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Skills and Best Practices

Constructivist Approach to Teaching Social Studies

A constructivist approach to teaching is one that involves students actively in constructing knowledge with guidance from the teacher. In this approach, the teacher does the following:

  • Determines what basic knowledge and skills are to be learned
  • Determines what prior knowledge students have about the topic to be studied
  • Presents the phenomena related to the topic to be studied accurately in ways that relate the phenomena to the student’s experiences
  • Engages students in observing and reflecting on the phenomena presented and in communicating what they have learned about the topic
Since both brain research and constructivist theory are beginning to impact current North American social-studies curriculum, this article summarizes insights from these two areas that should influence social studies for the 21st century. Particular attention has been paid to instructional innovations that are consistent with findings from brain research and application of theories of constructivism. Arguments have been made for a social-studies curriculum that is based on the classic reflective inquiry conceptualization of social studies because it stems from a constructivist position and is supported by brain-based views of teaching and learning.

Use of Time Lines in Social Studies

Understanding the sequence of events in social studies is critical to an understanding of cause and effect. Often teachers have students construct a time line as they proceed through the unit. Or, they may construct the time line in their classroom, using a wall or a bulletin board.

Issue Analysis

Issue analysis closes the loop in a research assignment for students. Students who are asked to research a topic should be expected to use this information for problem solving, decision making or issue analysis. If the instruction loop (gathering information, thinking about the information, and applying the information) is not completed, students will have difficulty remembering what they have researched. It may be helpful to use the following checklist to help students understand when they have reached the level of issue analysis in their thinking:

Evaluation Checklist for Issue Analysis

  • Topic selected has controversial components
  • Questions or points of view of the topic are clear
  • Bibliography is complete and properly formatted
  • Background information is summarized
  • Each source is examined for bias and audience.
  • Areas of conflict, compromise, or agreement are identified
  • Positions and solutions are evaluated (including motives of groups or individuals, feasibility and practicality, impact on policies, and consequences)
Updated January 31, 2023 4:44pm