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Teaching the Social Studies through Your Local Community
Anthony J. Filipovitch and Talip Ozturk
There is no better site for political or democratic action than the school itself and the students’ own community, according to educational philosopher John Dewey (18591952). Learning about local government provides students with authentic examples of democratic processes and institutions that shape their daily lives. Getting involved in local issues, particularly through service learning, offers students experiences in democratic participation with adults and peers in their community. As natural and desirable as it might be to teach about the local community in civics education, most textbooks give it maybe a section of a chapter on “state and local government.” Resources available on the Internet can help fill the gap, and we describe some of the better ones here.
Online Resources for Teaching Local Government
It is a paradox that the government that is closest to students and their families is the least known to them.
site is not easy to navigate. Click on the “Committees and Initiatives” link in the left margin. Then click on the “Special Initiatives” bar that appears to get at the lesson plans.
• North Carolina City & County Management Association “Civic Education Project”
T he I nter nat iona l Cit y/Cou nt y Management Association (www.icma. org) has been working for a number of years to overcome this problem. As part of its “Next Generation Initiative,” the association has a “School Curricula on Local Government” webpage (icma.org/en/icma/career_ network/education/civics_education) that links to other, state-based websites for local government curriculum. Here are four of the best that offer free, online materials with activities that teachers could adapt for other states:
• The Civics Institute “Curricula for Teachers”
These curricula, developed by the Civics Institute and administered by the Michigan Townships Association, are dedicated to lesson plans about state and local government for elementary, middle, and high school levels. There are 13 units (with lessons over two or three days) for high school and seven units for middle school (some of which could be adapted for upper elementary grades). Although they are oriented to Michigan, almost all could easily be adapted to other states. The lesson plans range from types of government, justice and legal issues, to local government funding, employment, and services.
• Minnesota City/County Management Association “Special Initiatives: Educational Initiatives: K-12 Educational Materials”
This site provides links to the entire contents (eight chapters) of “Local Government in North Carolina,” written by Professor Gordon Whitaker. It also includes five secondary-level lesson plans based on the textbook, covering the role of cities and counties, how they raise and spend money, how land use decisions are made, how service provision is changing, and a lesson encouraging citizen involvement.
• Foundation for Local Government “Our Town, Texas”
This site includes 26 lesson plans in Geography, Economics, and Government/ Citizenship. While the plans are keyed to the Minnesota Secondary Academic Standards in History and the Social Studies, many also reference the NCSS standards for the social studies. The webMarch/April 85
This site links to an extensive collection of lesson plans (5 for K-1 level, 10 for grades 2-5, and 17 for the middle grades) keyed to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies and History, and tied to the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. Topics range from structure and roles (form of government, mayor, council, staff, and citizen), political power, budgets, services, and quality
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and a beginner’s guide to designing lesson plans. html learn about the functions of local government and public policy issues (economy.” CityWorks. (High School) Question for Exploration How are historic. or world regions defined by physical features and human factors? What are the influences of groups and institutions on people and events in historical and contemporary settings? Individuals. students examine the legislative branch of government and take part in a simulation in which they role play members of specialinterest groups and City Council members.S. Transforming Lives.augsburg.html How are community priorities reflected in local government revenues and expenditures? Civic Ideals and Practices “Creating an Action Plan” — Public Achievement www. here are two other very useful websites that we’d like to recommend. nonpartisan. (High School) A lesson on how local governments decide on their expenditures and how they balance expenditures against income from a range of resources (High School) A detailed lesson plan for creating an action plan to achieve a public policy objective. Making History.mnsu. designing “youth in government” programs. Transforming Lives. and Environments Lesson and Organization “Design by Nature” — Minnesota State University “Lobbyists.crf-usa.html Power. and Consumption www.html What are the norms and functions of governments? Production. (High School) A lesson on the structure of local government and its relation to the U. communitybased organization dedicated to educating young people about the importance of civic participation in a democratic society. The book also includes chapters with suggested activities for the various grade levels.html Description of Activity and Grade Level A lesson that asks students to assess the environmental tradeoffs in locating sites for buildings. and Institutions www. Central Heights. —Constitutional Rights Foundation Website URL krypton. classroom materials. but it does publish a standards-based local government curriculum called CityWorks. • Constitutional Rights Foundation “CityWorks” www.org/ downloads/what_would_ happen_if. CRF is perhaps best known for its mock trial program. and Governance “What Would Happen If?” — Michigan Civics Institute “Who’s Footing the Bill?” —North Carolina Civic Education Project michigantownships. cultural. While the lesson plans are aimed at younger children. In the last 20 years. Much of its work focuses on national issues. Investing in Our Future: A Handbook for Teaching Local Government.org/cityworks/ cityworks.of life. and sample quizzes and simulation exercises for teaching local government. • Public Achievement “Building Worlds. It has chapters on topics such as how to get involved.edu/ ncccma/educators/plans/ lesson2. some of which we have listed in a Note. Constitution. “Building Worlds. national. what to do as a guest speaker in a classroom.civics. Groups. a (now somewhat dated) list of resources. Authority. aimed at encouraging local government professionals to get involved in the schools. many could easily be adapted to high school students. Making History” www. Distribution. through which they Public Achievement is a civic engagement project of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the Augsburg College in Minnesota. 2 In addition to the Internet resources listed above (with links at the ICMA website).org Constitutional Rights Foundation is a nonprofit. There are activities and assignments for applying the text to the local community and engaging the students in service learning activities.unc.publicachievement.edu/~tony/ courses/100/Nature. The core concepts are explained both on the website and in a printed manual. Each team deliberates together. there have been other books and articles in the educa- tion journals about teaching local government.crf-usa.” At its heart. Background for Teachers The ICMA also publishes a book. Places.edu/cdc/ publicachievement How do we research civic issues and then apply our findings to formulate civic action? S o c i a l E d u c at i o n 86 .org/cityworks/cityworks. the project is a learning-bydoing activity in which participants form small teams to address some community issue (“community” can be as small as the school or as large as the region). deciding on Table 1: National Curriculum Standards Matched with Classroom Activities about Local Government Social Studies Curriculum Standard People. The text inserts the students in a fictional city. crime and safety). setting up a speakers’ bureau or facilities tours at the city. (High School) In this lesson.
