Magazine article Social Studies Review

Four Components of a Well-Rounded History-Social Science Education

Magazine article Social Studies Review

Four Components of a Well-Rounded History-Social Science Education

Article excerpt

California adopted the History-Social Science Framework nearly a year and a half ago, and since then, teachers have been tasked with implementing it. As a writer of the framework and as a leader of the statewide implementation effort of the document, I have been pressed to explain the "gist" of the instructional shifts in the framework in shorter and shorter segments. This is my attempt to boil down the components of a well-rounded history-social science curriculum into as few words, but as much depth as possible. Please note that some of what you will read below is drawn from the framework's introduction, executive summary, and ancillary materials.2

The framework explains that a well-rounded curriculum includes four key areas of emphasis: content, inquiry, literacy, and citizenship. This is how and why it encourages this kind of instruction:


California's students deserve to learn diverse, accurate, engaging, and nuanced material in order to understand the past and make sense of the present. At all grade levels and in all disciplines-including history, geography, economics, ethnic studies, government, and civics-content must be front and center in guiding instruction. The HSS Framework's grade-level chapters are content-driven. The latest scholarly and disciplinary research is reflected in the chapters and translated into age-appropriate narratives and classroom examples. In kindergarten through third grade, the HSS Framework organizes the material as investigations into different studies of communities and ways of exploring the world. Starting in fourth grade and extending through high school, grade level organization centers on a U.S. and California history focus, or a world history focus.

Both the U.S. and world history content are organized into themes that intentionally cross grade levels. One key theme that unites the U.S. history course sequence (which includes grades four, five, eight, eleven, and twelve) is the topic of freedom. Students explore the evolution of the concept of freedom, and as importantly, they investigate the ways in which different groups of Americans contested and shaped freedom from the founding of the republic through recent times. In the middle grades, students begin their study of the global past with consideration of the ancient world from hunter-gatherer societies to the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and India. As their studies center less on a western civilization model of world history, and more on a global sites of encounter way of exploring developments in world history, students analyze the relationships between humanity and the physical world, trade, conflict, the development of new political institutions and philosophies as well as the birth and spread of religious traditions. In studying world history from ancient times through the modern era, students learn about these developments through a variety of primary and secondary documents, analyze multiple pieces of evidence, and use this evidence to answer broader questions of historical significance.


The teaching of history, economics, geography, civics, and other social sciences demands more than telling students to memorize disconnected content. Since the adoption of the HSS Standards in 1998, our state has recognized the importance of inquiry-based disciplinary understanding in the history-social science classroom. The Historical and Social Science Analysis Skills highlight the importance of chronological and spatial thinking; research, evidence, and point of view; and historical interpretation, organized in three separate but related grade spans: K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Embedded within these grade spans are discrete skills vital for student learning, critical thinking, and literacy. These include understanding relationships between events, chronological understanding, understanding perspective and bias, and corroboration. All of the grade-level chapters of the HSS Framework center on an inquiry model of instruction. …

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