The Common Core continues to be in the news, so recently I attended “Uncommon Approaches to the Common Core 2: Inquiry-based Learning Access across the Disciplines” held August 12-13 at the Office of Education in Albany.
One session included 10 breakout groups by geographic area. In the Mid-Hudson discussion group there were about 13 people, double that number in New York City including 10 people from the Queens Library who were not on the attendance list, and over 60 people at the Capital Region group. Some of the other regions were even less attended than the Mid-Hudson group.
In the Mid-Hudson discussion group there was an art teacher and a science teacher, both from Dutchess County, and another teacher from Hudson. There were no social studies teachers, however four people from historic sites (including the Columbia Historical Society, Historic Huguenot Street, and the Hudson River Museum) were present, and public libraries and Dutchess BOCES rounded out the group. I can’t speak for the other regional meetings, but my overall impression is the social studies teachers were not a major presence and the historical site representatives were within one-day driving distance.
There were sessions for the arts, English language arts, languages other than English, science, and social studies as well as a general overall session. I attended individual sessions which were grouped for social studies. As a result, I tended to see the same 10-15 people each time since we shared similar interests. These were excellent sessions and made the conference worthwhile for me. I have invited the presenters from each of the following to write a post for The New York History Blog about their efforts. These included:
1. Teaching students about their community using primary documents in local repositories and meeting with official and unofficial local municipal historians: Castleton not far from Albany
2. Using the unexpected discovery of a time capsule from 1899 to research life in the community at that time: Ballston Spa in Saratoga County also not far from Albany
3. Prohibition in Madison County: Understanding the “Fruit Juice” exemptions – unlike the other two presentations, this one was for middle and high schools but it did not include a teacher who had actually used the lesson in the classroom.
Besides using the required jargon of “inquiry” and “common core,” all of these could have been done even if the Common Core didn’t exist.
This realization leads to another observation which was not specifically addressed in the sessions I attended. There is a new social studies framework which has been released. The standards remain the same, but the framework, last issued in 1996, has been updated to include events since then. There also have been some changes to the time allotted to different time periods and/or topics given the additional time period to be covered in the new curriculum within the same school year. How this plays out in practice will unfold beginning this year.
I mention the new social studies framework, a topic I will be returning to in future posts, to alert the history community to the fact the Common Core and the Framework are two distinct changes. It’s not as if social studies teachers hadn’t been using primary source documents or focusing on inquiry anyway.
In my opinion, it is important for the history community in New York to become more fully engaged in these changes. The history community needs to aware of what teachers will be teaching and how that connects to what they have at their sites. I have recommended to the New York State Council for Social Studies (NYSCSS) that it conduct county level meetings on these changes (even more localized ones in the 5 boroughs are needed). Quite bluntly, it does not have the resources to do it. Neither does MANY, APHNYS, or the NYSED. This will require a grassroots action particularly through the county historian and/or county historical society, the local BOCES and/or teacher center, libraries, or some powerhouse museums with initiative and energy.
My recommendation is that meetings be called for the fall to discuss:
1. Social Studies Framework – to organize meetings between the history community and the teachers to discuss what the Common Core and new social studies framework mean in general and at specific grade levels involving community, local history, American history, and civics.
2. High School Social Studies Local History conference – to plan a spring conference with the high schools in the county with presentations on local history. If there are too many high schools for all to present in a single day the conference may need to be split over multiple days based on political units (congressional districts, assembly districts, county districts) since the political representatives should be invited to attend for the high school presentations from their district.
3. County History Elective – to create an elective at the high school level based on the county history with modules for different local municipalities.
4. Professional Development – to create a professional development course for teachers based on visiting the local historic sites and the communities of the county to include talks, walks, tours, and workshops.
The initial meeting would be to gauge the interest in these action items and determine how to proceed. Undoubtedly there are actions going on at present throughout the state related to these concerns and I encourage those counties which are doing something to share their experiences through New York History with the wider history community.
As for the state conference, I recommend one be held devoted to the subject of using local and state history in the classroom. This could be held next July for professional development credit. The proposed schedule for the week-long program is:
Morning – plenary sessions plus presentations like the ones given in social studies this year
Afternoon – over the course of the week at the New York State Archives, Library, and Museum, the New Netherlands Institute, and a tour of Executive Plaza and the State Capital with a reception at the Executive Mansion (as we had for the Pathway through History) to learn about the state resources which are available.
There is both uncertainty and opportunity now in local and state history. It will require pro-active leadership to bring the history community together to prepare the next generation of adult citizens. Let’s hope we get a real “A” in both this effort and the results.