Volume 6, Issue 2 2017

HSSE Online EDITORIAL

This special edition of primary social studies for HSSE Online focuses on the what, the why and the how of social studies education for primary students. The driving force behind this issue stems from the deep conviction of the primary social studies teacher educators in HSSE that the subject must be taught meaningfully and powerfully in schools for effective citizenship education.   Meaningful and powerful teaching is necessary for our young to gain relevant knowledge and understandings of Singapore and the world, acquire essential skills and develop civic-minded values and dispositions to be informed, concerned and participative citizens. Such citizens are invaluable to the health and development of any society as they seek to exercise their agency in their varied spheres of influence to make a difference to others in the society and the complex world around them. Furthermore, social studies is the only humanities subject in the primary school curriculum and teaching it well would provide an excellent foundation for students’ further study of the humanities subjects, namely history, geography and social studies, when they proceed to secondary schools. The humanities offers us a way to understand ourselves as human beings, and the issues and challenges which we encounter in our interactions with others in myriad contexts. It benefits us through examining critical issues using multiple and varied lenses, through discourses amongst various communities and fostering critical reasoning about human values and traditions.

In this issue, the nine articles, organized around three themes, are included to support teachers in teaching primary social studies meaningfully and powerfully. The first theme focuses on what is social studies in general, and Singapore social studies in particular. The second theme revolves around what to teach in primary social studies and how to teach it. The final theme is on how to organize students for effective group learning of primary social studies in a social constructivist classroom.

Under the first theme, the article by Susan Adler and Kho Ee Moi explores the nature and purpose of social studies for citizenship education with the aim of showing the relevance and importance of teaching the subject well. They discuss teachers’ orientations towards the subject and highlight some key knowledge, skills and values essential to developing young people to become informed, concerned and participative citizens and provide some examples of what effective lessons may look like. The next article by Kho Ee Moi focuses on social studies as citizenship education in Singapore. Her article examines how social studies in Singapore has evolved over the years from “moulding” citizens to developing critical thinkers.

Under the second theme, the article by Susan Adler and Kho Ee Moi discusses how teachers can enhance student understanding through planning instruction around big ideas which refer to the key concepts and generalizations that underpin the curriculum. Under the same theme, Doreen Tan and Sim Hwee Hwang examine what is history and geography respectively and suggest how the core concepts and skills in these two disciplines can be taught in the primary social studies classroom.  Also under the same theme, Sim Hwee Hwang highlights the power of stories in teaching social studies effectively and elaborates on three teaching approaches, namely, the shared book approach, the integrated biographical inquiry and storytelling, for integrating stories in class. Chua Shuyi extends on the power of stories and storytelling in the classroom by showcasing four stories told in secondary classrooms to illustrate the possible variety of purposes of storytelling. Although these stories were observed in secondary classrooms, Shuyi shows how these can have applications in primary social studies as well.       

Under the third theme, Sim Hwee Hwang and P. Ananthi point out that putting children into groups does not necessarily guarantee that productive and meaningful learning will take place. They argue that it is important to structure the elements of cooperative learning into the group activities. In their first article on cooperative learning, they describe the key principles, structures and benefits of cooperative learning, and illustrate with some classroom examples to show how the integration of cooperative learning can be achieved. In their second article, they elaborate on how to plan, organize and conduct productive cooperative learning for teaching primary social studies. Suggestions on how to manage challenging student behaviours for successful cooperative learning and the assessment and reflection of such lessons are also highlighted. 

Sim Hwee Hwang
Chee Min Fui
Kho Ee Moi
Editors, HSSE Online

What is Social Studies?

