08/13/10 — Social studies course will take students around the world

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Social studies course will take students around the world

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 13, 2010 1:46 PM

A pilot social studies course being introduced in Wayne County this fall has the potential to not only incorporate other subjects, but improve student test scores, officials say.

Global Connections was approved by the State Department of Education and initially introduced in the state at the elementary school level. Wayne County Public Schools was invited to participate in a one-year pilot program at the middle school level, starting this year.

Eighth-graders at two middle schools -- Dillard and Greenwood -- will be able to take the semester-long elective that expands upon what they have already studied about this country.

"It's much like social studies except the children are probably going to get much more in-depth study," said Hope Meyerhoeffer, who directs the district's English as a Second Language, visual arts, English and language arts programs. "They're going to start with their own country, examine the family structure, family traditions and things like that ... because they have been studying about the U.S. basically since kindergarten. By the time they get to the eighth grade, they have studied N.C. very closely at two grade levels.

"We want to do like a culminating type of course whereby the children look at all that they have learned about the U.S. and their own culture, then go from there."

The course will delve into the current economy, the educational and transportation systems, population and resources. Since students reside in the U.S., the present environment will be the primary focus.

At the same time, Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said, since there are students from other countries, the elective also provides an opportunity to incorporate those cultures as well.

"When I get to thinking about it, I get kind of excited about it because I can see that they have Chinese in there, students from India and of course Central America," she said. "When they get to sharing things, they may start telling us things that we did not know."

There is a time line to follow within the class, she said. Since it is only for a semester, much is packed into it, not only culturally but also in terms of consolidating subject matter.

"They have prescribed lesson plans so that they are ensured that they're incorporating other content areas -- integrated math, art, technology, science and a lot of writing," Mrs. Meyerhoeffer explained. "These lessons plans have been well done. They're going to be covering a lot. What I like is the children are going to be collaborating."

Another appeal, she added, is that the Department of Public Instruction approved that the electives would be taught by Visiting International Faculty.

"We have a lot of confidence in VIF," she said. "We have dealt with them for several years. They have brought to us some really talented teachers and brought a difference in culture into our school system."

The syllabus for the course was put together by VIF, which will also handle staff development for the two teachers leading the course.

While at this point it is considered a pilot program for one year, there is a possibility of adding others, locally and around the state.

The course structure will involve an array of teaching methods, including class discussions and cooperative learning teams that will work on a variety of activities and assignments.

"They'll do some artistic work, they'll be asked to 'picture your feelings' or your understanding about the transportation system in this country, they'll be doing some dramas," Mrs. Meyerhoeffer explained. "They'll Skype (on the computer) with teachers doing the connecting and students will be able to ask questions of other students in classrooms in other countries.

"One of the things that I had heard from VIF faculty, they said that even in the elementary grades the kids learn to do some in-depth critical thinking on their own for a change and that carried over into other content areas in their classrooms."

Mrs. Meyerhoeffer admitted that were it not for DPI backing the elective, it might not have been one considered by the district.

The state's approval, though, means that research has already been done and ultimately it comes at no cost to the school system. Materials have already been provided for teachers and any additional books will be purchased from the ESL budget.

But the biggest advantage will be what students gain from the classroom teaching.

"My understanding is that in some of the counties that did the elementary programs, their EOG (end-of-grade) test performance was higher amongst those students that had that course," she said. "We can't wait to see what happens at the end of the year to see exactly what this has done for them."