Some Considerations for Program Planning
Important information on topics such as Indigenous education, planning for students with special education needs, planning for English language learners, health and safety, and STEM education is available in the “Considerations for program planning” and “Cross-curricular and integrated learning” sections under "Program Planning".
Instruction in social studies, history, and geography should help students acquire the knowledge, skills, and attributes they need in order to achieve the curriculum expectations and to be able to think critically throughout their lives about current affairs and issues related to social studies, history, and geography. Effective instruction in social studies, history, and geography motivates students and instils positive habits of mind, such as curiosity and open-mindedness; a willingness to think, question, challenge, and be challenged; and an awareness of the value of listening or reading closely and communicating clearly. To be effective, instruction must be based on the belief that all students can be successful and that learning in social studies, history, and geography is important and valuable for all students.
Students’ views of and attitudes towards social studies, history, and geography can have a significant effect on their achievement of expectations. When students believe that these subjects simply represent a body of preordained knowledge about certain topics, they may question the relevance of their studies or may not approach their investigations with an open and inquiring mind. Students must be given opportunities to see that inquiry is not just about finding what others have found, and that they can use the inquiry process not only to uncover knowledge but also to construct understandings and develop their own positions on issues. Learning should be seen as a process in which students monitor and reflect on the development of their knowledge, understandings, and skills.
All learning, especially new learning, should be embedded in well-chosen contexts for learning – that is, contexts that are broad enough to allow students to investigate initial understandings, identify and develop useful skills, and gain experience with relevant and interesting applications of their knowledge and skills. In the social studies, history, and geography curriculum, the expectations in the Application section of each strand provide various opportunities for students to transfer the knowledge and skills that they have developed to new contexts, to make connections to current events and relevant issues, and/or to propose practical action to address issues. The Application expectations also help both teachers and students begin each social studies, history, and geography unit or topic with the “end in mind”.
The social studies, history, and geography curriculum provides opportunities for teachers and students to select, within broad parameters, topics for investigation. This flexibility allows teachers to tailor topics to suit the interests and readiness of their students and to address the context of their local communities. It also allows students to focus on the process of “doing” history, geography, or social studies, rather than simply assimilating content. It is important that teachers plan their program or units with the “end in mind”, selecting appropriate content, and ensuring that students develop the knowledge, understanding, and skills to support this end.
Indigenous Expertise and Protocols
Teachers can provide opportunities for Elders, Métis Senators, knowledge keepers, knowledge holders, residential school survivors and intergenerational survivors, and Indigenous experts in fields such as history, the environment, culture, governance, and law to offer their experience, skills, knowledge, and wisdom to benefit all students. Teachers ensure that the expertise of the community advisers they consult and/or invite into the classroom is well suited to the topic at hand, that cultural and engagement protocols are followed, and that community members are approached in a respectful and appropriate manner. Schools can contact their board’s Indigenous lead or a local Indigenous organization for assistance in identifying experts in particular areas and determining the protocols for inviting them into the school or classroom.
Connections to Current Events and Issues
Teachers need to integrate current events and issues within the curriculum expectations, and not treat them as separate topics. The integration of current events and issues into the curriculum will help students make connections between what they are learning in class and past and present-day local, national, and global events, developments, and issues. Examining current events helps students analyse controversial issues, understand diverse perspectives, develop informed opinions, and build a deeper understanding of the world in which they live. In addition, investigating current events will stimulate students’ interest in and curiosity about the world around them. The inclusion of current events in social studies, history, and geography will help keep the curriculum a relevant, living document.
The social studies, history, and geography curriculum offers various opportunities for hands-on learning through field study. The outdoor world provides an abundance of resources and materials that can support learning. Field studies in the schoolyard, a park or field, or a local neighbourhood allow students to observe and discuss patterns in the built environment, traces of human activities, and different types of land use or natural physical features. Some field studies are open ended – for example, students may investigate similarities and differences between local environments. Others are organized for a specific purpose, such as investigating garbage build-up with the intention of developing an action plan to address the problem, or investigating the characteristics of a specific physical feature such as a river system or wetland.
Prior to a field study, teachers need to ensure that students understand the purpose of the study, the types of questions that it is meant to address, and how students can gather data and/or evidence to help answer those questions. In the primary grades, teachers should also model asking questions during the field study itself. For example, in a field study to explore interrelationships between the physical and built environment, teachers might model asking questions about the amount of traffic in different areas in the community and about corresponding road safety concerns. In later years, students may pose questions about a geographic or historical issue or inquiry and design field studies in order to gain the information needed to answer them.
