Overarching Big Ideas
The Amherst Regional Public Schools endorse the work of
the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the
NationalCenter for History in the Schools (UCLA) in articulating the
overarching standards and big ideas that are essential to our social
studies curriculum from kindergarten through twelfth grade. We embrace
the curriculum standards as outlined by the National Council for the
Social Studies and the National Center for History in the Schools as the
overarching standards and big ideas that frame our curriculum,
K-12, and guide our instructional practices for the teaching of history
and social studies in our schools. (See the National Council for the
Social Studies website at http://www.socialstudies.org/ and the NationalCenter for History in the Schools at http://nchs.ucla.edu/standards.html .)
According to the National Council for the Social Studies:
Social studies is the integrated study of the social sciences and
humanities to promote civic competence. Within the school program,
social studies provides coordinated, systematic study drawing upon such
disciplines as anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history,
law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, and
sociology, as well as appropriate content from the humanities,
mathematics, and natural sciences. The primary purpose of social studies
is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and
reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally
diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.
In essence, social studies promotes knowledge of and involvement in
civic affairs. And because civic issues - such as health care, crime,
and foreign policy - are multidisciplinary in nature, understanding
these issues and developing resolutions to them require
multidisciplinary education. These characteristics are the key defining
aspects of social studies.
The ten themes that form the framework of the social studies standards are:
The study of culture prepares students to answer
questions such as: What are the common characteristics of different
cultures? How do belief systems, such as religion or political ideals,
influence other parts of the culture? How does the culture change to
accommodate different ideas and beliefs? What does language tell us
about the culture? In schools, this theme typically appears in units and
courses dealing with geography, history, sociology, and anthropology,
as well as multicultural topics across the curriculum.
Human beings seek to understand their
historical roots and to locate themselves in time. Knowing how to read
and reconstruct the past allows one to develop a historical perspective
and to answer questions such as: Who am I?
What happened in the past? How am I connected to those in the past?
How has the world changed and how might it change in the future? Why
does our personal sense of relatedness to the past change? This theme
typically appears in courses in history and others that draw upon
historical knowledge and habits.
The study of people, places, and
human-environment interactions assists students as they create their
spatial views and geographic perspectives of the world beyond their
personal locations. Students need the knowledge, skills, and
understanding to answer questions such as: Where are things located? Why
are they located where they are? What do we mean by "region"? How do
landforms change? What implications do these changes have for people? In
schools, this theme typically appears in units and courses dealing with
area studies and geography.
Personal identity is shaped by one's culture,
by groups, and by institutional influences. Students should consider
such questions as: How do people learn? Why do people behave as they do?
What influences how people learn, perceive, and grow? How do people
meet their basic needs in a variety of contexts? How do individuals
develop from youth to adulthood? In schools, this theme typically
appears in units and courses dealing with psychology and anthropology.
Institutions such as schools, churches,
families, government agencies, and the courts play an integral role in
people's lives. It is important that students learn how institutions are
formed, what controls and influences them, how they influence
individuals and culture, and how they are maintained or changed.
Students may address questions such as: What is the role of institutions
in this and other societies? How am I influenced by institutions? How
do institutions change? What is my role in institutional change? In
schools this theme typically appears in units and courses dealing with
sociology, anthropology, psychology, political science, and history.
Understanding the historical development of
structures of power, authority, and governance and their evolving
functions in contemporary U.S. society and other parts of the world is
essential for developing civic competence. In exploring this theme,
students confront questions such as: What is power? What forms does it
take? Who holds it? How is it gained, used, and justified? What is
legitimate authority? How are governments created, structured,
maintained, and changed? How can individual rights be protected within
the context of majority rule? In schools, this theme typically appears
in units and courses dealing with government, politics, political
science, history, law, and other social sciences.
Because people have wants that often exceed
the resources available to them, a variety of ways have evolved to
answer such questions as: What is to be produced? How is production to
be organized? How are goods and services to be distributed? What is the
most effective allocation of the factors of production (land, labor,
capital, and management)? In schools, this theme typically appears in
units and courses dealing with economic concepts and issues.
Modern life as we know it would be
impossible without technology and the science that supports it. But
technology brings with it many questions: Is new technology always
better than old? What can we learn from the past about how new
technologies result in broader social change, some of which is
unanticipated? How can we cope with the ever-increasing pace of change?
How can we manage technology so that the greatest number of people
benefit from it? How can we preserve our fundamental values and beliefs
in the midst of technological change? This theme draws upon the natural
and physical sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, and appears
in a variety of social studies courses, including history, geography,
economics, civics, and government.
