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Testimony and Critical Studies


History and social studies teachers across the country have been exploring and using World History for Us All. Here is what some of them have been telling us.

I have taught A.P. world history for the past two years. Entering my third year, I was still feeling lost and overwhelmed by cramming all of World History into one school year and have it make sense for ninth graders. Just last weekend, I happened to stumble across your site. Ö And almost cried with relief.

I have not experienced this much support from one place as I have with this site. Thank you so much for your clearly written, easily understood materials. The video of the history of the world in seven minutes was phenomenal, and I am currently using the lesson plans under Big Era Three.

My students love the Power Points, video, and charts. I love being able to provide quality materials and information. Parents enjoy having the calendar of lesson plans easily accessible. I will be using this site all year to support some other materials that I currently use. Itís an awesome tool and obviously put together by intelligent people that not only care about the subject matter, but provide practical lesson plans for the classroom.


Laura O.
Miami, Florida

Your web site, World History For Us All, is tremendous. Currently, I am teaching U.S. History on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. I will be teaching World History next year at a High School in Illinois. I am eager to incorporate a lot of your material and lessons into my classroom.  
Robert G.

I found the WHFUA website . . .  and I was astounded by how user friendly and informational it was. . . . What an invaluable website you offer! I am amazed, impressed, thrilled, and pleased to find such a comprehensive site dedicated to teaching World History!
Jon K.
Seattle, Washington

I am a ninth grade social studies teacher in upstate NY. I admire the collective efforts to put together such substantive materials for teacher use. Hats off to all of you. Your project provides an excellent model for revamping biased perspectives on global history.   
Kerry F.
Niskayuna, New York

I have wrestled and experimented throughout my world history career trying to do what you and your colleagues are doing. . . . I have now taught in my present school for two years and think my two other colleagues are finally open to a truly world approach. So I have volunteered to research your project. I would be eager to use whatever you could make available.
Anne H.
Osprey, Florida 

I am an Australian based home-school tutor of a gifted, learning-disabled 9-year-old boy, who has a love of history and geography. Your site was like a dream true!  I have been surfing the net for a long time trying to find something similar to this. There have always been sites with "bits and pieces" of history, or links to this and that, but I have been unable to get a site which details world history so well.  Congratulations.
Jackie B.
Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

I love your website and I love the teaching units and ideas that have been developed for it.
Casey P.
Dallas, Texas

What a fantastic project!  I came across World History for Us All, and it has changed the way I have taught AP World History.
Trang T.
Elk Grove, California

I’m looking forward to using your web site. I love the way you have broken it down from big to small.
Mark H.
Nipono, California

We home school. I just took a look at your World History For Us All web site, after having taken a break from academics with my two sons, and wanted to say it's looking great!  I'm getting prepared for the fall when we get a little more focused on academics and your site has helped energize me, what with all the new material.
Mary Landale
Medford, Massachusetts

We are excited about the work you have been doing on the World History for Us All site. We will eagerly await its completion.
Marilyn H.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I am in LOVE with the website. I have taught for over a dozen years but am moving back to world history next year after a 9-year tour in US history. I am excited to integrate the content and concepts from this website.
Jackie H.
Camas, Washington

I’ve just found your site and I’m really eager to implement your lesson ideas in our IB [International Baccalaureate] history program.
Morgan C.
Seattle, Washington


Evaluative Reports

World History for Us All

Collaborative Projects with the Long Beach Unified School District

to Pilot and Evaluate Elements of the Model Curriculum

Between 2007 and 2014, World History for Us All (WHFUA) undertook two projects to pilot and evaluate elements of the model curriculum in middle and high school classrooms in the Long Beach, California Unified School District. This project was administered by the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA. It involved a collaboration of the Long Beach USD, CSU Long Beach, San Diego State University, and the California History-Social Science Project. This project was made possible by three grants from the Ahmanson Foundation.

The teachers who took part in the project attended summer workshops and follow-up meetings, piloted selected WHFUA teaching units from in their classrooms. They systematically kept journals of their experience with these units, and they collected both materials used in teaching the units and samples of student work. The teachers reported on their classroom experiences, including modifications they made to the units (mainly for grade level cognitive reasons), successful and not-so-successful class strategies and activities, student response, and changes in their understandings of the scholarship and pedagogy of world history. Several of the participating teachers also wrote new WHFUA units.

The first project involved a select group of grades six and seven middle school instructors who taught world history as stipulated in the California History – Social Science Framework. The second project expanded the participation to include a group teaching grade 10 world history or in some cases Advanced Placement World History.

This document includes two evaluative studies of the projects, both under the direction of Bob Bain, Associate Professor in the School of Education and History Department at the University of Michigan. He completed the first study in association with Lauren McArthur, faculty member in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. In the second project Prof. Bain collaborated with Tamara Shreiner, Department of History, Grand Valley State University.




Bob Bain, Ph.D.

Lauren McArthur Harris, Ph.D.

University of Michigan[1]


World history is arguably the fastest growing subject in the social studies, if not the entire school curriculum, – and despite its increasing popularity, it is among the most challenging subjects to teach. The growth in the past 20 years has been remarkable. Over two thirds of the states require it for high school graduation and the majority of high school students now take world history in some form or another.[2] A 2005 study of high school transcripts reported that more than 75 % of American high school students had taken at least one secondary world history class. Since fewer than 33% of high school students had taken a world history course in 1982, this dramatic increase made world history the largest growth sector in the American curriculum.[3] The Advanced Placement World History exam, offered for the first time less than ten years ago, is now among College Board’s most popular offerings, trailing only U.S. History among social studies exams.[4] The National Assessment Governing Board, an arm of the federal government, is exploring the possibility of adding world history to its National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the “nation’s report card.” In short, a consensus appears to have formed about the value of world history in the education of American students. State governments, local school districts, parents and students have made world history just about co-equal to U.S. history in popularity.

However, despite this growing consensus and increasing popularity, most teachers and students face significant challenges in trying to teach or learn world history. Previous research suggests that teachers find it difficult to bring into focus the history of the entire world without falling into the “one darn culture [or thing] after another” trap that has long plagued history instruction.[5] Of course, developing meaningful and coherent history instruction at any scale – whether regional, national, or local – is a challenge, but the difficulties are more acute for teachers of world history.


Why? First, there is some confusion over the contours of the world history course. Recent analyses of state standards revealed significant differences in the scope, sequence and foci of world historical content. Standards vary in their quality and usefulness.[6] Second, few teachers of world history have had any formal training in the subject, a perilous situation caused by out-of-field teaching [7]and thin certification requirements in this area.[8] Professional development to help teachers of world history acquire needed content knowledge is sparse and episodic. Unlike American history, there are no national programs to raise teachers’ knowledge of world history.[9] Third, curriculum in world history is also chaotic. There are no coordinated, dedicated, or tested curriculum projects in world history, though as we will argue below, World History for Us All is the rare exception. And, fourth, though there has been a dramatic increase in instructional accountability through educational testing, we have few reliable and valid assessments targeted to probe students’ understanding of world history. Finally, possibly as a result of the above, there is growing evidence that teachers have a very difficult time organizing world history coherently either for themselves or for their students.[10]

Thus, over the past 15 years, standards and course requirements in world history have grown faster than did programs in teacher preparation, curriculum and assessments – each a critical and necessary component for providing quality instruction. Without well-prepared teachers using coherent curriculum and employing valid assessments even the best standards remain distant goals . In short, developing world history standards or requiring world history courses, while necessary, are not sufficient to improve learning or to help teachers meet the challenges of teaching world history.

The architects of and contributors to World History for Us All (WHFUA) website have recognized the distinctive instructional challenges teachers face in teaching world history. [11] Through this project, they attempted to provide what world history teachers needed to provide coherent instruction and to improve students’ learning. Judging by “word-of-mouth” popularity among educators and praise left by teachers using the site, the project has been very successful. We suspect this popularity and praise is due, in part, to WHFUA’s expanding and easily accessible array of instructional materials and its innovative structure. While there are other websites offering world history lesson plans, no other site represents world history so clearly or so well. By using different temporal-spatial “lenses” – the innovative Panorama, Landscape and Closeup lenses -- to situate instructional materials, WHFUA provides teachers a clear way to coherently organize content across vast expanses of historical time and space. World historians and educators have long talked about the importance of linking local and regional events to larger global or inter-regional patterns; WHFUA went beyond talk to create instructional materials at different scales and to represent the connections for teachers.

Given this design and the rich materials teachers find there, we are not surprised by the popularity and the praise teachers have offered. However beyond such self-reports, questions remain about the role WHFUA plays in helping teachers actually meet the challenges they face. How do teachers use the site and materials? Do they teach the content “as is” or must they modify the materials? Are some materials more useful to teachers than others? What impact does WHFUA have on teachers and students?


This report takes up these questions. At the invitation of Ross Dunn, we documented and analyzed the way that eight California middle school teachers used WHFUA materials, and we tried to determine the impact the materials had on instruction. After a brief description of the study’s methods, we will turn to our findings and recommendations for future work.

Pilot Study

To answer some of these questions, we designed a pilot study focusing on the ways teachers used the existing WHFUA materials. Eight California middle school teachers (sixth and seventh grade) participated in this study. These teachers were involved in a project led by Ross Dunn and Tim Keirn that required each teacher to teach one WHFUA unit during the first semester (Fall, 2007) and to write an additional unit during the second semester (Winter, 2008) that would eventually go onto the WHFUA site. All of the teachers were middle school teachers, teaching either sixth or seventh grade world history. All were veteran teachers with at least four years experience, but only one teacher had extensive university study in world history.

We focused our study on the way teachers utilized WHFUA during the first semester (Fall, 2007) of the project, focusing in particular on the unit they were required to teach. To create a data set for analysis, we asked teachers to document their use of the WHFUA. Teachers maintained a journal when working on or teaching their WHFUA unit and they gave us copies of all the materials used to teach the unit. In a sense, we developed an archive of classroom artifacts, including annotated lesson plans, handouts, and some samples of student work from WHFUA lessons. We also asked teachers to complete a short written survey after they taught the unit. In January, 2008, one of us (Harris) conducted and audio taped a follow-up interview with each teacher.


For each teacher, we analyzed all the data – journals, handouts, surveys, annotated materials and interviews – to create a description of how they used WHFUA. Then we looked across the individual cases for salient patterns, patterns that could constitute the findings of this study.

Below we discuss these findings and then, based upon the findings, offer some recommendations for future WHFUA work        .


