Social Studies and the Young Learner

Current Issue

The goal of Social Studies and the Young Learner is to capture and enthuse elementary teachers across the country by providing relevant and useful information about the teaching of social studies to elementary students.The teaching techniques presented are designed to stimulate the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills vital to classroom success. SSYL is published quarterly: September/October; November/December; January/February; and March/April. Members who receive SSYL also get two issues of Social Education—the May/June issue (which includes the Notable Trade Books for Young People list) and the September issue.

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Critical Thinking and Technology

Paul Nagel, Guest Editor

Walk into your local grocery store, grab a buggy (a Southern term for “shopping cart”), and stroll down the aisle toward the peanut butter. What brands do you see? What about the flavors or textures? How are the shelves arranged? How would you arrange the brands and textures if you were a store manager? Do you head left or right, down the busy aisle or past the ice cream?

Geographic thinking comes into play as you navigate the grocery store. Critical thinking is required as you compare nutritional values and prices, then decide which item to buy. These are the types of questions I ask my students, challenging them to think critically about their world with images from NASA Earth Observatory ( that I use as a “bell ringer” each morning. I utilize a Smart Board to display the image, which allows me to write or draw over the image to help ignite students’ curiosity about the world.

The theme for my guest issue of SSYL is “Critical Thinking and Technology.” While we may know by experience in what aisle the peanut butter is found, what happens when a new store (or life itself) presents us with a new landscape? Technology can help us find the information we need. For example, technology now allows consumers to see a map of the store from home, store managers to track shipments, and shoppers to search for the best prices. (Recently, Apple announced an app for your iPhone or iPad that can tell you where bargains can be found in your “neck of the woods.”1) Technology also can help students research how geography and language are related. Consider regional dialects: Do you call carbonated drinks “soda” or “pop”? Do you call the hand-pushed vehicle a “shopping cart” or a “buggy”?2

How do we get young learners excited about social studies, technology, and activities that develop their own critical thinking skills? The articles in this guest issue of SSYL provide some ideas and examples that you might adapt for your classroom.

In the first article, “iGardening: Integrated Activities for Teaching in the Common Core Era,” Amanda Cavin, Charles J. Elfer, and Scott L. Roberts outline an inquiry-based unit of study about gardening through an approach that integrates subjects. Awarded iPads through a grant, the first graders in Amanda’s classroom were able to create digital flipbooks and iMovies, and to conduct research to help determine a good size for a garden box and what plants would grow best in this school’s particular environment.

“Improving Critical Thinking with Interactive Mobile Tools and Apps,” by Lin Lin, Chris Widdall, and Laurie Ward describes how, with the assistance of a QR code, third graders in upstate New York were “able to travel” to where Dr. Seuss lived. Using Google Earth, students zoomed in for a better view of map and satellite photo images of the famous Mulberry Street. Laurie challenged third graders to think critically about the world as they discover historic places and how things are interrelated. Students thought about how technology can assist them in demonstrating their knowledge of global connections.

Roger Palmer and I had a chance to teach 56 fifth graders about the Global Positioning System (GPS), what it is, and how they can use it. Invited to Lisa Bostick’s classroom, we led students in “Discovering Hidden Treasures with GPS Technology,” challenging them to think critically about where something might be located. Geocaching is a fun way to learn about technology, measurements, and geography. We live in a world where more than 6 million caches have been hidden, so it must be fun!3 To create the Pullout, “Your Ideas for Improving a Public Park,” Senior Editor Steven S. Lapham asked county park educators to help frame some questions to get kids to think about the geography, economics, and cultural benefits of their favorite public space—and maybe how to improve it.

In “People, Places, and Pandas: Engaging Preschoolers with Interactive Whiteboards,” Ilene R. Berson, Megan D. Cross, Jennifer Ward, and Michael J. Berson dscribe how one student wearing a panda style hat sparked curiosity—and a unit of study—about the giant panda. Aided by an interactive whiteboard and a webcam, the pre-kindergarteners were able to bring a research center “into the classroom.” Children inquired about the panda’s environment and deepened their understanding of the natural world (learning the term “habitat”) and human activities (such as conservation efforts).

