Volume 2, Issue 1 2013

A Note from the Editors

Nation-states face numerous pressing issues such as increasing inequality, climate change, immigration, and tensions between individual rights and social harmony. In Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum argues that national development goals, focusing almost exclusively on productivity and economic growth, are misguided. Not everything is about profit and development. People strive for lives of meaning, dignity, and fulfillment. People also need to be able to define their own life goals, values, and the kind of society that they want to live in. Humanities and social studies educators should, therefore, play a significant role in helping young people learn how to ask important questions about social justice, race and gender relations, quality of life, the environment, and ethical and socially responsible uses of science and technology. These questions require young people to draw on capacities fostered by the humanities – capacities for critical thinking, imagination, empathy, and justice.

Humanities and social studies education can provide spaces and tools for considering matters of individual well-being, social connectedness and cohesion, culture and values, and civic participation. It can provide opportunities for people to find meaning and satisfaction in a sense of the places they encounter (geography), their understanding of the past (history), deliberation over important social issues and policies (social studies), and in the inspiration and insights that literature offers. A good humanities and social studies education should cultivate, in students, the ability to deliberate with others over significant matters, ask important questions, understand other points of view, think independently, imaginatively, and critically, and communicate effectively. Young people need guidance in developing these capacities and the authors in this issue offer ideas and strategies that we hope will help humanities and social studies educators consider different curricular and instructional approaches that meet these goals.

In this issue, Keith Barton highlights the role of writing as a tool for learning in humanities education. By using “magic words” in their writing, students can not only improve essential communication skills but also learn about important subject matter. Similarly, James Damico’s article offers several literacy strategies that can be employed in source work to help students evaluate claims and evidence. This is a core skill in humanities and social studies education. Students must read and understand information sources and think critically about whether ideas, messages, and assertions are reasonable and supported by sufficient evidence.

Rindi Baildon notes the importance of key historical concepts for learning and understanding history. Her article outlines the ways she and her 10-11 year old students use the concept of significance to integrate language arts and social studies, help students organize their learning, and promote appreciation of the importance of key groups and individuals in their communities.

Elissa Goh and Chew Hung Chang offer different approaches to help teachers and students develop important conceptual understanding in geography. Chang’s article focuses on a framework to help teachers better understand concepts that are necessary for planning and teaching climate change while Goh’s article features a school-based action research study that found fieldwork to be crucial in helping students appreciate local environments and understand the need for environmental management.

We have also included a new section in this issue, “Critical Teacher Reflection,” to highlight teachers’ critical analyses of contexts, curriculum, classroom practice, and key issues that affect humanities and social studies education. In this issue, Brenda Ng critically analyzes a Primary 5 Social Studies chapter using a postmodern theory lens. She found that the text was written from a singular perspective and thus failed to consider the multiple perspectives that might better serve the critical thinking skills highlighted in the syllabus. Lee Seng Lee’s article considers possibilities for teaching Geography for social justice. He concludes by calling for “a more flexible curriculum supported by the Ministry of Education and for greater teacher agency and autonomy to incorporate social justice in their practice.”

We hope you will find HSSE Online to be useful for your research and teaching. We also hope that you will continue to consider the ways in which we can all help make humanities and social studies education more relevant, engaging, exciting, and powerful for young people.

As before, we invite you to share your opinions and perspectives with the other readers in the online forum and give feedback on any of the contributions in this issue. We also urge all readers to contribute articles and teaching resources so as to make this journal even more exciting and intellectually stimulating. Finally, we hope you’ll spread the word about HSSE Online to friends and colleagues! 

Mark Baildon
Li-Ching Ho
Editors, HSSE Online
April 2013

Magic Words: Writing as a Tool for Learning in the Humanities

"Writing can be a powerful tool for learning in the Humanities. When used well, it helps students clarify their thoughts in a quick, simple way, and it provides teachers with ready insight into how students are making sense of content. Writing is also a natural way to engage students who have a wide range of achievement levels, for it allows different students to participate in the same activity in different ways. Perhaps most importantly, it places control of learning in the hands of students themselves, so that they have a chance to construct their own ideas instead of simply reproducing what they encounter from teachers, texts, or other sources. When used this way, most students write easily and naturally. "

The Notables: Making Significant Historical Personalities Come Alive

"The study of significant people in history can be an engaging, meaningful, and integrated learning experience for upper primary school students. In this article I describe a project, The Notables, which immersed my Grade 4 students in a series of social studies and language arts activities designed to help them understand the concept of significance, learn about historical people and events, and develop important research and presentation skills."

