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U.S. History Curriculum to Prepare Students for Active Citizenship

September 10, 2019 / by Marissa Friedman

Historians often say the best way to understand the present is through the study of the past. At Success Academy, we agree: a great history program prepares young people to understand and engage with the world as it exists today. In particular, the deep study and mastery of our nation’s history—its most heroic moments as well as its most unsavory—equips students with the knowledge and critical thinking skills to become active, informed citizens and successful members of present-day society. 

The Success Academy Middle School History Curriculum includes:

  • a three-year scope and sequence, units, lesson plans, and downloadable pdfs of all reading material and student workbooks.
  • four eCourses designed to support implementation of the curriculum and inquiry-based history instruction.
  • thousands of primary sources that have been adapted for middle school reading levels and grouped to illuminate big historical ideas.
  • resources to weave individual lessons into existing units or use the "Big Ideas" framework within their own existing lessons and units.

With this belief as our North Star, we dedicated three full years to the study of U.S. history in our Success Academy middle schools and we set out to develop a curriculum that would help our educators teach our nation’s complex history in a way that was fair, honest, and engaging. We implemented the first year of this curriculum in 2011, with our first class of sixth graders, and we have been building, refining, and reiterating the curriculum ever since.

Over these years of revision, we tasked ourselves with broadening the array of Americans represented in each unit in order to better illuminate every period of our history: Civil War lessons would feature letters and speeches by soldiers, abolitionists, and nurses as well as by presidents, senators, and war generals. The Civil Rights Movement would be told through the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of lesser-known figures like Angela Davis and Ella Baker. Our goal was to not only tell a more complete story but also to deepen our students’ engagement in the study of history.

These changes improved the curriculum, and they have furthered the rigor and impact of the inquiry-based approach we embrace in our classrooms. Our curriculum asks scholars to answer big historical questions by reading primary sources that put forth a range of perspectives (after reading a secondary source text for homework that provides context, background knowledge, and key facts). Through lively discussion and analysis of these sources, scholars develop their own beliefs and devise their own arguments supported by historical evidence. By including more perspectives that represent a diverse range of experiences, classroom discussions have become more robust, scholars’ understanding and conclusions have grown more nuanced, and their sense of their own agency in today’s world has expanded.

Today, we are thrilled to be able to share this U.S. History curriculum with educators across the country (register here for free access). Having painstakingly built our own, we are acutely aware of the limited curricular resources out there for history educators. Of course, there are primary source documents all over the internet, but these resources rarely include guidance on how to make them accessible for scholars and useful in the context of a lesson or a unit. 

In a world where historical amnesia is becoming increasingly common and the repurposing of facts has taken over our political discourse, a critical understanding of the American past is essential. Through the release of our curriculum, we hope we can support history teachers across the country who are working to help their students become incisive thinkers, armed with an empowered understanding and mastery of our shared history.

Topics: Lesson Planning, English Language Arts, Engagement, Social Studies

Marissa Friedman

Written by Marissa Friedman

Marissa Friedman is a student at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and was formerly the Manager of History at Success Academy, where she oversaw the development of Success Academy's middle school history curriculum and assessments. She earned her BA in American History and Literature from Harvard University.

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