Teaching Social Studies = Continuity and Change, or the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

It has become my tradition to use the summer to recycle some past blogs that remain relevant in light of our challenging work in Social Studies. This blog first appeared in January of 2013, when I was writing for the Teaching American History Program.

My mother has always had handy any number of aphorisms that she would lay on us kids as we were growing up. Whatever the context, her repertoire of pithy pronouncements could be counted on to sum up the situation in a few words:

  • If you act as good as you look, you’ll be OK.” Translation: “You look very nice, sweetheart. Now behave yourself! If you don’t, I’ll hear about it and it won’t be pretty.”
  • There’s no time like the present.” Translation: “Stop watching the Mickey Mouse Club/Lassie/the Ed Sullivan Show on television and get your homework done, NOW! School is your responsibility and I expect you to take it seriously and do your best.”
  • Things will work out the way they’re meant to.” Translation: “There’s no use crying about things that we can’t control or change. Whatever happens, whether we like the way things have turned out or not, we’ll deal with it and we’ll be fine.”
  • And, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Translation: “Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s better. When I was young, we didn’t have all of these electronic gadgets and we survived just fine. Why do we need a computer? I just don’t understand how it works. It seems awfully complicated and time-consuming way to just write a letter.”

My Mom has experienced enormous changes in her 89-plus years. She was born just before the Great Depression, was a teenager during World War II, was a stay-at-home Mom with 3 kids during the 50s, survived 3 teenagers in the 60s and saw us through college, marriage and starting our own families. Her perspective on change is different than mine and certainly different from the young students we teach. Her experience of the world is one of both enormous changes and sustained continuity. She learned how to write using a nib pen and inkwell and is now, reluctantly, using the computer to find information.

How do our students understand the idea of change and continuity in history? From their moment-to-moment perspective, students understand that change occurs when “something” happens. “Nothing” is happening and then there is an event, and things change. The event is the change. Peter Lee thinks that students are likely to see change in history as a single event or a list of events that are discrete and intentional and, therefore, are either good or stupid.[1]. For our students, the idea of change as gradual or unintentional doesn’t make sense. Historians, however, understand that change often has no singular defining moment or any intention behind it. Students see change through history as something linear and mostly beneficial. They think that, as things change everything gets better. “Now” is better than “then”. Historians understand that change doesn’t happen in straight line and that progress in some areas or for some groups is often accompanied by regression in other areas or for other groups (just think about Westward Expansion and the effect on Native Americans.) At any point in history there was always something going on. There was never “nothing” happening. Sometimes change happened very quickly, at other times more gradually or often imperceptibly, visible only to those of us looking back with 20/20 hindsight. Some change was beneficial, some change was not.

Once students begin to see that history is not just a list of events but a very messy, complex mix of change, continuity, improvement, and degeneration they will a have a very different sense of the past. We want students to be able to explain how some things continue and others change in any given period of history and that our evaluation of progress and decline vary depending upon our purposes and our perspectives. So how do we teach work with our students about change and continuity?

  • This teacher demonstrates the ideas of change and continuity using the history of the bicycle, including a complete Prezi and other resources.
  • Here are examples from an article that shows the use of analytical timelines and a “swingometer” to help students understand the idea that change and progress are neither linear nor absolute. (The article is British, so, again, the examples would need to be revised!)

A timeline to encourage the sorting of information into different categories or themes.[2] 

Was the period 1750 – 1900 an Age of Progress?
Key Date Political Events Economic Events Social Events
1750– 1800
1800– 1825
1825– 1850
1850– 1875
1875– 1900


A timeline to encourage pupils to make judgements about progress[3]

Was the period 1750 – 1900 an Age of Progress?”
Things which show progress Key Date Things that got worse
1750– 1800
1800– 1825
1825– 1850
1850– 1875
1875– 1900


A ‘swingometer’ to visually record examples of progress, regress and continuity.[4]

Our students need to know that history isn’t just a list of events that have made everyone’s lives universally better. History is wonderfully messy and full of contradictions and competing points of view. How will you talk about change and continuity with your students? As Mom would say, “You’re never too old to learn.”





[1] Lee, Peter. “Putting Principles into Practice: Understanding History.” In How Students Learn: History in the Classroom. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005. 44.

[2] Barnes, Steven. “Revealing the big picture: patterns, shapes and images at Key Stage 3.” Teaching History (The Historical Association), no. 107 (June 2002): 9

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

How Sweet It Is(n’t): Part II

A few years ago, I blogged about something near and dear to the hearts of many: sugar. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) had just released in early 2014 results of the first nationally representative study that examined diets high in sugar. The lead author from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called the results “sobering” and here’s why:

Previous studies have linked diets high in sugar with increased risks for non-fatal heart problems, and with obesity, which also can lead to heart trouble. But in the new study, obesity didn’t explain the link between sugary diets and death. That link was found even in normal-weight people who ate a lot of added sugar.

This was not good news for those of us who like to indulge our sweet tooth. And, unfortunately, the bad news does not end there….. Continue reading

“Paper Plate” Coaching

Much like hosting a meal, coaching requires some planning, organization, and most importantly, flexibility! Although a prepared coach always enters a session with certain outcomes in mind, one never knows which direction the experience might go. Being able to stay focused and think quickly is vital; and if there are paper plates around, even better! Continue reading

OCM BOCES-Responsive Classroom® Blog: Returning to the Classroom After the Long Holiday Recess

The last few weeks of December can be challenging for students and teachers as they prepare for the holidays and put closure to 2015.  Most of us will be taking a well-deserved rest from the classroom with the hope to return rejuvenated and ready to conquer what’s instore for us in 2016.

In the beginning of the school year, many Responsive Classroom teachers prepare children for success by planning for the first six weeks of school.  Teachers use interactive modeling and responsive teacher language to Continue reading

Teaching Social Studies = Overcoming Barriers

Not surprisingly, the BIG emphasis this year in social studies is on inquiry using primary sources with students which involves teaching them skills and practices to analyze and evaluate those sources and use them as evidence in creating claims and arguments. The Social Studies Framework is based on the Inquiry Arc of the C3 Framework which is all about this process. The Frameworks themselves promote a balance of content and skill and the Toolkit Inquires are built on investigating sets of primary sources related to a compelling question. It’s the rainbow, folks! Continue reading

The Learning Connection: How Nutrition and Physical Activity Help Students Become Better Learners

“The content was the best I have ever received in 18 years in physical education. I have been to our state conferences in PE where I haven’t gotten as much quality information as I got today. Great, great job.”

“I loved the two guest speakers, both gentlemen had great delivery and pertinent information. It was especially excellent for me to hear Dr. Pangrazi….since he wrote my college textbook for physical education.”

“I loved the mix of research/best practices and the real life experiences shared by the panel.”

“I appreciated getting the knowledge and proof of the correlation of nutrition and physical activity with academic achievement.”

“It was good to hear the science behind nutrition. It makes it easier to sell this to other teachers.”

“It is increasingly rare that I am able to attend professional development that has specific relevance to physical education—great to know there are so many highly engaged professionals in PE willing to go to greater lengths to improve their students’ lives.”

Continue reading

APPR Insanity

The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result, according to Einstein. Or Franklin. Or Twain. All three of these noteworthy thinkers have been reported to say this – and most often this axiom has been attributed to Einstein. He was, after all, both smart and witty. As it turns out, however, no one has been able to find this in his writing. Nonetheless, this oft-used truism applies to the system of Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) in New York State. In fact, we are trying to do the same thing, over and over, and expecting a different result. Continue reading