Deepening Secondary Students’ Understanding of Coastal Management at Labrador Park through Fieldwork

"The impetus for action research on experiential learning of geography stems from a desire to introduce a more “engaged” form of geography, whereby students move beyond the academic study of geography in the classroom to making sense of geography in relation to their reality (Morgan, 2012). Through an environmental scan of the inclusion of fieldwork into the new Geography syllabus commencing 2013, we sought to find out how fieldwork is integral to the study of geography in Singapore schools. The choice of coastal geography as a topic for inquiry was strategically aligned to its inclusion in the new syllabus and its relevance to Singapore’s geography as an island. The feedback obtained from teachers participating in Professional Learning Circles (PLCs) also suggested that students found it challenging to understand abstract geography concepts, in particular, physical geography processes and how they take place in real world contexts. As such, a “disconnect” or a learning gap has been created between geography presented to the students in the textbook to that of their real world contexts. "

Advancing a Framework for Climate Change Education in Singapore Through Teacher Professional Development

"Cities like Singapore have implemented numerous planning norms and policies that are aimed at addressing rapid urbanization. These efforts, however, have largely been state-driven and state-led. In other words, important behavioral norms such as the reduction of consumption of materials and energy have not necessarily been inculcated or accepted (Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, Singapore, 2008). For instance, while there have been many public events and campaigns through mass media aimed at raising awareness, such campaigns only galvanize a small portion of the population to change their behavior in order to mitigate climate change. Schools, however, provide a favorable environment whereby environmental measures such as recycling activities can be put in place to promote positive attitudes and behaviors toward climate change. Formal lessons, in addition, can help to reinforce the concept of climate change and this in turn may influence students’ knowledge, attitude, and behavior towards climate change. "

How to Help All Students with Evidence-based Reading and Writing During an Inquiry Activity

"In this article, I describe an instructional process to help students be successful when they read online sources in order to investigate and answer inquiry questions. The focus question used here, How can social harmony be best achieved in online spaces in Singapore?, frames a learning activity designed for the Singapore Upper Secondary Social Studies curriculum. There are four online sources for this activity. The sources represent different perspectives and solutions to achieve social harmony in online spaces in Singapore. The instructional process for this activity has six key components: 1. Establish a clear inquiry purpose; 2. Introduce learning activity; 3. Activate prior knowledge; 4. Select engaging sources; 5. Design learning scaffolds; 6. Guide synthesis and writing. "

A Postmodern Analysis of a Primary 5 Social Studies Chapter

"Postmodern theory helps us examine how and why particular pasts are constructed, legitimated and disseminated (Segall, 2006). Postmodern theory includes deconstructionism, whereby meaning and values are constructed using binary oppositions that represent certain ideologies and the role of power in the society to privilege certain terms over others (Khezerloo, 2010). In this article, I use postmodern theory to analyze the Primary 5 Social Studies chapter, “Singapore’s Journey to Self-Government.” I focus on the binary opposites presented in the text, the relevant political and social contexts, and the language used to persuade readers. "

A Space for Social Justice in Geography Education?

"The push for more attention on social justice in geography education has gained a stronger sense of urgency and greater coherence in recent decades. This has occurred in tandem with increasing attention paid by geographers to what this discipline, perceived by some as inherently concerned with injustice and disparity (Smith, 1994; Merrett, 2000), can do to contribute to a more equitable world. This push for what Kirman (2003) termed as “transformative geography” (p. 93) in education calls for teachers to introduce students to the geographical aspects of social justice and focus on how these issues are located at a number of interconnected geographic scales (local, regional, state and international). This will allow students to practice the “discipline of geography for the well-being of people and the environment in order to improve the world” (p. 93). "

Subscribe to Journal Articles

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!