Social studies

The Coos Bay School District is introducing new Social Studies materials for all grades, but elementary students will be taught through academic children's newspapers instead of textbooks.

COOS BAY — Elementary students in the Coos Bay School District are going to be taught Social Studies through newspapers.

In a new district-wide curriculum update, CBSD purchased brand new Social Studies materials for elementary, middle school and high school grades. The update cost roughly $30,000 overall.

“We haven’t had new Social Studies materials, as a whole package, for a long time,” said Chad Putman, district director for teaching and learning. “Social Studies teachers at the high school would say it’s been decades.”

The biggest curriculum change is being seen at the elementary level, where even the purchase of new materials is new. Social Studies Weekly is a children-level newspaper filled with required Social Studies content. A new “newspaper” arrives once a week, providing new content and art.

The subscription cost the district about $11,000, which will be paid yearly while the new textbook materials for the middle school and high school is expected to last for seven years.

“Our goal is to try to integrate Social Studies in our elementary grades into our English Language Arts block,” Putman said. “We want to teach Social Studies different than in the past because in those grades teachers are teaching all the subjects. If we’re doing it right, we will use the materials for the grammar lesson by taking out an article read last week and underline all the adverbs and verbs. This can be used for more than Social Studies itself.”

Not only that, but this means elementary students will receive a new copy each week, which helps hold their interest.

“If we’re reading about current events, it comes in a paper and is updated,” Putman said. “This makes it more real. Plus having one big textbook on everybody’s desk is harder to move around than newspapers for the little ones and they can take these home where families can read them too and are more likely to open it up. That doesn’t happen with textbooks.”

Another reason why teachers specifically wanted to try this new curriculum is because textbooks quickly get outdated as world events happen, while these newspapers are updated once a year and are able to stay current.

“Over time, the cost for the subscription and a textbook is the same,” Putman said. “Paying over time for a yearly subscription gives us fresh materials and it also gives us videos that go along with some of the articles, so it’s multi-media.”

Meanwhile, the textbooks at the 6th grade level also include videos and extra materials that the teachers wanted.

“Textbooks stay on the desk, but some materials can go home,” Putman said. “They can access materials online or download it to a device at school if they don’t have internet at home. If they don’t have a device or the internet, they can check out a textbook, but this way they don’t have to take a textbook home where it gets worn or lost and don’t have to carry as much in their backpacks.”

As Putman described it, CBSD has entered a hybrid curriculum model that is both digital and paper. There is the option for schools to go fully online, but he doesn’t think the district is ready for that just yet.

“We have teachers at the end of their career who aren’t too comfortable with it and not all students, economically, have the means or ability to access the internet 24-7,” he said. “Which is why we have a hybrid.”

Finally, the new Social Studies materials at Marshfield High School are as close as possible to what is being used at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

“We might be one version or edition off from them, but we’re close since we have the option to get SWOCC credit for the class,” Putman said.

The Coos Bay School District has slowly been updating all of its curriculum in recent years since it fell behind after the economic crash in 2007. Social Studies follows updates from previous years for science and math. Putman expects updates to be made next year for art textbooks.

“But the student newspaper will really help with engagement,” he said. “We’re excited about it.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.