What is Powerful Social Studies
The view that students construct their own knowledge has great implications for social studies education. Students must have information to act on: evidence developed through their own experience that can be related to the ideas and skills being taught. Students collect this evidence by making observations of, and interacting with, people, educational materials, and objects. Students think about information, relating it to their prior experiences and knowledge. They consider the information they acquire using familiar ways of thinking. They make predictions and encounter challenges. It is through such challenges to our present way of thinking that we come to understand new ideas (Sunal, Sunal, & Haas, 1996).
Students need to classify and describe the materials, experiences, and information they observe. Performing such tasks comes naturally, but often students are uncertain about doing these tasks or are not particularly good at doing them. It is only after encountering activities that challenge them and make them think that students discover regular patterns in the world and make conclusions about them. A pattern is a regular activity that has occurred in the past and is expected to occur again in the future. The world is full of patterns, as the following examples demonstrate:
- People wear fewer and lighter clothes in summer.
- Groups have social relationships that tell members who should lead and who should follow.
- Past events influence current events.
Students’ inferences and conclusions about their observations of the world are drawn from and interpreted in terms of the values they, their families, and their communities have. These values are often challenged, reconsidered, and clarified during social studies activities. Throughout social studies instruction, students integrate information from a variety of sources that represent differing perspectives. They make decisions and solve problems about what they need and what is important to them. Thus, social studies is a powerful construction process that goes on in students’ minds.
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