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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

A. Content Alignment

Electric Funstuff (EFS), in partnership with American Social History Project (ASHP) and Education Development Center (EDC), proposes to design and develop a professional development badge system for the Stage 1 Who Built America? Badges for Teaching Disciplinary Literacy in History (WBA?) submission. WBA? is inspired by the highly regarded Who Built America? textbook and documentary series, and companion curriculum featured on the free website, HERB: Social History for Every Classroom.  

The system is designed to achieve three goals:

  1. To enable and validate the professional development of grades 5–12 history/social studies teachers who create, implement, and iterate curricular exemplars based on student inquiry and aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
  2. To establish visible measures of teacher learning and professional growth so that teachers can be recognized and rewarded for their high quality work within local, state, and national educational communities.
  3. To promote meaningful collaboration and dialogue among peers through an online community dedicated to improving teachers’ competencies in teaching history/social studies and developing students’ content knowledge and literacy skills.

B. Badges

Content. WBA? badges recognize achievement and peer collaboration in two areas: (1) inquiry units drawn from HERB that feature historical thinking and compelling historical questions (2) the CCSS for Literacy in History/Social Studies. The major WBA? accreditation badge certifies teachers who have mastered and integrated both into their teaching, while giving them flexibility to choose which and how many specific historical topics (eg. Who Freed the Slaves? Who Built the Railroad?) to master.

Skills. WBA? comprises three parallel skill tracks (performance, community, specialist). Teachers must achieve in all three tracks to be accredited as a "Master History Teacher", but can move back and forth between the tracks at their own pace. (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1: Master teacher History badge requirements



Performance: teachers complete curricular design and implementation tasks that are assessed by ASHP history educators and master teachers. Performance badges signify achievement in the “hard skills” related to content mastery and inquiry- and literacy-oriented pedagogy. This track progresses in six stages: (1) Learn, (2) Plan for Class, (3) Teach, (4) Reflect on Lesson, (5) Design & Teach, and (6) Reflect & Revise. Teachers must complete two cycles of stages 1–4 before proceeding to stages 5-6. (Figure 2, below; also attached as "badge_flow.pdf" for improved readability).

Figure 2: User flow to earn the Master Builder badge


Community: teachers join inquiry groups, undertake collaborative assignments, and post comments and resources that are rated as valuable by peers, as well as by ASHP and master teachers. Community badges represent the “soft skills” associated with communication, collaboration, and peer engagement. (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3: Community badge descriptions

Specialist: teachers develop additional expertise in a content or pedagogical skill area. Specialist badges recognize the mastery of effective technology integration, deep history knowledge, teaching Common Core reading skills, and teaching Common Core writing skills. (Figure 4, below).

Figure 4: Specialist badge descriptions

Discrete vs. dynamic. The overall badge system for WBA? will have elements of both. Some badges, like the Builder Badge in the Performance track will monitor ongoing performance through a sequence of activities and upgrade itself for each significant step along the way. Other badges will be awarded for discrete accomplishments, such as performing a constructive critique or acing a quiz on a content unit.

The final “Master History Teacher”  badge will be discrete, but we aim to add additional decorations (or “blazons”; see Section C) based on continued work. One teacher’s blazons may well be different than another’s. There will be many ways to embody mastery.

Scarcity and granularity. The reward rhythm of badges is balanced between smaller, more frequent badges and bigger ones that are harder to acquire.

The process of moving through the inquiry units creates a self-paced rhythm with checkpoints for assessment, both automatic and human mediated. Participation in the community track is also self-paced, but the “higher level” badges require an increased time investment.

The “Master History Teacher”  badge will only be awarded twice annually, at the end of each school term, giving the accomplishment a ceremonial feel as befits a significant achievement.

Qualifications. The “Master History Teacher” badge signifies that a teacher is proficient in crafting and implementing curricula that integrates historical thinking skills, history content, and Common Core-related reading and writing skills. (see Figure 1, above) A Master History Teacher has completed at least 2 WBA? inquiry units and designed and tested his/her own unit; made significant contributions to the online community through peer review and collaboration; and developed at least one specialization.

Performance/Assessment. On the Performance track, teachers progress as Apprentice Builders, Journeyman Builders, and Master Builders (the last of which is needed to unlock the major accreditation badge of Master History Teacher).

