TwHP: Social Studies Methods Course In Using Place

The following is a three-part guide to infusing "Place" in a Social Studies Methods Course.

The first part is a summary and introduction to the approach and the course, the second is an example of a semester-long course, and the third part is an example of a class period in a social studies methods course that covers place-based education.

The guide was prepared by Charles S. White, Ph.D. Dr. White is an Associate Professor at Boston University's School of Education.
The "Power of Place" in the History/Social Studies Methods Course
In teacher preparation institutions across the country, teacher educators in history/social studies are charged with preparing the next generation of teachers to open the world to their pupils through history and the social sciences.

This is no small task, in part because this curriculum area has suffered from contentious "culture wars" and a long-time reputation as the most boring subject area in the school curriculum. On the other hand, these circumstances offer tremendous opportunities to energize history/social studies education generally and history/social studies methods courses in particular. And powerful resources in seizing these opportunities are historic places. Think of historic places and one might think of grand houses Americans revere. Monticello comes to mind. And that would be true. But historic places are more than "the great houses." Historic places are districts within a city (Piano Row in Boston), landscapes (Central Park in New York City), and prison camps (Andersonville in Georgia). They are the town square in one's hometown and the Little Bighorn in Montana. They are the local train station and Union Station in St. Louis. They are Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and the Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston and the old cemetery in your own town. Each has a story to tell;each serves as a primary document in the service of inquiry;each comprises a multi-disciplinary resource to understand a time, and a place, and a group of people.

One might best think about historic places as case studies in history and the social sciences. Historic places are multi-faceted. Viewed from one vantage point, place serves as the stage on which a historical narrative unfolds. Place also serves as a physical link to the past, reinforcing the reality of the past. I suppose this explains why, on my first visit to Rome, I experienced the irresistible urge to touch the Coliseum, and why so many travelers who encounter historic places experience that same urge. In this way, place connects us physically and emotionally to the vibrant reality of life in the same place but at a different time (could there be a better "hook" for learning than this?).

Take another vantage point, and place serves as a three-dimensional primary document in historical inquiry. Shift ones view again, and place illuminates the interdisciplinary nature of the human story –the interplay of history and the social sciences (and literature and science and mathematics and the arts) in sketching a life and a time. All of these facets ought to be revealed to future teachers in a way that they can use in their classrooms, and this is the challenge of the history/social science methods course.
Methods, the Social Sciences, and Historic Places

The academic disciplines of the social sciences are the touchstones of the social studies. The usual listing includes geography, economics, political science, anthropology, sociology, and psychology. History is frequently cross-categorized among both the social sciences and the humanities. Historic places offer an opportunity to illustrate key social science concepts, within and across disciplines. Consider geography, whose themes include location, places, relationships within place, movement, and region. One would be hard-pressed to imagine a more natural connection between a social science and historic places. Why was St. Louis settled where it was? What is its location in relation to human movement patterns? Consider economics, which is concerned with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. What was the economic basis of St. Louis as a hub of train transportation? Why was Union Station built in such a grand style? What does the ornamentation and scale of Union Station tell us about the economic aspirations of the time? Consider sociology. How do you explain the existence of a men’s waiting area and a women’s waiting area at the time Union Station was built? Consider political science and another historic place – the U.S. Capitol Building. What would move Thomas Jefferson to refer to [the approved design for] the Capitol as “worthy of the first temple dedicated to the sovereignty of the people” with its distinctive architecture based on the Roman Pantheon? What political traditions was Jefferson drawing upon of which the Capitol would make an unmistakable statement?

In short, historic places – buildings, districts, and landscapes – can serve as the locus for study by pre-service teachers to demonstrate how significant concepts in the social sciences can be made accessible to their pupils.
Methods, History, and Historic Places
The vigorous debate about the teaching and learning of history in the K-12 classroom is reflected as well in the preparation of future teachers in American teacher education programs. The result is considerable diversity in how history/social studies methods courses treat the teaching and learning of history. Certainly, voluntary national standards for history, state standards (some with high-stakes testing attached), and changes in licensure/certification requirements have caught the attention of history/social studies methods professors. However, professors of university-based history/social studies methods course, whether elementary or secondary, retain their traditional prerogative of academic freedom to make independent judgments about the nature and purposes of history in the schools and the proper preparation of future teachers of history. In the midst of this diversity, however, the power of place in teaching history can find an effective home.

Infusing "Place" in a Social Studies Methods Course

As a social studies methods professor for elementary teachers (but as one who has taught secondary methods as well), I see numerous opportunities to use historic places to advance the goals of my course. Indeed, one could envision "place" as an organizing theme around which the goals of a social studies methods course might be organized. But a proper starting point, I think, is to consider "the social studies methods course" as a general idea and to proceed carefully from there.

Is there such a thing as a "typical" social studies methods course? Probably not, for two main reasons. First, how social studies methods are taught depends greatly on the target teaching level: elementary, middle, or high school. Second, in the spirit of academic freedom, university methods professors march to their own drummers (subject to licensure/certification requirements imposed by the particular states in which they teach). So even within grade levels, there is a fair amount of variation across course syllabi.

