Board OKs Middle School Social Studies Curriculum

Social Studies curriculum in the district’s two middle schools will flow more smoothly between grades, thanks to a dedicated team of explorers.

The team of teachers charged with revamping the curriculum gave a presentation, “The Journey of Social Studies,” at the Oct. 14 School Board meeting. The updated curriculum is the result of after-school and summer meetings, the team started working on it in 2009, and it was designed in part to bring the curriculum in line with the Common Core Standards.

Faculty working on the plan included Derek Gustavson, Brad Trottier, Barbara Dupont, Meredith Walker and Melissa Colburn. Gustavson could not attend the presentation.

Colburn said the endeavor included some “old-school” methods. “We literally cut and pasted the standards, put them on the windows in the West Running Brook library, and looked at what we wanted to achieve,” she told the board and television audience. “We wanted to observe best practices, move with the times, and have the most cohesive units possible.”

Part of that goal, Colburn said, was to have the sixth-, seventh-and eighth-grade curriculums build off each other. It was difficult at times because sixth-graders coming in from elementary school are used to a more concrete type of thinking, while eighth-graders are comfortable with abstract thinking, she said.

The team also wanted to shift the philosophy from a linear teaching of history to thematic, she said.

Sixth-grade teacher Dupont said the sixth-grade curriculum will begin with a unit on map skills, followed by the classic “Five Themes of Geography.” The children then move into a personal finance unit that includes lessons on how to apply for a job, how to get a college loan “all the way up to retirement and your 401K,” she said. From there they will go to Foundations and Forms of Government, she said.

Trottier spoke to the seventh-grade curriculum. The students will start off the year with the Renaissance and the period of exploration, go into the Early American period, and then study civics before going into their finance unit, starting on business and investment. They will finish their year with “U.S. Conflicts and Cooperation,” he said.

Walker said the eighth grade will build on that with World Conflicts and Cooperation and Global Finance.

Board member Ken Linehan asked how the Internet came into play with the new lessons, noting, “We had to memorize the capitals of the countries.”

Colburn responded, “If it’s something our students can Google, it’s not worth our while to teach it. I learned the capitals too. It will come in handy – when I’m on ‘Jeopardy.’”

Instead of memorizing facts, today’s students will be concentrating on the “why” behind the facts, she said.

The teachers do use technology, with a new set of Google Chromebooks and other devices in constant circulation. But Dupont said she still uses the textbook with her sixth-graders to teach them the Five Themes. “The Five Themes do not change,” she said. “Also, they need to learn to use informational text.”

The project was also a journey for the team members, with Colburn saying, “This is the most awesome committee I’ve ever been on.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the new curriculum.