Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing

How Civics Education Relates to Science, Climate Change, and Global Interdependence

May 27, 2021 Tim Yetzina, Senior Supervising Editor for Science and Social Studies at Westchester Education Services Season 1 Episode 12
Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
How Civics Education Relates to Science, Climate Change, and Global Interdependence
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Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
How Civics Education Relates to Science, Climate Change, and Global Interdependence
May 27, 2021 Season 1 Episode 12
Tim Yetzina, Senior Supervising Editor for Science and Social Studies at Westchester Education Services

Civics education lost favor in many schools due to an increased emphasis on other subject areas. As recent events have shown, students need to understand the importance of civics. Tim helps us understand the connection that civics education has to Science, climate change, and equity, too.  Students who study civics are also more likely to be more informed and engaged citizens in their communities. In this episode, Tim Yetzina, Senior Supervising Editor for Science and Social Studies at Westchester Education Services, shares why there needs to be a renewed focus on history and civics curriculum.

Show Notes Transcript

Civics education lost favor in many schools due to an increased emphasis on other subject areas. As recent events have shown, students need to understand the importance of civics. Tim helps us understand the connection that civics education has to Science, climate change, and equity, too.  Students who study civics are also more likely to be more informed and engaged citizens in their communities. In this episode, Tim Yetzina, Senior Supervising Editor for Science and Social Studies at Westchester Education Services, shares why there needs to be a renewed focus on history and civics curriculum.

Nicole Tomassi:

Welcome to Westchester words, education at tech and publishing I'm Nicole Tomassi, andin this episode, I'll be talking with Tim Yetzina, senior supervising editor for science and social studies at Westchester education services. In our conversation, we'll be discussing the importance of civics education as well as the intersection of science and social studies. Prior to joining Westchester education services. Tim worked for several publishers, including Pearson, National Geographic Learning and McGraw-Hill education. Tim., I'm really glad you could be here today. Thanks for joining me.

Tim Yetzina:

Thank you for having me.

Nicole Tomassi:

So when you and I were , uh , originally talking about and planning out this episode, you had explained to me that the standards around teaching civics have changed over the last several years. Could you discuss what some of the more significant changes have been?

Tim Yetzina:

And I should clarify my previous statement. Um, over the last past 10 years, social studies standards have been revised and or updated in many states. However, the changes to the standards have not been as significant as the guidance and the frameworks developed by social studies groups and initiatives, such as the national council for social studies and the Educating for American Democracy initiative. For example, the vision statement, and this is a paraphrase for the Educating for American Democracy initiative is a call to action to invest in strengthening history and civic learning so that civic learning opportunities are available equitably throughout the country. And some states have changed their social studies standards with the aim of promoting civic education or civics. So when speaking about this shift or movement, it's really, it really is more of adding to a lot of the , the standards and allowing civics to take a much more broader role in kind of being played out throughout the standards. Not simply , uh , just changing the standards, especially at K-5, the standards have not necessarily changed as much as they have at middle school and high school. So when speaking about this shift or, or movement in promoting civics and civics education, there are quite a few examples, but there are some really interesting examples pointed out by Steven Sawchuk in an article written about a year ago, and he highlights three states in that article.

Nicole Tomassi:

Would you tell us about some of those states and , and what he was discussing in that article?

Tim Yetzina:

Sure. And this is really interesting to me. Florida for example, passed a law in 2010 named after Sandra Day, O'Connor that required a new middle school course in civics. And until recently Florida remained one of the few to require civics instruction in middle school. And I think that's very important that civics is being taught at that age group because kids students are at that age group are able to understand a lot of the concepts that are happening in civics. An interesting point, related to that 2010 Florida law justice O'Connor was at the university of Florida in 2011, speaking to an audience where people know more about American idol judges than they do about judges on the Supreme court. And I think her statement clearly, although comically stresses the need for civic education.

Nicole Tomassi:

I think she was probably quite right about that. And especially at the middle school years, it would, there would be a natural affinity for that age group to know more about American idol judges than Supreme court justices. I have to say though, she was probably prescient in that. And unfortunately she was probably altogether too , right. And well beyond the middle and high school years. Um, so , uh, in the article by Stephen Sawchuk , uh, you said that there was three states who were the other two states?

Tim Yetzina:

Illinois has a very similar approach. In 2016, they added a high school civics requirement. U m, one that required the state to add a semester long course on the subject, the subject being civics. And then recently they have added more civic standards into middle school education and something that the, and I, this, again, this will have to be a paraphrase, but the Illinois state board of education, I think it was in 2019 states that research shows or indicates that students who receive a good civics education or more likely to become active and engaged members of their communities, of their towns, cities, and country. And so this, this statement is by the Illinois board of education is kind of a nice segue to what the Massachusetts requires and that's t hat each middle school, middle and high school must have a student led civics project. And I think that's really important because, u h, because it's doing the hands-on work that educating for American democracy initiative, what they want, they want students to be engaged in doing and in learning about civics and history and not just rote memorization. So recent thoughts about civics and social studies is, u h, is that we should be teaching civics and offering it as a course, as an important part of our curriculum. And it sounds

Nicole Tomassi:

Like it should have a more , um, it sounds almost like a community-based approach so that students can gain a better understanding of how it relates to the world around them.

