A pedagogical shift towards teaching social studies in conjunction with other subjects, and not as an isolated topic, has slowly emerged on the horizon in public schools for the last five years. In some states, standardized state tests in social studies have been discontinued for students in 6th and 7th grades because they are considered non-essential. Teachers continue to ask why social studies content is being pushed aside for language arts, math, and other STEM-based curricula. Social studies, especially at the secondary level, is a disappearing and often thought of as less important curriculum, but it doesn’t have to be.
The disappearing curriculum
When students enter 8th grade in many states, they must pass a standardized test in social studies, but as a Catch-22, years of vital instruction have been discontinued and students miss the content they’re expected to know. Why the huge disconnect? How can we continue to promote essential social studies concepts when some state departments, local districts, and building administrators have deemed the subject of social studies insignificant?
History is one essential part of developing a social studies curriculum, and history explains and explores the importance of learning and education in America. The history of writing, reading, and literature must be studied in order to understand the importance of these tenets, yet school systems are deciding that social studies should be buried because of students reading below grade level, high-stakes testing, and the push for more project-based learning reforms.
How to integrate content into other subjects
Although the social studies curriculum is disappearing it can be easily integrated into other areas. Here are a few tips:
- Identify what needs to be taught and which standards need to be met specifically in social studies. Teachers can begin by reviewing local, state, and the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) standards.
- Review other subject standards on your school district’s website, including language arts, math, and science, and find lessons within the social studies curriculum that align to the objectives/standards in these content areas.
- Vertical teaming is essential to determining what prior knowledge students should have. Teachers one grade level below and one grade level above your current grade can share what students should know.
- Create unit plans. Unit plans are more concise and offer the opportunity to integrate not only social studies, but art and science into language arts and math curricula. Thorough lesson planning is key to integrating social studies themes and content into other subject areas.
Integrating technology in the classroom is also imperative for reaching 21st-century learners, keeping them engaged, and building skills. Teachers should develop flipped/blended classroom lessons and use laptops or Chromebooks, iPads, and even cellphones. For example, when holding a mock election, use technology to conduct polls. Any of these tips can support integrating and infusing national social studies standards into different subjects.
Blending themes together
In addition to integrating specific content to meet standards, history and social studies themes can be combined to build skills. The National Council for the Social Studies has developed ten themes to address social studies curriculum. These ten themes are the basis for learning and instruction in today’s classrooms (NCSS, 2013).
Most schools have introduced social and emotional learning into their daily routines. Develop or find lessons that integrate themes (such as cultural diversity, tolerance; bullying, or collegiate activities) and promote collaboration and teamwork, building mutual respect for all students in today’s classrooms.
2. Time, continuity, and change in social studies
Find fictional stories that help make connections between past and present, bridging students’ experiences with people from history, and making relevant connections to social studies.
3. People, places and environment
Use lessons that focus on geography, regional studies, or world cultures. For example, the classic game Oregon Trail involved mapping skills, told the story of the settlers, and integrated math and science activities.
4. Individual development and identity
Use activities that help students build their identities through relationships in class, school, and the community.
5. Individuals, groups and institutions
How do individuals, groups, and institutions affect how students live and work? Use units or lessons that analyze the ways in which all these shape students’ lives and society as a whole.
6. Power, authority and governance
Use units or activities that focus on government and citizens’ interactions with it. For example, mock elections can demonstrate the process of democracy.
7. Production, distribution and consumption
Use units or activities that demonstrate economic principles (e.g., needs vs. wants) in action and show how the economy can affect sociopolitical systems.
8. Science, technology and society
Use reading and integrative lessons that give students the opportunity to examine scientific ideas and technological changes throughout history.
9. Global connection
Use lessons that focus on global interactions or critical social issues such as world peace or fighting hunger.
10. Civic ideals and practices
The central purpose of social studies is citizenship. Use lessons that focus on civic participation, the role of the citizen in the community, and the responsibilities of the citizen in society. This theme can encourage students to play an integral part in developing solutions for issues that plague society today.
To sum up, social studies does not have to disappear. It can—and should—be incorporated into other content areas because it’s essential to developing competent, informed students who can excel in the K-12 setting and beyond.
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National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: Chapter 2-The Themes of Social Studies. (2013, August 01). Retrieved from https://www.socialstudies.org/standards/strands
Sheree Turner, Ph.D. is a Master Teacher Leader in an Urban School district in Atlanta and a 27-year veteran educator specializing in English language arts (ELA) and social studies. Dr. Turner is also an adjunct professor with University of Phoenix in the School of Education graduate studies. She is certified in Middle Grades Social Studies, Gifted Learner Endorsed, and Reading Endorsed. Her area of interest is ensuring Social Studies does not become extinct in the 21st century classroom.