In Stages 2-6, ASHP and master teachers review Exit Tickets of teachers’ lessons, reflections, and resulting student work. EDC will work with ASHP to develop the frameworks used in evaluating and commenting on teachers’ instructional materials, implementations, and student work. These frameworks will draw on rubrics developed by the New York City Department of Education for the Common Core Literacy Standards in Reading and Writing. The criteria for the frameworks will be publicly available to all members of the online professional development community.

On the Community track, teachers upload or make contributions that are assessed (“liked”) by other peers using the criteria of “is this valuable to the WBA? community or wider profession?”

On the Specialist track, teachers complete Exit Tickets aligned to specific tasks that are assessed by ASHP and master teachers.

Role and identity, Levels, and Opportunities and Privileges. Each track of WBA? badges corresponds to formal and informal identities within teacher communities. Teachers have opportunities to level up as a collaborator, “History Geek,” “Common Core Writing Specialist,” etc. Members who become certified as Master History Teachers are invited join the accreditation team, and can earn “blazons” for mentoring and reviewing other teachers. Similarly, Specialists are certified to review and mentor teacher performance in their area of expertise. Teachers who earn all five Community badges receive a set of Who Built America? documentaries for their school library.

Permanence. The “Master History Teacher” badge will exist permanently on the WBA? community section of the HERB website. Members may continue to earn Community and Specialist badges.

Portability. Metadata about the content, skills, and accreditation of each badge will ensure that educational professionals outside the WBA? community recognize their value. The quality and significance of the teacher work will be further substantiated by making assessment rubrics publicly available.

Protection. Full certification as a Master History Teacher necessitates a multi-step review process validated by history educators and master teachers. There is no self-accreditation in this system.

Endorsement. The WBA? development team will seek the endorsement of the following leading organizations in history education: National Council for the Social Studies, National History Education Clearinghouse, and Stanford History Education Group.

C. Technology

Issuing. All badges will include the required metadata and be sent to the OBI. All badges will also be displayed locally (pulling site-relevant badges from the user’s backpack). (see Figure 5, below)


Figure 6: User profile page on HERB


We intend that performance track badges will upgrade e.g. Apprentice Builder 2-Star replaces Apprentice Builder 1-Star, and that the upgrade causes the prior badge to expire. However, at this juncture, we don’t know if the expiry function supports that case. If that is not possible, we would consider a system of “internal” badges that can upgrade, which, when the upgrade cycle is complete, become the final OBI badge.


Interoperability. Once WBA? is fully functional, we would like to extend the “Master Teacher” badge beyond the scope of history/social studies. We will look for badge system developers that cover other content areas and meet the same rigorous assessment standards.

All badges will meet the specifications for the OBI.

Software and widgets. We will develop a badge presentation extension to work with our Drupal CMS.

We also would like to create an “emblazon” widget. This widget would allow a badge awarder to add custom iconic “blazons” to a given badge. For example, a user who earned the Master Teacher: History badge also went above and beyond in her community participation. We’d add a “community” blazon to her instance of the badge that indicates this extra (and in the meta-data description). This allows users to be able to better tell the story, visually, about the path they took to earn their badge i.e. there is more than one path to mastery (or levels of mastery).

D. Team

Electric Funstuff produces innovative and effective educational software, and recently designed a player set of badges for the Mission US history game, “Flight to Freedom. ” Founders David Langendoen and Spencer Grey will develop the functionality and design of the WBA? badge system, and produce the Drupal extension and emblazon widget.  

ASHP has established itself as a leader in history education, and is consulting with the New York City Department of Education on the design of Common Core aligned curricular exemplars. ASHP’s Leah Potter and Ellen Noonan will develop the social history inquiry units and play the lead role in assessing WBA? teacher lessons and implementations using protocols that focus on historical thinking skills and CCSS in reading and writing. Web developer Aaron Knoll will work with EFS to integrate the badge system with HERB.

William Tally and James Diamond, researchers with expertise in history education from
EDC will design the assessments, rubrics, and protocols for assessing teacher mastery and will conduct formative evaluations over the year of the project.

All three organizations are based in New York City and have previous experience working together. ASHP and EDC have collaborated for nearly 10 years on federally funded professional development programs for social studies teachers, and ASHP, EDC, and EFS have collaborated for 5+ years on Mission US, part of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American History & Civics Initiative project.


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