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CAPITAL Elementary Pre-service Teacher Institute Reflection:

Project CAPITAL is an annual conference held at the State Capitol Building
that offers nominated pre-service teachers from the states universities the
opportunity to further their learning about all the resources available for Social
Studies education in our state. Representatives from historical sites, the Department
of Education, and various government agencies give presentations and foster
discussions throughout the day. I had the honor of being selected as a JMU
representative at this conference on November 5, 2015.

A representative from the VDOE gave a revealing presentation about the
revised Social Studies standards currently under review. The new standards
restructure the pacing and placement of the standards with kindergarten focusing
on the community, first grade focusing on the Commonwealth of Virginia, second
grade focusing on the nation, and third grade focusing on all the ancient world
cultures previously spread out over second and third grades. A lively discussion of
the move toward alternative assessments also occurred. Many attendees expressed
concern about beginning to move toward alternative assessments instead of SOL
tests. These individuals were concerned that the lack of testing will lead to the
eventual decline and devaluation of the Social Studies at the elementary level. I
myself am cautiously optimistic of the shift toward alternative assessments because
I believe they are more developmentally appropriate and have the potential to
collect more meaningful data about what students understand. However, I also
recognize the possibility for these alternative assessments to inadvertently lead to a
devaluation of the Social Studies. I am interested to see how this trend develops in
the coming years and how school divisions are held accountable for the alternative

Some of my favorite experiences from the conference were visiting the
historical sites in Richmond and learning about the resources offered from sites
across the state. We heard from representatives from Historic Jamestown,
Yorktown, Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Monticello, and the American Civil
War Museum. I was surprised by the volume of online resources these sites offer for
educators all over the world. Colonial Williamsburgs HERO Live program offers live
streaming reenactment videos of a variety of historical topics, many of which are no
cost to viewers. The Virginia Historical Society also offers distance learning field
trips in which museum officials use real artifacts to teach about a given historical
topic. Mount Vernon and Monticello also offer a wealth of lesson ideas as well as
professional development opportunities for interested educators.

One aspect of Social Studies that I have limited experience teaching is
economic concepts. A representative from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
outlined a variety of resources and strategies the Federal Reserve has identified for
teachers to use to help students learn about economic concepts at all levels. A visit
to the Library of Virginia outlined how to use the Document Bank of Virginia to
acquire primary sources to use in providing learning experiences relating to history.

The Virginia Historical Society also provides assistance for teachers seeking primary
documents relating to given topics. One challenge I have faced as I attempt to
incorporate learning about history through primary documents is finding and
accessing appropriate documents for students. I am pleased to know that there are
many resources out there that provide access to these documents online, as primary
source analysis reflects such a huge aspect of authentic historical study.

While at the conference we traveled to the Virginia Historical Society and
visited their museum exhibits tracing the history of Virginia from the time it was
inhabited to present day. The quality of this museum was remarkable! The VHS
incorporated a variety of opportunities for attendees to interact digitally with
graphs, representations, and explanations of exhibits. The close alignment between
these exhibits and the Virginia Studies curriculum would make this an ideal field
trip destination for Virginia Studies students. While these exhibits are valuable for
all citizens to understand the history of the commonwealth, the exhibit seems truly
tailored to school groups.

Overall, this conference reinforced my passion for Social Studies and excites
me for planning social studies instruction in my future classroom. I look forward to
the opportunity I have to share my love of Social Studies with students and I hope to
incorporate trips to some of these sites in the coming years. As I reflect on my
experience at the conference, I am reminded of the criticality of learning about
Social Studies. Social Studies teaches our students where we have been, where we
are now, and challenges them to think about where we will go in the future.