“Bicycles and Social Change: Technology’s Unintended Consequences” is a review by Andrea S. Libresco of the book Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires Along the Way). This Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People explores how technological and social revolutions can, sometimes, play off each other.

One Hen: Using Children’s Literature in Project-Based Learning,” by Annie McMahon Whitlock and Kim Fox, tells how small industry, led by youth, can bring big changes to a rural community. Today, even people in the remotest village can find technical know-how, and possibly customers for products they make, through the Internet. Students can engage in engage in activities that address Common Core standards while learning about civics and economics.
—Paul Nagel

  1. B. Ortutay, “Apple Guides Shoppers Inside Stores with iBeacon,” (Associated Press, 2013),
  2. R. Elder, “Soda, Coke, or Pop? Raleigh Grad Student Creates Maps of Regional Dialects that Take the Internet by Storm,” Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC, 2013),


An Invitation to Authors!

Call for Manuscripts for Social Studies and the Young Learner

If you are an enthusiastic elementary teacher or teacher educator with great ideas that you have implemented in the classroom, we invite you to share your work.

Below are descriptions of themes for some of the upcoming issues, but we also welcome pieces that do not fit these particular themes.

Tackling Challenging Topics
Societal changes and difficult events happen in the adult world, but they permeate children’s consciousness, as well.  How do you address topics that are challenging for you and your students?  We are seeking articles, lessons, activities and book reviews that reveal how you and your students grapple with tough, perhaps controversial, issues.
Submission Deadline: June 15, 2014
Issue: November/December 2014

What’s Your Best Lesson?
We have all taught lessons revolving around social studies content and concepts in which our students were firing on all cylinders.  What was that lesson?  What materials and activities sparked high levels of interest and critical thinking from your students?  What made the lesson so successful?  We are seeking articles that detail the instructional approaches, activities, and assessments of your thoughtful and engaging social studies lesson.
Submission Deadline: August 15, 2014
Issue: January/February, 2015

Children as Civic Agents
How do we, as teachers, get kids to develop the habits of mind and skills to be thoughtful, participating citizens? Share your activities and lessons that nurture children to become civic agents, rather than passive recipients of adult direction. Include examples of student writing, art, and action. The idea of civic agency can be seen in the ways that young people, past and present, take action and make positive change in their local (classroom, school, community) or global spheres. We are seeking articles, lessons, and reviews of books (especially nonfiction) that detail how you and your students engage in civic action. Send submissions to Stephanie Serriere, guest editor, at
Submission Deadline: November 15, 2014
Issue: March/April 2015

For each issue, we would like to include a book review that may or may not be related to the theme. Have you recently read a piece of children’s literature or a book written for teachers that you would like to review? Have you implemented any of the NCSS Notable Books into your curriculum? Tell us about it!

Please contact the co-editors at if you have any questions or ideas you would like to share.

Andrea S. Libresco, Ed.D.
Graduate Director of Elementary Education
Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership
Hofstra University
(516) 463-6543

Jeannette Balantic
Social Studies Coordinator
Garden City School District
(516) 478-2850


Guidelines for Contributors to SSYL

The goal of Social Studies and the Young Learner is to a) capture and enthuse elementary teachers across the country; and b) provide relevant and useful information about the teaching of social studies to elementary students. The editor especially encourages submission of manuscripts authored by K-5 classroom teachers themselves, or co-authored by professors and classroom teachers.

E-mail your manuscript directly to the co-editors: Andrea S. Libresco, Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY), and Jeannette Balantic, Gardin City Public Schools (Garden City, NY), at Expect an acknowledgement of receipt within a week. Manuscripts submitted for a particular theme issue are due four months prior to publication. Final decisions are usually made within one year.

