The CPS Board of Education approved the restructuring of the district’s social studies curriculum in a meeting in January earlier this year. These changes, which brought improvements in the overall curriculum, were for all grades and in effect for the 2015-16 school year.
Nick Kremer, the CPS district’s Social Studies and English coordinator, said subject curricula need to be refreshed every now and then to make sure that they meet educational standards, which was a driving factor in the recent reinvigoration of the studies program.
“It is customary for each academic discipline to undergo a formal program evaluation every 5 years to ensure the curriculum in that area is up-to-date and functioning optimally,” Kremer said in an e-mail interview. “Program evaluation tends to lead to ‘tweaks’ in existing curricula rather than overhauls, and that was what occurred in this case, too. Some substantial changes were made to our Social Studies curriculum (particularly in grades 3, 10, and 11), but the overall structure of our program has remained largely consistent with what it was in the past.”
Such changes included changes in essential questions and improvements developing a curricular connection with real-world skills.
Prior to the change, some freshmen were disappointed with the level of difficulty in Civic Studies, a dual subject course concerning English and U.S. Government that is usually taken freshman year. Current sophomore Gabriel Mefrakis, who was a freshman last year, said the class did not provide enough difficulty for him and others to succeed and gain sufficient knowledge.
“In my opinion, Civic Studies was indeed a waste of time,” Mefrakis said. “I still think it is important to learn some of the things about the government, but a lot of the things we learned was just review from what I learned from previous years.”
Such complaints ultimately led the district to specifically target educational goals within the curriculum. These objectives included a greater focus on critical thinking and creating a greater connection with classroom material and the real world, in an attempt to enrich the entirety of the studies program and prepare students to be self-reliant.
“The new social studies curriculum better balances the study of ancient history with modern history,” Kremer said. “It also requires teachers to teach Social Studies in an engaging manner that promotes the development of 21st century skills and independent thinking on the part of students.”
Freshman Daniel Schroeder said the district ultimately achieved their goal. He finds that his Civic Studies class is giving him a gratifying learning experience through a variety of different learning methods and informative material.
“I feel as if I am learning a lot,” Schroeder said. “The curriculum has us examining documents in an attempt to understand its impact on the government. It provides nice context as to where the ideas in our nation come from.”
Despite the improvements, Schroeder still finds that a few aspects of the curriculum might need a small bit of polishing, specifically in learning variety and the essential prompts.
“More variety in the way the class operates would be a huge improvement,” Schroeder said. “While I know that a large amount of school is writing down notes, it would be nice to mix things up every now and then. I also think it would benefit from a little less open ended essay prompts. Eventually we, being the 9th grade, will have to grow accustomed to that, but a more gradual transition would help a lot of kids adjust.”
The restructured studies program, while needing a few minor improvements, is overall satisfying students and teachers alike. Students believe it has been significantly enhanced from previous years and that it will help students obtain crucial knowledge and life skills that will help them succeed in their lives in the real world.
“[Our ultimate goal was] to achieve the best possible K-12 Social Studies learning experience for our students to best prepare them for the demands of college, civic life, and a career in the 21st century,” Kremer said.