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This project was submitted by an applicant to the Digital Media and Learning Competition.

Who Built America? Badges for Teaching Disciplinary Literacy in History

Banner with title Who Built America? Badges for Teaching Disciplinary Literacy in History

Developed by American Social History Project (ASHP), the Who Built America? Badges for Teaching Disciplinary Literacy in History program takes proven professional development methods and leverages social media to build professional learning communities and promote subject expertise. It will teach grade 5-12 U.S. history instructors how to design Common Core Standards-aligned instructional materials that give students the high level reading, writing, and thinking skills they need for college and career readiness.   

Teachers who successfully complete the badge program will have the credentials of a highly skilled, professionally engaged 21st century history teacher with the proven ability to:

  • Design and teach curriculum that supports Common Core Standards in reading and writing in history
  • Use technology to foster student inquiry and hands-on learning
  • Collaborate effectively with peers as a member of a professional learning community

With its focus on improving students’ literacy in social studies, history, and civics, the WBA? badge system responds to national calls—including the development of the Common Core Standards—for more, and more rigorous reading and writing in the content areas for upper elementary, middle, and high school students. Showing students that so-called “ordinary” people, like themselves and their families, played significant roles in the nation’s history is a powerful way to engage them in the study of the past and teach them critical thinking skills that they will use in the classroom and beyond.

In addition, education researchers have identified professional learning communities, such as the one this badge system will foster, as essential to teacher growth and positive school change. Connecting teachers with peers, whether at their own school or in another state, the WBA online badge system provides motivation, models, and rewards for sharing ideas and constructive feedback.

To earn badges, teachers will work as learners, practitioners, and collaborators. They will learn by completing activities and assessments that model social history inquiry and disciplinary literacy skills, such as reading for understanding, identifying point of view, investigating context, and using evidence to form explanations about the past. Then, they will put their learning into practice when they create and teach classroom activities that address the relevant skill and content knowledge. Throughout, they will collaborate by sharing, tagging, and commenting on their own work and that of their colleagues, and working together to develop and test classroom materials. ASHP will also model the creative use of digital technologies—Smartboard, history-focused videogames, online archives and exhibits—that require students to engage with problems and use evidence to solve them. Learning will take place online and in the classrooms of participating teachers. 

Teachers will be able to earn up to six badges, validated by ASHP and their peers:

·      Peer Review

·      Collaboration

·      Tech Savvy

·      Read Like a Historian

·      Write Like a Historian

·      Content Expert

The Read Like a Historian badge (see illustration) indicates the types of tasks and assessments that must be completed in order to develop and demonstrate mastery in this disciplinary literacy skill.

Read Like a Historian Badge Congratulations, you’ve mastered how to design and implement activities that enable students to make sense of complex historical texts.  LEARN  Choose and read a WBA? investigation folder  Complete “Making Sense of Historical Evidence” graphic organizers that determine information, point of view, purpose, and historical context   Upload investigation report summarizing evidence  PRACTICE  Design a “Close Encounter with the Past” activity for students that supports at least 2 Common Core Reading Standards for Literacy in Social Studies.  Modify WBA? documents and graphic organizers and/or create your own  Teach the “Close Encounter” and collect 3 pieces of student work   COLLABORATE  Discuss investigation notes and analysis with peer investigators  Tag documents and reading activities (eg. “Differentiated”, “Common Core” “good for ELL” “1-2 periods”)  Upload student work and discuss what progress students made towards target standards

In addition to the six skill badges, we propose developing a set of role badges that broadly correspond to the professional identities that teachers undertake while learning, practicing, and collaborating. These role badges can motivate and reward teachers for “wearing many hats” such as History Geek (reads all the available history content); Super Peer (voted helpful reviewer by colleagues); Super Tagger (accurately tags materials), and History Teacher of the Year (excels in every domain). These badge roles would have ascending levels determined by the frequency and quality of participation and be awarded through a combination of algorithmic, peer, and ASHP validation that measures teacher achievements.

To develop assessments, ASHP will work with the Center for Children and Technology of the Education Development Center (EDC/CCT). As the evaluation partner on several professional development programs with New York City social studies teachers, EDC/CCT has worked with ASHP to develop effective assessments of changes in teacher knowledge and classroom practice. EDC/CCT will be responsible for developing the assessments for badging and conducting formative research as the system is developed.

The badges will serve as credentials among colleagues and school administrators, as they reflect increasing levels of instructional design expertise and meaningful participation in a professional learning community. Teachers who earn particular skill and role badges will have the opportunity to work closely with ASHP staff to refine and contribute an activity or resource to its website HERB: Social History for Every Classroom. There will also be role-specific rewards; for example, History Geeks could receive a copy of ASHP’s Who Built America? textbook.  


To administer the system, ASHP has open-source LAMP servers capable of hosting a large project with web- and mobile-based interactivity, permitting users to upload, store, and edit content and materials. ASHP also has one staff technologist with experience in developing sites for teachers in full compliance with and in the spirit of section 508 guidelines. This technologist can work with other developers to fully develop the online badge system and host it either on ASHP's organization website or on HERB: Social History for Every Classroom.


Historians and educators hold ASHP/CML in high regard for its rigorous social history scholarship, innovative media, and effective professional development with K-12 and higher education faculty. The Who Built America? textbook, CD-ROMs, and documentaries are the cornerstone of ASHP’s reputation and brand, and thus give this badge system its name.

Partner Organizations

ASHP is based at The Graduate Center, City University of New York and was founded in 1981. Its staff of historians, educators, and media producers create print, visual, and multimedia materials that explore the richly diverse social history of the United States and lead professional development seminars that help teachers to use the latest scholarship, technology, and active learning methods in their classrooms. See embedded video for an overview of ASHP’s teacher workshops.

CCT is part of Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC/CCT). Since its inception, it has partnered on a range of educational technology projects that have instigated, investigated, and informed new approaches that foster learning and improve teaching through the development and thoughtful use of educational technologies and instructional design. 



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