On Education: Social Studies is a Powerful Tool to Teach Empathy

Studies Weekly Social Studies CurriculumFor better or worse, students in classrooms today — even down to the elementary level — are firmly part of the selfie generation. Many, in just a few years’ time, have more pictures on a smartphone of their own faces than older generations have from their entire lifetimes.

Teachers, principals and districts have a unique challenge to expand children’s learning beyond the classroom and connect them to others’ experiences across the world. Social studies instruction, when done correctly, is a potent tool to get students outside of selfness, and teach them empathy — or the ability to imagine what others are feeling outside of their own experience.

Social economist and author Jeremy Rifkin, in his August 2010 RSA Animate talk, explained that scientifically speaking, “we are actually soft-wired to experience another’s plight as if we are experiencing it ourselves.” Rifkin went further to assert that, contrary to what we see in the world around us today, humans are not soft-wired for aggression and violence, but for connection.

Social Studies teaches empathy

Of all the elementary school subjects, social studies has the power to tap into children’s natural empathy and need for connection. Social studies is full of stories — from both leaders and common people, all who valiantly or violently constructed change within their own sphere. Many of these narratives come from different lands and diverse viewpoints.

“When we encounter a multiplicity of voices and human experiences, we are humbled by the vast sea of events, information and ideas, and how little we know,” said Matt Doran and his team in February 2016 at the teacher resource site, Social Studies for the 21st Century.

That humility helps students of social studies empathetically experience and understand another’s condition from that person’s perspective.

Social Studies expands our view

At its very basic level, social studies teaches us about ourselves by teaching us about “the other.” Thus, through its stories, conflicts, compromises and resolutions, social studies teaches empathy with authenticity. Teachers have no need of crafting character lessons because their students discover the true character of historical figures through questioning, pondering and debating sources and views.

Lauren Owen, in a November 2015 Edutopia article, explained that modeling, teaching and using empathy in the classroom not only benefits that room, but beyond.

Empathy instruction leads to:

• A more positive classroom culture and helps students build friendships outside of themselves.

Strengthening the community. “As children learn empathy skills by communicating cross-culturally with their classmates, those skills will transfer to their lives in their community. The deeper relationships that result from strong empathy skills have the potential to strengthen a community and build trust,” Owen said.

Preparing students to be better leaders in their world as they learn to understand the perspectives of those they lead.

“We have more in common than that which divides us,” said HRH Princess Lamia Al Saud, secretary general and member of the Board of Trustees at Alwaleed Philanthropies, in a 2017 Huffington Post article. 

“More connects us than separates us.”   T’Challa, King of Wakanda

T’Challa, king of Wakanda, echoed this sentiment in the 2018 movie, “Black Panther.” But in today’s politically charged and consistently contentious society, it is hard for students to believe this.

Studying the stories of history is a proven way to get students outside themselves, and find the hope and bravery needed to reach out to others.

On Education: The Case for Social Studies in Elementary Classrooms

Social studies is important to student's civic and literacy educationTechnology and globalization connect the world more today than in any era of history, but our children may not be prepared to be responsible citizens within it.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, elementary teachers increased English and mathematics instruction time over the past two decades in response to assessment pressures. Conversely, social studies instruction decreased, and is taught less in elementary schools today than at any time over the past 30 years.

Many feel there already is, and will be, a potent impact on society if social studies instruction continues to shrink.

Social Studies creates better citizens

“Without social studies, we lose the civic mission of public schools,” said Stephanie Serriere, a former teacher and associate professor of social studies education at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, in a July 12, 2018 article by Sarah Gonser for The Hechinger Report. “Ultimately, we can’t prepare children for living in a rich, diverse democracy if we don’t expose them to the controversial topics inherent in our democracy.”

Many, like Serriere, stump for more social studies time within the classroom. They feel similar to Nelson Mandela, who said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

These educators believe social studies teaches us how to live — how to be that change in a free society. But they are fighting an uphill battle as U.S. educational organizations concentrate instructional time to standardized tests and assessments.

“Our global community owes children opportunities to explore the variety and complexity of human experience through a dynamic and meaningful education,” said the National Council for the Social Studies in a 2017 statement. “When children are grounded in democratic principles, immersed in age-appropriate democratic strategies, and engaged in meaningful inquiry, they construct the foundational skills that prepare them to participate respectfully and intelligently in a nation and world marked by globalization, interdependence, human diversity, and societal change.”

The NCSS went further to explain that the purpose of elementary school social studies is to enable students to understand, participate in, and make informed decisions about their world. This is not necessarily a skill students learn in English or math class, but in a space that fosters questioning, problem-solving and making thoughtful value judgments.

