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New Kansas State Social Studies Standards

I feel a bit like the Founding Fathers at the 1787 Constitutional Convention might have felt. They showed up in Philadelphia with the stated intent of tweaking the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they ditched the Articles and went straight to the Constitution.

Today was the first meeting of the Kansas State History/Government Standards Revision Committee. The stated intent? Tweak the current state standards.

And while we don’t have James Madison or Benjamin Franklin, the committee truly is a collection of Kansas Social Studies studs. Michael Ortman, Brian Richter, Nathan McAlister, Anneliece Kowalik are just a few of the incredibly talented educators in the room.

What happened when the committee got together? They basically pushed the current document aside and went straight to the 21st century standards equivalent of the Constitution – standards that will drive quality instruction and quality assessment. And there was lots of great conversation today that revolved around what the standards document should contain and how it should look.

One of the first decisions made by the group was to organize the new standards around Big Ideas and Essential Questions. Of course, we then had to write the Big Ideas. I’ve pasted our first draft below.

If you were creating a K-12 social studies standards document that will integrate history, geography, government and economics, what additions and subtractions would you make?

Big Ideas

  • Choices have consequences
  • Individuals have rights and responsibilities within societies
  • Diversity and commonality shape and enrich societies
  • Beliefs and ideas shape people’s thinking and actions
  • Competition for resources and power creates conflict and cooperation
  • Societies progress and decline
  • People are interdependent
  • Societies have similarities and differences that change over time
  • The relationship between people, places and environment is dynamic
  • Multiple causations and perspectives exist


Update September 27

Big Ideas second draft

  • Choices have consequences.
  • Individuals have rights and responsibilities.
  • Society is shaped by beliefs, ideas and diversity.
  • Societies experience continuity and change over time.
  • The relationships among people, places and environment are dynamic.
  • Thinking and literacy skills are essential to active 21st century citizenship.


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19 Comments Post a comment
  1. KWH #

    Where are the needs of knowing us- Americans? Western Civilization is gone from our students- little wounder our gov’t has problems. Celebrate the Wld but know who we are.

    September 27, 2011
    • glennw #


      Great question! The cool that we’re trying to do is to create over-arching Big Ideas that are cross-curricular to give guidance at teh highest level. These over-arching Big Ideas will then have “smaller” themes underneath in the different content areas. So in US History and Government, for example, we will be creating specific themes that will focus on US government structure. Then underneath those themes will be specific pieces of content such as the Constitutional Convention. The cool thing about these BIg Ideas are that are big enough to encompass all of the content while providing a way to be content-specific at the same.

      The idea is that we create better tools for assessment and deep understanding.


      September 27, 2011
  2. I agree with KWH. At the 6th grade level students need to have that deep understanding of our nation and introducing the world. Quit worrying about the fancy stuff. We need the basics!

    September 27, 2011
    • glennw #


      The committee agrees with you! Of the 30 people on the committee, 22 are classroom teachers. They have been very clear that the ultimate goal is to create a document that is practical and useful for teachers.

      Big Ideas provide a structure, a piece of velcro, that the basics can hang on. The idea is that there is a organized progression of content K-12. One of the ideas suggested that I like is to include an essential / non-essential appendix for each grade level. We want to provide a deep and rich document but also provide a list of things that must be taught and a list of things that would be “nice to know” if there’s time in the year.

      We’re also trying to be as transparent as possible so I’ll be posting updates along the way. And everyone’s comments will be incredibly useful!


      September 27, 2011
  3. I like the list and I like that you included “rights AND RESPONSIBILITIES” and “Diversity AND COMMONALITY.” However, in my experience, I’ve seen the responsibilities and commonality get left out. Don’t leave that out. Students need to know their responsibilities and why have something in common binds a nation together.

    September 27, 2011
    • glennw #


      There was a lot of revising today. Some things got combined and others were moved “down” to the grade level / course level. The word “commonality” was one of those pieces that was removed from the K-12 over-arching Big Ideas but was put in the next level.

      But I agree . . . there needs to be lots of discussion of how we’re alike and different.

      I’ll be posting updates along the way. Your input is much appreciated!


      September 27, 2011
      • See, I was right!!!! How can we be the UNITED States if we never talk about what we have in common? I’ve always used this analogy: If you sat a black female in a wheelchair next to me and said, “Hey, this is a black female in a wheelchair… now talk.” I’d struggle. But, if I sat next to her and you said, “Hey, she teaches social studies, loves the Broncos, and Teddy Roosevelt,” I’d never shut up. We can’t just assume students know what they have in common.

        September 28, 2011
      • glennw #

        You like the Broncos!? Oh, man. That’s a killer for a KC Chiefs fan.

        There is definitely a desire in the group to have the “commonality” theme be a big part of the US history standards. But these 5-6 overarching big ideas are designed to provide structure to fit ALL of the social studies disciplines not just US. The plan is that under each of these very large ideas, each discipline will have their own set of Big Ideas – including the “commonality” theme for US and World.

        We’re in a place where none of us have ever been before. We’ve been given permission to create a completely new document and we’re trying to organize it around Big Ideas and Essential Questions. The goal being that the state assessment will then be more historical thinking stuff rather than just multiple choice.