The first page should contain the title, word count, and contact information for all authors: name, title, position, complete mailing address, e-mail, phone, and fax. Identify the lead and/or corresponding author. The authors' names should appear only on this page for purposes of blind peer review.
Include a statement that the manuscript has not been submitted or published elsewhere. The second page should begin with the title and start the main text. With regard to citation notes, follow The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) as closely as possible (not APA style). See examples of notes in the journal.
Margins: 1 inch top and bottom and 1.25 inch sides
Font: 12-point, Times New Roman
Length: Double Space, 1000 - 3000 words

Images and Examples
Follow up your e-mailed submission by mailing photocopies of examples of student work and learning, if possible—writing, photos of projects, art, or other media. Submit tables, graphics, photos, etc. as separate files by e-mail, not embedded in the text. If the manuscript is accepted, we will request high-resolution image files or glossy prints. Please set your digital camera at high resolution. Authors must obtain parental permission allowing publication of photos of students, as well as permission for the reprint of copyrighted materials used in a lesson.

Peer Review
SSYL is peer reviewed. If a manuscript is considered for publication, the author must be willing to work with the editor on revisions. SSYL is published by the National Council for the Social Studies.

Authors of published manuscripts receive up to 50 complimentary copies of the journal in which the article appears, courtesy of NCSS. Authors are not paid for contributions.

Please feel free to contact the editor by e-mail if you have a question at any time.

SSYL co-editor Andrea S. Libresco, Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) and SSYL co-editor Jeannette Balantic, Gardin City Public Schools (Garden City, NY), at


Tips for Authors

Who May Submit an Article?
Anybody may submit an article to Social Studies and the Young Learner. The editors especially look for manuscripts co-authored by classroom teachers and professors, or authored by K-5 classroom teachers alone.


What are Good Topics?
Articles in Social Studies and the Young Learner show how social studies (history, geography, civics, economics, anthropology, etc.) is taught in the pre-K-6 classroom. The lead article often provides background on the theme for that issue. A children’s literature piece describes how to use quality books in the classroom. A pullout usually includes a lesson with handouts.

See the “Invite” tab to see themes of upcoming issues of SSYL (but you may also write on a topic that does not fit a theme).


How Will My Paper Be Judged?

This checklist shows the features that editors and reviewers will be watching for. Read your own paper against this checklist.

  1. I have described the basic setting (grade level, time required to teach each activity, materials and resources needed)
  2. The social studies content is strong (students learn history, civics, geography, economics, or anthropology, etc.) See the themes I-X in Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
  3. I have included examples of classroom experience (what students said, how they responded, and pedagogical pitfalls that arose and how to avoid them)
  4. I have included examples of young students’ work (writing, art, quotes, photos of students in action)
  5. Other teachers could use these ideas and methods (Can this lesson or activity be applied to other classrooms, in other states, with a low budget, and with a reasonable commitment of time and materials?)
  6. There is a clear assessment of student learning. (How is student learning measured at end of the lesson? Are discussion questions or test questions included?)
  7. I have linked the subject matter in my paper to state and national content standards and to the required curriculum of my school for this grade level.
  8. I have avoided using the passive voice.
    Right: The teacher corrects and grades the papers. Wrong: Papers are corrected and graded by the teacher.
  9. I follow the the Chicago style handbook for notes, and do not use Endnote or Reference Manager programs.
  10. My notes follow this style-
    BOOKS: Alfie Kohn, What to Look For in a Classroom (San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 1998), 45.
    ARTICLES: Bruce E. Larson, "The Makah: Exploring Public Issues During a Structured Classroom Discussion,"
    Social Studies and the Young Learner 10, no. 1 (September/October 1997): 10-13.
    WEBSITES: "Creating the United States," (Library of Congress),
  11. When citing online resources, I recommend specific, student-friendly websites, avoiding Wikipedia and Google.
  12. I kept my reading audience in mind. (Will classroom teachers, who are the primary audience of SSYL, eagerly read this from start to finish? Will they find it useful to their actual practice?)


Ask a colleague to read your paper and check it for grammar, organization, and writing style.

Who, When, and How?
Be sure to follow the basic advice found at the “Guide” tab to Social Studies and the Young Learner when you format text, type references, shoot photographs, write a cover letter, and submit your manuscript.