“The teaching and learning processes within social studies are uniquely organized to develop these capacities, beginning with the youngest learners in our schools,” the NCSS statement concluded.

Social Studies creates better readers and learners
“We need to understand, social studies is the plate in education.” – Cathy Marston
Cathy Marston, a veteran elementary teacher and 2016 California educator of the year, makes the case that in addition to helping her students make sense of the world around them, social studies also promotes literacy, even among the most struggling readers. Social studies content integration, she explained, lets students practice and apply reading comprehension strategies in content area texts.

“These are not two separate content areas, they actually have synergy in their relationship,” she said in a recent presentation about Studies Weekly. “They are both better because of each other. They are much better when working in unison.”

Additionally, though it goes against current educational trends, the case can be made that social studies works synergistically with other subjects in teaching the whole child, not just the future mathematicians or writers of the world. Marston explained that the all-encompassing nature of social studies can be the plate in the feast of daily learning. Social studies carries and connects all other subjects in the elementary school day.

“We need to understand, social studies is the plate in education,” she said. “Everything revolves around social studies. In a world that demands independent and cooperative problem solving to address complex social, economic, ethical and personal concerns, core social studies content is as basic for success as reading, writing and computing.”

Tennessee adopts Studies Weekly K-5 Social Studies

We’ve been adopted!

The dedicated team at Studies Weekly is excited to continue sharing our interactive and rigorously standards-based Social Studies programs with more states. Tennessee, through the Tennessee Department of Education, recently adopted our Social Studies K-5 program statewide for a five-year term.

“As a publisher, we look forward to providing our state-adopted K-5 Social Studies programs to districts and schools for the next five years. We share a common goal with the DOE to lift and inspire students to a brighter future,” said Sheldon Savage, national adoption director for Studies Weekly.

What does this mean for Tennessee educators?

With just one student edition per week and minimal preparation, the Studies Weekly Social Studies curriculum covers 100% of the Tennessee State Social Studies Standards and Social Studies Practices over the course of a school year. Plus, our curriculum also covers many of the Tennessee State English Language Arts Standards including: non-fiction reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and technology use.

Realistically, teachers can use the Studies Weekly Social Studies program in their Language Arts block. Using a balanced literacy approach saves valuable planning and instruction time.

The content of Studies Weekly includes vivid illustrations and colorful maps along with primary source pictures and documents that engage students. The print edition is completely consumable. We wholeheartedly encourage teachers and students to write, highlight and draw all over each magazine or newspaper. And don’t forget the scissors – students can cut out images and texts to create social studies and language arts projects.

Request a FREE sample of the TN publications.

Because today’s students are digital natives, we also offer our curriculum on a robust online platform that captures students’ imagination through primary source videos and other media.

What students will get:
  • Weekly print magazines/newspapers that feature primary source photos and documents, and engaging articles with eye-catching illustrations
  • Access to an online platform highlighting thousands of primary source and related media, including photos, paintings, audio and video clips – with leveled questions for related media
  • Virtual field trips to historical sites in Tennessee and the U.S.
  • Audio reader recorded by real people, to better serve English language learners
  • An avatar world and reward system that allows students to earn points and build their own virtual world
What teachers will get:
  • Year-at-a-glance curriculum map as part of the Teacher Resource, with correlations to TN Social Studies Standards at point of use
  • Content researched, developed, written and edited by educators
  • Lesson plans and suggestions
  • Multiple research-backed reading, listening and learning strategies
  • Differentiated instruction for lower or below-level learners, ELL, and Gifted/Talented
  • Integrated extension activities
  • Customizable summative assessments easily recorded and monitored online
  • Professional development on demand online

All these tools and resources are available through each teacher account on studiesweekly.com/online, and include the ability to easily communicate with students and parents.

So, what are you waiting for? Head over to store.studiesweekly.com to get started!

Teaching the Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement is a significant part of American History. What began in the late 1940’s and ended in the late 1960’s, had a profound impact on social justice and legal rights of African Americans.

Standing for Freedom Curriculum Package

Here at Studies Weekly, we strive to tell the real stories of history through primary source materials and multiple perspectives. In our new civil rights curriculum package, we incorporate the accounts of multiple civil rights activists. Join the Freedom Rides with Hank Thomas, sit at the lunch counters with Joan Trumpauer and cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Joanne Blackmon Bland.

The Standing for Freedom Curriculum Package includes: 

Standing for Freedom (30 copies + 1 teacher edition) – This magazine format guide is 30 pages of the people and events that helped change American History.

 

She Stood for Freedom (1 copy of each book) – The Amelia Bloomer Award-nominated books about the life of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland and her journey through the Civil Rights Movement.