We found that the World History For Us All website helped all the teachers deepen their content knowledge and understanding of world history, offered usable materials for teachers to teach the “big picture,” and provided teachers with a rich set of sources and ideas to use with their students. The most important finding of this study, we think, is the impact WHFUA had on teachers’ understanding of world history and of teaching world history. Working with the site and the teaching materials – even for a very short time – challenged productively the ways teachers thought of world history and pressed them to reconsider the lens through which they viewed history. The teachers in this study acquired new and powerful schemes for organizing their own understanding of global history, and consequently for their students. Given the research on the cognitive challenges teachers face in thinking about, as well as teaching, world history and given the poor condition of teacher preparation in world history, WHFUA’s educative value for teachers is a key finding. In using WHFUA materials with their students, teachers learned more world history and learned how to structure world historical content. Also, though not unexpected, our analysis demonstrated that the teachers viewed WHFUA as a veritable treasure trove of resources, teaching materials and lessons. More specifically, the teachers identified WHFUA’s “big picture” materials, such as Panorama PowerPoints, as especially valuable for their students. In sum, this study suggests that WHFUA helped teachers manage two of the three challenges that world history teachers face – trying to teach complicated content with little preparation in world history and in the absence of coherent curricular materials.


In addition, our analysis of the teacher’s annotated lessons, the surveys and interviews shows that these middle school teachers invested significant time modifying materials to fit the specific context within which they worked, and, in so doing, added great value to already valuable instructional materials. In modifying the lessons, the teachers reported that they benefitted from the opportunity to collaborate with and talk to each other, a few of the teacher-authors of the content, and the historians working in their project. Finally, while very enthusiastic about the WHFUA content, materials and resources, the teachers were less enthusiastic about the WHFUA assessments. We offer more detail of these findings below.

1. WHFUA Helped Deepen Teachers’ Understanding of World History and of World History Instruction 

All teachers in the project reported that by working with WHFUA materials they deepened their understanding of world history and developed new and useful frameworks for building coherent instruction. This is critical. In using the overall design of the site or by learning to use a few specific concepts employed regularly in WHFUA materials, all the teachers learned new ways or expanded upon existing ways to “see” and think about world history. Teachers used ideas or materials from the site to develop more sophisticated pictures of world history, or at least, conceptually more useful pictures for teaching.

For example, almost all of the teachers pointed to the value added to their thinking by WHFUA’s use of the concept “Afro-Eurasia.” Most of the teachers claimed that they were not familiar with the term or had never used it with students before encountering it in the WHFUA materials. More than simply expanding teachers’ (and students’) vocabulary, the concept seemed to represent for teachers an important category to “contain” large scale, interconnected changes. Learning to use the concept “Afro-Eurasia” helped teachers look outside the standard “containers” for history, such as events or discrete political units. Using Afro-Eurasia enabled them to construct a bigger geographic or temporal space, one that allowed connected processes and interconnected events to come into view. Likewise, teachers noted the value of other concepts central to WHFUA, such as “spheres of interaction,” and “zones cultural exchange.” We were struck in listening to the teachers talk about such ideas, in reading over their survey answers or in looking at the annotated teaching materials, the power such concepts afforded teachers to make new connections.

A few teachers also pointed to the great value in comparative study, identifying particular places where WHFUA helped them learn to make productive comparisons. Though comparative history is widely talked about – indeed “compare” might be one of the most frequently used verbs for essay questions – it is rarely explicated fully. [12] Through the explicit use of comparative history, WHFUA helped teachers reconsider separate content while expanding the use of comparative methodology. For example, one teacher used a WHFUA unit that compared creation myths of early civilizations. Though he was familiar with the myths, having taught them in the past, the comparative method offered a fresh approach to familiar material. Instead of teaching the myths separately, embedding them within self-contained units on the early civilizations, this WHFUA unit engaged his students in a comparative analysis of three creation myths. The activity provided the teacher with a useful comparative design, as way to bridge different civilizations, by offering common points of comparison.

Like the use of new concepts and the comparative method, teachers also were enthusiastic about WHFUA’s explicit focus on the global or inter-regional scale. For the teachers, such attention to different scales suggested new connections or comparisons between and among societies, civilizations, and regions. Important tools for helping teachers develop their world historical understanding were the essays that introduced eras and revisited the organizing questions. The teachers were almost unanimous in their praise for the value of the essays and for WHFUA unique way of “sorting” curriculum materials along geographic and temporal scales. As one teacher commented, “I wish 10 years ago when I started teaching that someone had told me about this then.”


The impact of WHFUA on teachers’ thinking, understanding and knowledge of world history is vital. By introducing or strengthening teachers’ understanding and use of temporal-spatial scales, and by showing how to use important world historical concepts, (i.e., “zones of exchange” or “Afro-Eurasia,” ), WHFUA provided teachers with essential tools to thinking about global history. It is very difficult for teachers to teach what they themselves do not understand. Therefore, WHFUA played a critical role in improving instruction by helping to deepen teachers’ understanding of world history and through helping teachers to frame the world historical “big picture.”


2. WHFUA Provided Robust Instructional Materials including Primary Sources 

Teachers loved the robust set of resources WHFUA provided and incorporated into lessons. Since WHFUA is filled with primary sources, maps, graphic organizers, videos and PowerPoints and since teachers are often starved for resources beyond textbooks, we anticipated this finding . Given the previous discussion, it is not surprising that the teachers found greatest value in WHFUA materials that helped students focus on the “big picture.” The teachers uniformly praised the materials designed to help students see interconnections among historical events and historical processes, or to make connections across time and across space. One teacher captured the sentiments of all when she explained that, “The thing that I like about World History for US All is that it provides ways to connect different societies and civilizations. I think that’s what my kids struggle with the most; seeing that they are connected [and] that they aren’t just civilization after civilization.”

In addition to the units they had to teach for the project, almost all of the teachers used WHFUA materials from the global or “panorama” level, even though nothing in their state standards called for such “big picture” instruction. Teachers told us that they used WHFUA material over and above the content their state required because they thought that WHFUA helped students develop a more coherent understanding of history. The “Seven Minute History of the World” and the Panorama PowerPoints were the most popular materials among the teachers. Two teachers, for example, used the “Seven Minute History of the World to introduce their students to what they would learn throughout the year. Teachers thought video gave their students a picture of the entire course of study, describing the video as offering students a copy of the picture on the puzzle box before working with the individual pieces. Teachers reported that students liked the video, thinking it was “pretty cool” and that they “couldn’t believe how many things had happened.” For the teachers, however, the video did more than “wow” students – it gave them a necessary overview. One teacher used the video to show the students the temporal scope of the course, and then had students compare it with previous history courses, such as U.S. history and California history.

Almost all of the teachers used the Panorama PowerPoints in some fashion. Some teachers used the PowerPoints to give students an overview/preview of what they were about to study, while others used them to review what students had learned in previous unit or even a previous year. Most selected just a few slides from among a set to stress big ideas. Several teachers mentioned that they were planning to use the PowerPoints at the end of the year as a review.

Teachers also explicitly used the concepts of “Afro-Eurasia” or “zones of exchange” with students to help students make connections. For example, after introducing the concept of Afro-Eurasia during a unit on the development and spread of Islam, one teacher had students continue to work with the concept in the next unit on Africa. Another teacher explained that references to Afro-Eurasia helped students make connections, even when focusing upon specific regions or civilizations. Still another teacher used the concept of Afro-Eurasia when having her students create maps to show trade networks that crossed civilizations and regions.

As explained in the previous section, teachers also used the comparative method with students as a way to move beyond individual events. For example, the teacher who used comparison to restructure his students’ study of creation myths, explained that he thought comparative method would help his students focus upon the similarities and differences between three communities. Using comparative method to look across civilizations in advance of digging down into each, he speculated, would be “ profitable for their [students’] understanding [of] the interconnections and cross-cultural ties between these three very important ancient civilizations.” WHFUA comparisons allowed students to build connections between discrete civilizations.


In addition to WHFUA’s instructional materials, concepts and methods, all the teachers reported that the WHFUA structure, with its interconnected scales, offered “students a framework from which to examine other cultures and regions of the world, especially using scales of time, and geography.” Through their words and use of WHFUA structure, it units, materials and ideas for approaching world history, all the teachers demonstrated the added value WHFUA provided for students’ learning world history.

3. Teachers Modified WHFUA Materials for Student Use

One of the strengths of the WHFUA units and lessons is the inclusion of rich set of primary sources, maps, graphs and historical resources. For teachers, having easy access to such materials is certainly one of WHFUA’s strengths. However, the middle school teachers invested significant time modifying lessons to fit the students and the context within they taught. These dedicated teachers adjusted lessons, edited resources, and often added their own materials to WHFUA’s in order to make the lessons and activities more accessible to their students and more in line with the standards they were required to teach. While we did not actually see teachers enact these modifications to WHFUA content, we thought their explanations for the modifications were sensible, and in many cases, thought that teacher-initiated adjustments added value, particularly for others teaching in a similar setting or teaching similar students.


With the exception of two sixth grade teachers who taught a unit on Creation Myths, all of the teachers mentioned that their biggest challenge in using the WHFUA units was having to make extensive modifications because of the high reading level of unit materials. Teachers pointed out that WHFUA offered no guidance regarding the grade or reading level of lesson materials. Even at first glance, teachers expressed concern about the length and sophisticated level of text targeted for students. Some of the participants tested the reading level of primary source passages and found the texts to be at a high school level and beyond. Many of the teachers explained that since the majority of their sixth and seventh grade students read at grade level or below, the high school level texts were simply too complicated or, as presented, inaccessible for their students.

Therefore, to use WHFUA texts and handouts with their middle school students, the teachers modified, edited, and adjusted the activities that called for students to read texts beyond their reading level. For the teachers, such modification was time consuming. A few teachers said it took them more than eight hours to edit the primary source texts in their WHFUA unit. For example, one seventh grade teacher explained to us how she “spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get the reading level down.” In addition to editing words and sentence, she created a document-specific glossary and changed the format of documents to give her students room to take notes while they read. Other teachers made similar modifications to texts and materials. One teacher worried that in making primary sources more accessible for the students, she would be “dumbing down” the curriculum. It “made her nervous to modify primary documents” wondering about which sections of text “should I choose…to capture the essence of the document.” Another teacher talked about how difficult it was to “keep the main idea” of the primary sources while editing the document to reduce its length and simplify its complicated language. This teacher ended up adding a glossary section to a WHFUA handout and using brackets to re-phrase some passages in the text while cutting down the number and length of the sources used in a lesson. She also created a chart to guide student writing as they read. These additions, she said, helped the students use the sources n WHFUA provided.

