Battle Ground School District looks to the future of history education

Feb. 17, 2023

This is the second in a series of stories about curriculum adoptions happening this year for English language arts, social studies and social-emotional learning. Information about the adoption process is available on the district website.

Karen Steward

Amboy Middle School teacher Karen Steward

American history did not end in the Reagan or Clinton presidential administrations, but most of the middle school textbooks in use throughout Battle Ground Public Schools do. This year, educators, community members and administrators have been hard at work selecting new middle school social studies curricula, not only to bring materials up to the current day, but to make use of emerging technologies and educational concepts that help to keep students engaged and make history come alive.

“History doesn’t have the same kind of state testing and so, a lot of times, it kind of comes last,” said Beth Doughty who teaches seventh and eighth grade history for the Aspire (highly gifted) program at Chief Umtuch Middle School. “But really, history connects a lot of core subjects.”

The process of adopting a new curriculum begins long before students ever get their hands on a workbook. Battle Ground Public Schools brought together a committee to examine a wide range of options before settling on four to move ahead to the current piloting stage. The process also includes opportunities for community feedback and examination of proposed curricula.

“It’s very cooperative. It’s very much driven by analysis and independent opinions, then coming to a consensus,” said Dan Hill, a software engineer and Battle Ground High School parent who served on the social studies curriculum committee. “It’s been a very enlightening process.”

“I’m really glad that we included community members,” added Doughty. “ We need to build trust in the community.”

“The fifth through eighth grade teachers are sitting at the same table as the community members,” Hill said. “The district was intentional about letting the committee do its work and not influencing the conversations. It was also clear they valued our input.”

One of the group’s first actions was putting together a statement of core beliefs to guide them through the selection process. Things like “Students need to be literate in history, geography, civics, economics and social studies skills,” or “Students need to think critically and use evidence-based reasoning to become engaged citizens.”

“We’re trying to help them see themselves within the tendrils of history, both from outside of it and within it,” Doughty said. “See

Chief Umtuch Middle School teacher Beth Doughty

Chief Umtuch Middle School teacher Beth Doughty

that connection to even something that seems really remote and antiquated. It does all connect to them and it’s all coming down to where we are now.”

Selected curricula also needed to provide better accessibility for those with hearing or visual impairments and keep students engaged.

“Unfortunately for a lot of us, our experiences in school were ‘history is boring.’ But there’s so many more ways to get and keep kids interested,” said Karen Steward, a seventh grade history teacher at Amboy Middle School who is on the selection committee. “Some of these programs use a lot of three- or five-minute videos, but they really show a lot of things. You can visit the pyramids and even look inside them. It really gathers the kids’ attention and helps to make history come alive.”

While Steward teaches Washington state history, which is done in seventh grade, and won’t benefit directly from the new materials, she said the resources available should save her a significant amount of prep time. A project such as assigning historical characters to her students as part of a role playing exercise could take hundreds of hours to put together. 

“I might have to look up politicians or generals who were involved and write up their biographies,” Steward said. “Then you have to make sure each one aligns with our standards.”

In addition to seventh and eighth grade history, Doughty also teaches language arts. That adds up to five individual preps each day. “So to have outdated materials, I have had to spend a lot of time creating different lessons,” she said. “So it’s a lot of me going out, spending time gathering resources, which is best practice. But it’s really difficult to do when you have five different preps every day.”

“With these new curricula, our pot of resources has gotten so much larger,” added Steward.

Learning through doing

Dan Hill

Dan Hill is a community member on the Social Studies Curriculum Adoption Committee

A major focus of the new curricula is creating a learning environment that goes beyond rote memorization and gets students to put themselves in the place of different groups throughout history, and not just the victors.

“They have a definite focus on tangible and tactile learning, like here’s pictures of Rome and here’s a map that shows the kind of journeys that people took,” Hill said. “How would you make ends meet if you were a pilgrim that just landed at Jamestown? How would you make sure that your family didn’t starve to death?”

“We tried to make sure it has project-based learning too,” Doughty said. “So it’s not just read, answer the question, read, answer the question, but it’s going to have that component to call them to do other things.”

New textbooks feature bright colors and eye-catching visuals, but there are also online components such as videos, interactive historical materials and much more. Doughty said it was important to the group that the curricula also have physical materials, such as textbooks and workbooks, but the online component provides flexibility. The software also is compatible with Google Classroom, making it easier to track assignments and follow up with students who may be struggling.

“This makes things much more flexible so if a student is out of the classroom for a couple of days, we have the ability to make sure they’re kept up to speed,” said Doughty. “It really helps to meet the needs of the students and close some of those opportunity gaps we saw during the pandemic.”

Generating excitement for learning

The teachers who are involved in the pilot for the various curricula that made it through the initial selection process say it has given them a renewed sense of excitement for their chosen subject.

“I think history is the best subject because it’s people telling their own stories,” Steward said. “This was their experience based on

Karen Steward and students

Amboy Middle School teacher Karen Steward cheers on students in her seventh grade history class

their culture, based on their particular spot in history, because no two people are going to have the same experience.”

Doughty said she’s excited for the opportunity to create what they call “vertical alignment,” where students moving from one grade to the next won’t have to build an entirely new understanding of the subject matter. “It helps to make sure that we are using the same common language and same common themes to build that up and really make these kids historical thinkers and civically engaged citizens.”

For his part, Hill said he came away from the review process optimistic about the kind of education his own child was getting and what future generations would experience. “To see the quality of our teachers here in the school district gives me a lot of good feelings about this,” he said, “and then their excitement for the way that they’re going to teach it.”

Next steps

When these pilots are completed this spring, further community feedback will be accepted before Battle Ground Public Schools’ board of directors votes to adopt the curriculum in spring 2023.


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