Other Questions?
Feel free to contact the co-editors:

SSYL co-editor Andrea S. Libresco, Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) and SSYL co-editor Jeannette Balantic, Gardin City Public Schools (Garden City, NY), at

Conference Sessions

Conference Archives provide handouts and other materials given out at recent sessions on "best practices in the elementary grades" at NCSS Annual Conferences. (For journal back issues, click the Publications Archive link at

2010 NCSS Annual Conference Best Practices

How Elementary Teachers Teach for Transformative Citizenship [Powerpoint, pptx]
Sherry L. Field, University of Texas at Austin, Antonio J. Castro, University of Missouri-Columbia

CHILDREN AS ADVOCATES AROUND THE WORLD: Service Learning with “Third Culture Kids” [Powerpoint, pptx]
Janie Hubbard

Living in the Global Village: Strategies for Teaching Mental Flexibility [Powerpoint, pptx]
Dr. Carol McNulty, Dr. MaryAnn Davies, Ms. Mary Maddoux, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Structuring the Curriculum Around Big Ideas [Powerpoint, pptx]
Janet Alleman, Barbara Knighton, and Jere Brophy

We Are The Future: We Are Agents of Change! [Powerpoint, pptx]
Jill Stepanian, Shady Brook Elementary
Tracy Rock, UNC Charlotte

2009 NCSS Annual Conference Best Practices

Count Me IN! Census and Economic Sustainability
Linda Bennett, University of Missouri

Classroom Practices and Applications
Paul Nagel, Northwestern State University

It's about Us: 2010 Census in Schools [powerpoint]
Patricia Dillon Watson, Census in Schools, U.S. Census Bureau

Federal Resources for the Classroom [powerpoint]
Mary C. Suiter, Ph.D.
St. Louis Federal Reserve

2008 NCSS Annual Conference Best Practices

Welcome to the Digital Classroom [URL]
Linda Bennett, Barbara Jamison & Michelle Nebel

Google Earth: A Virtual Globe for Elementary Geography [pdf]
Google Earth [powerpoint]
Judy Gritt and Gus La Fontaine

PBS Presentation [powerpoint]
Marnie Lewis

2007 NCSS Annual Conference Best Practices in Elementary Geography

The World in Spatial Terms: Mapmaking and Map Reading
Gale Ekiss & Judy Philips

Using “The Great Mail Race” to Learn About Communities (PowerPoint)
Shelli Jukel, Jill Strong, & Janna Hannon

Developmentally Appropriate Geography (PowerPoint)
Kay Gandy

Le Vieux Carre: A Marketplace Approach to the Standards (PowerPoint)
Craig Howat

A is for Aerial Maps and Art (PowerPoint)
Larry Littrell & Reese H. Todd

2006 NCSS Annual Conference Best Practices in Elementary Social Studies

Best Practice in Elementary Social Studies from the SSYL Editorial Board
(PowerPoint includes Groce & Knighton’s presentations)

Authenticating Historical Fiction: Rationale & Process—Eric Groce

Supporting Struggling Learners in Social Studies—Barb Knighton
Mrs. Knighton’s Classroom Goals (Word Document)
Community Building (Word Document)
Co-Constructing (Word Document)
Traditional Social Studies Programs—Expanding Communities Sequence (Word Document)

Project Hometown—Ginger Smit
Project Hometown (PowerPoint)
Project Hometown Flyer (PDF)

What Makes an Effective S.S. Program Tick?—Kimberly Pearre (PowerPoint)

Editorial Board

The co-editors of SSYL are Andrea S. Libresco, Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) and Jeannette Balantic, Garden City Public Schools (Garden City, NY). Contact them at


Janet Alleman, Michigan State University (MI)

Mary Fortney, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis (IN)

Jesus Garcia, University of Nevada--Las Vegas (NV)

Eric Groce, Appalachian State University (NC)

Lynda A. Herrera, Marymount University (VA)

Elizabeth R. Hinde, Arizona State University (AZ)

Tim Keiper, Western Washington University (WA)

Barbara Knighton, Winans Elementary School (MI)

Paul Nagel, Northwestern State University (LA)

Kim D. O'Neil, Liverpool Elementary School (NY)

Ellen Santora, University of Rochester (NY)

Alan Singer, Hofstra University (NY)

Cynthia Tyson, The Ohio State University (OH)

Patricia D. Watson, Educational Consultant (DC)

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