Center for Instructional Support

Investigating History

Investigating History is an innovative, open-source history/social science curriculum that DESE is currently developing for fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. It is designed to be fully aligned to the Massachusetts 2018 History/Social Science Framework , engaging students with its content, practice, and literacy standards through an inquiry-based approach.

Investigating History is designed around four key principles, elaborated further in the curriculum's design specifications :

Historical Inquiry and Investigation icon

Historical Inquiry and Investigation

Historical Empathy and Human Connections icon

Historical Empathy and Human Connections

Civic Engagement and Current World Relevance icon

Civic Engagement and Current World Relevance

Culturally Affirming Pedagogies icon

Culturally Affirming Pedagogies

The development process includes ongoing input and collaboration with teacher and scholar advisors. In the 2021-22 school year, a cohort of districts across the Commonwealth will pilot the Investigating History materials. The pilot materials will then be revised based on feedback from educators and students, and we anticipate making the first Investigating History units publicly available in Summer 2022.

If you have any questions about Investigating History or the 2021-22 pilot, please email To receive email updates when materials are available to the public, please sign up here.

Why create Investigating History?

Expanding access to high-quality, standards-aligned curricular materials can significantly improve student outcomes, especially when teachers have the professional learning opportunities they need to skillfully implement those materials to meet the specific needs of their students, families, and communities. Research suggests that if instructional materials are engaging, challenging, culturally relevant, and aligned to learning standards, they can improve student achievement by an amount comparable to a half-year of extra learning time. The Center for Instructional Support at DESE is committed to ensuring that all students in Massachusetts reap the benefits of strong curricular materials.

In recent years, DESE has provided a wide array of resources and supports to assist educators in identifying, selecting, and implementing existing, high-quality instructional materials in other content areas. Yet there has been a dearth of high-quality materials available for history and social science, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels, and particularly with regards to materials that are aligned to the Massachusetts content standards. As a result, history and social science educators across Massachusetts often spend considerable time and effort creating materials from scratch. We hope that Investigating History can support history educators and students statewide by providing them with strong, comprehensive curricular materials.

How can educators and the public be assured of the quality of Investigating History materials?

Each Investigating History unit will go through a rigorous development process before it is released to the public. Curriculum writers initially consult with subject-matter experts to ensure that the curriculum reflects the most accurate and up-to-date scholarship. Once drafted, materials are then vetted by numerous reviewers including historians, experts in social studies pedagogy, and Massachusetts teachers.

Each unit is then piloted in fifteen to twenty classrooms across the state, reflecting a diversity of geography, student demographics, and teacher experience. As part of the pilot, an independent, third-party research team based at Boston University is undertaking a rigorous and thorough evaluation of teachers' and students' experiences with the materials. They will draw on classroom observations and artifacts, as well as interviews with teachers and students, in order to provide recommendations for improvement. Materials will be revised based on this feedback before they are published beginning in Summer 2022.

When will Investigating History be available to the public? Will it cost money?

Investigating History is currently being piloted in nineteen schools across Massachusetts, and access to the materials is currently limited to the pilot schools.

Once each unit has been piloted, the evaluation findings as well as feedback from pilot districts will be used to revise the materials. When released, Investigating History will be an open-source curriculum: free and available to anyone to use and modify. We currently anticipate publishing the first set of units in Summer 2022.

If you are interested in being notified when Investigating History units are publicly available, please sign up for updates.

When Investigating History is published, will schools be required to use it?

DESE does not mandate that schools or districts use any specific curricular materials. Investigating History is intended to provide schools with a vetted, high-quality curriculum and professional development option that is directly aligned to the Massachusetts History and Social Science Framework. Whether to adopt these resources will be a decision made on a local level.

For teachers, schools, and districts who do choose to adopt Investigating History, DESE will support them in implementing the curriculum thoughtfully within their given context, including providing access to resources that can be used as a foundation for curriculum-based professional development. More information about professional development supports will be available this spring.

What content is covered in Investigating History?

Initially, Investigating History will comprise ten units across fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. The content covered in each unit is grounded in the grade-level content standards of the 2018 History/Social Science Framework :

  • Grade 5:
    • Early Colonization and the Growth of Colonies
    • Revolution and Principles of United States Government
    • The Growth of the Republic
    • Slavery, the Legacy of the Civil War, and the Struggle for Civil Rights for All
  • Grade 6:
    • Human Origins
    • The Middle East and North Africa
    • Sub-Saharan Africa
    • Central America, the Caribbean, and South America
  • Grade 7:
    • Central and South Asia
    • East Asia

When challenging topics like racism, prejudice, and bigotry appear in these content standards, the materials and professional development are thoughtfully designed to support teachers in engaging in honest, informed conversations surrounding these issues. To this end, the curriculum will address not only instances of racial oppression and prejudice in developmentally appropriate ways, but also highlight the individuals and movements who have challenged it, and the way in which diversity has been and continues to be a strength of our nation.

Will DESE expand Investigating History to cover additional topics and grade levels in the future?

At this time, Investigating History is limited to the fifth, sixth, and seventh grade topics listed above. Depending on interest and funding availability, we may develop additional units in these or other grade levels after 2022.

Which schools are participating in the 2021-22 pilot?

The following schools will be piloting Investigating History in one or more grade levels during the 2021-22 school year.

  • Becket Washington Elementary School, Becket
  • Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public School, Franklin
  • Bigelow Middle School, Newton
  • Collins Middle School, Salem
  • Curley K-8 School, Boston
  • Eliot K-8 School, Boston
  • Guilmette Middle School, Lawrence
  • Kuss Middle School, Fall River
  • Lincoln School, Brookline
  • Longsjo Middle School, Fitchburg
  • Lowell Community Charter Public School, Lowell
  • Medway Middle School, Medway
  • Monomoy Regional Middle School, Monomoy
  • Mount Greylock Regional School, Williamstown
  • Rumney Marsh Academy, Revere
  • South Elementary School, Plymouth
  • Thomson Elementary School, North Andover
  • Wales Elementary School, Tantasqua
  • Williamstown Elementary School, Williamstown
Who is DESE working with to develop Investigating History?

DESE's lead partner in developing the curricular materials is Primary Source, a nonprofit organization based in the Boston area that has worked to advance global education in schools for more than thirty years. Faculty from University of Massachusetts Boston's College of Education and Human Development led development of the design specifications for the materials.

Professional development materials are being developed by Educurious, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that specializes in project-based curriculum and professional learning. Educurious is also facilitating the professional development sessions for teachers participating in the pilot.

The pilot curriculum evaluation is being conducted by researchers at Boston University's Wheelock College of Education and Human Development.

Last Updated: September 8, 2021

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