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Great Chicago Stories
Great Chicago Stories brings Chicago history to life by integrating artifacts from the collection of the Chicago History Museum into powerful historical fiction narratives for elementary and high school students. The narratives become points of entry for exploring key humanities themes and fundamental concepts. The project uses artifacts as the primary tool for telling these stories. Students can locate story settings on an Interactive Map of Chicago, explore continuity and change through then-and-now photographs, and use click-to-enlarge and zooming tools to experience artifact details up close. Full audio recordings of all 12 narratives enrich the experience and meet multiple learning styles and needs. Classroom activities written by teachers involve students in developing their historical thinking skills as they examine and interpret primary sources. All project materials, including narratives and teacher resources, can be downloaded in PDF format for easy copying and distribution in classrooms without computer access. As a web-based project, Great Chicago Stories has enabled the Chicago History Museum to reach a much larger audience of students and teachers over a longer period of time than traditional education methods or printed resources. Access to artifacts is no longer limited to an on-site visit, and interactive tools offer the power to explore them like never before. The structure offers great flexibility for students and teachers alike. The story form encourages students to critically engage with history, asking why things happened instead of memorizing rote facts, leading to increased student interest and understanding.The Chicago History Museum collaborated with 16 teachers and 17 Chicago Public Schools to create this resource. Teachers identified narrative topics, helped develop and test the interactive history map, pilot tested narratives, and wrote and tested classroom activities that align with Illinois state standards. Nine advisory board members, four professional children's authors, two website/multimedia development companies, an outside evaluation consultant, and museum staff from education, publications, collections, and curatorial departments all contributed to the project. A two-year evaluation study found the following results:*Students made significant gains in four kinds of learning--skill-building, understanding, historical habits of mind, and content (from 20% to 80% gains from pre- to post-testing) *Students made gains in self-guided learning--asking questions, investigating artifacts, making observations, and creating 'spectacular' work*Students showed high levels of engagement--requesting more stories, sharing with family, sharing with other students, and mentioning the stories, characters, and content for days and weeks after the lesson*Teachers showed increases in their knowledge of Chicago history, their strategies for teaching history, their use of artifacts (primary resources) for analysis, and their knowledge and use of Chicago History Museum resources *Teachers also showed high levels of engagement with the project through sustained participation, quality of resulting materials and instruction, continued relationship with the museum, and participation in subsequent CHM professional development programs. The project created a learning community that teachers expressed as being beneficial to their professional development. Because of its innovative and effective use of technology, the truly collaborative nature of the development process, and the impact of thorough evaluation tools on the educational content, Great Chicago Stories is a truly groundbreaking resource that is creating a national model for how museums and schools can work together to improve history teaching and learning.