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City teachers develop new social studies curriculum

Leigh Wishney, a 7th-grade social studies teacher at MS 101 Jo Ann Harmon

Leigh Wishney, a 7th-grade social studies teacher at MS 101 in the Bronx, spent her summer facilitating professional development for teachers on the new Passport to Social Studies curriculum.

Teachers in many New York City public schools are using a brand-new social studies curriculum this fall that was designed and written entirely by their fellow New York City teachers.

More than 50 social studies teachers from across the city worked with the Department of Education’s Department of Social Studies for two years to design the comprehensive K–8 curriculum, which consists of 45 complete units based on the DOE’s Scope and Sequence for Social Studies.

The teachers, who wrote the curriculum over the course of two summers as well as after school and on weekends during the school year, were chosen from among hundreds who responded to a posting for the positions.

“The Department of Social Studies has never produced a social studies curriculum of this depth ever,” says Leigh Wishney, a 7th-grade social studies teacher at MS 101 in the Bronx who worked on the 7th-grade curriculum. “We wanted to create a new curriculum that really takes into account the Common Core standards and does not rely on traditional social studies textbooks.”

Instead, the teachers worked closely with museum partners — including the New-York Historical Society, the Museum of the City of New York and the National Archives — to incorporate primary-source documents.

“Textbooks have an authority that says, ‘This is the version of history,’” says Clarissa Lynn, a social studies teacher at Central Park East II in East Harlem. “Using primary sources allowed us to present critical viewpoints of American history, which is really important considering the challenges our nation continues to face.”

At the conclusion of a unit on the American Revolution, for instance, 7th-graders try to answer the question of whether the Revolution achieved its goals by studying documents representing the perspectives of slaves, women and American Indians. Because the curriculum is also designed specifically for New York City students, they also consider the effects of the Revolution on New York in particular.

Annie Gallagher, a 2nd-grade special education teacher and the chapter leader at PS 164 in Borough Park, Brooklyn, hopes the new curriculum will be particularly valuable for elementary school teachers.

“We know that social studies is not a major focus in the lower grades in most schools,” she says. “It was cool to write something that genuinely doesn’t exist in the city.”

Teachers who want to explore the new curriculum can find resources on the WeTeachNYC website.

Teachers who worked on the project are optimistic that their experience will lead to more opportunities for educators to participate in curriculum development.

“We were given a lot of leeway to bring in diverse perspectives and collaborate to generate amazing lessons,” says Lynn. “It was one of the most fulfilling professional experiences of my career.”

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