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2018 Award Winners

Find the criteria for nominating a member (in 2019) for a NCSS award or grant.

Outstanding Elementary Social Studies Teacher of the Year

Elisabetta Bavaro

Oceanside Union Free School District
Oceanside, New York

Empower Your Students to Take Action: Fostering Global Citizens and Solutionary Thinkers
This workshop will discuss how the 2018 NCSS Elementary Teacher of the Year converted her engaged learners into empowered learners. Student agency is at the heart of this classroom transformation. Using the UN Sustainable Development Goals, see how you can promote global citizenship and solutionary thinking in an effort to inspire students to change the world around them.

Presenter: Elisabetta Bavaro, Oceanside School #5, Oceanside, NY
Chair: Sarah B. Shear, Penn State - Altoona, PA

It was clear to the committee that Ms. Bavaro’s teaching is student-centered and integrates inquiry and technology to engage students in making connections to critical thinking and citizenship development. Ms. Bavaro has a very strong and powerful philosophy of teaching and has worked extensively at the district level in both writing curriculum as well as providing professional development for other elementary teachers. She is committed to an impact beyond her own students and classroom.

See more photos of award winners from the 2018 conference in Chicago.

Outstanding Middle Level Social Studies Teacher of the Year

Tracey Zaval

Midlothian Middle School
Midlothian, Virginia

Tonight In the Classroom— Incorporating The Tonight Show's Games Into Your Classroom
Are you looking for ways to bring fun and excitement into your classroom? Come learn how to incorporate games from The Tonight Show into your lessons to increase student engagement through creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. This session will feature games such as Box of Lies, Five Second Summaries, Wheel of Freestyle and Lip Sync Battle among others.

Presenter: Tracey Zaval, Midlothian Middle School, Midlothian, VA
Chair: Anthony Angelini, Conewago Valley School District, New Oxford, PA

It is with surpassing pride that the National Council for the Social Studies celebrates Tracey Zaval as the 2018 Middle-Level Teacher of the Year.  Mrs. Zaval inspires innovation in practice as a trainer for the Virginia Department of Education.  She inspires progress in policy on the Virginia Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Committee.  Mrs. Zaval has inspired success in students through twenty years of passionate teaching in Virginia public schools.  Mrs. Zaval advocates for social studies, telling students that “the past never dies since its political, economic, and social influences live on.”

Mrs. Zaval brings history alive through the C3 Framework.  From breakout boxes that demand analysis of evidence to town halls with legislators that push young people to communicate conclusions, Mrs. Zaval recognizes the power of social studies education.  Mrs. Zaval makes social studies interdisciplinary.  Her students engage in a novel study of Nothing but the Truth by Avi during a unit on evaluating sources.  

Mrs. Zaval brings the world to her eighth-graders.  Mrs. Zaval collaborated with Citizenship and Immigration Services to host a Certificate of Citizenship ceremony at her school.  Mrs. Zaval takes her students out into the world, organizing learning expeditions to D.C. and the Virginia Capitol.  Mrs. Zaval prepares her students for the world.  A project-based learning experience created by Mrs. Zaval requires students to form businesses that design, produce, and market items to the community.  Proceeds are donated to charities vetted and voted on by the students themselves.  In six years, her students donated $43,000.

Outstanding Secondary Social Studies Teacher of the Year

Alicen Morley

Boone High School
Boone, Iowa

Using Deductive Reasoning to Uncover History
History is taught in chronological order. We start from the beginning and work our way to the end. But, that’s not how researchers discover history so why are we for inquiry in the opposite direction? Learn how to teach history backwards and spiral the curriculum forward to strengthen such historical thinking skills as causality and chronology.

Presenter: Alicen Morely, Boone High School, Boone, IA
Chair: Jesse Haight, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Clarion, PA

The Secondary Teacher of the Year Subcommittee of the NCSS Awards Committee is pleased to announce the recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Secondary Teacher of the Year is Alicen Morely.  Mrs. Morely teaches at Boone High School in Boone, Iowa. Using simulation as a tool, Mrs. Morely’s students have taken part in mock trials, senate confirmations, elections, and have even been a part of a prohibition era speakeasy.  Mrs. Morely is adept at bringing experiential learning to her students in a way that builds depth of knowledge. The rigor that she requires, along with the experiences that she creates, keep her students wanting more.