Tim Yetzina:

Yes. And from what I, and I haven't researched the Massachusetts , um, curriculum that , that much, but what I gather their's is a much more community-based whether it's in their school or in the true community outside of their school , um, a community-based civics project. So it's , it's not something that they're writing in just in their text , you know, in their workbooks or their notebooks, something like that. It's a true, it should be a true project.

Nicole Tomassi:

Right. Like with real life, you know , real life people and real life connections to help anchor those principles that are being taught in civics. That makes a lot of sense to me. So, and also in terms of like real life and centering things around, you know, your community or your local region and whatnot, you had also indicated that there's actually a strong connection between science and social studies though. Most people tend to think of science and math as like complementary subjects. Besides it being the two content areas that you oversee here at Westchester, what is the connection between science and social studies?

Tim Yetzina:

I'm happy you brought this up. This is , uh, this topic has always fascinated me and I'm a huge fan of maps and geography. Just a little bit about me on family trips. I was often the , the navigator when we were heading to, to an unfamiliar place or even to a familiar place. And it was always exciting to be the person kind of directing the car, directing the ship as it were, and , uh, holding the map and directing my parents, especially when we approached places where there was unknown, but then no road construction and , uh, trying to find routes around it. So I, I used the map to get us around those, those spots and to go into the back roads , get off the highways and, and figure out where to go. Of course, now we have apps to help us with this, but we shouldn't underestimate the value of studying geography because there are many connections between geography and concepts in science, especially earth science. One of my favorite areas is geography and meteorology, the physical features and location of a region play a huge part in its weather and climate. As , uh, as we always hear in the spring, the geography and climate of the Midwest leads to quite a few, to quite a few storms, supercells tornadoes and that sort of thing. And that's always been fascinating to me. And then of course, coming from the Southeast, I've always been fascinated by hurricanes and , um, and how they approach the, the Southeastern us on a , on a yearly annual basis. A couple of the other overlaps between science and social studies, physical geography connects with human history, for example, where people have settled and why there are many other important areas that are significant. And one of the ones that I'm going to highlight right now is water availability and resources in the Southwest recent studies show that the Southwest and or west is in a mega drought. And this is very concerning obviously to scientists, but also to , to people who have to plan and , um , make sure that water distribution and water availability is consistent with population trends in those areas. There are many other topics along the lines , uh, where physical geography and human human settlement come together that need to be explored. Obviously, when we think about the two coming together, we have concerns about topics such as , uh, even climate change. I mean, most of the population around the world around the oceans. So if there, if there is sea level rises then, or increases, which we have seen , uh, scientific studies of charm , then what are we going to do with the population centers in the world? Those are so that's a very, obviously a very important topic that needs to be studied more. And it connects obviously with , uh , social studies and , and science

Nicole Tomassi:

And civics too . I would say because if you have an understanding of, you know, what the , uh , G you know, what the geography is and what the meteorological implications are and how that can affect your populations. Obviously these are things that, you know, local governments in those regions have to consider as far as emergency planning and the l ikes. So it's important for students who are say in elementary, middle high school now, for them to have an understanding of how these, how t hese subjects overlap and how it relates to their everyday lives and to, to the future really, you know? Yeah. So when we, y ou k now, when we think about the future, I mean, you and I both h appen to be parenting gen Z kids, and we know how very fond they are of their digital devices. And really, they've never known a world without digital devices, iPads, iPhones, and all the like, u m, so I'm just curious, how do you take a subject like civics or history and create content that's going to be something that they can relate to?

Tim Yetzina:

Well, the simple answer to that is that we need to put the concepts in the students' worlds. Uh, this is very much related to, to how programs publishers have approached NGSS in science. And I think, and I don't know whether social studies or science pushed this first , but if the content is engaging and something that the students can relate to, and it's something immediate to them in their world, then they're much more likely to want to learn about it, and much more likely to experience a true learning, authentic learning about, about the topic and the concepts. Just looking at the educating for American democracy initiative, which has many wonderful resources. And I highly recommend to teachers and educators to visit their website. When thinking about building a content for a concept, we think about grade appropriateness and age appropriate questions. For example, in second grade, we might ask students, how do groups of people name and talk about places? That question leads to a conversation and study of physical geography that students are familiar with. So they can explore where they are their place in the world, their connectedness, and also their place in their communities. And if I were a second grade teacher in upstate New York, this might lead to a nice discussion about names and places in the Hudson valley area. Then when you take that concept and that theme, and you go to middle school, the question might develop to something a little more complex, but also bring in other aspects of social studies like history. And it might be phrase, or the question might be phrased something like how and why do borders change? This is a , obviously a more complex question with students looking at historical and current borders. For the U S, this topic might also include how U S border changes have affected other people and populations. And obviously following from that, there are many avenues for that question. And for that concept to explore, you know, the many different related areas. So in bringing it back, I think it's just making sure that the questions are, are relevant, so that and relatable also, so that we can make sure that there are, they are inclusive and bring in everybody in the classroom so that they can all relate to it and, and learn from the content that's being taught.

