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Social Studies Curriculum
Social Studies - 5th Grade
Course Preface

Social Studies Core Curriculum
Last updated: 2008

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Elementary students are innately curious. They ask all sorts of questions: "How did people build those things?" or "Why can't countries seem to get along?" or even "How can I make a difference in the world?" One place they can find answers is in social studies: the study of the oral traditions, dances, artifacts, writings, and other aspects of culture that comprise the record of human life.

Effective social studies instruction in the elementary classroom encourages this inherent curiosity of young people. Yet social studies is intended to do more than spark curiosity. Social studies instruction also has a central overarching goal: to help young people develop civic competence, with the ability to make informed decisions for the public good.

Civic competence requires an awareness of self and others. Social studies provides the underpinnings for civic awareness and action, exposes the history and wonders of cultures, and through disciplines as varied as history, geography, and economics, provides multiple ways to interpret, analyze, and make sense of the world. Ideas and concepts central to the purpose of public education are also central to social studies, among them the notion of the common good, the value of self-rule and self-determination, the rights and responsibilities we humans share, and the interconnectedness of human endeavor. With their application of democratic processes, personal responsibility, and life skills, these students will be prepared to protect the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution, improving their lives and the lives of all members of society. The elementary social studies core describes the essential elements necessary to reach this goal of civic competence for Utah students.

The creation of a core document for social studies must be a community process, and this core reflects the best thinking and committed work of a community of stakeholders who care deeply about the educational success of Utah students. It was developed by Utah social studies teachers, school district curriculum specialists, representatives from institutions of higher education, State Office of Education specialists, and an advisory committee of community members. The core also reflects the insights and input from many teachers across Utah whose thoughtful responses to surveys helped guide the document, as well as the best thinking
from national organizations including the National Council for the Social Studies, the National Geography Standards, the National Council on Economic Education, and the National Center for History in the Schools.

How the Core is Organized

The core is designed to help teachers organize and deliver instruction.

  • Each grade level begins with a brief course description.
  • Benchmarks describe in narrative terms the social studies content addressed in each standard. Benchmarks emphasize enduring understandings and essential questions.
  • Standards are broad statements of what students are expected to understand.
  • Objectives are more focused descriptions of what students need to know and be able to do at the completion of instruction. If students have mastered the Objectives associated with a given Standard, they are deemed to have mastered that Standard at that grade level. Objectives are more readily assessable than standards, can serve as the framework for unit design, and connect directly to the standard.
  • Indicators are measurable or observable student actions that enable teachers to judge whether a student has mastered a particular Objective. Indicators build directly on the objectives, and are designed to support content objectives while also fostering skills and dispositions. Each indicator can be seen as a useful formative assessment to monitor student learning and understanding. The indicators serve dual roles both as the steps toward reaching the objectives and hence meeting the standards, and also as one basis for meaningful authentic assessments. Teachers are not required to teach all the indicators under a given Objective, but rather teach what is necessary to ensure student mastery of the Objective.
  • Essential social studies vocabulary identifies some of the words students should know and use in order to understand more fully the core content.
A Note on Indicators and the Use of the Latin terms e.g. and i.e.

e.g. means for example, and therefore the words or concepts that follow are examples to use when necessary to ensure student understanding

i.e. means that is, so when i.e. is used the words or concepts following i.e. are considered essential aspects of the indicator, extensions of the idea that must be included when teaching that indicator

Essential Goals Used in Developing the Elementary Social Studies Core:

A rigorous curriculum is vital for student achievement. Social studies ought to be engaging, and there is nothing wrong with making learning as fun and fascinating as
possible. However, rigorous and engaging are not mutually exclusive terms. This core delineates essential knowledge and skills necessary for success in a rapidly changing international economy and in a society undergoing significant social, technological, and economic change.

