GFPS board approves new elementary social studies materials

The Great Falls Public Schools board unanimously approved new elementary social studies materials during their May 8 meeting.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction adopted new social studies standards for K-12 in June 2020.

A committee of K-12 educators was created to review and prepare ‘know, understand, do’ goals that the GFPS board adopted in summer 2022.

The committee met last summer to review books and begin the process of choosing new textbooks for the new social studies standards.

GFPS reviewing new social students material

According to GFPS staff, elementary teachers met throughout the year to document interdisciplinary connections between the new social studies standards and the new English Language Arts curriculum and determined that many social studies standards are addressed in the context of the ELA.

A combined ELA/social studies committee is proposing the creation of supplemental resources at each grade level to address the standards not found in ELA, according to GFPS staff.

The Montana Historical Society has released a new textbook that provides content unique to Montana and addresses all 4th grade standards, according to the staff report.

Fifth grade will retain their textbook that the school board approved in the last adoption.

GFPS considering new social studies materials

Rachel Cutler, curriculum coordinator for elementary, said that they solicited copies of available resources, including traditional textbooks, the Montana Historical Society and open source educational resources.

She said they sent the new social studies standards to teachers and asked them to make content connections to other curriculum areas.

They found a lot of connections, “so we decided we wanted to look at this in a more holistic way” and combined the social studies and ELA committees.

Cutler said they noticed social studies textbooks included a lot of reading lessons and skills, and teachers were concerned because of the amount of content in those materials.

GFPS board approves new social studies standards [2022]

She said they found those materials content heavy rather than process oriented and there were some drawbacks to digital resources since they’d have costs for updates.

The committee came up with the idea to build upon what already exists in the language arts curriculum since a lot of the material they’re using to learn to read and write also covers a lot of social studies content.

Cutler said the committee determined what the existing materials didn’t cover and that they wanted to build their own social studies resources.

Cutler said they plan to purchase maps and globes for certain grade levels to support geography standards and allow the teachers on the committee to create resources for themselves using a variety of materials, such as the National Archives.

FPS working on update to social studies curriculum [2022]

The estimated expenses for the new social studies materials is $76,812. Most of that cost is paying the teachers to create the materials, $21,687 for the 4th grade book, $7,000 for the sixth grade book and $8,000 for supplementary globes and maps, she said.

The estimated cost for the traditional textbooks was $81,342 per grade level, she said.

Staff reviewed the materials with the school board during their April 24 meeting and made them available to the public for about a week at the district office.

Cutler said about 10 community members came to review the materials and offer feedback, as did 20-25 teachers.

She said teachers gave positive feedback for the new materials.

GFPS hosting informational session on new language arts curriculum [2022]

Bill Bronson, school board member, said the kindergarten materials included information on recognizing indigenous cultures but mentions tribes that aren’t in Montana.

He asked if there would be attention paid to the tribes in Montana.

Cutler said yes and that one of the teachers from Indian Education is working with the curriculum committee to ensure they include resources on tribes and documents related to Montana.

Bronson said that the second grade materials include the Civil War, which is potentially controversial, and that it included an alert to teachers to be sensitive in teaching about slavery.

Cutler said the materials have advisories for teachers to call attention to potentially sensitive topics and parent letters are sent so that families are aware and can have conversations at home. She said that parents have the opportunity to see course materials.