The Four Dimensions of Social Studies center on the use of questions to spark curiosity, guide instruction, deepen investigations, acquire rigorous content, and apply knowledge and ideas in real world settings to become active and engaged citizens in the 21st century
Readiness for college, career, and civic life is as much about the experiences students have as it is about learning any particular set of content, concepts, or skills. Thus the learning environments that teachers create are critical to student success. Students will flourish to the extent that their independent and collaborative efforts are guided, supported, and honored.
Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries
With the entire scope of human experience as its backdrop, the content of Social Studies consists of a rich array of facts, concepts, and generalizations. The way to tie all of this content together is through the use of compelling and supporting questions. Compelling questions focus on real problems, issues, and curiosities about how the world works.
Teacher and student generated questions are central elements of the teaching and learning process. These should be both intriguing to students and intellectually honest. Developing compelling and supporting questions is challenging, and teachers need to provide guidance and support to help students learn how to craft them. Teachers use big ideas and essential questions to guide units.
Applying Disciplinary Tools and Concepts
Learners of all ages, typically begin proposing solutions to compelling questions based on their experiences. Because Social Studies content is based in human experience, students develop hunches about the questions under study. Rich Social Studies teaching pushes beyond student hunches by offering students opportunities to investigate those questions more thoroughly using disciplinary (civic, economic, geographical, or historical) and multi-disciplinary means. Examples of thinking like an historian would include the habits of:
- Connecting the past to present
- Describing how an individuals' view of the present shapes their interpretations of the past.
Teachers model democratic values as part of a system that simulates and/or provides actual civic engagement opportunties. Key values include:
- political equality
- political literacy
- mutual respect
- friendly disagreement
Controversial issues are presented in a way that protects the dignity of students.
Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action
Students need diverse opportunities to work individually, with partners, in small groups, and within whole class settings.
Formats include: Individual essays, group projects, and other classroom-based written assessments, both formal and informal. Students should not be limited to those avenues alone. Other means by which students communicate their preliminary and final conclusions tinclude: discussions, deliberations, policy analyses, video productions, Document Based Questions, and portfolios.
Often mastery of content no longer suffices. Active and responsible citizens identify and analyze public problems; deliberate with other people about how to define and address issues; take constructive, collaborative action; reflect on their actions; create and sustain groups; and influence institutions both large and small. Teaching students to act in these ways—as citizens—significantly enhances preparation for the workplace, as well as college and civic life. Students should be affored opportunities to practice respectable discourse about real world issues focused on the goal of gaining deeper understandings.
- Philosophical Chairs
- Socratic Seminars
- Structured Academic Controversies
Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence
As a discipline, Social Studies is evidence-based. Students learn how to fill in their knowledge gaps by learning how to work from sources and evidence to develop claims and counter-claims. Helping students develop a capacity for gathering, analyzing, and evaluating sources, and using evidence in disciplinary ways is a central feature of social studies instruction. Sources come in many forms, including historical and contemporary documents, primary and secondary, data from direct observation, graphics, economic statistics, maps, legislative actions, objects, and court rulings.
Students must be mindful that not all sources are equal in value and use. Sources do not, by themselves, constitute evidence. Helping students develop a capacity for gathering and evaluating sources and then using evidence in disciplinary ways is a central feature of this dimension. Other key considerations:
- Multiple perspectives and sources
- Identifying bias