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Social Studies in Action: A Methodology Workshop, K-5

This video workshop for K-5 teachers provides a framework for teaching social studies, with a focus on creating effective citizens.

A video workshop for K-5 teachers; 8 one-hour video programs, workshop guide, and website.

This video workshop provides a methodology framework for teaching social studies, with a focus on creating effective citizens. The eight video programs feature K-5 teachers exploring social studies themes, theories of learning, teaching strategies, and ways to connect social studies to the world beyond the classroom. Led by social studies educator Mary A. McFarland, the onscreen participants reflect on fundamental issues in teaching and learning social studies through discussions, debates, and activities that can be adapted to a K-5 curriculum. With the companion Web site and guide, this video workshop provides a stimulating learning experience for individual teachers or professional development groups.

About This Workshop

Social Studies in Action: A Methodology Workshop, K-5 captures innovative teaching practices, learning theories, and classroom activities designed to stimulate your teaching and enhance your curriculum.

This eight-part workshop provides a methodology framework for teaching social studies, with a focus on creating effective citizens. Individual workshop sessions explore social studies themes, strategies for planning and teaching, and ways to connect social studies to the world beyond the classroom.

Led by social studies educator Mary A. McFarland, participants reflect on fundamental issues in teaching and learning social studies through discussions, debates, and lessons that can be adapted to a K-5 curriculum. With the companion guide, available on this Web site and as a printable PDF document, this video workshop provides a stimulating learning experience for individual teachers or professional development groups.

Using the Videos, Website, and Print Guide

Social Studies in Action: A Methodology Workshop, K-5 can be used for individual or group professional development. The video workshop and companion website and print materials provide a vigorous professional development opportunity for teachers, with online activities to help you reflect on your practice, and other resources to enhance your learning.

Print materials can be downloaded from this site.

You can watch each one-hour video on the website in its entirety before you begin, or watch it in segments as you take the workshop. The guide provides suggestions for viewing each segment.

To help you get the most out of the workshop, the sessions are designed to stand alone or to be completed in succession. Take one, several, or all eight, depending on your professional development needs and goals.

The guide for each workshop session consists of the following sections:

Summary and Learning Goals
The home page for each session provides an overview of the session and outlines what you will do and what you can expect to learn by the end of the session.

Readings, forms, and charts are listed in one central place.

If you are taking the workshop for credit or professional development, refer to the assignment page for each workshop session.

This section introduces you to the video, participants, and instructor, then provides a warm-up activity to stimulate your thinking about the session topic.

Key concepts and readings give you background information and follow-up questions to extend your learning.

Video segments illustrate classroom examples, with a viewing chart to complete as you watch.

This section asks you to apply what you’ve learned by analyzing methodology examples and completing an activity that relates to your practice.

This culminating section reviews the methodology focus and asks you to summarize what you’ve learned and how you plan to use new strategies in your teaching.

Web and print references are listed, with a short description for each.

Technical Notes
To use the Social Studies in Action methodology workshop guide, we recommend the following:

Web browser
Netscape 4.7 (or a higher version) or Internet Explorer 5.0 (or a higher version). (Javascript should be enabled, if your browser allows you to disable it.) Text fonts and colors may not be displayed correctly in older browsers.

To print the forms and readings provided, or to print a hard-copy version of this guide, you will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader plug-in. You can download this plug-in for free. (Flash activities previously available for this series have been discontinued.) You can download these plug-ins for free:

Facilitator Tips.

You can use the workshop to provide professional development activities for teachers in a variety of settings:

  • in social studies methods courses
  • with new teachers who are trying to broaden their range of teaching methods
  • in a district or school workshop
  • for individual teacher study of a specific topic, method, or grade level
  • in professional development mentoring programs

The following facilitator tips can enhance the professional development experience:

Before the First Session

  • Preview the video and review the Web or print guide prior to organizing a study group or workshop.
  • You will want participants to have the guide prior to the first session, so they will come prepared. Either direct them to this website, or print, photocopy, and distribute the print version of the guide and any reading materials they will need prior to the session.
  • Be sure participants know what to bring to each workshop session and the reading assignments for the session.

Designate Responsibilities
Each week, someone should be responsible for facilitating the workshop sessions. This may be a professional facilitator or a volunteer from among the participants, or you may choose to divide and rotate duties among several participants.

