Thus, in constructing problems or questions, high school history teachers must work on multiple instructional and historiographic levels, crafting historical problems that are transportable across scales of instructional time—activities, lessons, units, and courses—while capturing the factual, conceptual, and cognitive processes central to generating historical understanding and challenging students’ assumptions. In framing these problems, history teachers must ask, “What historical questions will connect the course activities and provoke my students to learn content as they extend their capacity for historical thinking?” The following case study embodies this question by first describing the complex historical problems I used to organize my high school course and then creating a related problem for a unit within that course.
Creating central questions or problems challenges teachers to work at the intersection of two separate junctures—what is historically significant and what is instructive for and interesting to students. In my high school history courses, I often met this challenge by “problematizing” historical accounts—history’s stories, interpretations, narratives, and representations. Focusing on historical accounts gave me material to create a robust set of problems that stimulated, organized, and guided instruction over an entire course.
What do I mean by problematizing historical accounts? At the unit level—instruction ranging from about a week to a month—it means raising questions about particular historical stories, narratives, or interpretations. At the level of the whole course, however, it means raising questions that are fundamental to historical understanding:
What is the difference between historical accounts and the “past”? How do events that occurred in the past and the accounts that people create about the past differ? If the past is fleeting, happening only once and then disappearing, how is it possible for people living in the present to create accounts of the past? How do historians move from evidence of the past to construct historical explanations and interpretations? How do historians use evidence, determine significance, structure turning points, and explain continuity and change within their accounts? Are some historical accounts “better” than others? Why? By what standards do historians assess historical accounts? Why do accounts of the same event differ and change