Saturday, September 5, 2009

Citizens League Action Group: Education

While in Nigeria, I want to continue highlighting some of the great work being done in Minnesota. One of the Citizens League’s initiatives are its Action Groups, which engage young adults in developing a policy question and pursuing action to address corresponding issues. In its second round this year, there are three Action Groups focused on Education, Poverty, and Financial Literacy. This week, I’m excited to feature guest blogger, Rebecca Lahr, who shares her insights below about the progress of the Education Action Group, which she co-Chairs.

Rebecca started her involvement in the Citizens League after quitting her job, looking for a different path. Her participation in the action group project has opened other doors for her, and she is currently working part-time supporting the growth of a youth development program for Latino youth, as well as working part time as an office assistant at a specialty school within the Minneapolis Public Schools.
Our policy question focuses on the integration of civic skills into areas outside of the social studies classroom. We define civic skills in its broad sense, such as effectively communicating ideas, knowledge of the worlds’ events, and an awareness of individual power within a group. We are interested in understanding how these skills have the potential to be manifested in math and science classrooms, and undoing the common knowledge that civic education is a “unit” within social studies. It is the responsibility of every subject matter, and of the public school system as a whole, to teach these skills to students to create a responsible, capable, and educated citizenry.

During outreach, we have focused on speaking to civic leaders, speaking to STEM leaders, as well as those who may have experience in integrating the two. Civic leaders, although very excited, have had mixed feelings about the possibility, some expressing great enthusiasm and some having cautious reservations. In regards to STEM leaders, there is quite an interest in the promise of connecting civic skills into STEM curriculum; the more relevant the subject is to the students’ lives, the more interest, the more connections that are made, and the more learning that can take place. In the final group of outreach, we have found people and organizations that are connecting STEM and civics on the higher education level. They have mixed feelings on the feasibility of transferring their curriculum to the high school level, as high school (and the K-12 system as a whole) are guided strictly by the No Child Left Behind legislation, as well as individual state standards that must be fulfilled.

With all of these perspectives in mind, we have decided to focus on developing a type of pilot project, which can incorporate civic skills into a math or science classroom. We are currently searching for a teacher who is already interested and committed to this idea, and desires extra resources to fully support his/her development in the classroom. In this way, we hope to partner with a teacher, and offer to connect them with Department of Education staff who understand the standards, civic leaders who can help make community connections, and also to connect them to the students’ desires through a social networking website, Students Speak Out, to create further curriculum relevance for the students. We are excited at the prospect of also closely working with the Minnesota Department of Education’s STEM specialist, who has shown an exceptional amount of interest in this idea. After the unit, we will develop a policy brief describing the pilot project, and distribute it to policy makers to create awareness on the subject.

If you are interested in learning more about the idea of how civic ideals can (and should) be integrated into classrooms other than social studies, here are a few of the general resources that we have found to be great background resources:
SENCER – Science Education for New Civic Engagement and Responsibilities
Rethinking Schools
National Youth Leadership Council
Radical Math
Pennsylvania and New York Campus Compact: service learning and STEM summit
Students Speak Out
Project Tomorrow

If you have any suggestions or comments, you may share them with me at becky_anne34@msn.com.

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