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KU Council for Social Studies develops classroom materials for teachers using CLACS resources.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

LAWRENCE — A student-professional group at the University of Kansas has grown from providing students with networking and mentoring opportunities to putting lesson plans they’ve developed into classrooms and making them available for teachers around the world.

Joseph O’Brien, associate professor of curriculum and teaching in the School of Education, and doctoral candidate Tina Ellsworth launched the KU Council for Social Studies to give students the opportunities such as networking and résumé-boosting tips, but more importantly to provide professional development to pre-service and alumni teachers, to hold public discussions and programs, to advance social studies education and to cooperate with schools, districts, communities and other interested parties on approved social studies projects.

The council has since grown to a group that provides a mutually beneficial partnership between students, teachers and other social studies organizations. The former develop and deliver new classroom materials and lesson plans for working teachers, while the latter provide real-life classroom experience and mentorship. This year the council will partner with KU’s World War I Centennial Commemoration Committee to create and present lesson plans to teachers at Harmon High School in Kansas City, Kansas, who will field-test the lessons with the council’s students and provide feedback.

“All of these teachers were excited by the prospect of working with undergrads and students here at the university,” said O’Brien, faculty adviser for the group. “The notion of undergraduates working with outreach specialists here at the university is unique, and through their contact with the teachers they are, in a sense, serving as ambassadors for KU.”

“For the students to be able to see what they made put into practice is a valuable in-classroom experience. They can see any potential glitches and make the needed improvements,” said Ellsworth, graduate adviser for the group.

In the past, students have worked with the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies and the Dole Institute for Politics. Those lessons will be available on those organizations' websites for use with visiting classes. The lesson plan prepared for the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies was accepted for publication in the textbook Essentials of Middle and Secondary Social Studies. The lesson plans will also be made available online for any teachers interested in resources for their classroom. 

The council has also led to opportunities beyond the classroom and in developing lesson plans. This fall nearly a dozen students will travel to the National Council for Social Studies’ national conference in Boston to give presentations on the lesson plans and their experience in developing and delivering them. The feat is rare, O’Brien said, considering that undergraduates who attend the conference rarely present research and much more commonly are in the audience for such presentations. The council’s students have also landed valuable internships with organizations such as the National Archives and Records Administration.

Abbie Sundin and Jason Walters, seniors in the School of Education, are the council’s president and secretary this year. They said the experience has been invaluable.

“It’s ideal,” Walters said. “A lot of previous years’ students from here at KU are now teaching in the schools we’ll be working with, and it will be very helpful to get their feedback and make sure the lesson plans are the best they can be before we take them to the conference. How could you not jump all over that? Being able to get that experience right out of the gate is outstanding.”

Walters and Sundin, who both plan to be social studies teachers after graduation, are doing their practicums now and spending time in classrooms via the council.

“We’re in class learning new ideas, and we can try them out the next day,” Sundin said. “It’s nice to have something so fresh.”
As someone who has been on both sides of the working teacher and scholarship in education equation, Ellsworth said she has seen the value of the council for all involved.

“Based on my experience in eight years as a high school social studies teacher, I was not very aware of professional organizations early in my career that really could’ve helped and been a resource,” Ellsworth said. “And I thought it would be great to be involved with professional organizations as an undergrad. So we created KUCSS to afford our students the opportunity to engage with the profession and make a difference.”

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