The realities of global interdependence
require understanding the increasingly important and diverse global
connections among world societies and the frequent tension between
national interests and global priorities. Students will need to be able
to address such international issues as health care, the environment,
human rights, economic competition and interdependence, age-old ethnic
enmities, and political and military alliances. This theme typically
appears in units or courses dealing with geography, culture, and
economics, but may also draw upon the natural and physical sciences and
An understanding of civic ideals and
practices of citizenship is critical to full participation in society
and is a central purpose of the social studies. Students confront such
questions as: What is civic participation and how can I be involved? How
has the meaning of citizenship evolved? What is the balance between
rights and responsibilities? What is the role of the citizen in the
community and the nation, and as a member of the world community? How
can I make a positive difference? In schools, this theme typically
appears in units or courses dealing with history, political science,
cultural anthropology, and fields such as global studies, law-related
education, and the humanities.
According to the NationalCenter for History in the Schools, standards in history are of two types:
Historical thinking skills that enable children to differentiate
past, present, and future time; raise questions; seek and evaluate
evidence; compare and analyze historical stories, illustrations, and
records from the past; interpret the historical record; and construct
historical narratives of their own.
Historical understandings that define what students should know
about the history of families, their communities, states, nation, and
world. These understandings are drawn from the record of human
aspirations, strivings, accomplishments, and failures in at least five
spheres of human activity: the social, political,
scientific/technological, economic, and cultural (the
philosophical/religious/aesthetic), as appropriate for children.
The NationalCenter for History in the Schools also presents this overview of the standards in historical thinking:
The study of history, as noted earlier, rests on knowledge of
facts, dates, names, places, events, and ideas. In addition, true
historical understanding requires students to engage in historical
thinking: to raise questions and to marshal solid evidence in support of
their answers; to go beyond the facts presented in their textbooks and
examine the historical record for themselves; to consult documents,
journals, diaries, artifacts, historic sites, works of art, quantitative
data, and other evidence from the past, and to do so
imaginatively--taking into account the historical context in which these
records were created and comparing the multiple points of view of those
on the scene at the time.
Real historical understanding requires that students have
opportunity to create historical narratives and arguments of their own.
Such narratives and arguments may take many forms--essays, debates, and
editorials, for instance. They can be initiated in a variety of ways.
None, however, more powerfully initiates historical thinking than those
issues, past and present, that challenge students to enter knowledgeably
into the historical record and to bring sound historical perspectives
to bear in the analysis of a problem.
Historical understanding also requires that students thoughtfully
read the historical narratives created by others. Well-written
historical narratives are interpretative, revealing and explaining
connections, change, and consequences. They are also analytical,
combining lively storytelling and biography with conceptual analysis
drawn from all relevant disciplines. Such narratives promote essential
skills in historical thinking.
Reading such narratives requires that students analyze the
assumptions--stated and unstated--from which the narrative was
constructed and assess the strength of the evidence presented. It
requires that students consider the significance of what the author
included as well as chose to omit--the absence, for example, of the
voices and experiences of other men and women who were also an important
part of the history of their time. Also, it requires that students
examine the interpretative nature of history, comparing, for example,
alternative historical narratives written by historians who have given
different weight to the political, economic, social, and/or
technological causes of events and who have developed competing
interpretations of the significance of those events.
Students engaged in activities of the kinds just considered will
draw upon skills in the following five interconnected dimensions of
1. Chronological Thinking
2. Historical Comprehension
3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation
4. Historical Research Capabilities
5. Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making
These skills, while presented in five separate categories, are
nonetheless interactive and mutually supportive. In conducting
historical research or creating a historical argument of their own, for
example, students must be able to draw upon skills in all five
categories. Beyond the skills of conducting their research, students
must, for example, be able to comprehend historical documents and
records, analyze their relevance, develop interpretations of the
document(s) they select, and demonstrate a sound grasp of the historical
chronology and context in which the issue, problem, or events they are
In short, these five sets of skills, developed in the following
pages as the five Standards in Historical Thinking, are statements of
the outcomes that students need to achieve. They are not mutually
exclusive when put into practice, nor do they prescribe a particular
teaching sequence to be followed. Teachers will draw upon all these
Thinking Standards, as appropriate, to develop their teaching plans and
to guide students through challenging programs of study in history.
As the Amherst, Pelham, and AmherstPelhamRegionalSchools base their
social studies and history curricula on these overarching standards and
big ideas, it is critical to keep in mind the intersection of content
and skills. The acquisition of skills depends on the study of specific
historical and/or social studies content in order to be firmly learned.
Likewise, specific content can be studied not just for the acquisition
of that content knowledge but also to understand how to apply prior
learning to the new learning of within a discipline endless in its
possibilities for critical examination.