Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
King Digital History Project

Click here to view the model primary-document based lesson plans developed by participating teachers in the King Digital History Project. Read below for an overview of the workshops teachers attended.

The King Institute received a federal grant from National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop the King Digital History Project (KDHP), which will focus on teaching about King and the African-American freedom struggle using primary source documents. This project is a collaborative effort among The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, the Stanford University School of Education (SUSE) and a group of experienced high school history teachers in the Bay Area.

The primary goal of the KDHP is to develop a national model for a document-based curriculum on King and the African-American freedom struggle. LC staff will work with teachers on the development of exemplary lesson plans over the course of three years, through professional development workshops and a password-protected online forum. Teachers are able to access digitized primary source documents at the King Institute, an online version of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Encyclopedia and civil rights chronology, and additional materials and tools to assist with document-based teaching and learning. With the support of the NEH, the King Institute is in the position to integrate technology with substantive historical content to transform the way students think and learn, not only about King and the movement, but about the process of engaging with history through primary documents.

Workshop I (17 March 2007)

The first teacher workshop was held at the King Institute on Saturday March 17, 2007. Teachers participated in a lecture-discussion by Dr. Carson, Director of the King Institute, on the purpose of teaching history and the breadth of teaching topics within the modern African-American freedom struggle. Teachers then participated in two activities. The first required teachers to work in groups to identify on three posters, the ‘themes,’ ‘people,’ and ‘events/timeline’ of the African-American freedom struggle, adding a question mark against themes, events and people for which they didn’t have sufficient knowledge.  Collectively, the group was able to identify their current knowledge and recognize the direction of their future learning. The second activity involved comparison and analysis of the content of a traditional American history textbook and Dr. Carson’s textbook, African-American Lives: The struggle for Freedom (2005). Through this activity, teachers were able to question the traditional master narrative of the African American freedom struggle as a starting point for building more in-depth curricula on this period through the King Digital History Project.

Workshop II (19 May 2007)

While the first workshop focused on content, the second workshop, held at the King Institute on Saturday May 19th, 2007, focused on pedagogy for historical thinking in the classroom. Teachers enthusiastically participated in a workshop session led by Dr. Sam Wineburg of the Stanford School of Education and Dr. Daisy Martin, Associate Director of the Historical Thinking Matters project, of which Dr. Wineburg is co-Director. Wineburg and Martin introduced and modeled strategies for historical thinking such as sourcing (‘where and when is the document from’), contextualizing (‘imagining the setting’) and corroborating (‘cross-checking sources’) when reading a primary source document. They also shared examples of student work and the differences between a historian and a lay person’s reading of a primary source document. They stressed the importance of first teaching students how to effectively read primary sources before integrating them into the curriculum.  Using documents from Rosa Park’s arrest as an example, they discussed how their strategies could be used with students of all literacy and reading levels and modeled an ‘archive bin’ activity. The session gave teachers concrete strategies to use in diverse classroom settings and with diverse students.

The teachers also discussed the process of creating document-based questions (DBQs) and viewed examples of DBQs written by a group of teachers. This group was involved in a previous LC project, the Carnegie Foundation funded ‘Teachers for a New Era’, conducted in collaboration with the Stanford University School of Education (SUSE) and the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP). This session provided the KDHP teachers with concrete document based lesson plans to use as a model for creating their own lesson plans using King Institute documents. KDHP teachers of lower grades attended a session with LC staff who introduced innovative children’s books to teach this period of history to lower grades and discussed pedagogical strategies to address the relevant themes in these books.

Summer Institute (23rd and 24th July, 2007)

The teachers regrouped on July 23rd and 24th, 2007, for a two-day KDHP summer institute. Teachers participated in another session with Dr. Carson who lectured on the use of a primary document – in this case a 1957 letter by C. L. R. James about his meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. – to understand major historical themes. Carson also discussed the historical significance of California’s civil rights activism and tied his personal participation into the larger context. Teachers also worked with Dr. Wineburg and Dr. Martin on analyzing their own reading of primary source documents (‘self-observation’), modeling the process for their students (‘cognitive modeling’) and generating questions while reading documents. After LC staff held an instructional session on OKRA (Online King Records Access), the Institute database of primary source documents, teachers browsed the Institute’s extensive collection for documents related to their research topics.

The second day of the institute began with a morning workshop by Awele Makeba, an award winning and internationally known actor, emerging playwright, storyteller and educator who researches aspects of African-American history and shares them with diverse audiences through performance. Makeba performed the story of Claudette Colvin, whose little-known arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus predated the more famous protest of Rosa Parks. Makeba introduced performance strategies for incorporating primary source materials into student-centered lessons. Teachers then spent more time choosing documents on OKRA, generating a central question to guide their lesson and creating preliminary activities to teach the documents. The day ended with teachers sharing with the group their chosen research topic (many of which had been refined or changed after choosing documents) and soliciting feedback on their documents and preliminary activities. Curriculum topics chosen by the teachers include: Selma to Montgomery March; Cold War influence on the movement, Freedom and Human Rights documents; Popular Music and the African-American struggle; School Integration; Labor Movements and the struggle; King and Vietnam; Memphis Sanitation Strike; Youth and the movement.

Feedback and Final Presentations

The teachers met again on 5th April, 2008 to exchange rounds of feedback on their final drafts and to access King Institute resources for final changes to their units. Teachers presented their final units in the last KDHP workshop on 16th August, 2008. KDHP teachers' lessons will be uploaded to the site in early 2009.




The King Digital History Project is made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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