Social studies education is needed now more than ever.  Motivating students to want to become actively involved in learning will increase their willingness to be civically engaged. This is where Mrs. Morely excels.  Understanding that social studies encompass more than history, Mrs. Morely has shifted the focus of her teaching to human behavior. She is a persistent advocate for her students and for the social studies in general.  Specifically, Mrs. Morely incorporates the C3 Framework to facilitate learning that emphasizes skills and practices needed for all citizens. By regularly employing project based learning, discussion and debate, research and writing, and the integration of technology within her classroom, Mrs. Morely epitomizes what it means to be an outstanding teacher.

Jean Dresden Grambs Distinguished Career Research in Social Studies Award

Dr. Stephen J. Thornton

University of South Florida, Tampa, FL

Gatekeepers All
For more than 30 years Stephen Thornton has explored how social studies teachers tend the curricular-instructional gate—why, how, and to what effects. Professor Thornton explains how he first became intrigued by the notion of teacher-as-gatekeeper, how the field has profited from studying it, and why attention to it remains vital.

Presenter: Stephen J. Thornton, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
Chair: Jeff Passe, Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona, CA



Dr. Stephen Thornton has been selected as the recipient of the Jean Dresden Grambs Distinguished Career Research Award of the National Council for the Social Studies. Dr. Thornton was nominated by a team of noted scholars who submitted a variety of evidence in his support, including personal testimonials.

Dr. Thornton is a professor of social science education in The University of South Florida’s Department of Teaching and Learning. He is one of the nation’s leading scholars on the social studies curriculum. Best known for his focus on social studies teachers as curricular-instructional gatekeepers, he is regarded as a thoughtful, fluid, and persuasive writer with powerful insights and careful arguments.

Dr. Thornton’s expertise in school curriculum has led to over a hundred articles and chapters on such topics as women’s history, social studies for English language learners, teaching about LGBTQ in the social studies curriculum, and geography education. In many ways, he has helped shape the educational conversation on these and other cutting-edge topics.

One member of the selection committee, upon reviewing Dr. Thornton’s work, commented, “It is a rare discussion on the social studies curriculum that does not lead back to Steve Thornton’s ideas.”


CUFA-FASSE Social Studies Social Justice Research Grant

Andrea Hawkman

Ryan T. Knowles

Anti-Racist Teacher Efficacy: Toward Justice-Oriented Teaching in Missouri
This project explores the influence of white fragility on the pedagogical choices that teachers make. Findings from a statewide survey of teachers in Missouri will be discussed.

Presenters: Ryan T. Knowles, Andrea Hawkman, Utah State University, Logan, UT; Antonio J. Castro, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
Chair: Dr. Tina Heafner, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Charlotte, NC

Exemplary Research in Social Studies Award

Dr. Wayne Journell

University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, NC

Grabbing the Third Rail: Teaching Politics in Secondary Education
Many teachers have become afraid to broach political issues in their classrooms. However, helping students become politically aware is an imperative of effective civic education. This presentation, which is based on the book Teaching Politics in Secondary Education: Engaging with Contentious Issues, will discuss reasons for incorporating politics into the curriculum, as well as offer research-based strategies for doing so.

Presenter: Wayne Journell, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC
Chair: Sarah Mathews, Florida International University, Miami, FL

The 2019 Exemplary Research Award was presented to Dr. Wayne Journell for his text Teaching Politics in Secondary Education: Engaging with Contentious Issues. In this text, the author argues that helping students become politically aware is an imperative of effective civic education. Dr. Journell’s book was written to discuss best practices and engaging methods for implementing conversations about politics and controversial issues in social studies classrooms. The author’s findings support previous research that confirms students often already have an idea of their teachers’ positions on social issues. He argues that there is no such thing as a neutral classroom, and suggests that social studies teachers have the unique opportunity to model the processes they use to examine multiple perspectives on issues to form reasoned decisions. Dr. Journell lays out criteria for distinguishing between a controversial issue, with the potential to facilitate public discourse in a classroom, and a topic that is “settled” within the general population, which should not serve as the basis of a discussion. Finally, this books offers practical suggestions for how teachers can implement contentious ideas in classrooms throughout all social studies disciplines. The review committee complimented Dr. Journell on this feat explaining, “The author takes the reader through multiple classrooms and school-settings with detailed explanations of the methods he used for each investigation.”—Sarah Mathews

Larry Metcalf Exemplary Dissertation Award

Dr. Neil Shanks

University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

Economics is Political: Preservice Teachers, Purpose, and the Challenges of Critical Economics Pedagogy A case study of preservice teachers in an Urban Teaching program exploring the intersections between purpose and economics. Specifically, these teachers wanted to explore the past, present, and future with social studies and fundamentally alter traditional forms of social studies instruction. At times, economics aligned with these purposes, but the misalignments offer important lessons for utilizing economics in critical social studies pedagogy.

