Rethinking the Social Studies aka World Ecology

I think we need to revisit the social studies as a content area.  I have been thinking about this for a while, but I was prompted to do so after hearing a presentation this summer by Bob Goodman of the Progressive Science Initiative in New Jersey.  Bob was describing how his work had led him to reorganize the science curriculum so it made better sense to students:

  1. Physics is taught in the freshman year and students learn the necessary math as an application of the science.  At the end of the freshman year, students study quantum mechanics and atomic structure which leads into
  2. Chemistry taught in the sophomore year.  At the end of the sophomore year, students study proteins which leads into
  3. Biology and the study of life in the junior year.

This is a simplification of Bob’s work, but it resonated with me.  Content curriculum should make sense to students as a narrative, and I believe this type of approach is needed for the social studies, which suffer from fragmentation.  At the same conference where I heard Bob speak, I asked the conference sponsor, Alan November, what he thought about the social studies.  He agreed that it was time revisit this content especially in light of new technologies.  He suggested a more appropriate title for the social studies could be World Ecology.

If World Ecology works as a new discipline, I think it needs some design questions.  The one I have come up with so far is, “Why is the world the way it is?”  Imagine having 10 years (my schools are preK-8) to explain the world to students in a way that made sense from a narrative perspective, and in a way that was both relevant and engaging.

I think the way to do this would be to adopt Geography as the overarching content structure.  Since Geography by definition covers everything about the Earth both in terms of its physical and human characteristics, I think it would be particularly well suited for making sense of things.  We could structure a curriculum around the 5 Themes and the Geography Standards.  We could also embellish units with foreign language study using products such as Rosetta Stone Classroom.

I am going to start working on a structure for this “World Ecology” curriculum using Curriki.  If you would like to help out, contact me.

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