Teaching History


The Challenge

To find a way to identify and share the promising practices and resources being developed across the country to improve the teaching of American history in K–12 classrooms.
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At A Glance

U.S. Department of Education



Content Research and Development, Design, Development, Strategy

Drupal, jQuery


  • Received perfect score on U.S. Government Contractor Performance Evaluations throughout the five­-year, $7.3-million contract
  • Winner, 2013 American Association of State and Local History Award of Merit
  • Number 1 ranking in Google when searching “history teaching”
  • As of 2014, reaches over 2 million unique visitors each year
  • In an independent evaluation, 98% of users surveyed located the information they were seeking
  • Garnered highest click-­through rate for digital ad campaign on Edutopia
  • Featured in American Teacher (November/December 2011) as one of the best web tools recommended by teachers for teachers

Project Narrative

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) turned to RRCHNM to develop a way to identify and share the resources and promising practices being developed in the Teaching American History (TAH) grant program. TAH partnered school districts with universities, libraries, museums, and other educational organizations to devise professional development opportunities for K–12 teachers. ED recognized the need for a clearinghouse to share the good work coming out of these various partnerships, as well as a way to share other quality resources with teachers.

Designing the user experience
“The site really is what I call ‘nonnegotiable’ – a tool so valuable that no history teacher should try teaching without it.” – History Tech Blog, May 3, 2010

In response, RRCHNM developed a Drupal website that focused on three core areas: history content, teaching materials, and best practices. RRCHNM created and curated the content with the guidance of a technical working group, teacher representatives, and independent visitor surveys. The site holds more than 9,500 pieces of content in a complex relational database that includes text, video, and images. Knowing how valuable a teacher’s time is, RRCHNM installed an Apache SOLR search to improve search results and allow for faceted browsing to narrow content by historical topic, time period, or type of resource.

Through the life of the five-year project, video played an increasingly important role. RRCHNM filmed experts in the field talking about working with primary sources, as well as teachers in classrooms demonstrating a promising practice or strategy. During the site’s redesign, RRCHNM created short introductory videos to show teachers at each grade level how the site could work for them. The introductory video, What is Historical Thinking?, is viewed over 10,000 times each year.

Rethinking site architecture

Midway through the grant, RRCHNM undertook a redesign. After conducting a content audit and creating wireframes and mood boards, the site received a visual and information architecture overhaul. RRCHNM designed page templates appropriate to different kinds of content and audiences. A grid system and the templates made it easier to add new content and sections, and easier for users to find content of interest to them.

ED also employed RRCHNM to conduct all the outreach for this project. RRCHNM created a multifaceted marketing approach to increase visibility, including monthly enewsletters, quarterly print newsletters, classroom poster giveaways, print and digital advertising, social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest), as well as presentations and workshops at the local, regional, and national level. Due to these efforts, Teachinghistory.org visitation has doubled annually and currently reaches over 2 million unique visitors each year.

Teaching History goes mobile

In 2012, RRCHNM developed a mobile version of the site (m.teachinghistory.org) in response to the growing demand for mobile access. Through an inventory of the site’s content, we decided which content translated best to mobile audiences. We then determined the three top ways that people would interact on the mobile site: watch videos, take quizzes, and search for content, and modified the mobile IA accordingly.

A selection of outreach materials. Top row, from left: posters, print ad, newsletter, and flyer.
Bottom row: An online ad banner.