The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

Social studies curriculum undergoes change

A look at this year’s revamped core and elective classes

The Shorewood School District has implemented large-scale, permanent changes in its social studies curriculum this school year. Core social studies courses have adapted to new state standards, school board requirements, and staff changes.

At the high school level, changes have been made to both the core curriculum, and elective classes. All five teachers in the social studies department will teach at least one new class. 

The district removed its triad of semester-long world history classes, European Studies, Asian Studies, and African Studies as well as American Government. Instead, sophomores will take Ancient Civilizations and Modern Civilizations. New hires Samantha Hoppe and Nicole Magin will teach these world history classes, whose curriculum they helped design. In place of American Government, Jesse Perez, who was recently nominated for the prestigious James Madison fellowship, will teach Civics.

As for electives, Evan Schmidt, head of the Social Studies Department, is teaching UWM Economics 100, a college-level introductory economics course. The district is also adding AP Psychology, a long-awaited college-level introductory psychology course with no prerequisites, which will be taught by Brian Schulteis. 

These new electives replace Anthropology and Political Theory following the retirement of two long-term staff members, Debra Schwinn and John Jacobson. 

In the sixth through eighth grade levels, Sarah Kopplin, former world geography teacher is spearheading a new curriculum. Sixth graders will take World Geography and Cultures: Then and Now. Seventh graders will take Civics and Contemporary Issues, where they will learn about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and develop media literacy skills by investigating both historical and modern documents. Eighth graders will take Wisconsin and US Studies: 1921 to 1984. Kopplin helped design these classes in part of a year-long research and development group of educators working with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in middle school education.

 She is also a CESA 1 Civics Fellow, meaning that she helps teachers in the CESA 1 region adapt to standards and introduce resources to their classes. 

“I think it’s important for people to understand that we have a road map,” said Kopplin. “We have a time frame, we have a purpose, we have guidance, not only from the state and our leadership here in the district, but people in our school district who are the content experts… where we can really help develop the course work, where we don’t need to go out and buy a canned curriculum.”

At the elementary school level, third grade students will experience a scope and sequence shift in curriculum, learning more about US history. The elementary schools as a whole will focus on place-based learning, connecting the places that students learn about to the world and culture around them. The shift is based on suggestions from the Wisconsin Department of Instruction for more hands-on learning and less memorization in grades K-5. The connective thread of US history will run through third, fifth, eighth, and ninth grade. The next class to be shifted will be fourth grade education, and the district expects to have a full elementary school shift by the 2026-27 school year.

The updated K-12 state social studies education standards were released in 2018. They were expected to be integrated in 2020, but were pushed back by the pandemic. More social studies directives will be publicly released by the Department of Public Instruction on September 11. Because the district lacks the resources for a full, immediate curriculum overhaul, changes will ‘waterfall’ down grade levels over the coming years.

The new changes were also influenced by Act 30, a piece of state-level legislature which requires the Holocaust and other genocides to be taught once in grades 5-8 and once in grades 9-12.

A plethora of new research inspired the state to concentrate on ‘authentic learning’ experiences– civil discussions, civic engagement, and simulations– in classrooms. In particular, Kopplin cited the paper Six Proven Practices For Effective Civic Learning, which postulates that students who are given more chance to engage with their school and community are statistically more likely to be civically engaged, voting adults. The practices are: providing students with a background in democratic functions, incorporating current issues into classroom discussions, implementing service-based learning opportunities like helping at a local elementary school, offering civically related extracurricular activities like Model UN or Mock Trial, engaging students in student government, and simulating democratic procedures.

 “If students learn and do these types of things, they will be civically engaged beyond school, the research shows that,” Kopplin said. “You’ll be a voter, you’ll be somebody who participates in your community, you’ll be somebody who might even run for office yourself, you will uphold the rule of law in your own way of living your life.”

Students will learn about the democratic process at local, state and national levels, and be taught how to influence the decisions that affect them and their communities at every level. Kopplin believes that this will make students feel more connected to their government, and understand their power as a citizen to shape it.

“I think it’s important for people to understand that we have a road map… We have a time frame, we have a purpose, we have guidance…”

— Sarah Kopplin, SIS social studies teacher

“They’ll learn about how our government works and then they’ll get to consider from their own perspective– how do we want to propose changes? Not only at the [federal] level,  but we’re going to have seventh grade students look at: [city, village and school functions],” Kopplin said. “As a student those things affect you, and so we want our students to have a voice to propose changes that they think are important at their local levels.”

