Historical Thinking = Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Photo: Wikipedia

No, this is not a historical look at the political allegory of The Wizard of Oz, or the symbolism of the song that Dorothy sings in the movie version. It’s a slightly roundabout allusion to the New York State K-12 Social Studies Framework that was adopted by the Board of Regents in April. The rainbow is used to illustrate the structure of the Framework, including both skills and content with an increased emphasis on inquiry. With apologies to L. Frank Baum, Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg, let’s go over the Social Studies rainbow and take a closer look at each band:

Inquiry Arc

The Inquiry Arc is taken from the C3 Framework of the National Council for the Social Studies and “focuses on the nature of inquiry in general and the pursuit of knowledge through questions in particular.” (National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) 2013, 12). The skills of research and inquiry are central to the discipline of social studies. This is not about the traditional research paper assigned at the end of the year. This is about a recursive cycle of questioning, gathering evidence and constructing new understanding. These are the skills students need for actively doing history and social studies including:

  1. Developing questions and planning inquiries;
  2. Applying disciplinary concepts and tools;
  3. Evaluating sources and using evidence; and
  4. Communicating conclusions and taking informed action

Unifying Themes

The Unifying Themes, based on the NCSS themes represent highly interrelated strands of concepts and ideas that thread through a social studies program, K-12. The themes can provide powerful cross curricular connections to ELA and other social sciences and include:

  1. Individual Development and Cultural Identity
  2. Development, Movement, and Interaction of Cultures
  3. Time, Continuity, and Change
  4. Geography, Humans, and the Environment
  5. Development and Transformation of Social Structures
  6. Power, Authority, and Governance
  7. Civic Ideals and Practices
  8. Creation, Expansion, and Interaction of Economic Systems
  9. Science, Technology, and Innovation
  10. Global Connections and Exchange

Common Core Literacy Skills: New York State Common Core Learning Standards

I will assume that you know about the Common Core Learning Standards, so I will only say that the links in the Social Studies Framework to the reading and writing standards for citing evidence, reading closely, writing from sources and doing research are intentional and clear. We want students to be able to construct arguments built on the careful reading and analysis of sources.

Social Studies Practices

“The Social Studies Practices represent the social science and historical thinking skills that students should develop throughout their K-12 education in order to be prepared for civic participation, college, and careers.” (NYS Education Department 2014, 9) These are the discipline specific skills that students need to be successful learners. Similar to the Mathematical Practices of the CCLS, these practices, arranged in a vertical progression K-12, are the foundation for learning the content of Social Studies:

  1. Gathering, Using, and Interpreting Evidence
  2. Chronological Reasoning and Causation
  3. Comparison and Contextualization
  4. Geographic Reasoning
  5. Economics and Economics Systems
  6. Civic Participation

Key Ideas, Conceptual Understandings and Content Specifications

These are the content pieces of the Framework. Because they are based on the 1996 Social Studies Standards and Core Curriculum, these will look familiar to many of you, even if they may be arranged a little differently. They move from the big, enduring concepts of the Key Ideas, to the much more detailed information of the Content Specifications.

The Key Ideas are the big, overarching ideas that provide context and structure for students’ learning. The Conceptual Understandings provide more specific and detailed information that support the Key Idea. Finally the Content Specifications, written as “Students will…” statements, outline the specific content that can be taught to illustrate the Conceptual Understanding and support the larger Key Ideas.

Check out this example from 11th Grade to see the progression:

Key Idea Conceptual Understanding Content Specification
EXPANSION, NATIONALISM, AND SECTIONALISM (1800 – 1865): As the nation expanded, growing sectional tensions, especially over slavery, resulted in political and constitutional crises that culminated in the Civil War. Different perspectives concerning constitutional, political, economic, and social issues contributed to the growth of sectionalism. Students will compare different perspectives on States rights by examining the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and the nullification crisis.

(NYS Education Department 2014, 36)

There is no question that there is a lot in the Frameworks and that it will take time to sort and digest the information.

RainbowI hope our little flight over the rainbow (even if there were no bluebirds) has started you thinking. With the new Framework in mind, what are your next steps for engaging your students in building their knowledge and skills in social studies?





National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhyancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geograpy, and History. Silver Spring, MD: National Council for the Social Studies, 2013.

NYS Education Department. New York State K-12 Social Studies Framework. Albany, NY: NYSED, 2014.

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