 

An Ordinary Hero (1 copy) – The education version of the award-winning documentary about the life of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland and the Civil Rights Movement.

 

The Uncomfortable Truth (1 copy) – The education version of the Emmy-winning documentary about the history of institutional racism in America. It provides a solid understanding and unique perspective on American History (suitable for teachers and students middle school age and up).

 

History Matters Poster (1 copy) – The engaging mugshot that has come to symbolize the Freedom Rides and called one of the most famous in American History and is a great conversation starter for the classroom.

 

Interactive Map and Timeline – Expand the experience even further with exclusive interviews and artifacts found only on our map and timeline. Don’t just read about the Civil Rights Movement see where it took place and how the events are connected.

Whether you are teaching the Civil Rights Movement, need content for Women’s History Month, want your students to understand about civic engagement and civic responsibility or are looking for a unique way to teach anti-bullying, the Standing for Freedom curriculum package is the perfect addition to your classroom.

Teaching with Primary Source in Social Studies

Teaching with primary source has become more prevalent within the classroom. Due to the internet, primary sources have become more accessible and have provided enhanced teaching opportunities within social studies.

Benefits of Primary Source

Evidence has proved that students do not retain memorized facts and dates very well. What they will remember are first-person accounts that emotionally connect them to the subject. Students remember what they find interesting. That retention can make all the difference.

Unfortunately, textbooks don’t provide an immersive experience, just details. Fact and figures do not provide meaning so students have a difficult time connecting with the information.

Without a primary source, there would be no credibility and false information would be presented as facts. Primary source provides opportunities to tell real accounts and stories from history. Without it, there would be a lack of multiple perspectives and viewpoints.

Finding primary sources can also be a time-consuming process and once found, can require intensive lesson planning. Common Core, C3 and other skills standards covering social studies instruction require students to view a variety of multimedia sources. Studies Weekly is unique in that we provide thousands of primary source materials ranging images, works of art, diaries, videos and more. Teachers can find all of our primary source materials on their online account.

Bringing History to Life

Not only do we lay out the facts, but we tell the stories of history. We let the people in history tell their own story through primary sources. As well, we paint a picture of each event so teachers can relate it to what students are doing today. As mentioned above, students remember information better when they are emotionally connected to the subject.

In addition to primary sources, we offer lesson plans and other resources to help teachers relay these stories. Using creativity in conjunction with primary sources can improve students’ conception of the event and time period. These activities, for example, could be creating a narrative or comic, acting out a skit, having a debate, or hosting a mock election.

Let us know how you use primary sources within your lessons in the comments below. For more information about primary sources, click here.

Interview with Chief Product Officer: Kim Mogilevsky

Our Chief Product Officer, Kim Mogilevsky, has been with Studies Weekly for eight years. She currently leads the Research & Development team to develop evidence-based curriculum materials. Before joining our team, she earned her National Board Certification in 2002 and worked as a teacher for the Palm Beach County School District in Florida for 15 years. She has a Master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction and is a doctoral candidate for the same specialty.

Kim presents to the State Department of Education offices, school districts, state, national and international conventions and conferences all over America and the Caribbean. She’s a huge asset to our team, so we decided to sit down with her and discuss why she believes Studies Weekly is one of the best social studies curriculums out there.

The Interview

Q: Tell me about Studies Weekly and the program.

A: Our first goal is to always acknowledge the teacher as a professional. I like to say that our lesson plans are lesson plan suggestions. Because if you have 25 different kids in your classroom, you have 25 different learning styles, reading levels, and behaviors to deal with. When I came to Studies Weekly eight years ago, high socio-economic schools were buying it because they could afford another supplement and weren’t seeing it as another textbook or core content. In my case, the gifted students at my Title I school were using it, but regular education and exceptional education students were excluded. 

I began shifting the internal and external perceptions of who should use our publications. As a team, we decided this was for every student and took the necessary steps to make that possible. That does not mean that we water down, it means that we show teachers research-based strategies on how they can teach it to make it accessible for all of their students. The rigor of the product has increased since I’ve come on board. We’ve leveled all of our questions and activities using William Dagget’s Rigor and Relevance Framework, which instead of one continuum of, ‘This is an easy question, this is a hard question.’ It’s multi-dimensional.

Q: If you were going to tell a fellow teacher about Studies Weekly, what would you say?

A: I would say this is something you could use as a multi-tasker all day long. You can teach the majority of your ELA standards through social studies content. It covers all of your informational text standards, all of your writing, listening, viewing, and speaking standards. The content crosses over into science and engineering as well, because that’s a part of social studies. Our goal as a curriculum producer is to ensure that every single article, activity, project, and lesson plan covers some kind of standard and everything has value.

