Social Studies is primarily concerned with the study of the interaction of individuals and groups within societies and their relationship with their environment. The study of the relationships within societies and their interaction with the environment requires an interdisciplinary approach. Ergo, the essential knowledge, concepts and skills taught in Social Studies are drawn from a coordinated and systematic study of the Social Sciences; Geography, History, Sociology, Political Science, and Economics and where appropriate, content, concepts and skills from Mathematics and the natural sciences are infused.
The primary purpose of Social Studies is to create active participatory citizens who are able to make informed and reasoned decisions that are beneficial to a culturally diverse and democratic society in a changing and interdependent world. In order to create the type of citizen, the National Standards Curriculum (NSC) uses the tenets of constructivism which embraces the student centred approach to teaching and learning. Constructivists view students as thinkers who create, shape, re-form and internalize information. In the constructivist approach it is not about what students can repeat, but what they can generate, demonstrate and exhibit. To this end, Webb’s Depth of Knowledge is used to write objectives with a focus on the complexity and depth of thinking.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin
The constructivist pedagogy demands that students work in collaborative groups to complete hands-on, minds-on activities which tackle real world problems. In the NSC the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEM/STEAM) methodologies, practices and principles are used to develop teaching and learning activities. In a rapidly evolving technological age, with new and emerging problems such as those associated with climate change, citizens must be able to evaluate situations, solve problems, create and innovate solutions. In the NSC Social Studies Units the teachers facilitate this process by engaging students in meaningful authentic activities which allow them to explore and interrogate information, explain their solutions and the processes used to arrive at a solution.
“Learning results from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does learn.” Herbert Simon.
The awareness that only the learner can develop his or her own understanding is one of the fundamental pillars upon which this curriculum rests. Student learning is not directly visible, but may only be inferred through action. Thus to assess students learning teachers must constantly observe student actions/behaviours. In the NSC, assessment is both formative and summative. Self- assessment and peer evaluation are also encouraged. The students are required to provide evidence of learning by producing pieces of work which are assessed using specific criteria.
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” John Dewey
STEM in the National Standards Curriculum
The 21st Century brings with it new challenges which we must face and overcome if we are to survive as a nation. The imperatives of the present and the future require that we create a nation of critical thinkers and problem solvers. To achieve this goal we must change the way we teach to using methods which are aligned with how students learn. It is vital that teaching and learning in the 21st Century embrace the principles, practices and methodology embedded in the STEM/STEAM approach.
STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) thinking is more than the content of the disciplines on which the methodology is based. It is a way of thinking that embraces and promotes multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary integration, collaboration, critical thinking and solving real world problems through hands-on and minds-on activities. The STEM/STEAM methodology was used in the development of teaching and learning activities in the NSC Social Studies Units. In instances where the content of the STEM/STEAM disciplines is evident it is incorporated and used in the teaching and learning activities. The scientific method, the engineering design process, mathematical thinking and technology in its various forms are used where the content of the STEM/STEAM disciplines is not overly apparent.
The Social Studies Units in the National Standards Curriculum are written using, inter alia, STEM/STEAM principles, practices and methodologies, such as:
- Project based learning
- Problem solving
- Developing and using models
- Planning and carrying out investigations
- Analysing and interpreting data
- Using mathematical and computational thinking
- Engaging in argument for evidence
- Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information
Students at the primary and secondary levels are required to design and make scaled models that meet specific criteria. Making a scaled model requires the application of mathematical content and principles such as knowing the units of measurement, converting units, and/or drawing a diagram to scale. Students will have to use the engineering design process to design and make the model to meet the given criteria. The design can be developed with the aid of computer technology or with pen and paper and may involve designing and redesigning until the model adequately meets all the criteria given. These activities are done collaboratively and the process and product are communicated to the rest of the class, school or community.
Using the scientific method, students are presented with or asked to identify problems at the class, school, community, or national level and are then guided through the problem solving methodology in an effort to solve the problem. The problem solving method involves gathering data related to the problem, interpreting and analysing the data, drawing conclusions, making recommendations and taking action to solve the problem.
STEM/STEAM in Social Studies therefore, requires students to apply the knowledge of scientific and mathematical principles, where relevant and applicable, and use available and emerging technologies to solve real world problems.
Aims of Social Studies
The study of Social Studies should enable students to:
- understand the facts, concepts, principles and perspectives that make up Social Studies
- acquire skills and competencies, which will enable them, to examine and analyze concepts related to culture and the physical environment as well as to appreciate the symbiotic nature of the relationship between man and his environment
- use a combination of technological and spatial skills to extract, analyze and use information to construct spatial patterns and understand processes that shape the human environment and decision-making
- become active and responsible citizens who are able to make informed and reasoned
- decisions in the interest of all citizens in a democratic society and a globalized world
- independently and collaboratively locate, analyze and evaluate information from a variety of sources and effectively use it in a variety of decision-making situations