Primary sources were not the only materials teachers modified before teaching the WHFUA units. They also edited maps and handouts that accompanied WHFUA lessons. While the teachers liked the way WHFUA used maps, many teachers claimed that many of the maps were “too small and hard to read,” difficult to copy, and hard to modify because of the Adobe PDF format. Teachers, therefore, spent time tracking down other copies of WHFUA maps. One teacher claimed she “spent a lot of time trying to find a map of Afro-Eurasia.” Many teachers explained that they recreated and re-calibrated worksheets and handouts to make them more “student friendly.” Teachers were concerned that worksheets did not afford middle school students enough space to write in answers, and because of teachers did not have access to software to edit PDF format, they decided it was easier to simply recreate the worksheets and graphic organizers. As one teacher wrote in her survey, capturing the sentiment of the majority of teachers, “I wish the lesson came with student handouts that did not need much modification, but could be used ‘as is.’”

It is important to note that the teachers liked the WHFUA lessons, in part, because the lessons came with primary sources, maps, graphs, handouts and other resources. And, teachers liked teaching with WHFUA materials claiming that the lessons “worked” and that students liked the content and lessons. However, it is equally important to remember that the majority of teachers spent time modifying WHFUA materials and/or adding supplementary materials, such as reading guides or glossaries, before they used the lessons with their middle school students. While we did not see how the students took to the modified materials in the classroom, we do think that, in most cases, the teachers added valuable content or reasonable alternative strategies to make materials more “user friendly” for middle school students.        

4. Teachers Created Assessments for WHFUA Units

The teachers thought that the assessments in WHFUA were sparse, uneven and unclear. Typifying the concerns of the group, one teacher said “[t]here was only an assessment in the first lesson [of the unit], so I am unsure if this was the overall assessment or only for this lesson.” We could only document one case where a teacher used a WHFUA assessment. All of the teachers, then, needed to add their own assessments to the units. One teacher explained that he “created different assessments that would be more appropriate for my students and their ability levels. When creating my own assessments, I tried to stay true to the concepts of the WHFUA unit.” 


5. Hidden Impact of Historical and instructional Conversations

Teachers reported enjoying the conversations with peers and project historians around world history and the WHFUA materials. In the surveys and interviews, we saw examples of how teachers benefitted from the conversations and discussions they were having about WHFUA lessons, about how a lesson played out in the classroom, about ways to modify lessons or about different approaches to teaching the lessons. Though we have no way of parsing out the instructional value added through such conversations and discussions, we think it must have played a role in helping these teachers make such effective use of WHFUA materials.


As it currently stands, we think that the World History for Us Website is the most valuable resource available for world history teachers at all levels. Our modest study suggests that teachers who use the website can develop a deeper understanding of global history, acquire important world historical concepts, and gain access to a treasure house of good primary sources, maps, handouts and innovative materials to help teach the nested global story.

The teachers in this project liked WHFUA and thought it a valuable resource. All of the teachers in the pilot study said that they would use it for future instruction in their classrooms. And, all of the teachers went beyond the unit the project required them to teach. For teachers, WHFUA site provides a global framework, centering on connections, comparisons, and an accessible “big picture” of world history that is hard, if not impossible, to find in any other world history curriculum. The inclusion of Panorama, Landscape, and Closeup units allows teachers to, at times, engage students in the large global story of the history of the world, and at other times “zoom in” to take a closer look at inter-regional, regional, and even local events.


There are, however, some areas that could be improved to make the site more user-friendly and appropriate for teachers at various grades, teaching different types of students. With continued work, additional support, and some modest but strategic changes we think this outstanding resource can be made even more useful to world history teachers and students.

Therefore, based on these findings and our familiarity with the WHFUA site, we have five recommendations for future WHFUA work.


1. Continue to populate the site with unit and lesson materials plans 

While the website seems to have a complete set of units at the Panorama level, there are still “holes” within the Landscape and Close-up levels. Our study clearly points to the value of WHFUA in its present form. It needs, however, to be developed further. Even in light of the teachers’ concerns about the sophistication of the texts (reading levels) and handouts, or time involved to modify WHFUA materials, every teacher in this study recognized the value of the WHFUA materials and was thankful to have access to it. All looked forward to future development, to the creation of new materials, units and to additional lessons.


Therefore, we strongly recommend that WHFUA continue to add more units, lessons and materials.

2. Elaborate on existing connections among WHFUA teaching materials

One of its most useful features for teachers is WHFUA’s innovative structure that organizes curriculum materials along geographic and temporal scales. The website’s structure is more than a functional system of organization, but it servers an educative function in helping teachers develop a picture world history that moves beyond the cultural cavalcade found in most textbooks or curriculum. Combined with the essays introducing the eras, the structure and the content helped teachers focus on “big ideas” at different geographic and temporal scales. Through their words and instructional actions, we found teachers acknowledging the great value in WHFUA’s attention to scales and interconnectivity

Building upon and expanding this great strength would enhance the site’s educational potential and add to its ease of use. Teachers would benefit from explicit connections between units. Since the units have been written at different times and by different authors, few if any of the unit procedures or materials makes specific reference to or links with the materials “above” or “below.” For example, making explicit references within a Landscape unit to related Panorama, Closeup, or other Landscape units would build upon connections implied in the structure and help foster new links for students and teachers. We noted with enthusiasm that some Closeup units were linked “upward” toward Landscape units. We strongly encourage WHFUA to continue such nesting of content.

 3. Capture key teacher modifications and additions and expand the WHFUA community 

Before teaching the units, the teachers in this study invested significant time and thought to modify WHFUA materials. In a sense they added another scale to the Panorama, Landscape and Closeup scales – the Classroom scale. We thought that, particularly after they taught the lessons, the teachers had “scaled” the primary sources, maps and handouts for use with middle school students or for students reading below high school or college grade levels. The teachers designed reading strategies and handouts that added great value to the units. They expanded the number of usable strategies and instructional tools. Certainly, other teachers have made and future teachers will make similar modifications to existing materials. It is a minor tragedy if, for example, the work of the teachers in this project is lost or only becomes available to those in the immediate locale.


Therefore, we strongly recommend WHFUA expand the site to pursue additional connectivity, where future users of the site could be connected to teachers who have modified and taught WHFUA materials. We urge WHFUA to explore reasonable ways to capture the ways that skilled teachers have modified the units and to find space on the site where teachers might explain what they learned or the adjustments they made teaching WHFUA materials to different students in different contexts. While this task might sound daunting, there are other projects that have found ways through wikis or other new technology to expand content by adding in the experiences of “users.” We think that tremendous value can be added if WHFUA could show how successful teachers modified lessons for different grade levels, collect additional teaching strategies for existing WHFUA materials, expand the teaching ideas, and open lines of communication among the growing community of WHFUA teachers. The need is great and we think with appropriate support, WHFUA is poised to make a significant contribution to world history education in this area.

4. Work on WHFUA assessments.

Assessments are a widely acknowledged force in history teaching and arguably the poorest and least developed feature of history instruction. As noted above, WHFUA assessments are sporadic, inconsistent and incomplete. We recommend WHFUA add a section on the website on assessment by creating a pool of good assessments at the Panorama, Landscape and Closeup levels and/or by including assessments within all the units. A good place to start might be with the Panorama and Landscape units since they appear to be the most useful and innovative for teachers. Therefore, we strongly suggest that WHFUA work with historians, teachers and those scholars with knowledge and understanding of assessments in history to frame a variety of usable assessments (such as essays, DBQ, comparative projects, multiple choice items and rubrics to evaluate each ).


Given the state of assessment available for teachers, we suspect that this will be another important and innovative role WHFUA could play for teachers of world history. The need is great and we think with appropriate support, WHFUA is poised to make a significant contribution to world history education in this area.

5. Follow-up studies with teachers and students

Most curriculum projects fail to assess the impact of the project on teachers or on students. WHFUA should be commended for initiating this study of how teachers used the projects materials and in supporting this effort to determine the impact of WHFUA on instruction. We suggest that WHFUA pursue further such studies, including more substantive look at how students use these materials. A more sustained study of WHFUA teaching in a few classrooms would offer needed information for continued revision and improvement. It would also make a significant contribution to world history education.


In closing, it is important to underscore how valuable teachers found WHFUA website and materials to be for teaching. In addition, our research revealed ways that using the WHFUA site expanded teachers’ understanding of world history as well as extending the materials they have to teach world history. In terms of quality, coherence, resources, and its attempt to be a comprehensive “full-service” resource for teachers, there is nothing like World History for Us All.

We look forward to its continued development. 

The Power and Potential of World History for Us All

Robert B. Bain, Ph.D.

Tamara L. Shreiner, Ph.D.

University of Michigan[13]



World History for Us All (WHFUA) is one of the most important curricular resources for teachers of world history. Like most published curricula, WHFUA serves two valuable roles for teachers and for those interested in improving teaching and learning. First, and most obviously, WHFUA provides an easily accessible repository for world history units and lessons. Second, though less obvious but perhaps more importantly, WHFUA serves as an educative device for teachers interested in teaching a unified history of humanity. While there is no underestimating WHFUA’s importance in offering curricular materials to teachers, its greatest value rests in its potential to help educate teachers and administrators understand and enact a coherent history of the world across multiple scales of time and space.

Designed by more than a dozen history scholars and teachers led by Ross Dunn (San Diego State University), Edmund Burke (UC Santa Cruz), and David Christian (Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia), the site now holds over hundreds of units and lessons written for WHFUA by teachers and edited by world historians.[14] The lessons offer a wide range of teachable materials including primary sources, secondary sources, maps, images, charts, artifacts, stories, handouts, worksheets, essays, usable PowerPoint, and videos. Such a robust, freely available, and historically accurate set of teachable materials is without precedent. In a very real sense, WHFUA is a peer-reviewed, curricular journal by teachers for teachers. This alone makes it one of the, if not the, most valuable curricular repositories for teachers of the world’s history.

However, beyond its value in disseminating curricular materials, WHFUA has the potential and the ambition to do more. It seeks to be a “powerful, innovative model curriculum” by providing teachers with a coherent middle ground between state standards and the vast array of textbooks and print and electronic resources. By tying the units and lessons to a coherent framework of “guiding ideas, objectives, rationales, themes, and historical periods,” the project intends to provide a “fully developed model for organizing and teaching a world history course” that “presents the human past as a single story.”[15] WHFUA, then, recognizes what Ball and Cohen call the educative value for teachers of curricular and instructional materials. Unlike other curricular repositories, WHFUA focuses on what happens in the daily and intimate classroom interactions of teachers and students around content.[16] Teachers spending time in the space WHFUA provides have the chance to acquire more than simply lessons and primary sources as the site can help -- and seeks to help -- teachers learn world historical content and the pedagogical approaches needed to help maximize students’ understanding of the past. WHFUA fits Ball and Cohen’s definition of an educative curriculum as an “instructional manual for teachers.”[17] 

As an educative repository, WHFUA is the most distinctive and potentially valuable resource for world history teachers and for those charged with the responsibility of preparing world history teachers. In making quality resources available for all teachers at no cost, WHFUA has quietly become the “go to” market for teachers and for that reason alone should merit both continuation and continued development. Even more compelling, however, is finding ways to further WHFUA’s potential to develop teachers’ knowledge for teaching world history. These two questions – how to enhance its value as a repository and how to increase its capacity to educate teachers – guides this assessment of the ways teachers use WHFUA materials and the WHFUA site.

