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Gaps and issues remain with K-6 social studies curriculum

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As a teacher, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the new K-6 social studies curriculum draft, as it will have a profound effect on our students for decades to come. I want to explain my perspective on the curriculum, and I encourage you to share your thoughts by going to the province’s online feedback survey titled, “K-6 Social Studies Curriculum Feedback Form.”

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One of the biggest limitations of the curriculum is that educators have still not been directly involved in its creation. “An open letter from eight educators and researchers who were part of the K-6 curriculum development specialist group claims their input was ‘largely ignored.’ ” (Mertz, March 15, 2024).

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This means there’s still a big emphasis on memorizing facts, as opposed to developing skills to put facts in context, as the curriculum refers to itself as a “knowledge-based curriculum.”

This draft fixed some of the problems with the last one — the content is better matched to children’s brain development — but there are still gaps in developing multiple perspectives and critical thinking.

I used ChatGPT to help me analyze the curriculum. Out of 227 verbs in the skills and procedures section (the main guide for teachers as they plan lessons), the top five skills mentioned are: discuss (44 times), explore (26 times), describe (23 times), identify (14 times) and compare (13 times).

Critical thinking skills are mentioned, but skills that truly reflect critical thinking such as analyze (2), evaluate (6), synthesize (0), question (0) and infer (1) were rarely identified. This shows further refinement is warranted.

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In fact, it almost seems as though a teacher could just put the curriculum’s “knowledge” section into a PowerPoint to deliver it — it’s not written to encourage much time for discussion or application based on the sheer amount of content required to be covered.

Students might be overwhelmed by the amount of memorization required. For instance, Grade 5 students are expected to learn about 23 separate empires and civilizations as examples of “ancient civilizations.”

While the curriculum draft does discuss various groups such as First Nations, Métis, Inuit and francophones throughout, usually these cultures are taught separately from their interactions with other groups or are explored in odd ways.

For example, in Grade 4, students are asked to: “Hypothesize different perspectives on colonization,” rather than having students explore, investigate or discuss what the various perspectives were. In Grade 3, there is a large section on settlers coming to Alberta, without any mention of interactions between the First Nations and settlers.

Based on the content proposed in grades 3 and 4, this would be an excellent time to give an appropriate introduction to residential schools, as this would be much more in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s calls to action, versus first mentioning this in Grade 9.

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While the content topics are much more appropriate, there are some sections that have either odd or potentially confusing concepts for the designated grade level.

In Grade 1, students are supposed to learn about “individuals demonstrating belonging to Canada by following traditions . . . singing God Save the King.’ ” They are asked to “practice national traditions.”

Singing O Canada, which is referenced, seems appropriate, but God Save the King seems out of place.

In Grade 2, students are expected to know concepts such as exporting, importing the Supreme Court of Canada and “at the federal level . . . leader of the Opposition,” which seem more appropriate at higher levels.

In Grade 3, it explains: “Colonists brought belief systems and ways of organizing society to the colonies, including . . . leadership.” This phrasing seems to imply there were no existing beliefs, ways of organizing or leadership already here.

The province has given a short timeline to offer feedback on the curriculum draft, until March 29. I would encourage Albertans to offer further suggestions to better refine this draft so Alberta can continue our legacy as one of the leading education systems in the world.

Brett Dibble is a high school social studies teacher in Calgary.

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