Hemlock, MI - Many of us remember social studies class as an exhaustive and boring exercise in memorization. We memorized state capitals, dates of battles, names of generals, and lists of Presidents. Social Studies in Hemlock is a long way from those days.
Last year, the State of Michigan made some changes to the Social Studies Standards. Overall, it involved shuffling topics around from one grade level to another. The biggest changes come from another set of standards that are used to shape how social studies is taught. The C3 framework helps teachers prepare students for Careers, College, and Civil life by giving them practice at deeper thinking. These standards are not brand new, but are becoming more widespread each year. With C3, the emphasis is not on singular facts, but on inquiry, thought, and discourse. Several years ago, Hemlock started using document based questions (DBQ). The DBQ Project is an effort to make good critical thinking exercises available to all students. Each exercise contains 4-6 documents with comprehensive questions to help the student dig into all of the available information. The exercise asks students to take a stand on a topic that can be argued and backed up by the supporting documents. This gets students away from arguing a point, “because it sounds right” or “that’s what I’ve heard before”. Instead, students have to back up their stance with documented proof and reasoning. Students acknowledge that there are other points of view that may have merit, but then prove why their argument is most correct. Some samples of questions the classes tackle include asking,” How Free Were Blacks in the North?”, “Why did Rome fall?”, and “How Great was Alexander the Great?” Being able to use written evidence and critical thinking to make decisions is certainly a “life-skill” students should take with them to use the rest of their lives.
Teachers are also using a resource called the Open Book Project. This online “textbook” follows the C3 ideas by stepping away from “read and regurgitate” questions and asking students to question and think about the information presented to them.
Middle school principal Terry Keyser says, “Our students are learning to think, to reason, to question and provide facts to support their ideas while using the work and writings of nationally-renowned and world-renowned authors, thinkers and leaders. This approach is so much more than facts and dates--it prepares them for high school, college and higher education and beyond that to careers. What they are doing is far beyond what many in our generation ever had to do K-12 and they are so good at it because it is a daily exercise--a habit of thinking. We see the effects of this approach across the curriculum.”