The Hawaii Department of Education is looking to adopt a new model for social studies classes that goes beyond tests and textbooks and aims to teach students how to be problem solvers and active citizens in their communities.

The proposal appears to be getting broad support from teachers and other educators, some of whom testified before the state Board of Education on Tuesday urging members to implement the new guidelines, part of a national initiative by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The educators described the new framework — also known as “C3,” short for College, Career and Civic Life — as a breath of fresh air, particularly as the state ramps up testing requirements for students in math and language arts. They also indicated that the program would help students think critically about current events and inspire them to make a difference in the world, attributes that many teachers feared were going to be stamped out of classrooms three years ago when the DOE nearly slashed its social studies requirements.

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Campbell High School students gather in the Capitol rotunda in September 2013 to rally for air conditioning in their classrooms.

Alia Wong/Civil Beat

The C3 Framework is meant to guide states as they upgrade their K-12 social studies standards, shifting the focus from testing and rigid content toward projects, research and interdisciplinary learning that revolves around open-ended inquiries.

Last year, nearly 500 students from Campbell High School gathered at the state Capitol to rally lawmakers for air conditioning in their classrooms, an event that was meant to engage students in the democratic process, get them excited about their contributions to public policy, and achieve a practical goal.  Teachers hope that sort of learning can be replicated as the state shifts its approach to social studies.

Rosanna Fukuda, an educational specialist with the DOE who’s helping spearhead the C3 initiative locally, emphasized that the new model doesn’t require any new materials. The framework only calls for a shift in instruction and student expectations, though it remains to be seen what kinds of resources the transition would require.

Fukuda, who presented the new model to the school board on Tuesday, asked members to think back to their favorite teacher.

“I’m not anti-textbook; I think they’re great learning tools,” she said. “But I bet you that teacher took you past Chapter 14 and the questions in the back of the book.”

Amy Perruso, a social studies teacher at Mililani High School, said many educators are already using this model “in piecemeal form,” but not as much as they’d like because of testing burdens.

C3 will “make it more systematic and will actually support teachers and help remind them why they’re in the classroom,” she said.

Kahuku High teacher Laura Ishihara said the new guidelines will enhance learning because students remember content when they’re the ones coming up with the questions.

C3 seeks to build students who are active participants in a democracy, in a state with by far the worst youth voter turnout in the country. Fewer than one third of young people in Hawaii ages 18 through 29 voted in the 2008 election — the one that pitted Hawaii’s own Barack Obama against Republican John McCain. 

But civics is just one topic covered in the framework; other themes include geography, economics, anthropology and sociology.

Much of the framework focuses on ensuring students are adept at evaluating research sources and using evidence to craft arguments, a key element in the universal Common Core standards. Common Core — a set of rigorous math and language arts benchmarks that are being adopted by 42 states and Washington, D.C. — is going into effect in Hawaii classrooms this upcoming school year. 

Hawaii was among the 23 states that sent a delegation to the mainland to develop the C3 guidelines in 2010. The state will start upgrading existing standards and developing professional development opportunities this upcoming year. Department officials are currently drafting a plan to implement the new framework.

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