Prepare for the Session and Bring the Necessary Materials

  • Before coming to the session, the facilitator should review the entire session and become familiar with the questions, activities, readings, and printouts found in the following sections of each workshop session: Engage, Explore, Explain, Apply, and Evaluate.
  • The facilitator should bring enough materials for the participants. If the group is viewing the video programs on videocassette, the facilitator may want to preview the programs.

Be an Active Moderator

  • Use the suggested questions and continue with other questions that interest you and your colleagues.
  • Allow enough time to wait for participants’ responses.
  • Encourage reflection as a means to improving teaching.
  • Conclude by reviewing strategies and action items teachers can use in their practice.
  • Assign the readings in the Explore section for the next session as homework.

Record Your Discussions
We recommend that someone take notes during each discussion, or even better, that you record the discussions. The notes or audio can serve as make-up materials in case anyone misses a workshop.

Share Your Discussions 
The workshop sessions serve as a starting point to share and think about the workshop ideas. Encourage participants to continue their discussions.

Individual Workshop Descriptions

1: Teaching Social Studies
Why do we teach social studies? This session focuses on the relevance of teaching social studies and discusses strategies for helping students gain a deeper understanding of social studies content. Along with the onscreen teachers, you will review standards and themes developed by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and view video clips from the Social Studies in Action video library to identify examples of powerful teaching and learning.

2: Teaching for Understanding
How do we plan for learning? In this session, you will examine the Teaching for Understanding model, a framework for unit planning developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You will use the framework to analyze unit planning in classroom videos, plan for social studies units, and see how a pictorial timeline of U.S. history can shape an entire year of learning.

3: Exploring Unity and Diversity
Who do we teach? Because themes of unity and diversity surface within both academic content and classroom climate, this session focuses on strategies for teaching provocative issues in social studies as well as methods of addressing a diversity of learners. You will examine national documents for themes of unity and diversity, and explore Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Finally, you will develop a lesson, using a mini-lesson on immigration and citizenship as a model.

4: Applying Themes and Disciplines
What do we teach? Working from the NCSS themes and standards, and related disciplines, you will identify building blocks for teaching social studies, and approaches to integrating disciplines while teaching social studies content. Classroom video segments illustrate effective strategies for developing a comprehensive curriculum and provide an opportunity for you to reflect on teaching practices. Finally, you will develop a lesson plan that incorporates a variety of themes and disciplines.

5: Using Resources
How can students use a variety of resources well? In this session, you will focus on how to make the most of the resources that can be used in teaching social studies, from artifacts and primary sources to children’s literature and the Internet. You’ll see how children’s literature can be used to examine what constitutes a good citizen, analyze artifacts, and develop a lesson of your own.

6: Engaging Students in Active Learning
How do we engage students in active learning? In this session, you will examine the elements of authentic instruction and cooperative learning to identify ways of engaging students in social studies content. You will review the importance of questioning in relationship to higher-order thinking, and explore classroom strategies to stimulate thinking and bring social studies concepts to life for your students.

7: Assessing Students’ Learning
How do we know students are learning? Because assessment often provides only small snapshots of learning, this session provides you with a variety of tools and strategies to assess students’ learning in formal, informal, ongoing, and culminating ways. You will analyze classroom video segments, develop criteria for assessment, and learn how to incorporate assessment strategies in your practice.

8: Making Connections
How do we connect social studies to life beyond the classroom? In this culminating session, you will explore the connections between social studies content and real-world applications. You will see classroom video examples that illustrate effective ways of bridging social studies concepts and the world beyond the classroom, match teaching goals with strategies for making connections, and develop a lesson of your own.

Who's Who

NCSS.The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the nation’s largest professional organization for social studies educators, collaborated with WGBH Educational Foundation and Annenberg Media to create a resource that would enhance excellent social studies teaching. Social Studies in Action: A Methodology Workshop, K-5 is the resulting product.

Each video workshop is keyed to the NCSS curriculum standards, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, by giving teachers a standards-based framework for teaching social studies. NCSS recognizes the workshop as a vital tool for social studies educators–teachers entering the field, those new in teaching, as well as experienced educators–to stimulate learning and discussion about excellence in professional practice.