Whenever possible, core standards have referred to the present time as well as the past in an effort to help teachers explain the relevance of the material to the lives of Utah students. Students who can connect the new to the known retain knowledge more effectively, and have greater success at gaining the understanding necessary to transfer knowledge to new contexts and new content areas. Therefore, building new knowledge on a firm foundation of what is known and observable in the present world around them allows students to make these important connections.

Feasible and Essential
Teachers surveyed across the state prior to the revision process asked for a "do-able" core. This core document reflects the best effort at making social studies a feasible subject to teach. For example, the chronological framework used in the 5th and 6th grades is an attempt to make the vast expanse of history more "do-able," informed by the eras delineated in the National Standards for History. There is no possible way to "cover" all of the fascinating riches within the social studies disciplines. To do so would take a lifetime, and the community members tasked with writing this new core were very aware of the demands of the classroom and of the pitfalls associated with a core that sacrifices depth for breadth. The core is focused on what is essential for students to understand in order to achieve civic competence.

The human brain loves complexity, and social studies offers opportunities to engage in complex subject matter. Students will face complex challenges throughout their lives. In order to participate in civic responsibilities required of participants in democracy, students must be able to learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy.

Social studies offers an opportunity to share the greatest and most intriguing stories of history, culled from all eras of history including our own contemporary time. Students should be inspired by the roles played by ordinary men and women in extraordinary times, gain an understanding of how much each succeeding generation has gained from the generations who have gone before, and see the unique role they can play in history. These stories -- whether they come from the ancient times, from the Founding of the United States as a nation built upon concepts of liberty and equality, or from contemporary times - can help students understand their own obligations and potential.

There are many skills specific to the disciplines within social studies. For example, historians must avoid "present-mindedness," not judging the past solely in terms of the norms and values of today, but taking into account the historical context in which the event unfolded - the values, outlook, crises, options, and contingencies of that time and place. Social scientists must be able to analyze and interpret primary sources: documents, film, statistical data, artifacts, art, and other media that can inform and intrigue students. Geographers must be able to read and interpret maps, charts, and other geographical data. Whenever possible, the core encourages this skill development.

There are habits of the mind that, while not unique to social studies, can be strengthened and developed in a rigorous social studies classroom. For example, analysis of current issues, the taking and defending of a position, and being able to write about those positions in a clear and organized manner are skills that transcend a specific subject area.

In this time of increasing global interconnectedness, and in an age of rapid technological transformation, students will need an awareness and understanding of the world more than ever. Today’s students need a comprehensive understanding of the peoples of many cultures who have developed ideas, institutions, and ways of life different from students’ own. If they are to see our shared humanity and common problems, they must learn of the world’s many cultures. While attempting to remain feasible, whenever global connections were deemed as essential, they were included in the document. Choices were presented whenever possible when it was clear that an understanding central to a core standard could be achieved using one of any number of selected international examples.

There is a moral obligation to provide equity in education resources. Social studies is about human endeavor, and as such is all-encompassing. Students who see themselves and their stories, their cultures, and their communities reflected in the curriculum are naturally more prone to academic success. While every effort was made to create an inclusive curriculum, the core is merely the starting point for ensuring that all students have access to engaging, balanced, accurate, and challenging curricular materials.

While social studies is a core area that deserves a rightful place in the daily instruction of students, the integrative nature of social studies provides opportunities for instruction which cuts across subject lines. Lessons in literature can include literacy selections from historical fiction, biography, and other readings important to the social studies. Writing assignments can address social studies content issues while furthering literacy goals. So too can social studies lessons simultaneously develop standards in the arts, and - to some degree - in mathematics and science.

In addition, while history is often the first discipline thought of when social studies is mentioned, social studies is inclusive of geography, economics, and multiple behavioral sciences. The core is designed to integrate these disciplines into a study of larger questions, rather than isolate specific skill development. For example, geographic skills are directly mentioned but in relation to their use in gaining an awareness or understanding, rather than merely for discrete skill development. Careful analysis of the core will show an attention to integrating history, civics, geography, economics, anthropology, and other behavioral sciences into the core standards, objectives, and indicators.

