New Online Courses Aid Virginia Teachers in Recertification
By Tara Laskowski
Just as K-12 teachers want to engage their students in fun, interactive lessons in the classroom, so, too, do teachers want to take fun and interesting courses to stay on their toes.
Every five years, Virginia state teachers are required to earn 180 credits to renew their license to teach in the state. Through a partnership with the Virginia Department of Education, Mason’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media has developed two history courses for teachers that are not only fun and interesting, they are also convenient.
Hidden in Plain Sight is an asynchronous online course that teachers can take to boost their history knowledge and analysis.
“The course is structured around everyday objects that most people overlook,” says Kelly Schrum, director of educational projects at the center and an associate professor in Mason’s Higher Education Program. “But when you really take a look at each item, it can tell a much deeper story about history, culture, business, or science.”
Teachers may look at a mundane object such as a nail used to build houses, which once was such a valuable commodity that Virginia enacted a law in 1646 making it illegal to burn down your house to recover the nails. Tracing such an object can show the progression of industrialization and teach us about culture and societal values.
According to the course description, “Objects that may seem plain or unremarkable on the surface can teach us a great deal about the past—about how people lived as well as about their values, aspirations, and conflicts. The first American flag is obviously special, but we can learn as much, or more, about the way American colonists lived in this time by looking at the everyday cooking implements that filled the average colonial kitchen.”
“We really pushed ourselves to make the course interesting,” says Schrum. “There is a wide range of people taking this class—from teachers who majored in history in college to those who may never have taken a college- or graduate-level history class. We wanted to engage everyone.”
The center didn’t stop there. They also created a Virginia Studies site specifically on Virginia history and government that would help teachers develop knowledge in that area. Since Virginia history is a major component of the fourth-grade standards of learning in the state, it is essential for teachers of fourth grade—and of all grades—to know it well.
The two courses went live last year, and more than 200 teachers have taken advantage of them. Once they’ve completed each segment of the course, teachers can also see what other teachers wrote about and get ideas about how to use what they learned in their classrooms. “We’ve seen really powerful changes in the way people think,” says Schrum.
Billie Marshall, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher from Carroll County, Virginia, participated in the Virginia Studies course. “I have very much enjoyed taking this class. I did learn a lot, and it was challenging to me,” Marshall says. “The way the course was set up made me think about what I already know and what I thought I knew because I teach the subject. I had a lot of new ideas and want to use more primary sources and better understand how to use them.”
Beverly Thurston, coordinator for history and social sciences at the Virginia Department of Education, is very enthusiastic about the partnership between Mason and the state. “We see these tools as providing instant teacher resources that are up-to-date and accurate, and also give professional development opportunities to our teachers,” she says. “And the best part is that they are tied into our standards of learning—the Center for History and New Media understands this very well.”
Thurston was also impressed by Mason history professors, who helped teach standards of learning workshops across the state. The faculty members discussed using primary sources in the classroom, and the feedback was very positive.
“We love working with the center and hope that the partnership continues to grow,” says Thurston.