Guest Post: NCSS Publishes New Help for Social Studies Educators

Don Gifford, KSDE Social Studies Content Specialist, has been kind enough to provide a guest commentary on the C3 Framework published by NCSS this week.  You can find a link to the Framework here.

NCSS Publishes New Help for Social Studies Educators  by Don Gifford, KSDE

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: State Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History

 The National Council for the Social Studies has just released a framework for enhancing the rigor of Social Studies education.  Over the past several years the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) and a couple of Kansas teachers have been involved in crafting and reviewing this work.  The September edition of Social Education, a publication of NCSS, has several articles about the process and content of this framework.  The intent of my writing today is to demonstrate the alignment with the Kansas History, Government, and Social Studies Standards and encourage the use of this document writing curriculum and designing units of study. 

The most unique feature of this document is called the Inquiry Arc.  It is made up of 4 Dimensions (Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries, Applying Disciplinary Tools and Concepts, Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence, and Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action).  This attribute in the framework compliments the processes outlined in the Benchmarks of our Kansas standards.  Though we approach the process is a slightly different sequence the concepts and processes are the same.


Dimension 1: Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries

Essential and compelling questions are a critical part of social studies inquiry. The fruit of good questions and good questioning is more questions. Students should be challenged to discover the depth, texture, and tenuous nature of deep thinking and questioning.  Interacting with these difficult questions force students to construct questions and methodologies for developing understanding in how the discipline and the world works. This process attaches information to ideas and concepts that lead to greater retention and the increased likelihood that student will actually apply what they know to solve a contemporary problem. The idea that a good social studies questions produce specific answers may be true for assessment, but not for instruction.

Dimension 2: Applying Disciplinary Tools and Concepts

This dimension highlights the ways of thinking about things.  Historians, economists, geographers and political scientists all approach questions and possible answers differently, in other words each brings to the table a certain approach.  Understanding this allows students to deal with information in multiple ways, to use a math analogy like solving for a particular variable.  In social studies every situation has a minimum of 4 variables (historic, economic, geographic and political). These variables are in a dynamic relationship with each other.  Failure to consider any of these variables leads to an inaccurate or incomplete interpretation and understanding of the situation.

Dimension 3: Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence

In this age of ready access to information it is increasingly important to teach students how to evaluate information.  Determining the source and credibility of sources is critical to inquiry in any discipline.  The ability to distinguish between fact and opinion, propaganda and persuasion, truth and falsehood are indispensable for any college, career, and citizenship ready student.  The ability to acquire and use credible information to support an idea or claim is equally important.  Democracy is a political system that is reliant on the citizen’s ability to recognize and qualify information.  Personal and cultural success depends on our individual and collective ability not to be misled.  Citizens in a democracy must be able to craft arguments based on evidence and draw conclusions about the best courses of action.

Dimension 4: Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action

The ability to communicate in various different ways is essential to the success of our students.  The ability to demonstrate literacy in the social studies (to read, write, speak and listen with confidence and credibility on topics generally considered social studies) aligns with our state college and career ready standards in English language arts.  Citizens in a democracy must be able to craft arguments based on evidence and draw conclusions about the best courses of action. Students who fail to acquire these skills will be incapable of being an informed, thoughtful and engaged citizen which is the purpose of social studies education in this state.  The goal of all of this knowledge and skill is to take informed action.

Education means nothing if it doesn’t improve the way we live.  Knowing anything is trivialized if student/citizens don’t use what they know to become something better, as an individual, a community, a state, or a nation.  To know, understand, and possess the skill and not to act on that knowledge, skill and understanding is a personal and national tragedy.


Please take a look at this document, it was developed by some of the most intelligent and knowledgeable people I know. There are a great number of very helpful charts and graphs.  There is a grade banded skills chart that many of you will find interesting.  It encourages the type of social studies learning that I think is best.  This isn’t about pedagogy, cooperative, or project based learning, direct teaching or anything like that.  This is about empowering our students with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in college, careers and citizenship. Encouraging them to use what they know and are able to do to address the individual, community, state, national, and world challenges we face today and in the future.

About bradburenheide

I'm an Associate Professor at Kansas State University's College of Education. Currently I am the program coordinator for secondary social studies education. My research interests include instructional gaming, history education, and creative pedagogy.

1 thought on “Guest Post: NCSS Publishes New Help for Social Studies Educators

  1. While I need to take a closer look, I am pleasantly surprised by the framework, its flexibility, and its ability to leave space for a social studies that is meaningful to students and educators.

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