Online Course Models for History-Social Science: An Exceptional Tool for Teachers in Today's Educational World

Article excerpt

An extraordinary new aid for history-social science teachers is now becoming available to help them succeed in the modern educational environment of high stakes accountability, an aid that blends the best of teacher-oriented work of the recent past with the assets of presentday technology. The Online Course Models for History-- Social Science, sponsored by the California Department of Education, offer teachers specific pathways and collaborative opportunities in order to achieve success in the implementation of the state standards and assessment program. Online Course Models are an innovation that utilizes up-to-date technology to serve teacher needs of the present and the future, while maintaining a strong connection to the best of past practice.

Late in the 1980s the California State Board of Education adopted a landmark History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools that laid out a sequential grade-level curricular approach to the teaching of history and social science. That document provided the foundation for the eventual development of the present state standards for history-social science. Today, in a newly revised, standards-aligned edition that incorporates the specific state standards, the Framework continues to serve as a widely accepted instructional guidepost for the history-social science community in California. Yet the framework, by design, was and remains a general work that brings forth concepts and emphases. Additional tools have always been needed to assist teachers to turn the outline contained in the framework, now with the standards, into effective classroom practice.

At approximately the same time that the framework was first published, the History-Social Science Project was providing professional development for the state's history and social science teachers. Many of the participants were asked to create lessons that could be shared to show other teachers how to take the guidelines expressed in the Framework and turn those into practical application with students. Classroom tested, a number of these lessons were collected, refined and distributed for grades 5, 6, 7 10 and 12 in a series of loose leaf California Department of Education publications called Course Models for the History-Social Science Framework. Each unit in the models provided a detailed approach to the classroom implementation of one or more of the important concepts found in the original framework.

However, there was not sufficient funding to complete the course models for every grade until the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement, through its National Institute on Student Achievement, Curriculum and Assessment, offered grant money in 1994 to develop state standards and to align the existing course models and newly developed ones with those standards. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin had entered office in 1995 and initiated her "Challenge Program" to improve student achievement. The grant-developed history-social science standards and course models were linked with that initiative. Thus, "Challenge" standards based on the framework were developed and course model units written or refined to meet those standards. The intent was to complete the series of course models publications by 1996-97.

Another dramatic curve the road for the development of course models appeared when the official State Academic Standards Commission launched the history-- social science component of its legislatively mandated activities. Appointed by Governor Pete Wilson, the Commission's charge was to recommend a new set of academically rigorous state standards for the four core disciplines, including history-social science. Those standards would then become the backbone of the new statewide testing and accountability program. In fact, once the State Board of Education formally adopted the Commission's recommended standards in late 1998, all state curriculum and assessment programs had to be aligned with those standards, immediately superseding the Challenge standards. …