Committed to Student Success
Students who feel a sense of wonder when learning about the past, who can make comparisons from the past to their own contemporary times and issues, and who can make informed predictions about the future face a far greater chance of continued academic success than students who do not engage meaningfully in social studies content. Effective social studies instruction actively engages students in enjoyable learning experiences. An educational experience that nurtures and celebrates the innate curiosity of students should be the primary goal of every Utah school.

An Overview of the Elementary Social Studies Core

The social studies core in grades three to six is essentially a modified "expanding environments" approach to social studies. This approach includes, each year, studies in history, geography, economics and civics that begins with third grade’s study of culture, the local community, and indigenous communities. In fourth grade students study the state, fifth grade the nation, and sixth grade the world. The core expectations deepen and expand as appropriate for each corresponding grade level.

Students must be able to demonstrate an understanding of overarching social studies concepts, but it is essential that a small number of clear outcomes for Utah students are delineated since social studies is such an immense field of study. After careful study of the civic purpose for social studies education, after analysis of the most important themes expressed by classroom teachers and community members, and after careful consideration of the ten themes* developed by the National Council for the Social Studies, as well as national standards in geography, history, and economics, four essential understandings became the framework upon which the

Utah core was built:

We have human rights and responsibilities

We are globally interconnected

We create systems of power, authority, and governance

Continuity and change over time are a part of life

The core standards and objectives have been designed to revisit and reinforce these four essential understandings in every grade level. Students will be able to deepen their understanding of these concepts as they move from grade to grade and as their abilities to reason gain both depth and breadth.

When students enter the third grade, they will be introduced to the four essential understandings central to the social studies core, understandings that will recur in each of the succeeding years of elementary education. Students will learn about culture and community, focusing on their own local community’s heritage as well as learning about the cultures of indigenous communities. They will study the interrelationships between physical geography and cultural development. They will also learn about representative government and their own personal civic responsibility in the classroom, community, and country.

In the fourth grade, students will continue to focus on the four essential understandings and apply them to their study of Utah. History, geography, economics and civics are again the core disciplines in fourth grade. Students will learn about significant events in Utah history, noting how successive cultural interactions have shaped the story of Utah. Students will learn about the physical geography of Utah, and how the geography of Utah affects human life, including economic development. Fourth graders will also deepen their understanding of civics as they learn more about rights and responsibilities in Utah and how governments are organized in Utah.

United States studies is the focus in the fifth grade. Students will explore significant eras in United States history, eras that paint in broad terms some of the significant themes of the story of America. These eras are Exploration and Colonization, Beginnings of Self-Government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Expansive 19th Century, and The United States on the World Stage.

In the sixth grade, the focus expands to look at world history and culture. Students will learn about selected regions of the world and the societies that have formed there, learning about their systems of governance, the rights and responsibilities they hold, how their societies have changed and continued over time, and how these regions are interconnected. Specific epochs of time include Ancient Civilizations, The Middle Ages and Renaissance, The Age of Revolutions, and The Modern World.

*The ten themes developed by the National Council for the Social Studies are:

Time, Continuity and Change
People, Places, and Environments
Individual Development and Identity
Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
Power, Authority, and Governance
Production, Distribution, and Consumption
Science, Technology, and Society
Global Connections
Civic Ideals and Practice

UEN logo - in partnership with Utah State Board of Education (USBE) and Utah System of Higher Education (USHE).  Send questions or comments to USBE Specialist - Robert  Austin and see the Social Studies website. For general questions about Utah's Core Standards contact the Director - Jennifer  Throndsen.

These materials have been produced by and for the teachers of the State of Utah. Copies of these materials may be freely reproduced for teacher and classroom use. When distributing these materials, credit should be given to Utah State Board of Education. These materials may not be published, in whole or part, or in any other format, without the written permission of the Utah State Board of Education, 250 East 500 South, PO Box 144200, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-4200.