The GBH Education team knows the research: middle and high school students aren’t retaining knowledge about U.S. history because classroom content may not represent them or isn't relatable or engaging enough. Their teachers know it too and have been eager for more media, interactive lessons and diverse, youth-oriented resources to complement their core curriculum.
The new free U.S. History Collection, housed on the PBS LearningMedia platform, delivers on all fronts, capitalizing on GBH’s portfolio of acclaimed historical documentaries AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, FRONTLINE and GBH WORLD to help middle and high school students develop necessary critical thinking skills when learning about and interpreting history.
Not many curriculum developers can tap into such a trove of resources.
“GBH’s programs are unrivaled in terms of the content and production value,” says Pegeen Wright, director of digital learning and business development for GBH Education.
“We are so fortunate that we have the branded films we do,” said Sue Wilkins, director of social studies curriculum and instruction. “It is part of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE’s mission to elevate diverse perspectives and untold stories. So that makes it possible for us to embed clips from their films in our offerings to teachers.”
Designed to offer supplemental media for U.S. history survey courses, the Collection is distinctive in its media focus, its organization by era and historical thinking skills and its presentation of history from diverse perspectives. Materials are also accessible for students using assistive technologies such as screen readers.
Teacher feedback has been enthusiastic, praising the Collection’s focus on skill development rather than memorizing facts and its student-centric approach.
“What a gift for bringing history teaching forward and making it more accessible for both teachers and students,” said one educator.
GBH, working with both student and teacher advisors, integrated the work of seven other public media contributors as well. The Collection also features original videos, such as the seven-episode “Why It Matters” series, interactive lessons, maps, images and timelines and a variety of independent student activities. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) provided funding for the research, development and production of the Collection.
Youth advisors helped the team select media that would resonate with middle and high school students.
“They really didn’t like talking head videos, and they didn't like what we assumed they would like — fast-paced, witty, irreverent videos,” said Wilkins.
Providing more than 350 resources when completed in December 2022, the Collection showcases the breadth of American history.
“The typical narrative of history is often told from a unitary, top-down perspective, and we aimed to elevate other stories — children, women, laborers, Indigenous peoples, all the diversity of actors in our country’s evolution,” said Wilkins. “Usually, it's ordinary folks that young people have never heard of who are the changemakers in history.”
Her hope is that students will see themselves in the materials and feel empowered to play a role in civic life and the making of history. The Collection is continually evolving and the team hopes to broaden the kinds of histories that are covered, publicize the resources more widely, offer professional development for teachers and make even more of the resources accessible to all.
“We are trying to teach kids that history isn't one unchanging narrative, to understand that more evidence and perspectives will continue to be uncovered,” said Seeta Pai, executive director of GBH Education. “We are trying to teach students to think like historians.”