Studies Weekly also gives you a ton of resources. We provide you with so many primary sources, so whenever I see a primary source photo, I’m like, ‘Whoo! Free lesson!’ You can take that one image and teach a 20-minute lesson. Another one of the great things about our product is that it’s in a newspaper format. Every kid has their own copy. It’s consumable. They can write on it, highlight it, cut it up. It is a whole lot easier to send home than a textbook. Parents, pediatricians, and everyone else has noticed that textbooks are killing our kids’ backs, but this isn’t one of them.

Q: What makes this comparable to textbooks? Not comparing apples to apples, but moving ahead to what makes this the future?

A: Number one: There is a lot of information to get through in your textbooks. Typically they make one textbook, and then they slap a picture of the state on the cover. So there is a lot of information in there that is not needed for that particular state’s teacher. I always say the same book they sell in Florida, they sell in Texas and slap a picture of Texas on the front. They “Tex-ify” it, and there you go, it’s the same thing! Our publications are state-specific, and we’ve cut out all of the extraneous information that isn’t needed.

When I was a teacher, my first year, I took home the Teachers Edition. It’s usually spiral bound, it’s huge, and I cried. There was so much information, and so many lesson suggestions, I didn’t know what to do. We’re not wasting your time, our Teachers Edition is straight to the point.

Number two: Kids really like our format. We used to have this tagline: “If students had a choice between a textbook or Studies Weekly, 100% of the time, kids are going to choose Studies Weekly.” It doesn’t look scary, it’s not intimidating. And best of all, it’s developed by educators for educators!

For more information about Studies Weekly, click here.

Lesson Ideas: Blending Social Studies and ELA

One thing that we frequently discuss at Studies Weekly in our personal conversations, individual department meetings, and companywide events is the importance of social studies education. And why wouldn’t we? This is what we do every day.

To us, social studies is about more than teaching kids the states and capitals. It’s more than just learning the geography of your state or all the names and terms of the presidents. Incorporating English Language Arts into your social studies can and should be done as a richer education experience. Here are five ideas to blend ELA learning with your social studies lessons:

1. Act It Out

After reading their Studies Weekly booklets for the week, assign students a literary genre. They will then choose an article from their publication and present it to the class. For instance, they can write a poem about Christopher Columbus and recite it or act it out. Students can create a mystery story relating to the forming of their state, or a comedy sketch about the three branches of government.

Encourage students to get creative with props and the storyline, but remind them to showcase what they learned about their chosen topic.

This teaches the following ELA areas: Speaking; Writing; Reading; Listening; Analysis; Research and Citations; Art, Activities and Projects; Viewing; and Literary Genres.

2. Create a Video Journal

After reading their Studies Weekly booklets for the week, have them create video journals. This is easier to do if students have access to computers or tablets. If they don’t have access, they can create a storyboard of what would transpire in the video. The goal is not a perfect analysis of the event or the historical figure you are studying.

Video journals build fluency, prepare students for discussions, and help students practice conversation. They teach the following ELA areas: Speaking, Listening, Analysis, and Viewing.

3. Have A Debate

Set up a debate in your elementary school class. This is going to look different depending on which grade you’re teaching. A fourth grader’s understanding of the Emancipation Proclamation, for instance, will be a lot different from a sixth grader’s, but this doesn’t mean it’s impossible for them to learn it and talk about what they learned.

Have students on either side research the topic and debate the pros and cons, discuss the implications and originations of the subject, and try to come up with a compromise.

This teaches the following ELA areas: Speaking, Writing, Reading, Listening, Analysis, and Research and Citations.

4. Hold a Round Table Discussion

Have all the students choose one of the articles in the Studies Weekly booklet for that week. After thoroughly reading and analyzing the article and its subject, put all the desks or chairs in the classroom in a circle.

With their booklets in front of them, encourage the students to open up a dialogue about what they read. Encourage them to use other sources to pull information and cite from if needed to expound their point.

This teaches the following ELA areas: Speaking, Reading, Analysis, and Research and Citations.

5. Write to a Historical Pen Pal

After reading their Studies Weekly booklets for the week, have students choose a historical pen pal or when relevant, a current political figure.

Once a week, students will write to a historical figure that they have chosen to learn more about. Encourage the students to draw pictures or incorporate diagrams, and ask questions.

Once completed, pass out the letters to a different classmate and have them respond back as if they were the historical figure.

This teaches the following ELA areas: Writing, Reading, Analysis, Research and Citations, and Art, Activities, and Projects.