The BHH Process for Young Historians
Carpentry and history. What do they have in common? Quite a bit, as it turns out. When carpenters learn their trade, they first become familiar with the necessary tools, such as measuring tapes, hammers, screwdrivers, lathes, saws, sanders, drills, etc. Once they have begun using the tools, the carpenters’ focus shifts to design and construction. As their skill grows, they can successfully complete increasingly difficult projects. But if a carpenter didn’t learn to use his/her tools, s/he would have no way to turn raw materials such as wood, nails, and wood stain into finished products.
When students start learning history, they are much like an apprentice carpenter; they must first learn to use the tools of the trade. As they build proficiency with their tools, students can design and construct increasingly sophisticated history stories or narratives. Much like a woodshop holds a carpenter’s tools, the Bringing History Home curriculum centers on five processes, or tools, for studying history:
- Read historical accounts (fiction and nonfiction) for context
- Construct timelines of historic events
- Analyze original sources (written and visual documents)
- Map historic events
- Synthesize sources to construct history accounts
Because children need ongoing experience with history methods to become comfortable and proficient with them, each BHH unit engages students with all the processes. As students make their way through the grade levels, they learn to use their collection of history tools at increasing levels of sophistication.
A carpenter can check his/her progress against a blueprint. To help teachers assess their students’ progress learning history, each BHH activity or lesson plan includes process and content goals. The goals also essentially provide a shorthand description of what and how the children may learn in each activity. For example, in Kindergarten’s History of Me unit, the content goal for Activity 10 is: “Students are introduced to chronological time in their own lives.” This is paired with the process goal: “ Students learn to place events from their own lives in order of occurrence on a timeline.” What will students learn about? Chronological time. How will they learn? Through a timeline visual based on their own lives.
In another example, in the fourth grade unit The Great Depression, one of the content goals for Activity 3 is: “Students learn what housing and clothing looked like for many people during this time period.” And this is paired with the process goal: “Students learn information about the same historic topic may be found in different types of sources. In this case, students identify Depression hardships that appear in both letters and photos.” What will students learn? About the poor condition of housing and clothes for many people in the Depression era. How will they learn? By analyzing photos and letters of the time. (For information on recurring content themes in the BHH curriculum, please see the introductory materials on that topic.)
When a school district adopts the BHH curriculum, it empowers students both to learn history during the elementary grades and to study history more meaningfully in subsequent junior high and high school years. The repetition of historic processes in every grade creates in students the confidence and skills to “build” history throughout their lives.
Various dimensions of the Bringing History Home project are in publication or in draft for publication. A description of the curriculum's adoption and adaptation by teachers is a chapter in The Teaching American History Project: Lessons for Teachers and Historians. A description of the curriculum design, situated in the literature of history education, appeared in the The History Teacher, in May 2009.
Fillpot, E. (2009). "History in every classroom: Setting a K-5 precedent". In The teaching american history project: Lessons for teachers and historians, Eds. Ragland, R. & Woestman, K. New York: Routledge Press.
Fillpot, E. (2009). "Bringing History Home: A K-5 curriculum design", The history teacher. The Society for History Education, vol.42, n.3, California State University, Long Beach
View and Download Curriculum
Bringing History Home is now in all K-5 classrooms in the Cedar Rapids CSD and Prairie College Community
Dr. Catherine Denial of Knox College has been the BHH lead historian since the project began nine years ago.