The new standards have led to changes in core course material at the high school as well. Juniors taking Civics will now participate in a Legislative Semester, learning about how laws are written and passed by simulating the United States Congress. 

Kopplin believes that the new approach to sophomore classes will give students a broader perspective of history, examining the interconnectedness of countries instead of separating learning into African, Asian, and European studies.

“Students will no longer have a siloed view of the world,” Kopplin said. “If you’re going to look at what was going on in the Middle Ages in Europe, you’re not going to just be isolated to that part of the world. Research shows that if you teach this way instead of in a siloed way, then people have a different view of how the world is and they don’t see the Western society as the center of all thought and all ingenuity.”

“I think it’s really important to understand that African Studies, Asian Studies, European Studies, are not gone,” Schmidt added. “They are being folded into these two new world history classes. We’re also going to be able to talk about places that we haven’t had a chance to cover before, notably the Western Hemisphere outside of the States.”

Bobby Gronert, a senior who took all of the discontinued classes and has enrolled in all available social science electives this upcoming year, discussed what he would like to see going forward.

I’d like to see… a very interactive class… making it a conversation and a discussion rather than a lecture.

— Robert Gronert, senior and YDSA president

“I’d like to see… a very interactive class, where the class is largely based on discussion between students and the teacher,” said Gronert. “I think that’s a very good style, trying to treat students as equal to the teacher, in a way, making it a conversation and a discussion rather than a lecture.”

Gronert, who is the president of Young Democratic Socialists of America, believes that social studies is worthwhile study for every American.

“It’s important to understand the world we live in, and that’s what social sciences does,” Gronert said.

The school board has a Strategic Plan focused on improving district equity from 2020 to 2025. One of the School Board-level commitments was that district-wide, classrooms should be anchored in social justice. Emily Berry, school board president, elaborates on its significance.

“It’s not your teacher telling you what to think,” Berry said. “It’s your teacher helping you identify how social change happens… understanding how those movements have impacted history, how they impact you today. So … if you are having a conversation about Labor Day, why do we have Labor Day? How did that social justice movement evolve? … identifying what matters to you as a human and then by studying those past social change movements, understanding what is required for change.”

Schmidt hopes that the curriculum will teach students how to navigate the world ahead– understanding the historical context behind world issues and paying attention to both sides of a narrative. 

“We want students to learn how to self-advocate for issues that they’re passionate about, to feel empowered, to be change agents,” Schmidt said. “We are really facing unprecedented challenges in our world today, so we want students to be best prepared to really confront those challenges, to have the tools that they need to be successful in the future.”

Michael Joynt, Shorewood Director of Teaching and Learning, emphasizes another importance: interdisciplinary education. 

“I see science, social studies, reading and math as all interrelated,” said Joynt. When I was a math teacher, students would always ask, ‘How are we ever going to use this?’ I think science answers that question. I think in language arts, you’re developing reading skills in the early grades and comprehension skills in the later grades; how you’re going to apply it shows up in social studies… I think authentic learning happens in those science and social studies classes.”

“If students learn and do these types of things, they will be civically engaged beyond school, the research shows that.”

— Sarah Kopplin

District-wide, math and reading proficiency rates decreased in the most recent state report card. At SHS, 47% of students are proficient in math and 62% are in reading. At SIS, 45% of students are proficient in math and 56% are in reading. Kopplin believes that this change will bolster students’ literacy skills, and therefore reading scores, by providing an application for reading and writing skills students learn in their English class. In particular, Kopplin cited a research paper, How Social Studies Improves Elementary Literacy, that correlates more social studies minutes with higher elementary school standardized test scores in English. There was no correlation with more minutes taught in other subjects. Kopplin discussed the importance of social studies to promote literacy. 

“When I think about a student learning to read, it’s like if you were taught to dribble a basketball and you were never allowed to play on a team or in a game,” Kopplin said. “You’d probably quit playing, right? Because you don’t want to stand in place and just dribble a ball. So if you’re only focusing on …  skill-and-drill reading and you’re never reading for a purpose, for an application purpose, like in your science class or in your social studies class, you’re probably going to start to get sick of reading.”

We want students to learn how to self-advocate for issues that they’re passionate about…

— Evan Schmidt, head of social studies department

Social studies across the district gets the same number of minutes as other core classes. Kopplin hopes that this will influence students to become empowered in their future communities, locally and globally.

“I think the only thing I could say is that I wish that we could have that level of value that math and language arts has because they’re test scores,” Kopplin said. “Because I do think that, when you look at society’s value on who you become as an individual in our community, as a productive member of our society… it’s more important than your test scores.”