In preparing this report, we conducted a usability study by analyzing the experiences of sixteen experienced middle and high school teachers in the Long Beach Unified Schools who were using WHFUA materials as part of a professional development project led by Ross Dunn, director, and Tim Keirn, associate director, of WHFUA. These secondary school teachers — seven middle school and nine high school teachers — taught and annotated two WHFUA units and then created an additional unit for inclusion on the site. Teachers submitted the annotated units and samples of students’ work to us to analyze. In addition, we conducted semi-structured interviews with nine of the high school teachers and four of the middle school teachers in May, 2013.[18]

We also carefully analyzed the introductory materials and the structure of the WHFUA website, keeping in mind its potential to help teachers develop both an understanding of and the skills to teach a coherent, unified history of the world, something woefully missing in secondary education in the United States.

In the next two sections we consider WHFUA as a curricular repository to report on how the middle and high school teachers in this project used the WHFUA materials and challenges they encountered in using WHFUA resources with their students. We turn then to describing the project’s educative goals located in the supporting materials and its unusual structure, before presenting findings about the degree to which teachers used the site to realize the educative goals. Finally, we offer suggestions to make WHFUA more useful to teachers and to enhance its potential for educating teachers as well as students of world history.

We are enthusiastic supporters of WHFUA and would have been so even if we had not made modest contributions to its design and resources over the years. This is important to remember, particularly when, as we do below, we point to places where WHFUA currently falls short of realizing its ambitious goals for teachers. Simply stated: we think there is nothing else like WHFUA in world history and it has become an indispensable resource for teachers. We hope this evaluation demonstrates that point, while also showing that with additional resources and modifications, WHFUA will become even more useful in transforming the educational landscape in world history.

WHFUA as a Curricular Resource and Repository

A major feature of WHFUA is to provide teachers “a rich selection of units, lessons, activities, primary documents, and resources” linked to its overarching structure.[19] Every teacher participating in this study reported that WHFUA did offer such a selection and is thus of great value. In analyzing how the teachers used the site, we identified three effects WHFUA had on instruction as teachers used WHFUA to (1) freshen up existing lessons; (2) identify conceptual gaps and provide resources to enrich lessons; (3) transform instruction and their approach to the past.

Freshen Up Existing Lessons: Several teachers found the website useful as a way to, as one teacher described it, “freshen up” units they had taught in the past. Like putting a new coat of paint on familiar walls, many teachers saw in WHFUA lessons ways to add new materials to familiar lessons to give the lessons a new feeling, a way to make existing lessons more interesting to both teachers and students alike.

One high school teacher and her planning team, for example, chose to look at the unit entitled The Experience of Colonialism, 1850-1914 CE, because they thought they “might be able to get some good materials or ideas to incorporate” in their existing lessons. Another high school teacher chose a handout from the Multitude of Sovereign States, 1945-1975 CE unit because she liked “how the author started with defining nationalism and nation-states” and thought the definition would make the regular way she taught this content more effective.

Most teachers saw in the Panorama PowerPoint Presentations ways to revitalize existing lessons and several noted that these were useful to refresh student understanding while reviewing. One middle school teacher reported using a Panorama PowerPoint at the beginning of the term to review what his colleague taught the previous year. Since he always begins with a review, he decided to use WHFUA panorama Power Points to provide visuals for a guided review of an entire year of instruction. His review this year was far more effective than usual, he reported, giving credit to the WHFUA materials.

District and state standards played a significant role in shaping and limiting how teachers pulled materials from WHFUA. Since these teachers— all of whom had two or more years of world history teaching experience—already had lessons to meet the standards, many only wanted to use WHFUA to tweak instruction because doing otherwise might mean either major revision or giving short shrift to a district requirement. Three middle school teachers illustrate this point in their approach to using West African Geography, Climate, and History unit (5.3.1). They ignored all the unit’s stated objectives and resources not specifically tied to district standards, and therefore, only used the first portion of the unit. All three picked a resource from the WHFUA unit and “dropped” it into a mapping activity the district required and for which they already had resources. Thus, adding a WHFUA resource into an existing lesson did not radically alter the exercise or activity, but rather “refreshed” it by replacing one source with a WHFUA source.

Identifying Conceptual Gaps and Providing Materials to Enrich Lessons: Going beyond “freshening” lessons, some teachers reported that the WHFUA curriculum helped them recognize gaps in instruction and then assisted them in filling these conceptual holes. We came to see this as WHFUA’s two-pronged impact by first helping teachers identify a shortcoming in their current instruction and then offering a way to meet the shortcoming.

For example, an AP world history teacher selected the unit New Identities, Nationalism and Religion, 1850-1914 (Landscape Teaching Unit 7.6) to teach because he understood that “the emergence of nationalism is a historical development of great importance” and the unit showed him a “gap” in how he was teaching nationalism. The WHFUA unit centered on students first forming conceptual understanding of nationalism by identifying critical attributes and then applying these case studies of Japan and Egypt. Such an approach, he realized, added conceptual depth, ensuring his students really understood nationalism and that they could apply it carefully in two cases too often ignored. Such overt attention to concept formation was missing in his previous instruction and he thought the WHFUA approach particularly useful. Similarly, another high school teacher added materials from The Atlantic Revolutions as a World Event, 1750-1830 unit since it compared the American, French, Haitian, and Venezuela Revolutions. The comparative approach pointed out the connections between the revolutions and Enlightenment ideas — connections the teacher had not previously emphasized — and offered instructional materials to add the linkages for her students. Providing another example, three middle school teachers stated that they loved how a handout from Unit 3.3, River Valleys and the Development of Complex Societies in Afroeurasia, 4000 - 1500 BCE, articulated the characteristics all civilizations share, causing them to realize how rarely they focused on “civilization” as a concept. Prompted by their state’s standards focused on civilizations, they typically launched right into factual details about successive civilizations (such as ancient China, Mesopotamia and Egypt) but did not typically attend to, as the WHFUA unit did, the value of making “civilization” the unifying concept. Though no teacher thought their 6th or 7th grade students would be able to fully read and comprehend the WHFUA student handout as it exists in the site (something we discuss below), they enthusiastically described how critical teaching the concept was and how they made time to make the idea accessible for their students. Here again, WHFUA pointed out to teachers ways they had ignored a central concept in their curriculum, thereby helping them identify a fundamental gap in instruction. At the same time, the site assisted them in designing lessons that would help develop the idea for their students.

Similar to “refreshing” curriculum, such “gap-filling” had a considerable impact on teachers’ instruction. Furthermore, the teachers reported significant impact on both their investment to ensure the transplanted materials fit their curriculum and on what the students learned by adding WHFUA material to extant lessons. Two features in teachers’ interaction with the WHFUA units struck as particularly important. First, the teachers did not use entire units or lessons, but rather identified something of value and removed it without using any of the other accompanying WHFUA materials. Second, most of the high school teachers and all of the middle school teachers reported they made a substantive investment of time to make the WHFUA material accessible to their students and fit their curriculum – a time investment all said was valuable, but that few could imagine doing regularly.

Primary sources and student handouts were most frequent resources teachers repurposed for their students. All nine high school teachers and four of the seven middle school teachers enthusiastically reported valuable materials they “found” within WHFUA, though five of the high school teachers and all the middle school teachers discussed at length the work entailed in transplanting the WHFUA resources. Though we will discuss the reasons for the modifications below, we saw in teachers’ efforts a strong indication of the value they gave the site and how WHFUA opened up productive, instructional perspectives.

Transforming Teacher’s Instructional Approach: A previous study of teachers’ use of WHFUA pointed to ways the site seemed to transform how teachers approached the content of world history by helping them move outside nation-state or regional containers to focus on geographic zones of interaction.[20] As in the previous study, we also observed how teachers appropriated and used productively broader units of geographic analysis, such as “Afroeurasia” or “zones of exchange,” though we also noted they used the analytical units with less novelty and surprise, and far more fluency and ease than did teachers in the previous study.

While using new vocabulary does not sound “transformative,” we see teachers’ fluency with the more nuanced temporal and spatial units as enabling them to break the traditional and too often ahistorical units that have hindered the development of more coherent courses in world history. The ease with which teachers used ideas such as Afroeurasia to replace, where appropriate, the continental, civilizational, or nation-state categories that shapes their state’s curriculum suggested to us that teachers have taken an important step toward teaching global history. If not transformative, we think it is a key and necessary step in the transformation of the world history curriculum and at least for these teachers, WHFUA was the catalyst for this change.

Beyond opening up new ways for teachers to reframe the geographic containers that hold world history, we also found another “transformative” case in a middle school teacher who used a WHFUA handout to redesign his entire approach to teaching civilizations, going far beyond what the WHFUA unit proposed. Years ago this teacher, who has an M.A. in world history, participated in a WHFUA workshop. There he added the origin stories from an early WHFUA unit to his well-established mythology unit – an example of WHFUA helping a teacher identify an opportunity to repurpose content to make extant instruction richer. He told us that he continues to use this WHFUA-enriched unit to “introduce my first three civilizations - Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Israel.”

For the current project, he decided he “could use the gist” of a Landscape Unit on civilizations “without using the primary sources or the secondary materials.” Like other middle school teachers he liked the attributes of civilizations in the WHFUA students’ handout, but did not see the handout as accessible for his students. He, like his colleagues, saw virtue in finding a way to the handout’s “gist” without using the handout. Unlike his colleagues, however, the WHFUA approach pressed him to think about designing “a way to organize the ways in which I taught ‘civilization’ to my students, beginning with Sumer.” Seeing the conceptual and pedagogical power in the WHFUA handout on civilizations, he decided to transform his entire approach to teaching his district’s curriculum.

Using the WHFUA essay on attributes of civilization, he created an analytical table for each civilization that he used to guide and shape his students’ study of all the civilizations the district and state required at 6th grade. He used the WHFUA analytical categories (i.e., system of writing, political organization, monumental architecture) to frame all subsequent instruction, designing comparative touch-stones his students used across the entire school year. WHFUA’s approach offered up an idea that he used to develop a set of analytic categories that his students used to study each civilization, enabling his middle school students to develop a coherent picture of civilizations and the ways they changed or did not change over time.

