Liza Vaughn (from left) and Ashley Costner, elementary school teachers who are part of the OER team with Williamson County Schools, go over some of the details of the new social studies and history curriculum with Rachael Finch and Grace Abernathy. // Photo by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
Though turnout was light for three evenings in which parents of students in Williamson County Schools could review the new social studies and history curriculum that will start next year, the teachers involved in creating the program are eager for its rollout.
Eight classroom teachers were selected last summer to take a year out of the classroom and develop a new curriculum for grades K-12. They implemented it through what is known as open educational resources (OER). This will be the district’s second digital textbook, with science having led the way and is currently in use across WCS.
The OER team gave a run-through of the curriculum to members of the county’s Board of Education at its March 15 work session, and the board voted to approve the concept at Monday’s school board meeting. WCS will submit OER materials to the Tennessee Department of Education for approval on April 15.
“With WCS going with online educational resources, we can present to multiple learning styles in kids,” David Rector, the system’s Social Studies 6-12 specialist, said. “Some students are more visual, some are kinesthetic. This allows teachers to find more of those resources we’ve vetted and gotten approval for. It’s a way to reach more of those learning styles.
“And it’s more interactive, when you allow teachers to present something more engaging instead of a static book. Today’s kids would rather be given a laptop or an iPad that has something on there more than a textbook. That’s just their learning style. It really allows teachers to expand the tools they have to use in the classroom and help students master the state standards.”
Only about a dozen parents visited the WCS Professional Development center earlier this week to get a first-hand look at the curriculum, which was presented onscreen at each of the elementary, middle and high school levels. In helping to get the word out about the reviews held March 25-27, Rector had tweeted that the new curriculum “is more honest, very American, and includes multiple perspectives.”
When asked what he meant by “more honest,” Rector said the new curriculum will be more forthright than what may have appeared in previous standard textbooks.
“We’re just trying to be more honest, more clear and in more depth to our history,” he explained. “[For instance], we’re always going to teach about the Battle of Lexington and Concord. What we have not said before, maybe, was that there were free and enslaved African Americans who were a part of that battle. So that’s a little bit more honest in making sure we’re including a clearer picture of who was there fighting in that first battle of the Revolution.
“All the teachers are going to teach to the state standards, but we want to take our students as deep as we can and provide more clarity and interest. So when they leave the classroom they’re going to leave more intrigued by their nation’s history and be more patriotic, too.”
The social studies and history team has had the advantage of interacting with and learning from the science team that had also taken a year off from the classroom to develop its curriculum. Jaci Stewart, curriculum director for WCS, said science has gone well overall but there have been a few first-year glitches.
“There have been positives and some challenges, as you can imagine with anything new that’s being implemented,” she said. “The teachers have really appreciated having all the resources in one location and easy access. But because of the number of resources that we have per standard, the teachers can feel overwhelmed.
“With that, we have found that teachers need more time to go through the resources and choose which ones they would like to use to meet the needs of their students. They felt comfortable that the resources have been vetted and they know the resources are aligned to the state standards. You can imagine teachers have been using hours on their own to try to find these resources. Now it’s much more convenient and a one-stop shop, so to speak.”
Though going the digital textbook route is still new to the district, teachers are no strangers to searching on the Internet.
“Honestly,” said Liza Vaughn, an elementary school teacher who is part of the OER team, “a lot of us have been teaching this way for the past few years, because the textbook would become obsolete and have incorrect information. A lot of times you would be going online to find things and figure it out yourself.”
Rector said the new social studies and history curriculum will save the district about $4.5 million from not having to purchase standard textbooks. Perhaps more importantly, he insisted, it will present a time-saving advantage for teachers.
“A lot teachers are very excited to see what’s coming because it’s going to give them an opportunity to do more,” he said. “Time is the biggest enemy for a teacher. Gathering all the resources that are out there that are vetted and copyrighted, and then creating something is extremely time-consuming. This gives teachers an opportunity to go to a place that’s already been done for them. So teachers are excited about it.”