The Art of Teaching History: A Global Conversation for Secondary Educators

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Course Date: 22 September 2014 to 03 November 2014 (6 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

This class provides secondary history teachers with practical guidelines for developing and delivering a history curriculum that will engage students and make history a relevant and vital subject.

Estimated Workload: 2-3 hours/week

Course Instructors

James Smith

 Jim Smith is a former high school history teacher with thirty years of classroom experience who now works as an education consultant, writer, and part-time teacher in lifelong learning programs.

As an education consultant, Jim has made presentations to teachers throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and Asia. His presentations provide opportunities for history teachers to develop strategies for helping students learn to think analytically and historically. He also makes presentations on how to teach writing, as well as how to teach a variety of topics in U.S. history. During the time Jim is not consulting or writing, he teaches community education classes on music history.

Jim has published articles and book reviews in The Journal of Southern History, Phi Delta Kappan, AP Central, Historical Times, and Healthy U. He has also published a biography of a Methodist minister in New Mexico titled Skipper Hall, and he is the author of an American history textbook titled Ideas That Shape a Nation, a book that has been endorsed by teachers and scholars throughout the nation, including two Pulitzer Prize-winning historians. His book about Billy the Kid, titled Catherines Son, was named a finalist in the category of historical fiction for the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.  

Jim has a bachelor’s degree in secondary education (history and music) and two master’s degrees (history and government). He has been a recipient of the James Madison Fellowship, the Christa McAuliffe Fellowship, and a two-time recipient of the William Robertson Coe Fellowship. The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History has recognized Jim as the U.S. History Teacher of the Year. He has also been recognized as the New Mexico Teacher of the Year and a Finalist for the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

Course Description

A good history class requires more than memorization of laundry lists of information- it requires students to read and write, to ask questions and think analytically, to be curious about the past. Students may be able to live perfectly fulfilled and happy lives unaware of what may seem like trivial historical information, but they cannot thrive in today's information society without the ability to read, write, and think at the highest levels. History, taught well, can help students develop those skills. History can also help students understand the world in which they live and how they fit into that world. What matters most in a history class is not necessarily the specific content the curriculum requires; what matters most is how that content is taught.

This class will lead teachers through an exploration of the importance of studying history and what it means to think historically. Teachers who take the class will learn how to explain the historical process of questioning and analytical thinking, creating rigorous lesson plans that help students develop the skills that will serve them well in any academic discipline.


What must I do to get a statement of accomplishment after completing this class?

Students who successfully meet a minimum of 60 total points will receive a statement of accomplishment signed by the instructor

What must I do to earn a statement of accomplishment with distinction after completing this class? 

Students who successfully meet a minimum of 90 total points will receive a statement of accomplishment with distinction signed by the instructor.

Does this course offer the Signature Track?

Yes,  you have the opportunity to earn a verified certificate through the signature track option.

 What is the coolest thing I will learn in this class?

You will learn how Billy the Kid can teach students to think historically.


The central idea of this course is to bring history teachers together for an international conversation about how to teach history well. Throughout the course, teachers will be asked to participate in the discussion forums. Teachers will be asked to write personal reflections designed to help them clarify their own approach to teaching history and post reflective comments as way to actively engage in the community conversation. At the end of the course teachers will be asked to create an action plan for use in their classrooms.


The course is divided into six modules. Each module is organized around a central topic that will help those who take the course develop their skills as history teachers. The first four modules will be released simultaneously at the beginning of the course. 

  • Setting the Standard
  • Developing and Delivering a History Curriculum
  • Helping Students Learn to Think Like Historians
  • Developing Writing Skills in a History Class
  • Developing an Action Plan for Teaching History
  • Peer Evaluation of the Action Plan
Each module provides video lectures, readingsinterviews with Rice University history professors and reflection questions relevant to the topic of the module. 

Suggested Reading

Although not required, the following books are recommended as supplements to this course:

  • Bruce Lesh, Why Wont You Just Tell Us the Answer?: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12
  • Nikki Mandell and Bobbie Malone, Thinking Like a Historian: Rethinking History Instruction
  • Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teachers Life
  • Peter Sterns, Peter Seixas, and Sam Wineburg, Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History: National and International Perspectives
  • Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past

Course Workload

2-3 hours/week

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