The teacher credited WHFUA for being the catalyst but not the instrument for this transformation. That is, he extended a WHFUA activity contained in one stand-alone WHFUA unit to fit other units. Further, as the WHFUA handout on civilizations made no mention of origin stories, even though these were in a previous WHFUA unit, this teacher constructed a link among WHFUA units that did not exist by adding “origin stories” to his analytic chart on civilizations. In short, WHFUA provided him with an idea that enabled him to develop a transformative coherence. It is important to note, however, that this transformative coherence is not evident in subsequent WHFUA units nor does the current WHFUA site have a way to capture such wisdom of practice, something which we will discuss further below.

Such caveats do not diminish the impact WHFUA lessons seem to have on some teachers, such as this middle school teacher, who garner new insights and then use the insights to transform their entire approach to world history and world history instruction.

Obstacles to Teachers Using the WHFUA Repository

To reiterate: every teacher “loved” WHFUA, extolling its virtues as a repository of good ideas and valuable materials. Individually, each teacher found ways to use lessons or sections of lessons to refresh their curriculum, fill in gaps, transplant resources, and in a few cases, even transform their approach to teaching history. However, few teachers adopted or even trialed an entire unit or worked with more than two or three lessons in a unit. Though WHFUA tries to provide a unified, coherent, model curriculum and these teachers were part of a special program sponsored by WHFUA to teach a unit, none entirely did so.

This is not unusual as other researchers have discovered teachers’ selective use of a comprehensive curriculum or identified challenges that inhere in “one-size-for-all” curriculum materials.[21] While understandable, we think that comprehending the challenges teachers face in using units might suggest pathways WHFUA directors might pursue to meet or at least reduce obstacles opening the way for a fuller use of the curriculum.

What were the obstacles that made it difficult to teach WHFUA units as designed? Teachers offered three reasons: (1) Press of standards and external assessments; (2) Difficulty in aligning WHFUA to grade level, reading level, or instructional context; (3) Time needed to modifying WHFUA materials to fit instructional context. In what follows, we discuss each, using examples to illuminate the issues.

Press of district or state standards: WHFUA, in part, came into being to help teachers navigate the turbulent instructional waters in the wake of national and then state standards in world history. The demand that teachers meet these standards, particularly those that are externally tested by states, districts or schools, generated the need for WHFUA. Yet the press of standards remains one of the biggest challenges teachers face in using WHFUA.

WHFUA emerged in the aftermath of the national standards controversy of the mid-1990s as the project sought to provide curricular resources teachers needed to meet the new standards in world history. Coherent world history curricula and professional development had been part of the National Center for History in the Schools’ long-range plans when it accepted the contract to lead the national history standards writing process in 1992.[22] While hopeful about the good that would follow from a common set of instructional targets, most educators recognized that the nation needed effective, reform-minded curriculum, professional development, and thoughtful assessments to complement national standards.[23] However, there has never been substantive funding for curriculum or professional development in world history, and even less so in the wake of the controversy surrounding the release of the National History Standards. WHFUA, therefore, filled the curricular vacuum and from the very beginning focused efforts on helping teachers enact and meet national and state standards.

It is ironic, then, that these world history teachers, particularly those working in the middle schools, explained that state and district standards made more substantive use of WHFUA units difficult if not impossible. The problem seemed to be two-fold. First, mindful of the standards and what was tested, teachers told us that the WHFUA units were simply too long and took far “too much time to cover a single topic.” For middle school or regular education teachers, this seemed to be a particularly powerful obstacle. It is important to remember that WHFUA’s layering the curriculum along Panorama, Landscape and Closeup scales – arguably its most important design innovation – does not align directly with state or district standards.[24] Thus, teachers found themselves trying to locate their state standards within the WHFUA objectives and if the correspondence was not immediately apparent, it seemed, teachers cut out the “irrelevant” content and lessons from their teaching. “Off standard’s topic” was the reason one middle school teacher gave to why she ignored 75% of a WHFUA unit. “The investment of time spent on further study of geography would not pay out in higher quarter exam stores because it wouldn’t be tested,” she wrote.

The second obstacle entailed decisions made at the state or local level regarding assessments and their connection to teacher evaluation. With common assessments and administrators who pay attention to the scores, the teachers expressed concern about ensuring that everything being taught would be tested on the district or state test. This district’s decision to move to a new quarterly testing system – students assessed each nine weeks rather than each semester – narrowed the space teachers had to teach a full WHFUA unit. Time was tight and with assessments coming each 8.5 weeks, the cycle became even tighter. Many middle school teachers essentially saw themselves as teaching four 9-week courses, each ending with a district-wide external exam. Teachers explained they no longer had “wriggle room” to try out new units, or allow one unit to go a bit longer, confident that they could make up the time over the semester. The district’s required pacing guides were so tight that teachers felt “lucky” if they could find a way to squeeze in a single WHFUA resource or activity.         

Difficulty aligning to instructional context: In its attempt to provide resources for any teacher of world history at any grade level anywhere, WHFUA has not tied itself to any state’s standards, to a particular grade level or instructional context. The site offers little guidance regarding grade or reading level of the materials nor information regarding the type of school setting for whom the authors designed instruction. Essentially, this makes WHFUA context-neutral, appealing to any and all teachers of world history.


However, teachers do not teach in generic or neutral contexts. same district, they covered almost the complete gamut of instructional settings for world history ranging from 6th grade through high school, from AP World History to honors to remedial classes. Some teachers had more classes of second-language learners, with many students reading far below grade level. Finding the right instructional pitch for the students in any one of these settings presents a huge challenge for curriculum designers – finding ways to meet all the variation in this one district seems to be impossible.  

Thus, teachers regularly reported that the materials were too challenging for their students or in the wrong format, often causing teachers to skip past good resources. Consider the attributes of civilization handout that attracted the interest of so many of the middle school teachers. This student-facing handout consisted of five single-spaced pages of text, unbroken by sections or headers or bolded text written at an upper twelfth-grade Flesch-Kincaid reading level. Though all the middle school teachers saw great value in the content of the text, none thought their students could handle it, encouraging teachers to either invest time in modifying it (see below) or skipping the resource.

Further, each WHFUA unit seemed to be a stand-alone unit intended for use without committing to the units before or after, or without connections to the materials on the levels (Panorama, Landscape or Closeup) above or below. We suspect that WHFUA authors did not have detailed knowledge of what came before or would come after their units, and thus were unable to situate the materials in a spiraling context where units build upon each other. Such might explain why the teachers in this study thought the units were too long as unit authors, writing without detailed knowledge of what came before, may have thought it necessary to pack background knowledge into each unit. This loose alignment to other units in the WHFUA curricular scheme complicated the capacity of teachers to adopt a line of WHFUA units, confident that each unit supported or extended others. Thus teachers gravitated to selecting sections of WHFUA units to add to their own extant curriculum, at least aligned to the district or state standards or tests.

The variation in reading and grade levels of WHFUA materials and each unit’s place within WHFUA’s general instructional sequence challenged teachers seeking to adopt the curriculum for their specific instructional setting. Though not a curricular “deal breaker,” understanding this helps explain why teachers’ chose to use smaller and selective portion of the units or, as we discuss below, to invest substantive time to make the WHFUA materials “considerate” for their learners.

Cost of modifying materials to fit instructional context: Given the understandable imperative of WHFUA to post one -size, stand-alone units and the requisite need for teachers to find materials that fit their specific instructional context, most teachers in the study invested significant time to alter WHFUA texts, formats or lessons or order to use WHFUA materials with their students.

No middle school teacher used individual lessons or texts as they found them and only two of the nine high school teachers used materials as they appeared on the WHFUA site. They reported expending tremendous time and energy in making the off-the-shelf WHFUA materials assessable for the students. Though only a rough estimate, it seemed that the teachers time was inversely connected to grade or reading level of the students, as the younger the student or lower the reading level, the more time was required in tailoring the material for the students.

Of particular concern to teachers were the texts, including handouts WHFUA authors created for secondary students. Most teachers shortened or reformatted the student-facing texts or changed the vocabulary to make the texts more considerate to their students.[25] For example, a high school teacher selected the following text on the first pillars of Islam that read:

Shahadah (the Islamic Creed): The declaration of faith in Islam is a simple statement that begins Ashud anna,” (“I witness that””), and continues with the statement La illaha illa Allah (“There is no god but God”), and ends with the affirmation wa Muhammad rasul Allah (“and Muhammad is the messenger of God”). The first part defines the role of the Muslim, a continuous striving throughout life. This striving reaches into all aspects of personality and activity toward the self, the family and the community, to the entire community of humankind and the natural environment. The second part affirms the existence of one God by negating the existence of any other creature that people might worship, or any partner with God. It underlines the Muslim’s direct relationship with God as a witness and as a servant of God. No central authority nor privileged persons stand between God and the individual. The third part of the creed witnesses that God sent prophets to humankind, as stated in the scriptures revealed before the Qur’an. Then, it affirms that Muhammad was a prophet, or messenger who received revelation (the Qur’an) and guidance from God. Among the earlier revelations mentioned in the Qur’an are the Torah (given to Moses), the Psalms (given to David) and the Evangelium (given to Jesus). This series of prophets and revelation includes—among others—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus, and Muhammad, according to the universally accepted teachings of Islam. The Qur’an states that what was revealed to Muhammad confirmed the basic message of the earlier scriptures.

This text, tested as appropriate for an advanced college level freshman (Flesch-Kincaid score of 13.7), was far too complicated, the teacher thought, for her 10th grade students. So she replaced some words with synonyms, shortened sentences, and added clarifying words or phrases to create the following text for her students:

First Pillar of Islam: Shahadah

The declaration of faith in Islam is a simple statement: “I witness that there is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The first part defines the role of the Muslim, a continuous striving throughout life to focus on God rather than worldly possessions or problems. The second part affirms the existence of one God by negating the existence of any other being that people might worship. This emphasizes the Muslim’s direct relationship with God as both a witness and a servant of God. No central authority nor privileged persons can stand between God and the believer. The third part of the creed witnesses that God sent prophets to humankind, as stated in the earlier of the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible. It affirms that Muhammad is a prophet or messenger who received the revelation (the Quran) from God. Muslims acknowledge many older Jewish and Christian prophets as well, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus. The Quran states that what was revealed to Muhammad confirmed the basic message of the earlier Jewish and Christian scriptures.