Mary A. McFarland.Mary A. McFarland, Curriculum Developer and Facilitator
Dr. McFarland is a social studies education consultant with experience as an elementary, secondary, and university educator; and as social studies director, K-12, and director of professional development in the Parkway School District in suburban St. Louis, Missouri. In 1989-90, she served as president of the National Council for the Social Studies. She has consulted or presented in 27 states, Canada, Japan, Germany, South Korea, and Latvia on topics such as planning, instruction, and assessment in social studies; civic education; scope and sequence; critical thinking, reading, and writing in social studies; and trends and issues in education. She has written professional articles, Web-based curriculum, and is the current co-author of an elementary social studies series for grades K-8.

Workshop Participants
The workshop participants represent a range of K-5 teachers from Greater Boston.

Deede Begeron. Ana Maria Caballero.

Deede Bergeron
Loker Elementary School
Wayland, Massachusetts

Ana Maria Caballero
Pierce School
Brookline, Massachusetts

Deborah Freeman. Irene Gruenfeld.

Deborah Freeman
Bates Elementary School
Wellesley, Massachusetts

Irene Gruenfeld
Bates Elementary School
Wellesley, Massachusetts

Uri Harel. Sandra Johnston.

Uri Harel
Community Day Charter School
Lawrence, Massachusetts

Sandra Johnston
Mather Elementary School
Dorchester, Massachusetts

Carmen Mendes. Betsy Navarro.

Carmen Mendes
Fletcher/Maynard Academy
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Betsy Navarro
Patrick Lyndon School
West Roxbury, Massachusetts

Khanh Phuong. Teresa Reaves.

Khanh Phuong
Mather Elementary School
Dorchester, Massachusetts

Teresa Reaves
Dennis C. Haley Elementary School
Boston, Massachusetts

Jay Sugarman. Mehrnoosh Vejdani Watson.

Jay Sugarman
Runkle School
Brookline, Massachusetts

Mehrnoosh Vejdani Watson
Thoreau Elementary School
Concord, Massachusetts


Authentic assessment: Evaluation activities that require students to use knowledge in different contexts (e.g., real-world scenarios).

Authentic instruction: Teaching that emphasizes applying content and processes in different contexts.

Authentic intellectual work: Understanding concepts through underlying academic disciplines; discipline-based learning.

Civic education: Instruction focused on teaching the principles and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

Cooperative learning: Students working in pairs or small groups to facilitate learning.

Culminating assessment: End-of-unit evaluation that provides a broad view of achievement.

Deep understanding: In-depth, comprehensive learning that goes beyond surface learning.

Democratic classroom: A classroom that models democratic values and processes, respects individuals, and gives students a voice in decisions.

Differentiated instruction: Providing several different avenues by which all students can learn the same material.

Discipline-based content: Content drawn from different discipline areas, such as history, geography, economics, and political science.

Diversity: Differences as noted in gender, achievement, race, religion, language, and learning strengths.

Effective citizenship: Informed, active participation supporting the common good.

Formal assessment: Planned evaluation of learning often involving the use of rubrics.

Fragile knowledge: Surface or shallow understanding.

Generative topic: A concept that engages students and is used to connect or introduce a unit.

Informal assessment: Spontaneous evaluation, such as discussion questions that gauge student understanding.

Jigsaw: A type of cooperative learning in which students become experts on one part of the material and teach it to other students.

Multicultural education: Learning focused on understanding various cultures and their beliefs, values, language, and traditions.

Multiple intelligences: Refers to the ability to learn, create, and solve problems within one or more cultural settings; Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory that there is more than one way to be smart.

NCSS themes: Ten major standards-based social studies concepts used in planning units.

Ongoing assessment: Evaluation that occurs within lessons as the unit is being taught.

Online resources: Sources available on the Internet.

Performance assessment: Evaluation based on how students show what they have learned.

Performances of understanding: Activities students complete to illustrate that they can apply what they are learning.

Portfolio assessment: Samples of student work accumulated in a folder to show progress over time.

Powerful teaching and learning: Qualities of instruction that lead to increased learning: active, meaningful, challenging, value-based, and integrative.

Primary sources: Original documents or first-hand accounts of an event.

Real-world instruction: Teaching or reinforcing concepts through application.

Rubric: Criteria for developing and/or evaluating student work.

Secondary sources: Sources written by someone other than first-hand participants or witnesses of an event.

Social studies: Studies involving content, processes, and democratic values that help develop active, informed citizens.

Teaching for Understanding: A planning framework for developing units.

Throughlines: Year-long learning goals that connect units throughout the year.

Understanding goals: Unit learning objectives.

Unity: National wholeness based on shared beliefs and values to support the common good.