Eisenhower. taking action together to create a change in the community. Social Studies Standards We have paired some of the curriculum materials discussed above with the themes described in National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework for Teaching. 2004. orig. 1916). • Effective strategies for teaching the Cold War era in the classroom. and documenting the impact of their actions. • Interviews with Eisenhower associates and family members. “Engaging Future Teachers about Civic Education. no. Joseph O’Keefe. city infrastructure. “Children and Community Service: Character Education in Action. N. Jones. 2006). or the chair of a committee composed of engineers and elected officials who are working together. 2 (1997): 47–62. transportation.” High School Magazine 7. employment. “Kids Around Town: Civics Lessons Leave Impressions.“ Journal of Geography 98. lectures. however. and popular culture. Ann Rappoport and Sharon Kletzien. Md. 2012 The Eisenhower Academy for teachers. although it is used extensively in countries like the Netherlands and China. John Dewey. rather than a deliberative democratic process.gov Eisenhower Academy. Kara McCraw and Susan Taylor.Y.nps. economics. focuses on 1950s America and the Presidency of Dwight D. Filipovitch is professor at the Urban and Regional Studies Institute at Minnesota State University in Mankato. eds. Professional Education credits and three graduate credits are available for attending. held at Gettysburg College in historic Gettysburg. no. the game enforces assumptions that are more rigid than the real world. • A visit to the Eisenhower National Historic Site for an intimate glimpse into Eisenhower's life and times. bicycle transportation is not an alternative in the game. a community organizer..” Educational Leadership 53 (1996): 26–29. Social Studies Education Department. National Council for the Social Studies. and some of the earlier ones are now a free download. 2010). no. • Field trips. or a combination.: NCSS. • New scholarship on the Eisenhower Presidency. 2.) The game models a very sophisticated interaction among the physical and social forces that influence the physical development of a city. 1195 Baltimore Pike.” in Quick Hits for Educating Citizens. Ind. Clark Johnson. at Gazi University in Turkey. Susan Walcott. housing. and community satisfaction—experience that. The popular SimCity computer game is sometimes mentioned as a tool for teaching local government issues. video. and Assessment. PA 17325 • www. 4411 john_joyce@nps. say. Democracy and Education (Mineola. (Bloomington. Gettysburg College. and discussion on the 1950s including the Cold War. James L. Talip Ozturk is predoctoral fellow at the Institute of Educational Sciences. • Opportunities to learn about and use primary source documents. Learning. 5 (1999): 221–228. 3.: Indiana University Press. and The Eisenhower Society For more information contact: (717) 338-9114 ext. Learning. National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework for Teaching.” Journal of Education 179. could exceed the span of a normal life. Notes 1. (There are many editions and versions of the game. Gettysburg. Anthony J. Suite 100. and the Internet as research tools. For example.gov/eise March/April 87 2 0 12 . 8 (2000): 26–28. and Assessment (Silver Spring. Issues in the game are resolved through technical solutions. “Fieldwork in an Urban Setting: Structuring a Human Geography Learning Exercise. a participant can experience the long-term interactions between energy.the issue to be addressed and the strategy to pursue. in a real metropolis. Tony Filipovitch.: Dover. 3 We’d be happy to hear your suggestions for additions to this list.” Middle Level Learning (January/February 2006): 8–13. In a few hours. Sponsored by The National Park Service. the lens of a city councilmember. film. It’s the city seen through the lens of the city engineer as opposed to. PA. Minnesota. Ted Mitchell. civil rights. Perry and Steven G. “Working to Improve Our Community: Students as Citizens and Town Planners. For all its complexity. and Joe Kunkel. 92–94. EisEnhowEr AcAdEmy An Institute for Teachers • July 8–13. and increasingly in the United States. “Engaging Students in Community Issues.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?