High School Social Studies Teacher, Ms. Carol Smialek, Shows Students How the Past Can Teach Us About the Future

Posted by PA Distance Learning on 8/31/20 8:42 AM

Ms. Carol Smialek grew up with an immediate interest in teaching after attending her father's lectures as a college professor when she was a child. Those experiences, combined with her natural curiosity about history, lead her to become a high school Social Studies teacher.

“I remember seeing him teach, and it inspired me to think about that as a profession,” she recalled. “I also had a great social studies teacher in high school that made the subject interesting.”

On her journey to becoming a teacher, Ms. Smialek earned a BA in Comprehensive Social Studies and a BA in History from Carlow University as well as an MS Curriculum and Instruction from Saint Vincent College.

After finishing school, she worked as a World History teacher for another cyber charter school for ten years, where she gained valuable experience and skills working in an online environment.

“Cyber education was completely different ten years ago compared to now,” she explained.

“Now, there are so many valuable resources available for cyber school teachers,” she said. “We can review and analyze data about what techniques work and what doesn’t.”

With a background in cyber education, Ms. Smialek was a welcome addition to the PA Distance family in 2017. Now beginning her fourth year as a high school U.S. History teacher, Ms. Smialek looks forward to some updates she is implementing for her classes.

Through her Live Learning classes and Acellus, Ms. Smialek’s U.S. History students learn about American history beginning in the second industrial revolution up until to modern-day times.

“With each new year, we have a new year of history to teach,” she said.

“I try to encourage the kids to understand how people acted and reacted to things in the past and how it connects to current times,” she said. “I also try to find topics to relate to Pennsylvania history and make it a little more personal to our students.”

Ms. Smialek also teaches two elective courses: Mythology and Social Changes.

“My Social Changes elective is all about how people respond to the changing needs in society,” she said. “It’s like a Sociology Class and Current Events mixed.”

“I teach my students to be engaged and active in current events and to speak to others about things happening in the world while being respectful,” she explained.

To encourage respectful dialogue, Ms. Smialek plans to incorporate online discussion boards within her classes.

Ms. Smialek is excited to introduce several class projects to her U.S. History students this year, including one about the Harlem Renaissance where students base their project on their choice of a topic from the “roaring twenties”. For another project, students will create an infographic on industrialists within the second industrial revolution in the early 1900s.

“I want to create more choices for my students so that they can pick a focus for their projects and learn about something that interests them,” she said.

The PA Distance High School Social Studies Department is also planning to implement a school-wide Civics test graduation requirement. The assessment was mandated by Act 35, which was passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and signed by Governor Tom Wolf in June 2018.

The Act states that each school should give students using a locally developed U.S. history, government, and civics test that, once passed, is a part of the path to citizenship. Utilizing an exam that the PA Distance Social Studies department will create, PA Distance plans to test high school students in Ms. Smialek’s U.S. History classes and Mr. Mysels’ Civics class beginning this school year.

Ms. Smialek also mentioned that collaboration within her department is frequent, but cross-department collaboration is also prevalent at PA Distance.

“I worked with the Science department last year for a combined lesson. It was a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s interesting to see what other teachers are doing, and that inspires me to push myself and try something new.”

In addition to her general education and elective courses, Ms. Smialek sponsors a variety of PA Distance virtual summer camps. This past summer, she co-taught Cryptids and Creepy Crawlies Camp and Folktales: Getting to Know Cultural Identity Camp alongside Mrs. Devlin.

“I usually try to teach something fun and topics that connect to history,” she said.

“I love the camps,” she said. “I can work with kids that I might also have for class, during the year, and with kids outside of PA Distance.”

“At PA Distance there’s a lot of ways I can have fun while teaching something that I love,” she added.

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