Investigating History: Why

Why Investigating History?

Investigating History will contribute to students' capacities to make informed civic choices and assume their roles in strengthening equality, justice, and liberty in the world.

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.

Throughout the Commonwealth, educators and administrators have expressed frustration and concern about the lack of high-quality history and social studies curricula. This void extends beyond the Commonwealth. It's a national problem. By and large, traditional developers and publishers have concentrated on content areas that are regularly measured and assessed like ELA and Math. As a result, history and social science educators across Massachusetts often spend considerable time and effort creating materials from scratch. Curriculum development done right is a massive undertaking--but DESE has taken on the challenge. The resulting curriculum is aptly named Investigating History.

The Curriculum

Investigating History (IH) was not created in a vacuum. The National Council for Social Studies initiated a 3-year, state-led collaborative effort that resulted in the College, Career and Civic Life (C3) Framework; the C3 Framework informed DESE's own 2018 revisions to the History/Social Science Framework, which center inquiry-based instruction and the role of history and social science education at all grade levels in preparing students for civic participation in a diverse democratic society. With Investigating History, Massachusetts is ahead of the curve in developing a history and social studies curriculum that is comprehensive, culturally responsive, inclusive to all students, and aligned to both C3 principles and Massachusetts state standards.

Investigating History embodies the rigor of inquiry-based learning, challenging both teachers and students to develop greater skills. Inquiry-based instruction takes time and practice. With a comprehensive curriculum in hand, teachers can spend their time thinking about how best to support their students, not piecing together content. They also receive support from DESE-trained professional development providers with professional learning that is IH curriculum-based and focused on inquiry-based instruction.

Accessible and Inclusive

The curriculum is designed to allow for different access points, addressing all students' diverse and varied needs and supporting them in becoming better readers, writers, thinkers, and citizens. All students are engaged while learning challenging and relevant content and developing the skills of investigators and co-creators. Every lesson includes language objectives differentiated for students at different levels of English proficiency, as well as suggested scaffolds and supports for students with disabilities.

Investigating History is designed so that all students see themselves in the curriculum while also learning to appreciate the lives and stories of others from different backgrounds and cultures. By including multiple authentic sources and artifacts, students engage with a wide variety of narratives, gaining a deeper understanding of the diversity, fluidity, and complexity found within and across groups. Through engaging questions and meaningful, civically oriented tasks, the materials help students critically and thoughtfully understand the perspectives of those from different times and places.

When challenging topics like racism, prejudice, and bigotry appear in the content standards and therefore in the Investigating History curriculum, 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 addresses not only instances of racial oppression and prejudice in developmentally appropriate ways, but also highlights 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.

Classroom Tested

The curriculum was developed and vetted by subject matter experts, scholars, and teachers over the course of three school years. Curriculum writers initially consulted with subject-matter experts to ensure that the curriculum reflects the most accurate and up-to-date scholarship. Once drafted, materials were then vetted by numerous reviewers including historians, experts in social studies pedagogy, and Massachusetts teachers before being piloted in classrooms across the state.

During the 2022-2023 school year, 38 Local Education Agencies and 66 schools participated in the pilot. Approximately 75 teachers per grade taught the IH curriculum in grades 5, 6, and 7. The participating schools were from a geographically and demographically diverse group of Massachusetts districts. By and large, teachers in the pilot spoke highly of the rigor, engagement, and overall quality of the curricular materials.

Feedback from teachers and students proved valuable and has deeply informed the fifth, sixth, and seventh grade curriculum that will be released in 2023-24 as well as the approach to the third and fourth grade materials currently being developed. Key learnings have resulted in adjustments to pacing and skill building as well as countless other smaller-scale adjustments to individual lessons and activities; ultimately, when the materials are published they will have gone through multiple rounds of piloting, feedback, and revision in order to ensure their quality and usability in classrooms. DESE is fully committed to continuous improvement and even after Investigating History is released, will continue to learn from teachers' experiences with the curriculum.

A Winning Partnership

DESE strives to be a responsive and supportive partner with Massachusetts teachers. In the 2023-24 school year, DESE will be hosting free professional learning communities for teachers and administrators. Additionally, DESE has certified seven professional development providers who stand ready to work directly with teachers, schools, and districts throughout the adoption and implementation process.

Through Investigating History, DESE anticipates teachers will be achieving the level of learning and student engagement they strive for. Students will be asking authentic questions, finding credible sources, considering peoples' experiences both past and present, seeing themselves reflected in their learning, and gaining a deeper understanding of those around them.

An Experienced Development Team

DESE's lead partners in developing the curricular materials and associated professional development are Primary Source, a nonprofit organization based in the Boston area that has worked to advance global education in schools for more than thirty years, and Educurious, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that specializes in project-based curriculum and professional learning. The pilot curriculum evaluation is being conducted by researchers at Tufts University's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

As part of this work, DESE has also worked with faculty from University of Massachusetts Boston's College of Education and Human Development, who led development of the design specifications for the materials, as well as researchers from Boston University's Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. Additional implementation supports have been developed in collaboration with Makematic and The Teacher Collaborative.

If you have questions or would like more information about Investigating History and available ongoing support and professional development, please email

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