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What is history and social science?

We believe the study of history and the social sciences is rooted in inquiry and relies on disciplinary practices such as asking questions, analyzing and evaluating artifacts and texts, and developing interpretations or arguments based on evidence. History-social science reinforces important ways of thinking, or disciplinary concepts, such as consideration of multiple perspectives, causation, context, civic virtue and democratic principles, human-environment interactions, and economic decision-making. Questions pursued in these disciplines highlight a range of disciplinary topics such as social, historical, geographic, economic, and civic issues as well as links between the past and the present. In history-social science, “content” is not just a list of fixed factual information; instead, “content” is a way of constructing interpretations of the past and present that is guided by disciplinary practices, concepts, and topics. We highlight such “high-leverage content” throughout these materials. Learn more.

What does teaching history and social science involve?

Teaching history and social science through inquiry means conducting investigations of issues or topics with students. Investigations involve engaging students in a topic and extending their background knowledge, modeling key disciplinary practices, selecting and preparing materials to fuel students’ inquiry, giving students opportunities to work together as they analyze artifacts and texts, leading discussions that allow students to co-construct ideas, and providing ways for students to communicate their findings to others. Through history and social science inquiries, students learn disciplinary practices and develop conceptual understandings as they construct evidence-based arguments about specific topics. We use an instructional framework—Engage, Experience, Argue—to highlight the core components of inquiry-based history-social science lessons. Learn more.

In what ways does teaching history and social science advance justice?

History and social sciences give students opportunities to understand the world they live in today and its origins, including complex contemporary problems and histories of injustice and social action. In using a range of sources to learn about historical and social issues, students are positioned to think about multiple perspectives and experiences and both the variety and commonalities in human experience. In approaching history and social science as inquiry and evidence-based interpretation, students develop citizenship skills when they evaluate sources of evidence for their reliability, listen to the ideas of others, critique arguments, construct their own arguments, and communicate their ideas. Finally, inquiry work in social studies classrooms develops students’ literacy practices such as reading and writing, practices that are often gatekeepers to advancement. Students ideally leave social studies classrooms ready to understand and learn about complex historical and social issues and sources, communicate with others about these issues, and ultimately, take action in response.

What does preparing new teachers of history and social science involve?

Preparing new teachers requires attention to the disciplines, pedagogy, and contexts that may or may not support inquiry-oriented instruction. Inquiry-oriented history-social science instruction relies on understanding of the disciplines (including disciplinary practices, concepts, and topics) as well as how to represent the disciplines in ways that support students’ learning. New teachers must learn high-leverage teaching practices that allow them to represent history and the social sciences as inquiry-oriented subjects and to develop students’ conceptual understanding and disciplinary practices through investigations. Because it can be challenging to teach history-social science as inquiry while using existing materials and standards, we adapted an instructional framework from science education to highlight key elements of history-social science investigations and to provide a structure for modifying existing materials in support of inquiry. Learn more.