Nonetheless, it might be useful to present a "sample" sequence of class sessions for an imaginary social studies methods course in order to illustrate some of the opportunities the capitalize on place to advance the goals of preservice social studies teacher education. The sample comprises 15, 3-hour class sessions, for a total of 45 contact hours.

Sample Class Sessions for Social Studies Methods Course
Although social studies methods courses vary, below is a "sample" sequence of class sessions for an social studies methods course using historic places. This course outline illustrates some of the opportunities to capitalize on "place" as a way to advance the goals of pre-service social studies teacher education. The sample comprises 15 three-hour class sessions, for a total of 45 contact hours.

General Topic

Use of Place

Session 1.
What is/are Social Studies? Definitions, Purposes, and Scope

Maintaining and transmitting a cultural heritage through preservation and study of historic places

Session 2.
Content core: History and the Social Sciences National Standards

Historic places referenced in national and state standards across the disciplines and social studies themes.

Session 3.
Methods of Teaching Social Studies Concepts and Skills

Concrete concepts that have specific physical referents/exemplars in the built environment can be used (such as “temple,” “school,” “park”).

Session 4.
History and Historical Inquiry: Central Concepts and Skills

Places as 3-dimensional primary documents. Places foster empathetic understanding of and connections to the past.

Session 5.
Historical Field Study: Applying Historical Inquiry to the Local Community

Provides experience in using place as document, and acquaints methods students with local historical resources.

Session 6.
Civics/Government: Central Concepts and Skills

How civic values and institutions are reflected in the physical spaces in which civic deliberation and governance are conducted.

Session 7.
Public Policy and Social Justice: Applied Civics/Government

Historic preservation as local public policy, community engagement. Historic places that were the settings for social justice movements.

Session 8.
Geography: Central Concepts and Skills

Historic places as case studies in which the key concepts and six “essential elements” of geography interact.

Session 9.
Why Place Matters: Applied Geography

A selected historic place can be used as a case study for the interplay of geographic themes and elements.

Session 10.
Economics: Central Concepts and Skills

Places as cases studies of work life, industrial change, and commerce.

Session 11.
Personal and National Decision Making: Applied Economics

Places as reflections of changing technology and the vagaries of the free market. The rise and fall of industries as revealed in historic places.

Session 12.
Life is Complex: Social Studies as Interdisciplinary Study
Opportunity to use a specific historic place to demonstrate how evidence from history and the social sciences (and the humanities) are brought together to create a more complete picture of a time, a place, a person, or a group.

Session 13.
Globalism and Multiculturalism

Historic places of significance to diverse cultures can come into play.

Session 14.
Information Technology and Social Studies Education

Using technology to research historic places.

Session 15.
Assessment in Social Studies Education

A variety of assessment techniques applied to the study of historic places.

Sample Methods Lesson Using Historic Places

The following sample lesson focuses most particularly on the inquiry process in history – a perennial methods topic across grade levels in U.S. methods courses.

1. To introduce a model of history/social science inquiry 2. To examine the role of evidence and the nature and use of primary sources in inquiry
3. To discuss historic places as sources of two-dimensional and three-dimensional primary sources
4. To consider what different primary sources contribute to building inferences and testing hypotheses in the inquiry process
5. To demonstrate the use of a historic place to carry out an inquiry exercise
6. To catalogue what a teacher needs to know and do to prepare for the use of places in historical inquiry


I. Introduce Steps in the Inquiry Method

A standard model for inquiry in history/social science is as follows:

A. Describe the Problem (What needs to be explained;the problem is often a puzzling question or other kind of discrepant situation that must be resolved.

B. Generate Hypotheses (Educated guesses that provide possible explanations)

C. Test the Hypotheses (Use evidence to confirm or refute hypotheses and to generate new hypotheses)

D. Formulate a Tentative Conclusion (What is our tentative explanation or resolution of the problem, based on the available evidence?)

II. Highlight the Role of Evidence

A. Key to the inquiry process is the search and analysis of evidence and the making of inferences based the evidence.

B. Historians and other social scientists draw evidence from primary sources.

C. Primary sources ("original sources") are materials (documents, artifacts, buildings, and the like) that were produced during the historical time period being examined and provide first-hand descriptions of places and events;secondary sources provide commentary or interpretation of primary sources and are derived from original sources. Provide a couple of examples of each.

D. Historic places offer a range of primary sources with which students can make inferences and draw conclusions about historical events and times.

III. Primary Documents

A. Traditional primary documents

1. Letters, diaries, maps, newspapers, public records, artifacts

2. Analyzing traditional primary documents: see for worksheets used to analyze documents

B. Places as documents –what places can tell us about people and the times they lived in (White and Hunter, 1995 Teaching with Historic Places: A Curriculum Framework, pp. 19-26)

1. Spatial relationships: how elements within a place are distributed and related to each other

2. Temporal relationships: what the place tell us about the time in which it was built or established, and the ways in which it has changed (or not changed) over time

3. Humans and the natural environment: how humans adapted to the place in which they settled and how they changed the place to accommodate human needs

4. Design: what values people embraced that were represented in the built environment of their time through design, use of space, building materials employed, and other attributes;how these characteristics reveal clues about innovation, about the economics of a particular time and place, about the intended function of the space(s), and about the cultural heritage from which they are drawn.