"This paper explores the question of the nature and purpose of social studies with the aim of showing the relevance and importance of teaching the subject well. The authors argue that social studies is about citizenship education and as such, is an important subject in the school curriculum. Teachers’ orientations towards the subject, that is, the beliefs about the goals of the subject and perspectives that teachers may hold about what constitute critical knowledge, skills and values to be taught are also discussed. Some key knowledge, skills and values essential to developing young people to become informed, concerned and participative citizens are highlighted with some examples of what lessons may look like. "

Evolution of the Primary School Social Studies Curriculum in Singapore: From ‘Moulding’ Citizens to Developing Critical Thinkers

"Most educators in democratic societies are of the view that citizenship education is crucial for the continued existence of a society. There is, however, a lack of agreement about what the goals and purposes of citizenship education should be. Most researchers agree that Social Studies is utilised for three primary purposes, viz., socialisation into the norms of society; acquisition of disciplinary concepts and processes; and the promotion of critical or reflective thinking (Ross, 2006). In Singapore, Social Studies is an important vehicle for citizenship education in Singapore. This paper examines the development of Social Studies as a subject for citizenship education in primary schools and shows that the purpose of Social Studies has for many years, focused on socialising the young into the norms of Singapore society. The primary goal has been the development of moral, law abiding and patriotic citizens. This goal has remained constant although towards the 21st century, there is recognition of a need to include the development of critical thinking in the Social Studies. This, however, is still a fledgling goal and more deliberate effort is required to achieve this. "

Identifying What to Teach: Using Concepts, Generalizations and Driving Questions

"Social studies lessons have often been criticized as being boring, just learning a list of factual details or doing meaningless activities that may be fun but do not lead to real understanding. As curricular-instructional gatekeepers (Thornton, 2005), how do we select content and teach it in a meaningful way? This paper discusses how we may enhance student understanding through planning instruction around big ideas such as key concepts and generalizations. A conversational style of writing is deliberately used together with prompts to think and examples of how the lesson may look like, to make this paper more interactive and engaging for the reader."

What is History Teaching?

"This article looks at the nature of history and how we can teach history as a discipline. It suggests several steps that teachers may want to use to teach history as an investigation as well as how to do history in the field."

Teaching Geographical Concepts and Skills in Primary Social Studies

"Geography is a subject that helps children understand and appreciate the world they live in. The subject enables them to make thoughtful decisions and take responsible actions towards sustainable living. This article focuses on the teaching of geographical concepts and skills in the primary social studies curriculum. Questions on what is geography, why teach geography, what are the key geographical concepts and skills in the primary social studies curriculum and how can these concepts and skills be taught will be elaborated."

Using Stories for Teaching Primary Social Studies

"Stories are often used by teachers to transmit knowledge, values and dispositions, deepen understanding and develop critical thinking in children. The power of stories and storytelling is highlighted in this article which focuses on why and how stories can be used for teaching primary social studies concepts and generalisations, how to choose suitable story books for children, and how to use some of them in the classroom. Three teaching approaches, namely, the shared book approach, the integrated biographical inquiry and storytelling are featured along with ideas of how these may be applied during lessons."

Storytelling in the Social Studies Classroom

"Many teachers tell stories. They take a story, whether their own or another’s, and turn it into the experience of their students. This article showcases four stories from secondary social studies classrooms in Singapore that illustrated how teachers have used stories for various purposes. Stories were observed to be used to teach morals, to inspire empathy and cultural understanding, engage students, and help them acquire thinking skills such as assessing the reliability of sources. Stories, when used effectively, can achieve multiple purposes, many of which are aligned with the kinds of citizenship qualities and skills we want to see developed in learners of all ages. Suggestions on how teachers can incorporate storytelling in their lessons are provided at the end of this paper. Even though the four stories are from the secondary level, the ideas and suggestions in this article can have application in primary social studies classrooms as well."

Let’s Have Cooperative Learning for Lessons!

"One cannot assume that learning will necessarily take place just because children are doing group work. To ensure that productive learning takes place, there is a need to infuse elements of cooperative learning into the group activities. In this article, the key principles and structures of cooperative learning as well as the benefits of using cooperative learning are discussed. Some suggestions on the use of cooperative learning, together with classroom examples are also presented."

Making Cooperative Learning Work for Teaching and Learning

"This article is a continuation of the previous article entitled, “Let’s have Cooperative Learning for Lessons!” In this article, how to plan, organize and conduct productive cooperative learning in the primary social studies classroom will be featured. Suggestions on managing challenging student behaviours for successful cooperative learning and the assessment and reflection of such lessons are also highlighted."

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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

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