Over a year ago in January 2011, I wrote a blog post titled Because we didn’t buy textbooks. The purpose of this post was to describe a significant change that was about to happen in our district with regards to the selection of instructional materials.
This time we did something different.
We entered our social studies curriculum adoption cycle and we made a departure from our past practice. We decided to spend a year focusing on instructional pedagogy before we started looking at all the materials various publishers have to offer.
We immersed ourselves in learning about powerful pedagogy that stimulates student engagement, instruction that evokes critical thinking, and learning structures that support authentic problem solving and exploratory learning and deep understanding and excitement and passion and fun.
And when our state adopted new social studies standards we reviewed them with a critical eye and we still held off looking at materials and we thought about how we wanted to teach to impact student learning. And when we read the research and reviewed the literature, we decided to look at various materials from various publishers and we thought…we’d rather not buy textbooks this time.
We didn’t buy textbooks
We bought technology to help increase student engagement and access to real-time information, primary source documents, a host of archived digital media aligned with the social studies and historical content we teach, and tools to help students research, analyze, and communicate their opinions, arguments, and synthesis of information in a myriad of ways.
What we did buy
Where the most significant change in standards existed, we provided the most resources. Middle school social studies classrooms in grades 6-8 received 15 iPads each, a projector, a document camera, $35 in apps for each iPad, and a couple of iPod Touches (we bought first generation iPads that didn’t have video/cameras so we purchased the iPods to allow for that). This expenditure equaled approximately $80 per student – less than the cost of a typical middle school social studies textbook.
At the high school level, we saw less change in content and so we budged less funds – $20 per student. This was an agonizing decision, as we have a history of framing our thinking around an even-Steven mindset. I was impressed with our teachers on our social studies design task force who made this decision based on needs. We were working with significant budget constraints. Our district curriculum budget at the time was nearly 50% of what it had been in the recent past.
In my blog post, Developing a Needs-Based Mindset for Curriculum Funding, I explored the shift in thinking that we were immersed in at the time. Using our official student enrollment count, we divided the funds between each high school, and our Board of Education approved an expenditure based on building needs. The social studies departments made their own collaborative decisions and purchased a variety of technology including laptops, projectors, interactive white boards, document cameras, mobile tech devices like iPads, iPods, and software.
What we discovered
Both our high school and middle school social studies teachers are using technology more frequently to facilitate instruction. In our program evaluation survey, 78% of middle school teachers and 81% of high school teachers are using technology daily to facilitate learning.
In the same survey, high school teachers reveal that:
- 38% of high school students use technology on a daily basis, and
- 38% of high school students use technology on a weekly basis
Similarly, middle school teachers share share that:
- 33% of middle school students use technology on a daily basis, and
- 54% of middle school students use technology on a weekly basis
Lack of access to conduct research was a critical deficit prior to our recent adoption. 21st century learners must have access to information technology and the skills to conduct searches, identify bias, analyze credibility, and synthesize details from various sources. Since our recent tech-infused social studies adoption, a dramatic increase in student research has been noted.
Approximately 69% of our high school students and 67% of our middle school students are engaging in social studies based research now on a weekly basis. Previous to the adoption, the majority of the students engaged in social studies research on a monthly basis.
We are pleased with the results of our secondary social studies adoption. We feel that we have not only been good stewards of our curriculum dollars, but also innovators able to meet the needs of our learners and positively impact their ability to access information through 21st century tools. As we progress with our new instructional materials we anticipate increasing student critical thinking, engagement and opportunities for authentic learning and hope to share data relative to those goals in the future.