What is Social Studies?

Social Studies Themes

Children Looking at Globe
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Science, math, language arts and social studies are core classes for elementary school students. While it’s easy to figure out the basics of what your child will learn in the first three classes, it’s not nearly as intuitive to figure out what kinds of things your child will learn in Social Studies.

There are ten themes that have been put forth as national standards by the National Council for the Social Studies.

Social Studies Themes

Students look at the beliefs, values, behaviors, languages and other ways of life of different groups of people, both contemporary and historical. Students will compare and contrast cultures not only cross-culturally, but also over time to see how people change, adapt and assimilate beliefs. This social studies theme incorporates history, anthropology, geography and sociology.

Time, Continuity and Change:
Students learn about the past as a way of understanding the human experience over time. Also intended is to give students the resources to help learn where their place in time is in relation to past events. Students will explore how history has shaped the economic, political and social environment over time and led it to the current environment.

People, Place and Environment:
Students learn where the world’s population is physically located and what each location has to offer its culture.

Studies of people, place and environment include an examination of weather, climate, geographical systems and natural resources. In addition to looking at how location affects culture and how culture affects the land, students will begin to examine the phenomena of immigration and the forces that lead a population to move from one place to another.

Individual Development and Identity:
Students learn how personal identity is shaped by the culture in which a person lives, the social norms of his time and the institutions by which he is surrounded. By looking at things from a psychological, sociological and anthropological standpoint, students will examine how people physically grow and change as well as how their group and individual interactions affect their development of a sense of personal identity.

Individuals, Groups and Institutions:
Students learn how the social, religious and political institutions around us are formed and maintained and how they reflect the beliefs of their members. In learning this, students will gain a better sense of how the institutions can not only be changed and influenced by culture, but also that schools, churches and governments also have the power to control and influence culture.

Power, Authority, and Governance:
Students will learn about different types of governmental structures, with a particular focus on their own government as a way to learn civic competence. This theme will also include a study of the purpose of government, the power and limits of authority and how individual rights can be served and protected by majority rule.

Production, Distribution, and Consumption:
Students will learn about how the distribution of resources brings about trade and exchange systems as well as ever-changing economical policies. Trade, supply and demand will be looked at from a historical perspective as well to examine the ongoing effects of technology on production and consumption.

Science, Technology, and Society:
Students will the learn about the influences that scientific/technological discoveries and advances have on culture. Students will be challenged to examine whether technology always brings about positive social change and how global advancement can affect the institutions and social norms of a culture.

Global Connections:
Students will look at the different types of global connections that existed in the past, exist at present and may exist in the future. Students will examine in-depth how these connections help to disseminate information, set up trade systems and can even lead to war.

Civic Ideals and Practices:
Students will learn about the civic ideals and practices in different cultures and across time as a way to become fully participating members of society. In particular, students will learn about what makes an involved citizen and how the rights and responsibilities of citizens are balanced in a democratic society. Students will also explore what it means to be an involved member of society on the local, national and global level.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, by the National Council for the Social Studies, 2010, Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies. (electronically retrieved on June 8, 2011)