5. Context: how a place sits in relation to other places, spatially and temporally, because where a place is located and what it shares visually with its surroundings provides evidence on which to base historical inferences.

6. Artifacts: how the people of the time carried out the daily necessities of life and how these compare to the routines of life today.

IV. Case Study: A Lesson Using an Historic Place

A. Use an existing TWHP lesson plan to demonstrate how a variety of evidence types presented (2-D documents, maps, architectural drawings, and visuals of the place) work together to allow students to formulate and test inferences and draw tentative conclusions about a historical question.

1. Present a photograph, map, or other piece of evidence from the historic place that generates a problem to be solved or a circumstance to be explained.

2. Based on what students see/read, generate several hypotheses.

3. Provide additional pieces of evidence from that historic place that allow students to test the plausibility of these hypotheses.

4. Allow students to construct a tentative conclusion that solves the problem or provides a valid explanation based on the evidence.

B. At the end of the sample TWHP lesson, review the steps of the inquiry lesson that were illustrated in this lesson.

C. Review how different types of evidence were drawn upon in the lesson, including those unique to "place" as a document.

V. Preparing to Use Place in Historical Inquiry

Much of what a teacher needs to know in order to use place in the inquiry process is the same as for any inquiry lesson.

A. Here are questions that a teacher must ask in advance of an inquiry lesson:

1. What is the problem to be solved, the situation to be explained, or the puzzle to be unraveled? For example, what explains the different street patterns in different parts of our city? Why were the earliest mills in America built where they were? What was daily life like in colonial New England village? How did towns and aspiring cities in the Midwest and Great Plains attract settlers and businesses?

2. Based on current scholarship, what are reasonable conclusions one can reach with respect to the inquiry problem? What are competing conclusions about which historians disagree?

3. On what evidence are these conclusions based?

4. How can I make this evidence accessible to my students, in the form of 2-D and 3-D primary documents –accessible in the multiple senses of "proximity" (is it a place that can be visited), "retrievable" (is it a document or an artifact that is available for examination/use) and "understandable" (for example, is the language of the document comprehensible to my students)?

5. Is there an initial document, artifact, model, photograph, map, or physical setting can I present to students that:

a. will generate an awareness of the problem,

b. will spark interest in constructing an explanation that resolves the problem, and

c. will prompt students to propose several testable hypotheses for which additional evidence can be brought to bear?

6. How shall I make that additional evidence available to students in a way that will help them analyze the evidence, make inferences from the evidence, and test hypotheses leading to a well-reasoned tentative conclusion?

7. In short, the teacher works backwards from the tentative conclusions to the evidence that is accessible to students. The teacher makes that evidence available to students, who can use it to test hypotheses and develop tentative conclusions (and perhaps also generate additional questions worthy of further investigation).

B. Good resources for teaching inquiry using historic places:

1. Check the TwHP website, especially the section on Lesson Plans. You may find an existing TWHP lesson plan that addresses a place of interest in your curriculum and provides the necessary materials to support inquiry.

2. The second source is the National Register of Historic Places, with offices in every state in the nation. Specifically, one can consult the nominations for historic places and districts in your local area. Nomination documentation contains evidence of historical significance, including references to (or actual examples of) primary documents. Architectural style and other design data can provide visual clues, accessible to students, to the history of the place.

These materials are available from State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO) around the country. A visit to your state's SHPO can put you in touch with a wealth of primary and secondary sources and with a collection of dedicated professionals. You also can search online for National Register sites in your area by using the National Register of Historic Places online database. From the National Register homepage, click on "Database/Research" in the lefthand menu, click on "National Register of Historic Places database," and follow the instructions.

VI. Extensions

A. Have students search the National Register online database for local places on the National Register.

B. Students can search for TWHP lesson plans that might be appropriate to use or adapt for their final unit plans.

C. With a partner, identify a place in the community that may be historically significant (even if not listed in the National Register of Historic Places) and conduct a small research project on its history and significance. Include the kinds of evidence you examined and how they supported your conclusions.

D. Using the resources described above, and others, plan for a field study in your local area that demonstrates the kinds of evidence that place can provide in historical inquiry. This will allow your students to apply what they've learned about using place in the inquiry process.

VII. Assessment

A. Provide students with two or three hypotheses about a given historic place and have students

1. identify a variety of primary sources (both 2-D and 3-D) that could be used to test the hypotheses and

2. explain how these sources could be used to support or refute each hypothesis.

B. Have students select a historic place, either locally or from the National Register database and construct an inquiry lesson that uses sources from that place to make inferences and test hypotheses.

C. Have students select a lesson plan from the TWHP lesson database and identify the steps of the inquiry process that are implicit in the lesson.

Last updated: December 22, 2015