American History Handbook for Teachers and Mentors
Why this book?
American history must play a central role in the curriculum. Our way of life is dynamic, and change is part of the fabric of life. Sense must be made of significant technological, demographic, economic, political, and social transformations, and no subject or discipline other than history can provide that sense. Social stability requires that it be a deliberate focus of study.
But there's a problem. American history as it's usually taught inundates learners with information far beyond their ability to cope. No "master" system of organizing ideas helps them grasp the "big picture," and the passive read-and-remember role they're forced to play ensures that most will see the course as irrelevant, unimportant, and boring.
Most attempts to improve historical study have relied on the potential of a good story to "make the past come alive." We advocate a different approach: "Make the learner come alive." The activities in the American History Handbook are active, engaging, and intellectually stimulating. Its "Investigations" focus on unusual primary sources, and provide systemically integrated concepts that give students a master information organizer they'll find useful for the rest of their lives.
As its name implies, the Handbook is not just a course of study. It provides a rationale, procedures, and student materials to transform students into active learners, and gives them the conceptual tools to analyze historical change. Materials are suitable for adolescents and above. It may be used to augment the standard American history course, or as the framework for a complete course. It is FREE--no strings attached. Download links are at the bottom of this page.
Three assumptions shaped this Handbook:
Learning, permanently useful learning, requires learners to be active problem-solvers rather than mere passive receptors of information. This happens when they confront situations, problems, and puzzles requiring them not merely to remember, but to hypothesize, generalize, synthesize, make value judgments, and so on.
The real world is “all of a piece”—connected, seamless, and systemically integrated. People, environments, and ways of thinking and acting are woven together in complex ways. It isn’t knowledge of facts about these four, but of the relationships between them, that provide the most insight.
In the real world, what happens is too complicated to be captured simply by linking events chronologically. Making sense of complexity requires a comprehensive, logical system for selecting, organizing, relating and generating information, and accessing it in memory.
We’re so convinced of the importance of these three assumptions, they’re the “macro” organizers of this Handbook. Again, it's FREE.
Note: This "bottom up" approach to curriculum reform is obviously an unusual undertaking, one that can profit from extensive, on-going dialog. If you like what you see and decide to use it, your participation in an interactive, supportive, on-line community to explore improvements, discuss learner reactions, and offer additional or alternative activities, is invited.
To facilitate dialog, the "Discussions" box in the right column of this page provides links to pages for participant's comments about the overall program and each individual activity.