Website Production Credits
Social Studies in Action: A Methodology Workshop, K-5 is a production of WGBH Interactive and WGBH Educational Programming and Outreach for Annenberg Media.

Copyright 2003 WGBH Educational Foundation. All rights reserved.

Executive Producer
Ted Sicker

Curriculum Developer
Mary McFarland

Lisa Rosenthal
Christian Wise

Joseph Brandt

Editorial Production
Denise Blumenthal
Melanie MacFarlane

Additional Editorial Content
Jill Farinelli
Owen Shows

Academic Advisors
Susan Adler
Tamara Berman
Mary McFarland
Rick Theisen

Video Series Production Credits
Social Studies in Action: A Methodology Workshop, K-5 is a production of WGBH Educational Foundation for Annenberg Media.

Executive Producer
Michele Korf

Senior Project Director
Amy Tonkonogy

Philip Gay

Coordinating Producers
Denny Houghton
Allison McCrary

Associate Producer
Julie Parker O’Brien

Production Manager
Mary Ellen Gardiner

Postproduction Associate Producer
Peter Villa

Production Coordinator
Mary Susan Blout

Production Assistants
Jessica K. Cavano
Lisa Olivieri
Jill Unger

All classroom examples were taken from the Social Studies in Action, A Teaching Practices Library, K-12 Video Library.

Video Library Teachers
Robert Cuddi
Meylin Gonzalez
Darlene Jones-Inge
Diane Kerr
David A. Kitts
Debbie Lerner
Eileen Mesmer
Mimi Norton
Osvaldo Rubio
Libby Sinclair
Cynthia Vaughn
Kathleen Waffle

Workshop Facilitator
Mary A. McFarland

Workshop Participants
Deede Bergeron
Ana Maria Caballero
Deborah Freeman
Irene Gruenfeld
Uri Harel
Sandra Johnston
Carmen Mendes
Betsy Navarro
Khanh Phuong
Teresa Reaves
Jay Sugarman
Mehrnoosh Watson

Collaborating Partner
National Council for the Social Studies

Core Advisors
Susan Adler
Associate Professor of Education
University of Missouri, Kansas City

Tamara Berman
Social Studies Educator and Consultant

Mary A. McFarland
Social Studies Educator and Consultant

Rick Theisen
Past President, NCSS
Social Studies Educator and Consultant

Sylvia Alvarez
Albuquerque Public School System

Cherry A. McGee Banks
Professor of Education
University of Washington, Bothell

Wendell Brooks
Berkeley High School, Berkeley, California

Diane Hart
Education Writer and Consultant
Menlo Park, California

Tedd Levy
Educational Consultant
Saybrook, Connecticut

Valerie Ooka Pang
Professor of Teacher Education
San Diego State University

Pat Robeson
Maryland Geographic Alliance

Charles V. Willie
Professor of Education Emeritus
Harvard Graduate School of Education

Michael Yell
Hudson Middle School, Hudson, Wisconsin

Vanessa Boris
Shayna Casey
Maureen Keleher

Bill Charette
Larry LeCain
Steve McCarthy

Chris Bresnahan
Charlie Collias
Keith McManus

Gaye Corbet
Bruce Walker

Online Editors
Mark Geffen
Glenn Hunsberger

Sound Mix
John Jenkins
Dan Lesiw

David Mazza

John Kosian
Judy Richardson

Location Manager
Peter Villa

Location Intern
Nina Farouk

Image Credits
© Bettmann/CORBIS
Courtesy Library of Congress LC-USZ62-15539
Courtesy Library of Congress LC-USZ62-3088
National Archives (NWDNS-306-NT-165319c)
National Archives (NWDNS-4-P-55)
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Behring Center
WGBH Digital Image Gallery

Special Thanks
Frederick by Leo Lionni. Copyright 1967, renewed 1995 by Leo Lionni. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

Written by Diane Siebert
Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Published by HarperCollins Publishers, Copyright 1989

How Many Days to America?
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Beth Peck
Published by Clarion Books, Copyright 1988

“I, Too” by Langston Hughes
Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated
© 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes

Ox Cart Man
Written by Donald Hall
Illustrated by Barbara Cooney
Published by Viking Press, Copyright 1979

The Winter Solstice
Written by Ellen Jackson, Copyright 1994
Illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis, Copyright 1994
The Millbrook Press. All rights are reserved.