Presenter: Neil Shanks, University of Texas at Austin
Chair: Ritu Radhakrishnan, Oswego State University, Oswego, NY


The Review Subcommittee of the CUFA Research Committee is pleased to announce the recipient of the 2018 Larry Metcalf Exemplary Dissertation Award, Neil Shanks, for his dissertation, Economics is Political: Preservice Teachers, Purpose, and the Challenges of Critical Economics Pedagogy. Dr. Shanks’ qualitative case study of secondary social studies teacher education candidates at an Urban teacher education program focused on appreciative stances to linguistic and cultural diversity, with an emphasis on multicultural citizenship. This study examines the teaching of economics through a more critical Freirean lens. As a result, Dr. Shanks’ work questions the traditional framework and methods of the teaching of economics in a secondary classroom.

Economics education is often an understudied and under-researched discipline of the social studies. However, a basic knowledge of economics is necessary for individuals to function in everyday society. Moreover, economics has a significant connection to political landscape including decisions and policies that affect our K-12 schools. As a result, teachers are often unprepared to teach economics at a critical level, and students feel disconnected from the content. In this study, Dr. Shanks was able to examine the way that preservice teachers in an Urban Teacher Educational program identified the purpose of economics within social studies education, its role in their teaching, and how they implemented their conceptualization of economics in to their instruction. The results demonstrated that a critical study of economics that disrupts the dominant narrative of neoclassical economics can introduce transformative teaching and learning.

Award for Global Understanding Given in Honor of James M. Becker

Gustovo Carrera

Shore Country Day School, Beverly, MA

Teaching Global Citizenship a Case Study: Civil Rights, Cold War, and the African Anti-Colonial Struggle Civil rights leaders understood their struggle as part of a larger struggle for liberation, and pro-independence leaders in Africa understood America and its foreign policy, at least in part, through the lens of segregation and the Civil Rights struggle; while America’s Soviet adversaries exploited those perceptions to their advantage, a community of Civil Rights and anti-colonial advocates bound by ideas and ideals emerged across the Atlantic.

Presenter: Gustovo Carrera, Shore Country Day School, Beverly, MA
Chair: Joseph David, J.I. Watson Elementary School, Iowa, LA

Generously sponsored by the Longview Foundation

2017 Grant Recipients Acknowledged During NCSS 2018

Christa McAuliffe Reach for the Stars Award 

Kevin Wagner

Carlisle Area School District, Carlisle, PA

Piecing Together the Puzzle: Using Source Materials to Understand Lives of the WWII Fallen
Over 405,000 American men and women gave their lives during WWII. We know the stories of too few. Learn how to engage students to study the life of a Silent Hero. Learn the key steps in researching a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, or Coastguardsman killed in action during World War II. Learn the historical thinking skills that apply to this type of work. Explore the idea of engaging students in this program.

Presenter: Kevin A. Wagner, Carlisle Area School District, Carlisle, PA

Grant for the Enhancement of Geographic Literacy

Dr. Jason Harshman

University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 


Alisa Meggitt

North Central Junior High School, North Liberty, IA

Where is Islam?: Mapping with the Global Geographers Group (G3)
Organized around the compelling question “Where is Islam?”, this project focuses on the work of a team of seventh and eighth grade students known as the Global Geographers Group (G3). Bridging the NCSS C3 Inquiry Arc, the National Geography Standards, state of Iowa social studies standards, and the new NCSS Standards for the Preparation of Social Studies Teachers, this inquiry-based project is designed to foster (1) geographic literacy skills among middle school and pre-service teachers through the (2) incorporation of local and global experiences and perspectives (3) in and out of the classroom (4) to be applied to the creation of a standards-based digital media and mapping project.

Presenters: Dr. Jason Harshman, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA; Alisa Meggitt, North Central Junior High School, North Liberty, IA
Chair: Paul Nagel, Curriculum Writer, Cypress, TX

Generously sponsored by GENIP