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Teaching with Historic Places

Heritage Education Services

Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) uses properties listed in the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places to enliven history, social studies, geography, civics, and other subjects. TwHP has created a variety of products and activities that help teachers bring historic places into the classroom.

About Us

Beacon Hill Historic District, Boston, Massachusetts
Beacon Hill Historic District, Boston, Massachusetts

Who We Are and What We Do

Why We Do It

Students as Historians

Lesson Plans

Teaching and Learning

Recognition and Honors

Partnerships and Collaborations


Who We Are and What We Do
Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) is a program of the National Park Service. Over the years TwHP has developed a variety of products and services. These include a series of lesson plans; guidance on using places to teach; information encouraging educators, historians, preservationists, site interpreters, and others to work together effectively; and professional development publications and training courses. Initially created in collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, TwHP grew out of a desire by both organizations to expand educational outreach. Coinciding with a widespread review of American education in the late 1980s, this interest led to consultation with a wide range of educators, resulting in the launch of the Teaching with Historic Places program in 1991.

Why We Do It
Real historic places generate excitement and curiosity about the people who lived there and the events that occurred there. From ancient ruins, homes of presidents and poets, and battlefields that comprise national parks, to the main streets, factories, and farms listed in the National Register of Historic Places because they make a state or community special, places grab our attention. They offer experiences and information that help make the past real for anyone who visits or studies them. Rooted in this certainty, Teaching with Historic Places promotes places as effective tools for enlivening traditional classroom instruction.

Students As Historians
Teaching with Historic Places lesson plans turn students into historians as they study primary sources, historical and contemporary photographs and maps, and other documents, and then search for the history around them in their own communities. They enjoy a historian's sense of discovery as they learn about the past by actively examining places to gather information, form and test hypotheses, piece together "the big picture," and bridge the past to the present. By seeking out nearby historic places, students explore the relationship of their own community's history to the broader themes that have shaped this country.

Lesson Plans: Sample Documents and Activities

• In a lesson on the Battle of Gettysburg, students gain new insights into the complexities of the Civil War by reading letters from three soldiers and learning the surprising reasons why each chose to fight for the North or the South.

• After investigating Thomas Edison's "invention factory," students work together to design and market a new car, thus experiencing the creativity and teamwork required.

• Bringing in a local veteran to speak of his or her experiences helps students more fully appreciate the human story of Pearl Harbor and other military engagements commemorated in local and national monuments.

• Researching the history and use of an older community building similar to the St. Louis Courthouse or Iron Hill School, and then debating whether it should be restored, helps make local history truly a students' own.

Teaching and Learning
By using places listed in the National Register to "bring history to life," educators can help students connect social studies, history, geography, and other subjects to their own lives. Students not only learn better, but also come to appreciate the value of the nation's cultural resources. TwHP materials guide teachers, historians, historic site specialists, and others through this process.

The National Register can help teachers identify, locate, and obtain reliable documentation about historic places through its computerized database, registration files, and other resources.

• A step-by-step guide explains how to use TwHP lesson plans.

• An author's packet outlines the process of writing a lesson plan using the TwHP model.

• Worksheets help educators select historic places most appropriate to their instructional objectives, and teach students how to analyze a photograph or learn from the physical clues of a historic place.

• The ERIC Digest, "Including Historic Places in the Social Studies Curriculum," explains how places fit state and national curricula requirements.

Recognition and Honors
The soundness of the TwHP approach and the excellence of its materials have been recognized with awards from the American Association for State and Local History, the National Park Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. TwHP lesson plans have been featured in the National Council for the Social Studies' professional journal, Social Education, the Organization of American Historians' Magazine of History, National History Day's theme supplements, and the Department of Education's web site, Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE). They have been recommended by the Department of Education's Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education. Comments from participants in the program also have been positive. We welcome your comments, suggestions, or questions.

Partnerships and Collaborations
Partnerships and close collaboration with teachers, historians, preservationists, National Park Service staff, curriculum specialists, and others have made TwHP successful. The program has received generous in-kind and monetary support from a number of programs and organizations. The National Park Service's Parks as Classrooms program, Cultural Resources Training Initiative, American Battlefield Protection Program, and Mather Center--along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers--made possible many workshops and most of the lesson plans. The National Trust also published and distributed the first 54 lesson plans, later marketed by Jackdaw Publications, which also published several additional lessons. The prototype lesson plan format and first seven model lessons were created by historian, former classroom teacher, and past executive director for the National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools, Fay Metcalf. Later lessons have been written by national and state park interpreters, teachers, professors, and preservationists.

The National Park Foundation secured funding from Target Stores, Eureka, and Discovery Channel to publish the kit Explore Your National Parks: Historic Places, which was distributed to 34,000 teachers nationwide. The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Organization of American Historians have reprinted lesson plans in their journals, allowing us to reach thousands of teachers who might otherwise not be introduced to the program. The Department of Education promotes TwHP through its Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE) Web site. National History Day has included information about TwHP in mailings to teachers across the country. The National Trust published the professional development publications A Technical Assistance Sourcebook and A Curriculum Framework, the latter largely supported with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The History Channel collaborated on a teacher workshop and the distribution of a lesson plan in honor of the 40th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act.

The National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) provided an evaluation and planning grant at a critical juncture in TwHP's development. This grant funded two planning meetings, a focus group of teachers, and early implementation of recommendations for revising the lesson plan format to make it more user-friendly. NCPTT also cosponsored a meeting of educators and public historians to discuss ways in which TwHP could reach out to college and university schools of education more effectively.

Individuals from the National Archives, Smithsonian Institution, National Trust, NCSS, NPS regional and support offices, national parks, historical societies, universities, and numerous schools and school districts across the country have been more than generous in their advice and counsel, have offered constructive feedback, and have helped promote the TwHP program.


* Above Photo Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons