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Dimension 2: Applying Disciplinary Concepts and Tools

In this investigation we will learn to better understand the disciplinary concepts and tools used within the four core disciplines within the social studies: civics, economics, geography, and history. This dimension of the C3 Framework does not focus on specific content that students should learn in each of these disciplines. Rather, this dimension outlines the broad concepts and tools that students need to understand the specific content found in their state curriculum standards.  As with the rest of the C3 Framework, Dimension 2 is focused on moving beyond knowledge of dates, facts, formulas, and places on a map. Instead, the goal of the disciplinary concepts and tools outlined in this dimension is to engage students in critical inquiry within their respective disciplines.

Objectives: Within this investigation, you will:

  • Get to know the disciplinary concepts and tools of the civics, economics, geography, and history disciplines.
  • Learn how to adapt sources within each discipline so that students can easily access information that will be used to develop inquiry.
  • Practice creating lessons that use the disciplinary concepts and tools used within Dimension 2
  • Reflect on what you have learned about the concepts and tools used within civics, economics, geography, and history and how these approaches lend themselves to creating inquiry
This investigation has three parts: Investigate, Create and Connect. Please be sure to do all three sections.

Step One: Watch the Web seminar: Dimension 2: Applying Disciplinary Concepts and Tools. In this webinar, you will hear content experts Peter Levine (civics), Phillip VanFossen (economics), James Hauf (geography), and Elaine Carey (history) discuss what disciplinary inquiry looks like in their respective disciplines.

Step Two: Read one of the following for further information about concepts and tools within each discipline:

Step Three: One challenge with engaging students in disciplinary inquiry is making discipline-specific resources accessible for all learners. Reading levels often pose problems for teachers wishing to use primary sources or other types of text-based resources (e.g., news articles) in their classrooms.

  1. Read Tampering with History: Adapting Primary Sources for Struggling Readers by Sam Wineburg & Daisy Martin (Social Education, 73:5, pp. 212–216, 2009) to learn techniques for adapting primary sources to fit students’ reading levels.
  2. Practice this strategy by adapting primary sources for your grade level and/or students’ reading levels. You can find primary sources by doing a quick Google search or from the growing C3LC collection of resources.
  3. The same strategy can be used for news articles, other types of commentary that one might use in a civics, geography, or economics classroom. Consider the NEWSELA site as a source for current events written for different reading levels.
  4. Another disciplinary tool used often in geography and history are maps. Like primary sources, maps need to be interpreted and scaffolded for students. Read the following two short articles:
  5. Find maps applicable to your content area and develop questions that you would pose to your students that would help scaffold the maps for better understanding.  Again, you can find maps using a quick Google search or use the growing C3LC collection of resources.

Step Four: Discuss with your colleagues what you learned about disciplinary approaches to civics, economics, geography, and history. In particular, consider the following questions (you may want to refer to Dimension 2 in the C3 Framework (pp. 29-49) as you discuss):

  • How are the four disciplinary approaches discussed in Dimension 2 similar? What are the common themes that run across civics, economics, geography, and history?
  • How do these disciplinary approaches position students to engage in inquiry as opposed to just knowledge acquisition?
  • What types of scaffolding do teachers need to provide to ensure that all students can engage in the types of disciplinary approaches outlined in Dimension 2?

Additional Resources:

Barton, K. C., & Levstik, L. S. (2003). Why Don’t More History Teachers Engage Students in Interpretation? Social Education, 67, 358-361.

Parker, W. C., & Hess, D. (2001). Teaching with and for discussion. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17, 273-289.  Permission has been granted for this publication for gratis by the publisher.  See the Teaching and Teacher Education homepage here.  

Rosales, J. K., & Journell, W. (2012). “Socializing Economics”: Using Practical Applications to Enliven Economic Theory. Social Studies Research & Practice, 7, 51-60.

Schmidt, S. J. (2011). Who Lives on the Other Side of that Boundary: A Model of Geographic Thinking. Social Education, 75, 250-255.


Using what you have learned, create a lesson in which you incorporate one or more of the disciplinary approaches discussed in Dimension 2. You will want to include all supplementary materials needed for your lesson and ensure that they are properly scaffolded for your students. A resource collection with a rubric for assessing unit plans is available here.    

  • Post the lesson that you create as a new blog post with a desciptive title.  
  • If you are adding the lesson as an attachment, please be sure to include a description of what’s attached (the context in which it will be used or is intended so that other members of the group and group followers know what they will be looking at when they open the file). The file can either be loaded as an attachment OR a Google doc or other link can be added to the description (note: be sure that the Google doc is viewable to anyone with the link).
  • Apply the topic tag "D2 Lesson."  
  • After you have created your lesson, compare your lesson with the ones created by your colleagues.


Share your group's learning from this Investigation with a summarizing discussion post in the Coach-to-Coach Discussion Forum using the following prompts.  Title your post "D2 Reflections."   Choose a colleague's post and provide feedback via the comment function.  

What? What did you learn in this investigation? Specifically, what did you learn about teaching civics, economics, geography, and history?

So What? How is the disciplinary approach outlined in Dimension 2 different from what you have been doing in your classes? Do you think it is more effective? Why or why not?

Now What? What will you need to do in order to enact these types of disciplinary approaches in your classroom? What changes will you need to make to your instructional planning? What changes will you need to make to the types of resources that you use?