Frequently Asked Questions

Social Studies

How were the William and Mary social studies units developed?

The units align with the standards set forth by the National Center for History in the Schools and the National Council for the Social Studies, with regard to both process and content elements. These elements include emphases on chronological thinking, historical analysis and interpretation, and examination of cultures across time and space. The units also support student learning in other areas, particularly in the language arts area of persuasive writing.

Why do the social studies units focus on the concepts of systems and cause and effect?

The use of concepts promotes higher-order thinking and the use of a conceptual framework supplies a meaningful way of organizing and incorporating new information, which then encourages the transfer of knowledge learned in one situation to other situations. The social studies units focus on the concepts of systems and cause and effect because these concepts are common to multiple disciplines as well as central to the social studies.

A system forms a complete and complex whole from a group of interacting, interrelated, or independent elements. Because students are themselves elements of or influenced by numerous systems, they benefit from an understanding of these systems, their component parts, how systems function, how they interact and influence one another, and the outcomes they produce (National Center for History in Schools). In social studies, the concept of systems provides a schema for understanding the interactions of the multitude of actors, institutions, and elements that make up the diverse disciplines of the subject. Examples of systems addressed in the social studies units include political science, culture, economics, geography, and history.

The study of cause and effect relates to how people and circumstances interact to cause change. History is a complex study of the many causes that have influenced happenings of the past and the complicated effects of those varied causes. The units that employ a study of cause and effect discuss the influence of individuals and groups, expressing their perspective through documents and actions, as they relate to the context addressed in the units. Primary sources and historical summaries are also used to explore various perspectives within the context of the unit's timeline to encourage students to explore the complexity of history.

Can I use these units with my students that are not identified as gifted? It seems that a lot of the material in these units would be good for all kids.

We feel that the organization of the units and several of the teaching models included may be effective with students other than high-ability groups. We have several sites in which teachers use all of the models with all of their students to some degree. If teachers are going to try to use the models with all students, we recommend that they: (a) use alternative primary source documents with average-ability students, just like a teacher may substitute a literature selection that matches a student's reading level, (b) use extra reinforcement for the reasoning model, (c) vary the prompts for writing and the requirements for writing format (paragraph, essay, etc.), (d) allow gifted students to work together in groups for group activities rather than making small groups heterogeneous, and (e) modify the research assignment for average-ability students.

What's the time frame on the units?

We estimate that full implementation for one of the social studies units would range from 6 to 9 weeks of instructional time, depending on the specific curriculum unit chosen and the weekly amount of instructional time available. We recommend using the teaching models beyond the context of the units -- it may even be useful to introduce some of the models before you start the units so that students are familiar with their use before they are faced with them all at once! This will also help connect all of the various foci of study during the school year.