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Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D student at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree in...
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Positioning Social Studies at the Center

It’s no secret that social studies regularly takes a back seat to other academic subjects. If teachers are honest, they will admit that they struggle to find time to teach social studies, and if they do, it’s crammed into the last minutes of the day, or perhaps creatively combined with other lessons.

What if there was another way to approach social studies? What if there was model that could provide students with meaningful, relevant social studies instruction, while at the same time, enhancing learning in other subjects in an engaging way? Sounds like an infomercial, too good to be true, right? Well, I’d like to introduce you to a concept known as Social Studies at the Center. I learned this method from Dr. Michael Berson, an internationally known social studies scholar at the University of South Florida.

What follows is a step-by-step approach to the model:

Start with an engaging, primary source photograph.

To place social studies at the center of your instruction, locate an interesting, first-hand source. A photograph that captures attention, raises questions, and serves as a discussion prompt. The Library of Congress is a great resource for such photos. For instance, if I were teaching students about the Great Depression, I might post a photograph of a family sitting in front of a dilapidated house or farm or children in ragged clothes searching for water in the mid-West (see diagram).

Connect other subjects to the core concept through engaging activities.

Next, plan engaging, related activities for math, science, reading, and any other subjects (e.g., art, music, physical education). Using the Great Depression example, students must read a historical fiction book set in the time period, research the Dust Bowl and its impact on crops, and listen to a song from the 1930s that encapsulates the mood of the historical period.

Create a book list to support the concept.

Building a list of appropriately challenging books for your students that expand upon your social studies concept will further your interdisciplinary efforts. For instance, reading fiction that presents children characters in the Great Depression, such as Leah’s Pony, not only provides English language arts opportunities but help students connect with the subject matter through the power of stories.

Putting it into action.

By having students study the photograph you’ve selected. Ask them to observe who and what is in the picture, then have them begin to infer. Draw them into the time period by reading aloud one of the books you have selected. Have your students discuss and brainstorm questions about the topic. Then, follow up by having them engage in the various activities you have designed around the subject areas. Each activity furthers the learning as students practice math, reading, science, and other skills—all while creating meaningful social studies lessons.

It all starts with a photograph, a concept, and a bit of planning. Keeping social studies in the curriculum is essential for helping students to grow into responsible, caring, civic-minded individuals. Use this model as another way to keep what matters in the "center."


Steve Haberlin is a graduate assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida and an educator with 10 years of experience.