Social Studies Curriculum and Skills

The Bradley Commission on History in the Schools (a group of scholars and teachers working to improve history education in United States schools) recommends that studies in history "be designed to take students well beyond the formal skills of critical thinking to the formation of habits of mind." To nurture these skills the Bradley Commission recommends studying history through a study of vital issues and significant questions.

Overview of Standards in Historical Thinking

The study of history, as noted earlier, involves more than the passive absorption of facts, dates, names, and places. Real historical understanding requires students to engage in historical thinking: to raise questions and to marshal 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, 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 narrative promote essential skills in historical thinking.

Reading such narratives thoughtfully 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. And, 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 types of historical thinking:

  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 addressing developed.

In short, these five sets of skills, developed as the five Standards in Historical Thinking, are statements of the outcomes we desire students 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.

Finally, it is important to point out that these five sets of Standards in Historical Thinking are defined in the following pages largely independently of historical content in order to specify the quality of thinking desired for each. It is essential to understand, however, that these skills do not develop, nor can they be practiced, in a vacuum. Every one of these skills requires historical content in order to function -- a relationship that is made explicit in Chapter 3, which presents the standards integrating historical understandings and thinking for U.S. history for grades 5-12.

From the National History Standards, chapter 2.

Arts Curriculum and Skills

The arts are evident throughout the Tirocchi materials, as well as in the skills students working with this project will develop. Sometimes explicit, more often the arts are presented as a way to integrate knowledge across disciplines.

Overview of the National Arts Standards

Integration is different from correlation. Instead of placing different subjects side by side to compare or contrast them, integration uses the resources of two or more disciplines in ways that are mutually reinforcing, often demonstrating an underlying unity. A simple example of integration within the arts is using combinations of visual effects and words to create a dramatic mood. At a more complex level involving the study of history, other examples of integration might be how the American theatre in the period 1900-1975 reflected shifts in the American social consciousness, or how the sacred and secular music of African-Americans contributed to the civil rights movement.

These activities allow students to develop and demonstrate competencies across the broad spectrum of the arts standards:

They should be able to communicate at a basic level in the four arts disciplines --dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts.

They should be able to communicate proficiently in at least one art form, including the ability to define and solve artistic problems with insight, reason, and technical proficiency.

They should be able to develop and present basic analyses of works of art from structural, historical, and cultural perspectives, and from combinations of those perspectives.

They should have an informed acquaintance with exemplary works of art from a variety of cultures and historical periods, and a basic understanding of historical development in the arts disciplines, across the arts as a whole, and within cultures.

They should be able to relate various types of arts knowledge and skills within and across the arts disciplines.

From the National Arts Standards.

Technology, Research and Education

Technology will be integral to this unit in a variety of ways. To begin with, multiple types of information (graphic, database, guided discovery) will be available through the internet to accompany the unit. Students will be required to seek alternative sources of information, some of which will also be found on the internet. Exploring ways to capture and share student generated research will be suggested.

Researchers from the Bank Street College of Education did a study entitled, "Multimedia Design Research for the Museum Education Consortium’s Museum Visitors Prototype," in 1992. Although the study was based on interactive exhibits among a wide variety of visitors (adults as well as children) some cautious parallels can be drawn.

The first interesting observation was that visitors used the technology in different ways.

"Some people jumped right in, trying all the options, scanning the prototype’s depth and breadth. Others proceeded cautiously, asking questions at first about how to proceed, where to go, and what to do. Some plodded very methodically through the options in a linear way … some enjoyed reading the text … some viewed the films."

Most visitors demonstrated an initial period of ‘getting to know’ the prototype, of finding out what was available through it. This seems an important period to build into the classroom experience. Visitors also found it difficult, at first, to ‘let themselves go’ and explore the materials in a discovery-based fashion. Visitors who used the technology in pairs almost invariably began a discussion about the discovery process, thinking together about where they wanted to go and how they wanted to proceed. Again, this has important classroom implications. We must allow time for students to explore the materials on their own and develop a comfort level. We should also provide information in a variety of formats to accommodate the multitude of learning styles present in every classroom.

Developing proficiency in the use of technology is clearly an outcome we desire for our students. The International Society for Technology Education has developed well accepted standards for students:

Technology Foundation Standards for Students

  1. Basic operations and concepts
    Students demonstrate a sound understanding of the nature and operation of technology systems. Students are proficient in the use of technology.

  2. Social, ethical, and human issues
    Students understand the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology.
    Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software.
    Students develop positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity.

  3. Technology productivity tools
    Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity. Students use productivity tools to collaborate in constructing technology-enhanced models, prepare publications, and produce other creative works.

  4. Technology communications tools
    Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.
    Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.

  5. Technology research tools
    Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.
    Students use technology tools to process data and report results.
    Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness for specific tasks.

  6. Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools
    Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.
    Students employ technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world.

From the National Educational Technology Standards

Technology is integrated into these activities through the uses of the web and CD-ROM for research. It may be integrated into the presentations and portfolios of the students. Keep in mind that technology is also presented as content in this unit, with the changes in technology during the period and how they altered both the larger social landscape and the particular work of the Tirocchi family.


The Curriculum Guide
  Constructing History
  Educational Standards
  The Curriculum Activity
  Beginning the Unit
  Exercise One
  Exercise Two
  Exercise Three

  History Standards
Arts Standards