Social Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach

By Chadwick, Fran; Wendling, Laura M. | Social Studies Review, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Social Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach


Chadwick, Fran, Wendling, Laura M., Social Studies Review


Forging Links from Within and Without

Social studies is inherently interdisciplinary. Within the field, the various disciplines that comprise social studies link and intertwine. It's difficult to imagine studying historical content without examining the roles of persons (sociology), their motivations (psychology), where they lived (geography), the influences of spiritual beliefs (religion), rules that govern behavior (political science and anthropology), or how people negotiate for their needs and wants (economics). Outside the field of social studies, vital connections can also be made to language arts, mathematics, science and the arts that yield a deeper understanding of concepts and ideas.

But what exactly does it mean to teach through an "interdisciplinary" approach? Does it mean to integrate and correlate subjects, create thematic units, or plan a parallel curriculum? The articles in this journal illustrate that an interdisciplinary approach can take many forms. The idea of creating interdisciplinary curriculum is not new; however, as you read the articles within, we hope they will provide you with some methods for extending such an approach in your classroom.

There is good reason to do so! Brain research suggests that knowledge is learned more quickly and remembered longer when constructed in a meaningful context in which connections among ideas are made. Authors Arthur K. Ellis, and Jeffrey T. Fouts , in their article, Interdisciplinary Curriculum: The Research Base, note the following benefits:

* Improved higher-level thinking skills;

* Reduced curricular fragmentation resulting in a unified sense of process and content;

* Stronger real-world applications yielding increased opportunities for the transfer of learning;

* Greater mastery of content;

* Heightened sense of initiative and autonomy;

* Improved ability to adopt multiple points of view;

* Enhanced motivation to learn.

This issue of Social Studies Review begins with an article by Laurie Mosier, History-Social Science Coordinator for the San Diego County Office of Education and Karen Wagner, Elementary Language Arts Coordinator for the San Diego County Office of Education on the effective use of interdisciplinary curriculum mapping by a team of local elementary teachers to align and integrate the language arts and history-social science standards. Laurie and Karen describe the process used for this professional development model-ranging from targeted planning to overcoming the challenges the team encountered (particularly with regard to California's Reading First requirements) to piloting, implementation and next steps.

Fran Chadwick, an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at California State University San Marcos, encourages elementary school teachers to look at the curricular links between history-social sciences and the visual and performing arts standards. Using the book, Martin's Big Words, The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., Fran illustrates how she has helped students construct their own understanding of important big ideas based on social studies through the use of dance. She provides specific examples of effective methods to teach the elements of dance, and valuable ways to apply those methods to enhance the social studies curriculum.

Michelle Zachlod, Associate Professor in the College of Education at California State University, Bakersfield, makes a plea for integrating the study of economics into the primary grade curriculum. Though specific examples, Michelle demonstrates how to pull economic concepts out of frequently used children's literature, such as the The Little Red Hen, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tortilla Factory, Fannie's Fruits and Ox-Cart Man, and provides the reader with strategic questions to develop young children's vocabulary and comprehension skills.

Laura M. Wendling, Professor in the College of Education at California State University San Marcos, advocates using field trips as a means to draw interdisciplinary connections within the elementary school curriculum. …

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