The modified text brought the reading level to a beginning 11th-grade level (Flesch-Kincaid). The teacher reported some of her students had challenges with the modified text but generally it was within the range of most of her students. Imagine the difficulties that middle school teachers might face in reworking a college-level or upper-high school text to make it one that a sixth or seventh grader could make sense of independently. It is not surprising that one middle school teacher reported discovering a handout for her students tested at graduate school level, and thus she ignored the text completely.

Another middle school teacher thought that the virtues of a “characteristics of civilizations” handout (Student Handout 1.1) from an Era 3 Landscape Unit made it worth the effort to rewrite, even though its existing format was wrong for her students. “No way,” the sixth-grade teacher reported, “could or would my middle schools students wade through” five single-spaced pages of text with no headers, sub-headers, or bolded vocabulary written at the twelfth-grade reading level. Yet, the ideas were so valuable, rather than skipping the text, she rewrote it with her middle school students in mind.

Going beyond simply reducing the reading level, she completely restructured the handout. First, she divided the five-page, single-spaced essay into sections to create 11 one-page essays. She provided titles for each section (e.g., Agriculture, Monumental Architecture, and Politics) and bolded key words – necessary and considerate features to help all readers, but particularly students in secondary school, navigate complicated texts. She also cut some sentences, shortened others by eliminating clauses and added sentences to fill in content she thought her students needed but might not have. Her work reduced most of the texts to an eighth- or ninth- grade reading level which she thought was now within the reach of many of her sixth graders. To ensure that, however, she prepared a PowerPoint to set the context of the readings which served as a pre-reading strategy. She then divided the students into ten groups to collaboratively read the essays and construct a concept map to teach classmates. As we reviewed a sample of her students’ summary sheets, it was clear they had identified key features of the texts and thus we assumed student comprehension. However, this teacher did not think that a simple reading would do the trick and so she created a debate where students would have to study others’ charts to determine which trait of civilization they thought was most significant.

We do not know how much time this teacher invested in this revision, but in reviewing student work from the reading, we could see the value that accrued through her efforts. She assured us these essays and PowerPoint lessons would become part of her “tool box” for teaching about civilizations. It seems, however, that no other part of that WHFUA unit would make it into that toolbox, as she did not teach any other section of this unit.

Other middle school teachers supplemented or even replaced WHFUA texts or strategies with their own texts, often taken directly from their textbooks. Indeed, three middle school teachers decided that an accompanying WHFUA text was too difficult or provided too much “extra’” information. So they swapped out the WHFUA reading, choosing to use a reading from their textbook. All the middle school teachers decided to use their own maps rather than the one provided by WHFUA for similar reasons.

The high school teachers also reported that the vocabulary and reading difficulty were concerns. More than half of them felt the readings—both primary and secondary—were too difficult for their students. In most cases, teachers ignored lessons or materials where the reading level appeared to be too difficult. We say “appeared” because only one or two teachers told us they ran Lexile or Flesch analyses of texts. While some of the high schools teachers used student handouts, such as a crossword puzzle or guided reading questions, most of the time teachers reported designing their own activities around the documents and readings in the lessons based on suggestions from the unit authors or from their own “bag of tricks.” Several teachers mentioned strategies like “anticipation guides” or “KWL’s” seat activities that they applied across several contexts to help students comprehend and process information in readings and lectures. Teachers also employed strategies like “jigsaw puzzle groups” or “stations” to save time, fit in a large amount of reading, and encourage student discussion and collaboration.

Despite the obstacles described in this section, every teacher raved about the content available to them through WHFUA. As a repository, WHFUA seems to be without peer in offering primary sources, specially designed PowerPoint materials and handouts, and rich sets of ideas about how to approach the historical content, and in turn the students. Teachers appreciated the format of the lessons with the links to standards, clear learning goals, procedures and resources. Teachers were ebullient in their praise for the site as a resource and they recognized the effort that went into creating this site and the great value the site offers teachers.

Our analysis of how these teachers used the materials also revealed both the limitations of a “one-size-fits-all” repository and the amount of craft knowledge required for teachers to use the materials across such a wide range of classrooms. In using this wisdom of practice to fit WHFUA resources to their specific instructional contexts, teachers added great value to WHFUA lessons. As we will discuss in our recommendations, that WHFUA has no way to aggregate this wisdom of practice or to collect the modified materials is a major shortcoming and we suspect makes the site far less useful than it could be. In the final section of this report, we will discuss reasons and ways WHFUA might gather the collective and specific wisdom of practice.

WHFUA and Its Educative Role

WHFUA deserves its well-earned praise for being a valued and valuable repository of world history curriculum despite the challenges noted above. However, the project has greater ambitions. In addition to its “rich selection of units, lessons, activities, primary documents, and resources,” WHFUA promises a “logical conceptual framework of guiding ideas, objectives, rationales, themes, and historical periods,” aspiring to provide a model curriculum that uses cutting edge research in history and learning to promote a unified approach to human history.[26] In short, WHFUA also seeks to play an educational role for teachers.

In this section we discuss this educative goal. Drawing on WHFUA’s introductory essays and the sites unusual structure with its Panorama, Landscape and Closeup levels, we describe what differentiates the WHFUA approach to studying world history from others. We then turn to discussing the degree to which teachers recognized WHFUA’s intellectual and pedagogical approach to world history, before analyzing the degree to which teachers used WHFUA’s approach to alter their instruction.

What is WHFUA’s distinctive approach to world history? Four features define it: First, WHFUA proposes that humankind has a history that can be investigated, described, taught and understood. This demands more than studying one disconnected culture after another or assuming that the sum of civilizational study constitutes a totality. Rather, WHFUA proposes to investigate the human past by “asking historical questions about events and developments that are relatively broad in time and space.”[27] WHFUA states explicitly that the primary context for studying human history is the globe, using all temporal and spatial scales to investigate humanity, our connections and their interactions.

Second, WHFUA uses a unified chronology of humanity which it calls “Big Eras” to frame world history and thus the curriculum.[28] The nine Big Eras situate nations, civilizations, cultures, religions, and economic systems within a broad temporal schemed marked by pivotal global turning points. Thus, WHFUA seeks to present a large global story told across the nine Big Eras.

Third, within each Big Era, WHFUA uses different “lenses” to frame and nest historical content along shifting but interconnected scales of time and space. Here the site uses a visual metaphor to thinking about how history looks if one used a Panorama, Landscape and Closeup lens. This frames the lessons on a scale ranging from “broad, global changes to developments that occurred within regions, civilizations, or nations.” This temporal and spatial scheme encourages teachers and students to shift scale to use analytic frames large or small enough for interactions among and within communities to come into view. Since WHFUA follows in significant measure the periodization scheme proposed in the National Standards for World History and adopted by most states, it is a familiar tool for world history teachers. However, WHFUA broke new ground in using three lenses to bring history into view – and it is this that we think is both most useful and perhaps hardest for teachers to actually employ, therefore meriting a bit more description. The Panorama Units sees global history as “very large-scale developments in world history.” These units “provide a model for teaching an entire era of world history in a few lessons taking no more than a week or two of class time” to offer students a picture of the large patterns of change in an era. Each Panorama Unit has two to seven Landscape Teaching Units that allow teachers and students to drop down a temporal spatial level to see the details and inter-regional commonalities and variations of the large-scale historical developments. Like the Panorama Units, the Landscape Units are “trans-regional, cross-cultural, or comparative.” The Closeup Units offer a picture of the past more “restricted in time, space and subject matter.”[29] The lens metaphor and the site’s structure convey a strong message to teachers that world history is done at the largest of human scales as well as at the smallest and most local.

Fourth, and maybe most critically, WHFUA seeks to build connections among the Big Era and lessons situated at the Panorama, Landscape and Closeup levels. Drawing on work in cognition, the site claims that “students will achieve will greater competence in world history, and more successfully meet content and performance standards, if they are guided to relate particular subject matter to larger patterns of historical meaning and significance.” In short, WHFUA argues that “historical understanding requires learning of both the particular and the general.”[30] 

WHFUA’s integrative approach to study history at multiple scales, including the largest, and its way of representing history at different temporal-spatial scales is not yet commonplace. We know of no other curricular site that represents historical knowledge or pedagogy in such a manner and only one state that uses these levels to capture their standards. This structure clearly signals WHFUA’s goal that “world history education should include the whole world and not just part of it” because world history’s “main subject is humankind and how humans have thought, behaved, and interacted across the ages.”[31] 

However, though most state standards and curriculum projects share the goal of engaging students in the study of an integrated history of humanity, research has demonstrated that most fall far short, instead replicating a Eurocentric, multi-regional or serial civilizational approach to the world’s history.[32] To be most useful, then, WHFUA must develop teachers’ understanding of the past at such scale and the virtue of “scale shifting.”

This educative purpose appears to be a central feature of WHFUA goals. Its introductory and Big Era essays, as well as its structure with units at Panorama, Landscape, or Closeup scales, not only reflects these goal but instantiates them into the fabric of the site. The structure provides teachers the option of going into more or less depth, enabling teachers to “choose to introduce their students to entire eras of the human past in a few class periods by focusing on very large-scale developments,” or to “delve deeply into an era by considering historical changes at smaller scales of time, space, and subject matter.”

WHFUA also conveys a nested structure by enabling teachers and students to locate “the particular and the general” and consider the relationship between each.[33] This nested structure is reflected in the units numbering system that show how Closeup Units fall under the Landscape which fall under the Panorama. In addition, the units instruct teachers on how they might nest and make connections among units since each unit begins with a “Why This Unit?” essay. Here WHFUA explains how the unit fits in the curriculum and its importance within the global historical narrative. The Landscape and Closeup Units also include a section on conceptual links to other units, again providing clues to teachers as to how they might teach the units as nested in a larger context.

We are quite enthusiastic for the explicit and thoughtful way WHFUA attempts to educate teachers about global world history and the virtue of moving students carefully “up and down” from the global to the inter-regional to the local (and even personal) as they study the past. Such an approach has long been the goal of organizations like the World History Association, that National Standards for World History, and journals such as the Journal of World History and Journal of Global History. In so many ways, WHFUA is trying to teach teachers about this approach as it teaches how to teach at such shifting scales. However, what is taught, what is learned, and what is used can be very different—a fact we discovered in trying to understand the degree to which teachers saw the WHFUA approach, understood it and then employed it in teaching.

All of the teachers in this study were aware of the different scales represented on the WHFUA website but several indicated that they approached them mainly as a way to address the practical problem of “fitting in” lessons. That is, they seemed to judge which lessons they would use based on the time they had to teach, describing Panorama units useful if they had less time to teach content, and Landscape or Closeup Units if they had more time. Although all the teachers seemed to understand the concept of nested and interconnected scales, few reported using the approach with their students. That is, almost no teachers taught units at different scales or made the connections between content taught at one level to that taught at another. This despite the fact that almost all the teachers reported understanding the concept of scale and seeing its value in understanding world history. Yet we could see no evidence that teachers employed these larger connections in their instruction and only two told us that they used the site in that manner.