        So . . . we’re jumping off the high dive hoping we can figure it out before we hit the water!

        (Really? The Broncos?)


        September 28, 2011
      • Makes sense. It’s great that you all have the opportunity to get passed trivia. We’re having issues now with our standards and the end-of-course tests created by the State. It used to be that they gave us the exact content we were supposed to teach and was then tested. If the document didn’t say Jefferson Davis, then Jefferson Davis wasn’t tested. But now, since they decided to make it harder, they’re asking questions that aren’t specifically addressed in the framework they give us. Makes it hard to teach that Hawaii was annexed in hopes of being a refueling station for the US Navy when that’s never mentioned in our framework. They could make 1000s of those questions. So teachers teach what they’re told to teach, and then the tests asks different questions. Not a happy situation.

        I grew up in Denver but moved before the glory years. I did catch the Royals at Fenway this year, though. I’m a Red Sox fan, though. Even today.

        September 29, 2011
      • glennw #

        I quit following the Royals when George Brett left. They’re just sad.

        Pretty much just like the Chiefs.


        September 30, 2011
  4. Kelly in Kansas #

    We appreciate the work you and the rest of the committee are doing. We especially appreciate your keeping us up to date.

    September 27, 2011
    • glennw #


      It’s actually been a lot of fun the last few days. A lot of work still to do but exciting knowing that we’re able to really change the look of the standards and hopefully the assessment.


      September 27, 2011
  5. kharmon #

    In Texas (which we have had our fair share of controversy surrounding our standards) our standards have 8 strands. Those strands have been what our district has adopted as our Big Ideas in the teaching of Social Studies.
    1. People, events, and issues from the past influence the present and past.
    2. Relationships among people, places, and environments affect geographic patterns on the Earth’s surface.
    3. People organize economic systems to produce, distribute, and consume goods and services.
    4. People create systems of government as well as structures of power and authority to provide order and stability.
    5. Citizenship includes civic responsibilties, rights and ethical behaviors.
    6. People develop, learn, and adapt cultures to create identities and shape societies.
    7. Science and technology affet the development of society.
    8. Social studies skills are necessary in order to acquire, organize and use information for problem-solving and decision-making.

    Just what we came up with. I like the fact that Kansas is starting with the big picture. Unfortunately, in Texas, we were not really allowed to do that with the State Board in control of the process. They are not educators and do not understand structure of standards and how that eventually leads to curriculum. We make the best of it.

    September 30, 2011
    • glennw #

      I have heard something about the Social Studies discussion in Texas . . . something about politics influencing content? 😉

      You do have all the fun down there! But I like your Big Ideas, we especially struggled with the issue of making skills part of our Big Ideas. I like #8 – it says what we were struggling to articulate. Though . . . in Kansas we’re not really politically allowed to say Social Studies – these are History / Government standards. So we can’t use “Social Studies skills” but we can’t really say “history skills” either because history skills are not always the same as economic or geography skills.

      I’ll show people these anyway just to perk up our conversation.

      Thanks for sharing!


      September 30, 2011
  6. Something was lost when “Multiple causations and perspectives exist” dropped off the list that I don’t see covered in the remaining principles: study of societies past and present requires the ability to read and understand sources (written, visual, cultural) critically (not with hostility) in context as well as understand how certain sources are understood differently at different times and by different groups (the North-South divide over the Constitution, for example, or 2nd amendment issues, or sectarian divides within traditions like Christianity and Islam).

    Perhaps this is part of what you mean by “literacy skills” but this goes well beyond literacy.

    October 3, 2011
    • glennw #


      Yup. We talked about the Multiple Causations, etc quite a bit. We eventually agreed that Multiple Causations is really not a BIG BIG Idea but rather just one example of historical thinking skills such as cause and effect, document analysis and the relationship between time and place. So the decision right now is that “Thinking and literacy skills are essential to active 21st century citizenship” gives us the flexibility of being more specific at the grade / content level.

      These six over-arching Big Ideas can cover ALL of the social studies (government, economic, geography) and we can now create discipline specific / grade level specific Big Ideas that target things like the things you mention. And this is just the first rough draft based on just two days of conversation. The writing committee gets their hands on it next and we’ll see how it ends up after that!

      Thanks for the input.


      October 3, 2011
  7. Don Gifford #

    Great conversation! Thanks Glenn for stirring the pot. We have much to do, but we are off to a great start and the comments made so far on this blog are many of the same conversations we had in the committee meetings. Keep giving us feedback. Let us know what you think and why you think it. It will stimulate our thinking and give us an indication of what direction we might want to head. I might add that the skills/process piece is essential to the success of these new standards. So we are dealing with two competing values, one of including the needed content and the other of including these “habits of mind.” Both are important to our teachers and students. We want to provide direction and allow flexibility to our teachers without tying them to discrete bits of information any student could look up on his smart phone in 5 seconds.

    October 5, 2011

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Transparent Kansas State History / Government Standards « History Tech
  2. Revised Kansas state standards – Next steps « History Tech

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