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Summer Reading

My birthday is in July. As a social studies educator who spent most of his life in New York, I always took pride in the fact that my birthday falls on the same day that New York ratified the U.S. Constitution (although not in the same year, of course). Last July, I announced a personal challenge to read one book per week as my “new year” goal. For the first month, I regularly shared the title and short impressions of the previous week’s book. Then my postings trailed off. This was not because I made a lofty but unrealistic resolution. The truth is that I found myself bouncing between multiple books simultaneously all year. Some books I would finish and others…well, they are still stacked on my nightstand. I also started devouring more and more feature stories. My reading pattern resembled the familiar pattern many of us consume information now: in short, frequent (dare I write non-stop?), less detailed bits. But I am not here to debate print versus digital media; rather, I am fascinated how my brain has been re-wired to focus on multiple stimuli in concentrated bursts, and I wonder what impact this has on social studies learning.

So, I am not writing to share a Top 10 Summer Reading List. I suspect that many of us find “What are you reading right now?” to be a challenging question when so many different text sources flood over us every day. (While taking a break to edit this post I visited five different national and local newspapers online.) Making meaning of all that information and putting it in context for ourselves and students is a major challenge for all educators.

In the absence of a Top 10 list, I will share two concentrated bursts of richness, in the form of two position statements. I can guess what you’re thinking: who recommends a position statement as summer reading? However, these position statements highlight two important issues our social studies community might reflect on this summer:

  • How do we create classrooms filled with inquiry and civic engagement in an information- and technology-filled world?
  • If social studies learning is the foundation of a well-rounded K-12 education, what is its role in early childhood education?

This past year, NCSS released a position paper written by members of our Technology Community titled Youth, Social Media and Digital Civic Engagement. It describes the challenges and opportunities of using digital spaces to immerse students in civic participation and informed action. We are more aware of how social media and learning technologies change our abilities to process and use information to make decisions, so it is crucial for us to understand the impact of technological advances in shaping (and re-shaping) our modes of gathering, sharing, and using news and information. As I watched with fascination over the past year, my own interactions with text and information radically and abruptly changed. Our position statement starts a great conversation about how to navigate massive and sudden shifts in our public spaces and digital resources used to engage with each other.

The second question is addressed in another position paper written by members of our Early Childhood and Elementary Education Community titled Early Childhood in the Social Studies Context. Quite simply, social studies learning is also a foundation in early childhood development. Our daily advocacy to ensure equitable support for social studies in the elementary level matters just as much to children, educators, and parents in our early childhood programs. This statement is powerful through its recommendations for more inquiry-based learning, curriculum development, professional development, and research on the powerful role of social studies in nurturing our youngest learners. As a parent of twins, I was fortunate to see my children bring home social studies-based learning often from their pre-school programs. Before kindergarten, they learned about their community and read and reacted to stories of people. They asked a version of my favorite social studies inquiry question (“Does where you live matter?”), by asking me one day in the car, “Daddy, why do we like to live here?”

To re-cap, your summer reading list begins with:

Your compelling questions might be:

  • Can social media be used for social studies?
  • Is there a minimum age to start learning in social studies?

In the spirit of a good C3 inquiry, please feel free to modify or adapt these questions to fit your needs!

In closing, please remember NCSS is here to support you in the next school year through our summer institutes and Annual Conference – registration is open for all programs. On behalf of our entire professional learning community, have a wonderful summer!

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