As we did in the previous section, we saw obstacles that seem to prevent teachers from taking up the WHFUA approach to world history. We discuss these obstacles below.

Obstacles to the Educative Potential of the WHFUA Curriculum

District Standards and Testing: Again, the press to comply with district standards and testing seemed to prevent teachers from realizing WHFUA’s potential. One middle school teacher put it bluntly when she said she did not pay any attention to the different unit lenses because she was only interested in “picking and choosing things that help us meet the standards and prepare the kids for the tests.” She added that the levels could be “confusing” particularly when the test does not raise questions of scale. Likewise, a high school teacher characterized the scales as “overwhelming” and said she thought you could only do it if you used the entire WHFUA curriculum.

With meeting standards and preparing students for tests at the forefront of their minds when planning for instruction, it is not surprising that teachers would use a topic-driven, compartmentalized approach in choosing the WHFUA lessons, ignoring WHFUA’s integrated and comprehensive goal and structure. These teachers, then, essentially flattened the WHFUA structure, seeing Panorama, Landscape, and Closeup units as disconnected repositories for lesson ideas and materials. As one high school teacher stated, “I like the idea of scales, but I don’t think I’m using them the way they were intended.”

Hidden and Missed Connections: Some of the teachers we interviewed indicated that it was difficult to see the connections between the units across time as well as at the different levels. An AP teacher, for example, said she would like to use scales more in the future but wanted to see the connections between units made more explicit. Another teacher disagreed, arguing that the connections were explicit for teachers, but not for students. The only two teachers who reported trying to use nested scales in their classrooms told us they thought it was difficult to implement, that the textbook did not align to the concept, and thus it required far more practice and training than they had had.

Yet, since all these teachers had access to special training in using the site we wondered if “old habits” regarding searching for curricular resources and the way the site has evolved has “hidden” the key educative features of the WHFUA project.

What then is the educative potential of the website for a teacher just browsing it as a repository for lesson ideas and materials? Are the connections hidden? Confusing? We tried an experiment of sorts, wondering how a teacher new to the site might navigate and discover the site’s educative structure. So imagine a teacher did a web search for “Protestant Reformation world history lesson.” She would find the WHFUA Closeup Teaching Unit 6.7.1, The Protestant Reformation, as her first hit. This would take her straight to the unit summary ( The teacher may or may not notice the lesson was numbered 6.7.1, a WHFUA system used to indicate the lesson’s connection to the Landscape Unit 6.7, The Long Reach of Major Religions. Upon opening the complete teaching unit, she would see a connection in the “Why This Unit?” section that states “Teachers may also wish to refer to Lesson 5 (Scientific and Intellectual Exchanges) in the Panorama Teaching Unit for Big Era 5 and to Lesson 1 in Landscape Teaching Unit 6.7, The Long Reach of the Major Religions. The subject of Lesson 1 is the Protestant Reformation.” Following that path, she would find that the Protestant Reformation is indeed the subject of the first lesson in Unit 6.7, and that the unit also takes up the Counter Reformation.

Let us imagine then, that the teacher subsequently noticed the designations of Panorama, Landscape, and Closeup and wanted to learn more about scales, the differences between them, and their relationship. Could she see it in the structure of the units? Though the connection between scales is noted in Closeup Unit 6.7.1, there are also some aspects potentially confusing for teachers trying to understand how to use scale in their classrooms. First, if the Protestant Reformation is studied “up close” in both the Landscape and Closeup Units, then what is the difference between the two kinds of units? Frankly, students zoom into the Protestant Reformation more closely in the Landscape Unit, as the first lesson is a simulation on Luther’s trial. From a pedagogical standpoint, zooming in to closely study the Protestant Reformation and the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism before looking at the spread of Protestantism throughout Europe and into European colonies makes perfect sense. However, a teacher trying to understand the use of scales in his or her classroom might not truly understand the pedagogical move, or “scale-shifting,” he or she is doing, if it is not made explicit in the unit.

The use of shifting scales is made even more confusing by the fact that there is reference to the previous big era—Big Era 5—in the Closeup Unit on the Protestant Reformation situated in Big Era 6. Rather than making reference to large-scale panoramic patterns that defined the previous era, this Closeup Unit could be helping the teacher connect this unit to the large-scale pattern in the era where it is nested.

Some of this confusion might be corrected if a teacher were to refer to the “Conceptual Connections” section at the end of Closeup Unit 6.7.1. Here they would see the connections made much more explicit with this illustration:

end of the unit, and, unfortunately they would not be alerted to it while teaching Landscape Unit 6.7, where the conceptual connections section reads as follows:

This Teaching Unit has focused on the spread of major religions in the early modern centuries. Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism diffused more widely in that era partly because a genuinely globe-encompassing network of communication and transport came into existence in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Caravans and sailing ships not only wove together a global system of trade but also a web for the movement of information and knowledge, including religious ideas and practices. The encounters between peoples possessing different religions, however, produced a wide variety of responses. The next section of the curriculum brings us to Big Era Seven, Industrialization and Its Consequences, 1750-1914 CE. In that era, humans entered the age of communication driven by steam and electricity (railways, steamships, the telegraph, the popular press). This meant that religious teachings moved even faster around the world—a world facing wholly new moral and spiritual challenges brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Encounters between peoples of different religions were as varied and dramatic as they had been in the early modern centuries.

Though this paragraph provides connections to the next era, and to the major patterns in the current era, it does not point teachers to study the Protestant Reformation in more depth in a Closeup Unit.

Missed opportunities to make consistent and strong connections between units is evident in other places as well. For example, Closeup Unit 5.5.1 on the Black Death presents a great opportunity to study the disease in context while studying major calamities and recoveries that occurred within Era 5 in Landscape Unit 5.5. Again, if the teacher looked first at the Closeup Unit on the Black Death (also the first WHFUA hit if a teacher were to do a topical search) and scrolled to the bottom of the unit, they would see an illustration of the connections between units:

They would not see these connections, however, if they were to look first at Landscape Unit 5.5, Calamities and Recoveries. There they would only read about conceptual connections to other landscape units:

The first five Landscape Teaching Units in this Big Era focused on developments in Afroeurasia, where a large majority of the world’s population lived. Teaching Unit 5.6 explores developments in the Americas between about 300 and 1500 C. E. In those centuries the peoples of the Americas and of Afroeurasia had no sustained contacts with one another. In investigating the Americas, including the emergence of several large-scale complex societies, teachers and students are encouraged to compare developments there with those in Afroeurasia. For example, what sort of basic technologies did North and South American peoples use to build agricultural economies, cities, and trade networks compared to the technologies available in Afroeurasia?

Once again, scale and its uses in the classroom may only be apparent to a small number of teachers who happen to stumble upon the right unit at the right time as they are imagining how they might structure these lessons within their classrooms.

Given the way in which the WHFUA units were written by individual teachers and the gargantuan editorial effort all of these units required, it is no surprise that there is room for more explicit connections to be made. In fact, we suspect that making more consistent and explicit connections between units in order to maximize the educative potential of the website may have been impossible in earlier stages of the website’s development. However, we further suspect that the site is now at a stage where this could be remedied, along with some of the other issues already discussed. The next section provides detailed recommendations for next steps in the development of the WHFUA site.

Conclusions and Recommendations to Improve WHFUA

WHFUA has been highly successful in meeting its goal to be a curricular repository for world history lessons and materials. The teachers we interviewed all agreed it was a useful resource for finding fresh lesson ideas and for filling gaps in their existing curricula. Teachers also spoke enthusiastically about the number of primary sources, statistical tables and graphs, and other readings the site provides. Unfortunately, two resources WHFUA cannot provide are time to teach and relief from counter-productive standards and testing pressures. Both were pressing issues that hindered their capacity to use WHFUA effectively.

A related and significant concern that challenged teachers’ use of the site was the reading level and length WHFUA texts and units. Many teachers scrapped or ignored lessons or texts altogether because they thought core readings were too long or difficult. Those that did take time to modify the texts for their students found the materials valuable but the process was time consuming and prohibitive for other texts. Ironically, we saw many teachers approaching WHFUA as offering a large mixed bag of practical and usable materials, but not as a comprehensive, integrated curriculum.

        Given what an accomplishment it has been to have such a repository up and running, we are loathe to criticize it for not providing context-specific curriculum for the wide range of settings in which teachers teach world history. However, we have seen first-hand how these obstacles prevented teachers from fully using the resources and materials and thus offer a few suggestions for mediating this challenge.

Post Teachers’ Revisions and Modifications: Long discussed, we think a critical first step is to enable a second generation of WHFUA teachers to author modifications to specific units after teaching. Simply, we encourage WHFUA to allow respected world history teachers to post their revisions of handouts and other teaching materials. The wisdom of practice we saw used by the teachers in this study was outstanding, and we wondered why they lived only in their own classrooms or at best in their schools. The teacher’s investment of time and thought, for example, in making the civilization worksheet accessible to her 6th grade students was enormous. For her, the students’ ability to comprehend the texts on their own was its own reward, yet we could not have helped but wonder if other middle school teachers would have been able to get similar results using her tests.

We therefore recommend that WHFUA begin circling back on existing curriculum to capture teachers’ modifications of specific units at different levels, particularly middle and high school. This could take place in structured workshops with the teachers who have participated in implementing the curriculum or through a call for modifications from the general teaching public. Both should undergo a vetting process to ensure historical content remains accurate and the pedagogical decisions are strong.

 Construct Considerate Texts: We also think WHFUA should conduct Lexile or Flesch-Kincaid analyses of key texts and post the results for teachers. This would enable teachers to more accurately ascertain the text complexity for their students and would, we suspect, cue WHFUA designers to the wide variation in text levels, sometimes within the same unit.

We suspect a productive step might also hire individuals to modify texts so that all texts fall within more age-appropriate readability range. This does not mean that one replaces easier texts for more complicated texts, but rather try to provide teachers with at least two examples of a handout or student-facing material at a high school and middle school level.

Since WHFUA is populated with a large amount of quite compelling and valuable texts, we think it time to tackle the literacy challenges we heard about many of the teachers, challenges that we think prevent the curriculum from reaching its full potential as an educative curriculum. Given the press for the Common Core and concerns about adolescent literacy, such a move would situate WHFUA more effectively within the disciplinary literacy community as well as the world history community – communities that overlap with increasing frequency.

