Begun in 1990, the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute in Early American History is designed for upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers. Each intensive, six-day session brings twenty-three teachers, a mentor teacher who has previously attended, and a curriculum specialist to Williamsburg, the colonial capital of Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg educators provide an interdisciplinary and interactive approach to the teaching of social studies with an emphasis on using primary documents, reenactments of 18th-century events, and exchanges with character interpreters and historians. In addition to the wealth of information the teachers receive, there is an emphasis on teaching strategies designed to help students gain critical thinking skills. A brief outline of a typical week follows:
Arrival Day: Participants arrive by mid-afternoon, then meet for their welcome, orientation, and reception dinner.
Day 1: Participants examine how we study history and use primary sources from historic documents to three-dimensional objects to engage students in learning history through different perspectives. Teachers also explore ways to incorporate technology in the social studies classroom.
Day 2: Participants visit Jamestown, the 1607 site of Virginia's first capital, where they see a re-created Powhatan village, an English fort, and replicas of sailing vessels. At each site teachers are involved in hands-on activities and interact with interpreters. At the end of the day the peer teacher presents a lesson plan and the teachers discuss ways they can incorporate the information they have learned into their own classroom teaching.
Day 3: The third day focuses on the daily life before the American Revolution, from urban middling sort and gentry to rural life and the enslaved population. Teachers interact with interpreters inside domestic buildings as well as out on a plantation where they will learn about African American culture by participating in African stories, games, and music making. They discuss life in Africa, the transatlantic slave ship conditions, and issues slaves faced in Virginia.
Day 4: Economic issues are the substance of the fourth day. Tobacco, Virginia's cash crop, dominated the colony's economy in the eighteenth century, and its sale led to profound changes in the society and greater consumer interest in new goods. Teachers learn about the trades, the global economy, and the workings of the monetary system by examining period price lists and inventories, handling different currencies, and figuring out how to pay for various items.
Day 5: The group tours the government buildings, including the Capitol building, the Courthouse, and meeting places of political leaders. Participants trace the effects of laws and political structure on the local, county, and colonial levels and explore the growing tensions leading up to the American Revolution. Teachers debate, as members of the House of Burgesses, the Virginia Resolution for Independence. They may speak as the characters they represent, if so inclined, and all cast their votes. After dinner, participants share their end of week project presentation and discuss how they intend to use the teaching strategies and techniques, primary source documents, artifacts, and lesson plans they've gained during the week. Colonial Williamsburg staff members explain the various ways in which the participants can continue to use Colonial Williamsburg as a resource.
Day 6 and Departure: Participants travel Yorktown to see Redoubts 9 and 10, the site of the last decisive battle of the Revolutionary War. Teachers share Yorktown journal entries and reflect on what it means to be a United States citizen. Following certificate presentations, the group returns to Williamsburg for lunch and farewell.
The cost for the 6-day Teacher Institute is $1,900 (subject to change). Tuition covers admission to Colonial Williamsburg exhibition sites, encounters with historical characters, selected evening programs, Jamestown Settlement, lodging at a colonial tavern or home on Duke of Gloucester Street, all meals including several at historic Colonial Williamsburg taverns, transportation throughout the week (airfare not included), and educational materials.