Courtney Amaya
Teacher Courtney Amaya applies lessons learned in the UCI History Project to her U.S. and world history classes at Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills. Steve Zylius / University Communications

Courtney Amaya’s classroom at Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills is a laboratory for new methods of teaching history – her students are learning about the French Revolution from diary entries and political cartoons instead of traditional textbooks.

Period art and writings bring history to life. “It’s a more hands-on approach to studying history,” Amaya says. “Students find it more interesting to examine material that’s actually from the era.”

She joined the UCI History Project five years ago to boost her knowledge of world history. The project fosters collaboration between the UC Irvine Department of History and K-12 history/social science teachers in Orange County. It offers training in academic literacy, world and U.S. history, and curriculum development and is open to teachers at all points in their careers. The program is housed in UCI’s Center for Educational Partnerships.

The project shows teachers how to introduce high school students to college-level concepts, director Nicole Gilbertson says: “We want students to be able to look at images and film clips not as passive consumers but with a critical eye.”

Gilbertson meets with teachers up to three times a week to discuss lesson plans and curricula. UCI history professors host lectures on such topics as Asian history, medieval Africa, and the history of infectious diseases.

Amaya says the focus on global cultures is a departure from the way history is traditionally taught.

“When I was in school, so much of what we learned was Eurocentric,” she says. “UCI has one of the best world history programs in the country, and I’m a better teacher now because I have broader knowledge of the subject.”

Since 2006, Amaya has trained other teachers in the UCI History Project in a side specialty of hers: PowerPoint presentations and online course management systems.

In her high school class, students prepare for tests with digital flashcards and regularly access a Web site with a daily classroom agenda and a list of assignments and due dates. Parents can log on to view homework assignments and grades.

A graduate of Canyon High School, Amaya is in her ninth year of teaching at her alma mater. “I had a few teachers who really sparked my interest in history,” she says. “I hope I can engage my students in the same way.”