Category Archives: Social Studies

Lesson plans that use the high school social studies curriculum to build literacy and learning skills.

Cultural Literacy: Braille

You probably won’t have a lot of demand for this Cultural Literacy worksheet on braille, but it’s probably worth having around if you do.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Independent Practice: The Black Death

As far as I’m concerned, spring break begins as soon as a publish a few more blog posts this afternoon. You’ll hear not a peep from me next week–I hope you will be, as I will, enjoying the spring weather.

Here is a short independent practice worksheet on the black death. I’ve formatted it to fit on one page of paper, but depending on your students, you may want to spread it our over two pages. Like almost everything on Mark’s Text Terminal, this is a Microsoft Word document, so you can manipulate it to suit your students’ needs.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

How Students Learn History in the Classroom IV

Some students think alternative historical accounts are created when people deliberately distort the truth, usually because they are ‘biased.’ The everyday idea of bias as something like taking sides allows students to attempt to solve the problem by looking for accounts written by someone neutral. This approach makes sense for everyday clashes between two people with clear interests in some practical outcome (Who started the fight?), but it does not work for history, where alternative accounts may have nothing to do with taking sides over a practical issue. The ideal of neutrality is sometimes broadened into writing from a ‘perspective-free’ stance.

Such ideas will cause difficulties for students until they can see that stories are not so much copies of the past as ways of looking at it. The key notion here is that stories order and make sense of the past; they do not reproduce it. There can be no ‘complete’ story of the past, only accounts within the parameters authors unavoidably set when the decide which questions to ask…. All this means that accounts demand selection, and therefore a position from which selection is made. A point of view is not merely legitimate but necessary; perspective-free accounts are not possible. Research suggests that some students already understand this point by the end of eighth grade. They know we can assess the relative merits of alternative accounts by asking the right questions. What are the accounts claiming to tell us? What questions are they asking? Are they dealing with the same themes? Are they covering the same time span? How do they relate to other accounts we accept and other thing we know?”

Excerpted from: Donovan, M. Suzanne, and John D. Bransford, eds. How Students Learn History in the Classroom. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005.

How Students Learn History in the Classroom III

“A community-centered approach requires the development of norms for the classroom and school, as well as connections to the outside world, that support core learning values. Learning is influenced in fundamental ways by the context in which it takes place. Every community, including classrooms and schools, operates with a set of norms, a culture—explicit or implicit—that influences interactions among individuals. This culture, in turn, mediates learning. The principles of How People Learn have important implications for classroom culture. Consider the finding that new learning builds on existing conceptions, for example. If classroom norms encourage and reward students only for being “right,” we would expect students to hesitate when asked to reveal their unschooled thinking. And yet revealing preconceptions and changing ideas in the course of instruction is a critical component of effective learning and responsive teaching. A focus on student thinking requires classroom norms that encourage the expression of ideas (tentative and certain, partially and fully formed), as well as risk taking. It requires that mistakes be viewed not as revelations of inadequacy, but as helpful contributions in the search for understanding.”

Excerpted from: Donovan, M. Suzanne, and John D. Bransford, eds. How Students Learn History in the Classroom. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005.

How Students Learn History in the Classroom II

“Ultimately, students need to develop metacognitive abilities—the habits of mind necessary to assess their own progress—rather than relying solely on external indicators. A number of studies show that achievement improves when students are encouraged to assess their own contributions and work. It is also important to help students assess the kinds of strategies they are using to learn and solve problems. For example, in quantitative courses such as physics, many students simply focus on formulas and fail to think first about the problem to be solved and its relation to key ideas in the discipline (e.g. Newton’s second law). When students are helped to do the latter, their performance on new problems greatly improves.”

Excerpted from: Donovan, M. Suzanne, and John D. Bransford, eds. How Students Learn History in the Classroom. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005.

Independent Practice: The Fall of Rome

This independent practice worksheet on the Fall of Rome does a nice job, in only a few sentences, of laying out the concept of imperial overreach.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

How Students Learn History in the Classroom I

“An important point that emerges from the expert-novice literature is the need to emphasize connected knowledge that is organized around the foundational ideas of a discipline. Research on expertise shows that it is the organization of knowledge that underlies experts’ abilities to understand and solve problems. Bruner, one of the founding fathers of the new science of learning, has long argued the importance of this insight to education:

The curriculum of a subject should be determined by the most fundamental understanding that can be achieved of the underlying principles that give structure to a subject. Teaching specific topics or skills without making clear their context in the broader fundamental structure of the field of knowledge is uneconomical…. An understanding of fundamental principles and ideas appears to be the main road to adequate transfer of training. To understand something as a specific instance of a more general case—which is what understanding a more fundamental structure means—is to have learned not only a specific thing but also a model for understanding other things like it that one may encounter.

 Knowledge-centered and learner-centered environments intersect when educators take seriously the idea that students must be supported to develop expertise over time; it is not sufficient to simply provide them with expert models and expect them to learn. For example, intentionally organizing subject matter to allow students to follow a path “progressive differentiation” (e.g. from qualitative understanding to more precise quantitative understanding of a particular phenomenon) involves a simultaneous focus on the structure of the knowledge to be mastered and the learning process of students.”

Excerpted from: Donovan, M. Suzanne, and John D. Bransford, eds. How Students Learn History in the Classroom. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005.