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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 24, 2003

Photo: Elise Fillpot, a Ph.D. student in the UI College of Education's Policy and Leadership Studies program. Click here for a high-resolution version of the image.

UI Education Graduate Student Nets $938,860 History Grant

If University of Iowa graduate student Elise Fillpot has her way, lack of awareness about history may soon be a thing of the past in Iowa K-6 classrooms.

Fillpot, a Ph.D. student in the UI College of Education's Policy and Leadership Studies program, has secured a $938,860 U.S. Department of Education Teaching American History grant to continue and expand upon the "Bringing History Home" project she launched in 2001 to improve the way history is taught in elementary schools. It is one of the largest grants ever secured by a graduate student in the college and comes just two years after Fillpot won an initial $701,133 grant from the same source.

The new project, titled "Bringing History Home II," extends the pilot program -- now in the final year of its three-year grant period -- from Washington Community School District to three other Iowa districts.

Partners for the new grant are the UI Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Education's Center for Evaluation and Assessment, faculty from the University of Northern Iowa, St. Ambrose College and the Purdue University-Fort Wayne, Iowa Public Television, the Hometown Perry Iowa Museum and the school districts of Perry, Maquoketa and Creston. In addition, the UI College of Education's Grant and Research Services Center played a major role in helping Fillpot secure funding for the Bringing History Home projects.

Under the current project, Fillpot has been working with teachers and administrators in the Washington Community School District to create a professional and curriculum development project for kindergarten through sixth grades.

The project seeks to connect children with the concept and excitement of historical inquiry, in part by developing a curriculum with far more hands-on activities and greater opportunities for students to discover history themselves -- a departure from the rote memorization of important names, dates, events and places people often associate with studying history. It has sought also to incorporate into lesson plans information about the contributions to U.S. history by disadvantaged and minority groups.

Fillpot said that in most K-6 classrooms, lessons about history are often diluted in social studies classes and based on holidays, such as Independence Day and Thanksgiving.

"The goal of this project is to build history skills in children the same way we build math and reading skills, incrementally, from grade to grade," Fillpot said. "Students study historic photos and documents, build timelines and -- in the case of younger students -- do mind-mapping, expressing in symbol pictures what they've learned. Then they create final projects that roll in all of the data they've gathered."

For example, Fillpot said, kindergarten students study the history of themselves: where they live, how they have changed over time, who their families/caregivers are, and other information they can grasp. They then learn about children their age who lived 100 or 150 years ago, how they brushed their teeth, what toys they played with and how they got around in the absence of cars.

In first grade, students examine history in terms of their previous grade, using documents from school, and then study the history of the community in which they live. In second grade, studies expand to include immigration and environmental history; in third grade, the history of segregation and industrialization are examined; in fourth, the Progressive Era and the Great Depression; in fifth, World War II and Native Americans; and in sixth, pre-history methods and women's biography.

Fillpot's goal is to offer participating teachers considerable freedom in modifying lesson plans for their classes and to encourage them to bring into the mix other topics relevant to the study of history, including math, archaeology, anthropology, botany and geography. Students are also encouraged to think creatively, considering not just the written word but multimedia such as video when working on assignments.

Fillpot said the Washington School District has made great strides over the past two years under the pilot project.

"The program's been just incredible there," she said. "The teachers did such a fabulous job of implementation. I can't say enough about their commitment and talent. They're enthusiastic, positive and eager to incorporate their own adaptations and classroom experiences into personalizing the curriculum. It's really been fun."

Under the expanded project, Fillpot said, many of the teachers at Washington will serve as mentors for teachers in the other schools. To help prepare the new teachers for the innovative curriculum, Fillpot will offer a two-summer sequence of professional development workshops, as she did for Washington teachers the past two summers.

Assisting Fillpot in the endeavor is a 38-year veteran of the Cedar Rapids School District, James Tursi, who taught history, economics and geography before retiring.

Faculty from other colleges, all elementary education specialists, are reviewing the new curriculum to make sure it complies with national social studies and history standards and attending the teacher workshops to offer their own insights.

"Our ultimate goal is to create an incubator here in Iowa for elementary history education," Fillpot said, "If we can build up a critical mass and continue to get good results, our efforts may keep spreading throughout Iowa and across the country."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACT: Media: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007, stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu.