambitious attempt to improve history education in a generation: Teaching American History (TAH) grants. These multi-million dollar grants require partnerships between schools, universities, historians, and historic sites, lending new urgency to understanding the educational role of historic sites.

When historians are called upon to teach teachers at historic sites, their methods remain limited largely to lectures; they miss the opportunity to show teachers how they, as historians, might use the documents, objects, or buildings found at said historic sites. It seems that no one engaged in these grants—not the school systems, not the historians, or even the historic sites themselves—has yet determined how to effectively utilize historic sites to achieve the stated aims of improving history education.

This session will present the results of Dr. Baron’s award-winning research on how historic sites can be used to encourage historical understanding and the differences between how teachers and historians view historic sites as spaces for learning.

Her findings are the synthesis of two consecutive studies. The first followed historians through the Old North Church, Boston, in a replication of Wineburg’s 1991 landmark study articulating the heuristics for historical thinking using documentary and pictorial evidence, to determine what constituted historical thinking at historic sites. The outcome of that study was a framework for assessing historical thinking at historic sites.

In the second study, Dr. Baron followed 15 grade 5-12 history teachers through think-aloud tours of two historic sites in Boston, one, the Old South Meeting House, with little prior preparation and the other, the Old North Church, with intensive preparation and assessed these encounters for instances of historical thinking against the aforementioned framework . What emerged from these studies was a clearer picture of the stark differences in how teachers and historians encounter historic sites, the domains of knowledge upon which they draw, as well as the places where their expertise overlap.

This session with layout the differences between the historians and teachers, co-equal professional groups using the same materials for different purposes. It is clear from their tours of both sites, that the teachers are no less experts than the historians, just in an entirely different domain, and appropriately, draw upon the domain in which their expertise is situated. Better understanding the distinction between these two groups of experts is critical for understanding how to facilitate programs and conversations that recognize and draw upon the strengths of both groups and that will lead to the improvement of history education in the classroom.