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The social studies are, by their nature, holistic and integrative,
and district social studies curriculum should reflect this. Readers
are encouraged to refer to earlier portions of this document for
examples of integrative schemes. Specifically, refer to Chapter 3,
The Content of Social Studies Education in Alaska Schools.
Note also the books and resources on interdisciplinary curriculum
contained in the Reference Kit that is a companion to this
in Social Studies
The National Council for the Social Studies has articulated six
criteria for excellence in social studies curriculum. According to
these criteria, an exemplary social studies program should include a
social studies curriculum that:
1. Is guided by thoughtfully selected as well as clearly stated and defined goals and objectives.
2. Is based on sound scholarship from the content areas relative to the social studies.
3. Sets high expectations for students and uses a variety of systematic and valid measures to evaluate student performance.
4. Relates appropriately to the age, maturity, interests, and needs of the students for whom it is designed.
5. Incorporates effective instructional strategies and techniques that engage students directly and actively in the learning process both in and out of the classroom.
6. Provides valid evidence that the outcome of the program is consistent with the stated goals and objectives.
These criteria were referenced by Alaskan teachers when developing
the Social Studies Criteria for Excellence recommended for social
studies programs. See Appendix.)
Each Alaska school district has its own curriculum development process. Readers are encouraged to contact districts directly for information on their processes. This variation notwithstanding, all curriculum plans must be based on a planned cycle of renewal of no longer than six year's duration.
In developing social studies curriculum, the following components
should be included in the curriculum develpment process.
A philosophy for teaching the social studies
Community members and educators together must develop a philosophy
for teaching the social studies. Again, districts vary, but some
combination of the following tasks will result in a comprehensive
Size of schools and classrooms
Lifestyle of students
What are the state standards that need to be addressed?
What subjects and information meet these requirements?
What methods can be used?
How can student performance be assessed?
What knowledge and perspectives should the student gain from social studies?
What skills and tools will the well-educated student possess?
What knowledge and skills should the student carry forward for the
next 10 years? 20 years? A lifetime?
District guidelines, benchmarks, or scope and sequence based on the Alaska Social Studies Standards
After the district has an idea of what it hopes to accomplish
through social studies instruction, committees made up of staff and
community members can begin the process of coordinating the state
standards to district philosophy. This process can be conceptualized
as a wheel, with the philosophy and district goals at the center, the
standards in a concentric circle emanating from the center, and
district curriculum in the outermost circle.
The Content chapter of this document
contains charts for each of the Alaska Standards for Social Studies.
Each chart lists key elements for its standard and suggests
activities appropriate to those key elements at four age ranges,
beginning with preschool. Readers should note that these suggested
activities are merely examples; they are not benchmarks or
performance standards. Districts will want to devise their own
benchmarks, based in large part on the educational philosophies they
This can best be accomplished through a series of conversations or
workshops among district staff at various schools and levels and
between the staff and the community. Districts will find that not
only will these conversations result in the necessary curriculum
decisions; they will also be invaluable team building and
professional renewal experiences. For instance, district-wide
discussion will allow staff to step back from the day-to-day
pressures of classroom teaching and reflect on the purpose of
education and the ways they are contributing to the district's
overall goals for students. Further, these workshops will provide an
opportunity for teachers at different levels to communicate and
articulate goals and instruction. High school teachers can be
reminded of the strides their students have already made and the
steps they have passed through in reaching each standard; elementary
teachers can grasp the long-term objectives of each standard and key
element and plan future lessons accordingly.
Benchmarks and performance standards are only one part of
curriculum development. They must occur within an overall
organizational strategy. Different Alaska districts have adopted
different strategies or, more commonly, combinations of strategies.
I. Culture. 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.
II. Time, Continuity, and Change. 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?
III. People, Places, and Environments. The study of people,
places, and human-environment interactions helps students answer such
questions as: Where are things located? Why are they located where
they are? What do we mean by "region"? How do land forms change? What
implications do these changes have for people?
IV. Individual Development and Identity. 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?
V. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions. 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?
VI. Power, Authority, and Governance. 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?
VII. Production, Distribution, and Consumption. Students
seek answers to these questions: 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)?
VIII. Science, Technology, and Society. 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
IX. Global Connections. 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.
X. Civic Ideals and Practices. 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?
The major disadvantage of theme-based curriculum is its uneasy fit
with traditional school structure, particularly with one-hour class
periods at the secondary level.
A plan for continuing professional development in the social studies
Because political and social situations throughout the world are
continually changing, new interpretations of old documents or
doctrines emerge each year, and technology develops ever more
rapidly, teachers need periodic renewal of skills and information. In
addition, since teachers generally work alone in isolated classrooms,
they need opportunities for professional interaction through computer
networks, membership in professional organizations, periodic
in-service opportunities, conferences, and current subscriptions to
pertinent journals. These needs are particularly acute when districts
implement new curriculum. Every curriculum implementation plan should
include a component whereby teachers are introduced to and instructed
in the new curriculum model and materials. Teachers must have time to
work in groups and develop new materials and refine existing ones
based on the curriculum and state standards.
A district professional development program in social studies
should be driven by three goals, articulated by the National Council
for the Social Studies:
These goals translate into four levels of involvement with the
social studies curriculum which can be achieved through professional