More information on instructional approaches can be found in the “Instructional Approaches” subsection of “Considerations for Program Planning”.
In cross-curricular learning, students are provided with opportunities to learn and use related content and/or skills in two or more subjects. For example, all subjects, including social studies, history, and geography, can be related to the language curriculum. In social studies, history, and geography, students use a range of language skills: they build subject-specific vocabulary; they use words and graphics to communicate feelings and share and interpret information; and they read about past events and current social and environmental issues and research new information. Teachers can also use reading material about social studies, history, or geography issues in their language lessons. Similarly, social studies, history, and geography lessons can be used as a vehicle for instruction in critical literacy. Students learn to critique media messages, determining the intended audience, the authors’ intentions, the missing voices, and the underlying values. They analyse a variety of primary and secondary sources, such as letters and diaries, news stories, paintings and photographs, annotated maps, and government websites, interpreting information and assessing the strength of various positions on issues related to social studies, history, and geography.
In integrated learning, students are provided with opportunities to work towards meeting expectations from two or more subjects within a single unit, lesson, or activity. By linking expectations from different subject areas, teachers can provide students with multiple opportunities to reinforce and demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a range of settings. There are clear connections, for example, between the expectations in social studies, history, and geography and those in subject areas such as language, science, mathematics, and the arts. Social studies, history, and geography can be used to provide other ways of learning and making connections.
In integrated learning, teachers need to ensure that the specific knowledge and skills for each subject are taught. For example, if students are using paintings as part of an inquiry into ways of life in nineteenth-century Canada, the teacher should ensure that skills related to both historical inquiry and the critical analysis process in the arts are integrated into the activity.
Integrated learning can also be a solution to problems of fragmentation and isolated skill instruction – that is, in integrated learning, students can learn and apply skills in a meaningful context. In such contexts, students also have an opportunity to develop their ability to think and reason and to transfer knowledge and skills from one subject area to another.
More information can be found in the "Cross-curricular and integrated learning" section of "Program Planning".
Social studies, history, and geography offer many opportunities for accomplishing goals. In Grades 1–6 social studies, the People and Environments strand focuses on contemporary environmental issues and the importance of sustainable living and development. Students investigate a wide range of environmental issues and are sometimes asked to develop plans of action aimed at promoting stewardship. The Heritage and Identity strand enables students to explore the significance of the environment to different communities at different times. Similar opportunities for learning about and taking action with regard to the environment are included in the history and geography program in Grades 7 and 8.
More information on environmental education can be found in the "Cross-curricular and integrated learning" section of "Program Planning".
The study of healthy relationships infuses the social studies, history, and geography curriculum. For example, the primary grades provide opportunities for students to explore the topic of healthy relationships in terms of personal responsibilities towards others and the interrelationships between individuals and other people in the community.
In the junior grades, students study conflict and cooperation among individuals and communities throughout history, identifying sources of conflict, opportunities for cooperation, and how different peoples viewed and related to each other. Students examine power dynamics and its role in human interrelationships. These explorations continue in history and geography in Grades 7 and 8, but at a deeper level, guided by questions that encourage students to think critically about global inequalities and the impact that people have on each other and on the environment.
A climate of acceptance and open-mindedness is vital in the social studies, history, and geography classroom. These attitudes enable students to develop an awareness of the complexity of a range of issues. Moreover, in examining issues from various perspectives, students develop an understanding of and respect for different points of view. Students also develop empathy as they analyse events and issues from the perspectives of people in different parts of Canada or the world, or from different historical eras. All of these attitudes and attributes provide a foundation for forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
More information on healthy relationships can be found in the “Considerations for Program Planning” section of “Program Planning”.
The principle of valuing inclusiveness is an element of the vision statement of the social studies, history, geography, and Canadian and world studies programs. Thus, encouraging students to understand and value diversity is a focus of the social studies, history, and geography program. In the primary grades, students learn that there is diversity within families and communities. Students explore how traditions change over time and how various traditions are observed or celebrated by different members of the community, including the classroom community. In later grades, students explore concepts of power and exclusion, learning about the living conditions of different groups of people in the past and present, including women, First Nations, and people in developing countries. At the same time, the program provides students with opportunities to learn about how people from every walk of life contribute to society. There are numerous opportunities to break through stereotypes and to learn about various religious, social, and ethnocultural groups, including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, and their distinct traditions. Students investigate injustices and inequalities, but not simply through the lens of victimization. Rather, they examine ways in which various people act or have acted as agents of change and can serve as role models for active citizenship.