Making its Educative Goal Even More Visible and Coherent: Far more difficult and maybe more important than refining WHFUA value as a curricular repository is figuring out ways to make more evident and accessible its stance toward global history. Improving how WHFUA help teachers see what it means to teach the “new” world history and how one can use nested and shifting scales to illuminate the global through the particulars, and vice versa will make WHFUA invaluable for teachers and teacher-educators. Three ideas come to mind, and we think they are worth exploring.

First, WHFUA could benefit from a comprehensive review to make more visible, consistent, and explicit connections across units. For example, unit summaries should make reference to multiple unit connections, particularly since the summaries often appear in search engines. Units should make explicit conceptual connections at the forefront to the unit and not toward the end, making it clear that teaching with scales is what makes world history and WHFUA distinctive and what makes world history coherent. With nearly all of the Panoramic and Landscape Units now complete, the “Why This Unit?” section of each unit could be revised to show connections at different scales and at the same scale. Doing this visibly and consistently throughout the curriculum will increase its educative valuable for teachers who are unfamiliar with how scale may be used in the classroom.

Of course, doing this may surface a thornier issue with the curriculum—that is, a consistent vision of what characterizes a Panoramic Unit, a Landscape Unit, or Closeup Unit. As we already pointed out, both a Landscape Unit and Closeup Unit in Big Era Six looks deeply at The Protestant Reformation. Why do case studies of Atlantic Revolutions fall within the Panoramic Unit for Big Era 7, and in the Landscape Unit 7.2 on Atlantic Revolution? What really distinguishes each?

Case Studies of Good Teaching Using WHFUA: Finally, teachers could also benefit from case studies of teachers who know how to teach using a global and scaled perspective and have successfully used WHFUA to meet standards and/or district tests. Short videos of teachers sharing their own experiences with the WHFUA would be a highly valuable addition as would short cases of how teachers used various units in their context. We think that some examples of teachers using WHFUA in a more complete comprehensive manner while still meeting state and district standards will go a long way to encourage other teachers to do more than tip into a lesson or two, but to try on more of what WHFUA has to offer.

In conclusion, WHFUA is a gem. Ross Dunn and others who have contributed to keep WHFUA growing, developing, improving and “alive” have provided a wonderful service for students and their teachers. The site has served, and served well, countless teachers over the years, indirectly impacting thousands upon thousands of students. As it currently stands, we are confident it will do so far into the future. However, during this study we have begun to see the WHFUA as a quite strong first draft, one that would benefit from new investments of funds, resources, and wisdom to refine it and make even more useful and educative for teachers of world history and their students. With such a strong and successful foundation already established, the work to take it to the next level will yield tremendous returns on the investment.

[1]Bob Bain and Lauren McArthur Harris are both former teachers of world history in high school with other 30 years of classroom experience between them. They study the teaching and learning of history across multiple sites and age levels. Bain is Associate Professor of History and Social Science Education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where Harris is a post-doctoral fellow in History and Social Science Teacher Education. Their recent research has focused on cognition in world history classrooms.

[2]Robert B. Bain and Tamara Shreiner, "The Dilemmas of a National Assessment in World History: World Historians and the 12th Grade NAEP," World History Connected 3, no. 3 (2006):

[3]Sean Cavanagh, "World History and Geography Gain Traction in Class: Seeds of Internationally Themed Lessons Were Planted in the 1980s," Education Week, March 21 2007, 10.

[4]Robert B. Bain and Tamara L. Shreiner, "Issues and Options in Creating a National Assessment in World History," The History Teacher 38, no. 2 (2005): 241-72.

[5]Bob Bain and Lauren McArthur Harris, "Preface," in This Fleeting World: A Short History of Mankind, ed. David Christian (Great Barrington, Mass.: Berkshire Publishing, 2008); Lauren McArthur Harris, "Building Coherence in World History: A Study of Instructional Tools and Teachers‘ Pedagogical Content Knowledge" (Ph. D. diss., Educational Studies, University of Michigan, 2008).

[6]Bain and Shreiner, "Issues and Options in Creating a National Assessment in World History."; Walter Russell Mead, The State of State World History Standards (Washington, DC: Fordham Foundation, 2006); Ross E. Dunn, The New World History: A Teacher's Companion (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000); Harris, "Building Coherence in World History: A Study of Instructional Tools and Teachers‘ Pedagogical Content Knowledge."

[7]“Out of field teaching” occurs when teachers teach in areas without either a major or minor in the content they teach. While this affects all subject areas, history and the social studies are impacted more than other content areas. About 60% of students in history courses have teachers who have not majored or minored in history – any history, let alone world history. See Richard Ingersoll, “The Problem of Under-qualified Teachers in American Secondary Schools." Educational Researcher v.28, # 2 (1999): 26-37.

[8]Diane Ravitch, "Educational Backgrounds of History Teachers," in Knowing, Teaching & Learning History: National and International Perspectives, ed. Peter Stearns, Peter Seixas and Samuel S. Wineburg (New York: NYU, 2000), 143-55; Peter N. Stearns, "World History: Curriculum and Controversy," World History Connected 3, no. 3 (2006):

[9]The Teaching American History Grant Program provides professional development for teachers of U.S. history. To date, the U.S. Congress has made almost $1 billion available to deepen teachers content knowledge of U.S. history. There is nothing like this in world history.

[10]10Harris, "Building Coherence in World History: A Study of Instructional Tools and Teachers‘ Pedagogical Content Knowledge."; Bain and Harris, "Preface."

[11]Both of us are quite familiar with WHFUA. One of us (Bain) consulted on the project from the outset, spending a few days with the WHUFA team during the first two working summers helping to frame the work and helping to identifying cognitive challenges in teaching and learning global history. More recently, Harris co-authored two landscape units.

[12]12Robert B. Bain, "Building an Essential World History Tool: Teaching Comparative History," in Teaching World History: A Resource Book, ed. Heidi Roup (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1997), 29-33.

[13] Bob Bain is Associate Professor in Educational Studies and the Department of History at the University of Michigan, where he currently is Chair of Secondary Teacher Education. Tammy Shreiner, formerly a Research Associate and Lecturer at the University of Michigan, now teaches high school world history at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Together Bain and Shreiner have over 30 years of world history teaching experience. Interested in teaching, learning, and using history at different scales of space and time, they recently taught a University of Michigan course together called “History at Scales. ” and are both involved in ongoing world history research and scholarship.

[14] We have participated in this project in a few capacities. Bain was a member of the original WHFUA design team and has been an ongoing consultant for project. Shreiner has co-authored two WHFUA units.

[15] WHFUA provides rationale for the project and its structure in two essays from which we pulled these quotes. See WHFUA, Why an Integrative World History Curriculum,"; WHFUA, "The Idea Behind This Curriculum,"

[16] Deborah Loewenberg Ball and David K. Cohen, “Reform by the Book: What Is—Or Might Be—The Role of Curriculum Materials in Teacher Learning and Instructional Reform?,” Educational Researcher 25, no. 9 (1 December 1996): 6

[17] Ball and Cohen, “Reform by the Book,”:6

[18] Following the interviews we looked across all the data for each teacher, working to identify patterns in their use of the website and materials. We wrote up a case study for each teacher, focusing on what they found useful, modifications they made in the materials, and what they found challenging. We also looked at their student work samples to understand what teachers were assessing and how students responded to the materials their teachers used. Finally, we looked back at interview data, annotations, teacher feedback and student work for evidence of a global approach to teaching, and more specifically, use of nested and shifting scales. Our analysis, thus, reflected our understanding of WHFUA role as both a curricular repository and an instructional opportunity to provide a unified approach to teaching world history.        

[19] WHFUA, "The Idea Behind This Curriculum,"

[20] Bain conducted a study of teachers using WHFUA with Lauren McArthur Harris in 2006 in which one of the central findings was the role that the geographic concept of Afroeurasia played in helping teachers reframe both their understanding and instruction of world history.

[21] For example, see Larry Cuban’s How Teachers Taught.

[22] Gary B. Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn, History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past (New York: First Vintage Books, 2000).

[23] Some educators also called for good, effective assessments as part of the standards process rather than allowing assessment to be an afterthought left to psychometricians or politicians. Bain, for example, proposed the U.S. follow the model in the U.K. where assessment tasks moved hand-in-glove with the creation of assessable targets. For example, in earlier work we called for historians to propose and design assessments for a national assessment of world history. Unfortunately, U.S. reformers have separated assessment from standards construction at just about every level from the national to the state. The one exception, of course, has been AP where assessment and standards framework or mutually defining. WHFUA reflects this chasm as there are no WHFUA assessments by unit or era, or even guidelines for assessment. As we will argue in the last section, this has been and continues to be a mistake that will haunt the effective use of this curriculum, as well as standards. See for example Robert B Bain, “Assessing the World History Standards: A Teacher’s Perspective,” Education Week, 22 February 1995, 35-36; Robert B. Bain and Tamara L. Shreiner, "Issues and Options in Creating a National Assessment in World History," The History Teacher 38, no. 2 (2005).

[24] Michigan's new content expectations reflect this approach as the state identifies three scales of outcomes: global/cross temporal, inter-regional and regional standards. While not exactly interchangeable with the WHFUA lenses, this is one state that does seem to share the spirit of these nested scales.

[25] As we listened to the teachers we were reminded of the concept of "considerate texts" first articulated by Anderson and Armbruster and used productively by Beck and McKeown. Texts, they argued, are considerate when they enable the reader independently to make connections among the concepts and understand the information intended. See Anderson, T. H., & Armbruster, B. B. (1984). “Content area textbook,” in R. C. Anderson, J. Osborn, & R. J. Tierney (Eds.), Learning to Read in American Schools, (pp. 193-224). Hillsdale , NJ: Erlbaum.; Beck, Isabel and Margaret G. McKeown, “Toward meaningful Accounts in History Texts for Young Learners. Educational Researcher, 1988, 31-39.

[26] "The Idea Behind This Curriculum".

[27] "Why an Integrative World History Curriculum".

[28] "The Idea Behind This Curriculum".

[29] "Teaching Units: Organization and Index," World HIstory for Us All,

[30] "The Idea Behind This Curriculum".

[31] "Why an Integrative World History Curriculum".

[32] See Bain and Shreiner, "Issues and Options in Creating a National Assessment in World History."; ———, "The Dilemmas of a National Assessment in World History: World Historians and the 12th Grade NAEP," World History Connected 3, no. 3 (2006),

[33] For discussions of the role of nested and shifting scales in world historical scholarship and teaching, see Lauren McArthur Harris, "Conceptual Devices in the Work of World Historians," Cognition and Instruction 30, no. 4 (2012); Robert B. Bain, "Challenges of Teaching and Learning World History," in A Companion to World History, ed. Douglas Northrop (Cambridge: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2012).