NEWPORT NEWS, VA. — Virginia's new standards have forced many teachers to redefine social studies. Last year, students in Paula Brown's third-grade class used to study maps to identify islands, peninsulas, and urban areas. Their focus was rarely specific. Instead, the emphasis was on a general understanding of how human societies are set up.
Now Ms. Brown teaches these children to use longitudes and latitudes to find their hometown. And rather than study a generic list of local careers, from trash collector to state legislator, third-graders read about the exploits and accomplishments of historical figures, from Hippocrates to Capt. John Smith of the Jamestown settlement.
"I let history drive the curriculum," says the teacher at Carver Elementary School. After an hour of math in the morning, she devotes the rest of the day to a grand stewpot of subjects here. Students write paragraphs comparing two military towns, ancient Sparta and modern Newport News. They study the science of tides and weather while reading about the transatlantic exploits of Spanish seafarer Ponce de Leon. "You have to teach all subjects," says Brown. "[With the new standards], you have to integrate the material ... and make a personal connection for today's kids."