Nicole Tomassi:

That's really interesting. And I , it sounds to me like educating for an American democracy probably offers some ways that teachers in different regions of the country can do it in a way that will be inclusive of all experiences.

Tim Yetzina:

Yes. And they have , uh, and they do have , uh, resources not only discussing how to use their framework to approach teaching and curriculum , but they also have examples of, of lessons or of content that you can use. So I think are very good , uh , resource for those of you out there that are looking for something.

Nicole Tomassi:

Okay. Well, you know, what we'll do is we'll put a link up to that with , uh, this episode, when it goes on the website and before I wrapped him, is there anything else that you would want to , uh , have our listeners think about when understanding why civics education in history is so important in , uh , American education?

Tim Yetzina:

Sure. Uh, there are a couple things one, and this is kind of to go back to just to make another point about studying geography. But another reason that studying geography is important is that now we're seeing much more interdependence of people around the world. So studying the interdependence of , of the human population, we also have become increasingly a global society and studying geography increases the likelihood that we are going to understand, or we will have the ability to understand different cultures and ideas. And obviously that circles back to the earlier discussion about standards, about the importance of civic education and civics, and similarly, something that's very important is that in the current political climate, in the U S a recent survey by Pew in March, 2019, found that only 17% of people trust our federal government to do the right thing. And that's very discouraging to me, but on a positive note, since we are seeing this shift to teaching civics and civics education, especially with educators and scholars, trying to push this this more heavily in order to change that perception of government, we can, we can do that through introducing this and, you know, at appropriate grade levels , um, in our, in our country's public schools or in our country's school, so that we increase civic education in order to, to build civic engagement and civic responsibility. And I , I think that students need to experience and practice the critical thinking skills and behaviors at school so that we can foster more civic minded individuals. I think it's very necessary not only for our country, but for, for the world in general, so we can create a much more , uh , peaceful and , um, interdependent world.

Nicole Tomassi:

Well, it sounds like some of the things that you discussed, like, for example, the , um, the standards that are in Massachusetts, you know, around middle and high schoolers, you know, taking a very active community-based project on if other states look to those sort of ideas and concepts and enact them in some way within their curriculum , that could probably take us a bit closer , um , to that aim.

Tim Yetzina:

Yeah, I definitely agree. I hope that , uh, states and that states will do that. And I think they are by , uh, analyzing the standards and the, and the frameworks that, that states are, are phishing and social studies. And obviously I'm saying some of the, the programs that are being developed for civics.

Nicole Tomassi:

Well, I think that's where we're going to end it , Tim. And it really, you know, I wish we could go on for more, but we only have but so much time. It was really nice talking with you about this today. And I want to thank you so much for coming on the Westchester words podcast.

Tim Yetzina:

Thank you, Nicole , it was great to talk with you and share my thoughts about social studies and civics, and of course adding that little sprinkle of science in there as well.

Nicole Tomassi:

Absolutely. So , uh , read those maps people. And , uh , like I said earlier, we will include some of the links , uh , that Tim was mentioning , uh, to the articles and the , um, the ideas from the educating for American democracy on our website, along with the podcast episode. So , um, if you would like to learn more about how Tim and the rest of our subject matter experts can work with you and your team to produce compelling, engaging, and effective print and digital content, visit our website and complete the brief form on the contact us page. And while you're there, check out some of the past episodes of Westchester words. And on the next episode of Westchester words, Kevin Gray, who's the president and chief content officer of Westchester education services, he'll be on and speaking with Sarah Kloek, who's the senior director of education policy at SIIA about how recent federal legislation will impact on K-12 education. You definitely don't want to miss that conversation. I want to thank you for listening to today's episode of Westchester words, and you can follow us on your favorite streaming platform so that you can be notified about new episodes when they become available. And you can listen to previous episodes as well. Uh, you can also find all the episodes at our website along with additional bonus content that some of our guests , uh , speakers have provided to us. In the meantime, you can send us an email at Westchester words at Westchester, E D S V C s.com to share your thoughts or comments about this discussion that we had today. And tell us what content you'd like Westchester to cover for future episodes until then stay safe, be well and stay tuned.