Northern State courses prepare educators for new social studies standards

Published: Aug. 9, 2023 at 6:32 PM CDT
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ABERDEEN, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Educators are now preparing themselves for the impact the new K-12 social studies standards, which were approved in April, will have on their classrooms.

Northern State University is offering two single-credit graduate courses to teachers in order to “equip educators with the necessary tools to implement South Dakota’s new social studies standards effectively.”

Around 30 educators are enrolled in the two courses, which included a one-day workshop on Northern’s campus this week with the remainder of the class being conducted entirely online.

Before the standards were approved by the Board of Education Standards in April, hundreds of formal complaints, mostly from educators, were filed by opponents that claimed the standards were inappropriate and politically incentivized.

NSU political science professor Jon Schaff, who also was a member of the 15-person commission that drafted the new standards, is one of four professors teaching the courses at Northern.

”We picked topics based on what teachers told us what they wanted to know, where they thought some gaps were in their knowledge. So, we’ve done one on the American founding and then, we’re doing one today on civil rights,” said Schaff.

Schaff said the idea for the courses came before he was selected as a standards commissioner, but his time on the commission helped him see that if the standards were to be approved, there would need to be enough time before they were put into effect in order to help educators prepare.

“One of the things that I benefitted from being on the committee that helped create the standards is we knew that this was a big change. So, it was going to require a lot of continued education, which is why implementation is delayed a little bit. The standards are only good if they’re implemented well,” said Schaff.

Steve Morgan, who teaches U.S. history at Mitchell High School, said the content of the new standards isn’t what he’s participating in a course for, but it’s how to teach that content.

”My purpose of taking this is to help me do a better job taking content and methodology and putting those both together so we can get the information to students and have them think at a higher level,” said Morgan.

According to Schaff, that’s exactly what the courses can help with.

“We’re giving them a little bit of content, but we’re also really focused on, how you would teach this in the classroom. That’s why we have two sessions devoted specifically to methods,” said Schaff.

While the standards have sparked a lot of debate, Schaff said they also raise the bar for a typically-overlooked subject. Raising that bar will better prepare students to take advantage of their freedoms as adults.

Schaff isn’t blind to the criticism educators have given the standards, but he also isn’t bombarded by it. In fact, Schaff said during the course workshops, the subject of the standards is rarely brought up.

”I think they recognize that it’s a big leap, but that’s why they’re here and why a lot of them were also at the summit in Sioux Falls. They want to get prepared so that when these go into place, they can do it well. Like them or not, now we’ve got state standards that have been adopted, so we want to do them well,” said Schaff.

The new social studies standards will go into effect in the fall of 2025.