It is important that teachers of social studies, history, and geography create an environment that will foster a sense of community where all students feel included and appreciated. It is imperative that students see themselves reflected in the choices of materials, resources, and examples selected by the teacher. When leading discussions on topics related to diverse religious, ethnocultural, or socio-economic groups or the rights of citizenship, teachers should ensure that all students – regardless of culture, religious affiliation, gender, class, or sexual orientation – feel included and recognized in all activities and discussions. By teachers carefully choosing support materials that reflect the makeup of a class, students will see that they are respected and will, in turn, come to respect the differences that exist in their classroom and in the larger community.
More information can be found in the “Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusive Education” subsection of the “Considerations for Program Planning”.
One of the objectives of the social studies, history, geography, and Canadian and world studies programs is to enable students to become responsible, active citizens who are informed and critically thoughtful. Financial literacy is a key element of this objective. In the social studies, history, and geography program, students have multiple opportunities to investigate and study financial literacy concepts that are related to the course content. In social studies in the junior years, for example, students compare the economy and social structures of early societies with those of today. They study the role of trade in establishing and cementing relationships between First Nations and early Europeans in Canada. Students examine our reliance on the development of natural resources to meet our needs and wants. Throughout the program, students also study aspects of the role of the government in Canada’s economy, regional aspects of that economy, and some of the economic links between Canada and the rest of the world. In history, students have a number of opportunities to investigate the impact of economic factors on Canadian history and explore how different communities responded to or were affected by these factors. In geography, students investigate the importance of natural resources to the global economy. In addition, they learn about global economic disparities and their impact on the quality of life in different countries around the world.
More information can be found in the “Financial Literacy” subsection of “Cross-curricular and Integrated Learning”.
Students use critical thinking skills in social studies, history, and geography when they assess, analyse, and/or evaluate the impact of something and when they form an opinion about something and support that opinion with a rationale. In order to think critically, students need to examine the opinions and values of others, detect bias, look for implied meaning, and use the information gathered to form a personal opinion or stance, or a personal plan of action with regard to making a difference. The development of these skills is supported by the Inquiry section of each strand as well as by the concepts of disciplinary thinking that are identified for each overall expectation in the curriculum.
As they work to achieve the social studies, history, and geography expectations, students frequently need to identify the possible implications of choices. As they gather information from a variety of sources, they need to be able to interpret what they are listening to, reading, or viewing; to look for instances of bias; and to determine why that source might express that particular bias.
Students approach critical thinking in various ways. Some students find it helpful to discuss their thinking, asking questions and exploring ideas. Other students, including many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students, may take time to observe a situation or consider a text carefully before commenting; they may prefer not to ask questions or express their thoughts orally while they are thinking.
In developing critical thinking skills in social studies, history, and geography, students must ask themselves effective questions in order to interpret information, detect bias in their sources, determine why a source might express a particular bias, and consider the values and perspectives of a variety of groups and individuals.
In social studies, history, and geography, students who are critically literate are able, for example, to actively analyse media messages and determine potential motives and underlying messages. They are able to determine what biases might be contained in texts, media, and resource material and why that might be, how the content of these materials might be determined and by whom, and whose perspectives might have been left out and why. Students would then be equipped to produce their own interpretation of the issue. Opportunities should be provided for students to engage in a critical discussion of “texts”, which can include books (including textbooks), television programs, movies, web pages, advertising, music, gestures, oral texts, and other means of expression. Such discussions empower students to understand how the authors of texts are trying to influence them as members of society. Language and communication are never neutral: they are used to inform, entertain, persuade, and manipulate.
Another aspect of critical thinking is metacognition, which involves developing one’s thinking skills by reflecting on one’s own thought processes. Metacognitive skills include the ability to monitor one’s own learning. Acquiring and using metacognitive skills has emerged as a powerful approach for promoting a focus on thinking skills related to critical literacy across all disciplines. In social studies, history, and geography, metacognitive skills are developed in a number of ways. Throughout the inquiry process, students use metacognitive skills to reflect on their thinking, ensuring, for example, that their questions are appropriate, that they have logically interpreted the information they have generated, and that the appropriate concepts of disciplinary thinking are reflected in their analysis. Through the application of metacognitive skills, students constantly revisit and rethink their work, leading to a deepening of the inquiry process.
More information on critical thinking and critical literacy is also available in the “Cross-curricular and integrated learning” section.