Volume 5, Issue 2 2016

Volume 5, Issue 2 2016

HSSE Online Editorial

The shift towards discipline-based approaches in history and social studies education in recent years has seen greater emphasis on a teaching methodology that prioritizes thinking, understanding and active learning in the classroom. In history education, for example, there is increased awareness amongst teachers that developing deeper understandings in history involves giving students opportunities to actively engage with knowledge about the past and having them come to grips with the nature of the discipline. In similar fashion, a re-orientation in social studies education in Singapore is seeing a paradigm shift in the way the subject is taught – focusing more on ways to develop and strengthen students’ understanding of selected (local and global) themes and getting them to think about complex issues that are critical to today’s citizens.    

Accordingly, methods of teaching would have to change in response to these re-orientations. Acquiring more powerful ideas in history or developing better competencies when managing complex issues in social studies, however, demands a certain level of conceptual clarity and depth of understanding. Engaging students with issues that are central to a discipline, content that is controversial in nature, and understanding goals that favour application and evaluation, may not be suitably accomplished using traditional methods of instruction. Instead, inquiry-based and concept-driven methods of teaching and learning are likely to offer teachers greater flexibility and useful conceptual frameworks that can help manage student learning, engage students in discussion practices, and create opportunities for students to construct, clarify and communicate knowledge. These are critical components of instruction that – when done right – will allow students to develop more sophisticated ways to manage controversial and contentious issues in history and social studies.

But what does concept-driven teaching and learning look like in the classroom? What goals or outcomes should concept-based teaching aspire to achieve? Which concepts are critical and what are some ways teachers can approach the teaching of these concepts? What should be done to develop teachers’ own (disciplinary) competency and expertise? The articles in this issue of HSSE Online attempt to address these questions in the context of history and social studies education. Each article examines pertinent aspects related to concept-teaching and discipline-focused instruction and explores some implications for pedagogy and classroom practice:   

In “Developing Historical and Metahistorical Thinking in History Classrooms: Some Reflections on Research and Practice”, Arthur Chapman puts forward possible reasons for students’ difficulties in understanding causal explanation in history and suggests a pedagogical strategy to develop students’ understanding about historical causation.

In “Military Government and its Discontents: The Significance of the British Military Administration in the History of Singapore and Malaya”, Kelvin W.K. Ng presents an account of the brief period when Malaya and Singapore came under the British Military Administration (BMA), and demonstrates how the topic can be used to stimulate inquiry into historical significance and historical change.

In “Serious Fun: Game Design to Support Learning about the Surrender of Singapore”, Matt Gaydos, Tharuka Maduwanthi Premathillake, Neo Wei Leng, Connie Tan, Ivy Maria Lim, Suhaimi Afandi and Mark Baildon highlight the development of a history game collaboratively designed by a group of historians, history education specialists, and game designers, and share some ways the game can be used to teach historical chronology and chronological thinking skills.

In “Towards an Effective Professional Development Model to Deepen History Teachers’ Understanding of Historical Concepts”, Andrew Anthony, Lloyd Yeo and Suhaimi Afandi report on a small-scale study based on a Master Class workshop, and found that an effective Professional Development (PD) structure designed to develop history teachers’ knowledge bases can transform their beliefs about history learning and raise teaching competencies.

In “Teaching for Historical Understanding (TfHU): Developing a Discipline-based Curriculum Model at Tanjong Katong Secondary School”, Suhaimi Afandi, Rozanah Basrun, Nani Rahayu Mohamed, Liz Sriyanti Jamaluddin, Sya Feena and Nur Hazelin Idayu report the experiences of history teachers from Tanjong Katong Secondary School in their attempts to craft a discipline-based curriculum model focusing on instruction that develops historical understanding.                        

In “Conceptual Teaching in Primary Social Studies: Teaching the Primary Three Reader, ‘Making the Little Red Dot Blue and Brown’ in a Conceptual Way”, Sim Hwee Hwang looks at the challenge of teaching subject matter knowledge within a tight curriculum time, and argues for a paradigm shift towards conceptual teaching in primary social studies.  

In “Diversity: Approaches to Building Conceptual Understanding in the Social Studies Classroom”, Koh Kar Loong Kenneth and SN Chelva Rajah support the recent emphasis on student mastery of core content (key concepts) and dynamic content (case studies) in the teaching of secondary social studies, and offer possible strategies to encourage teachers to develop their students’ conceptual understanding of diversity.   

In “Developing Conceptual Understanding in Social Studies Using Technology and Discussion”, Mark Baildon, Michelle Lin and Gene Chia discuss the experience of one secondary social studies teacher teaching the concept of progress through technology tools and discussion techniques, and found that in developing students into more active learners the teacher had transformed her own beliefs, thinking and expertise as a practitioner.

Suhaimi Afandi
Guest Editor,
HSSE Online December 2016

Developing Historical and Metahistorical Thinking in History Classrooms: Some Reflections on Research and Practice

"The history of history education, past and present, often resembles a history of contestation, in which rival and polarized understandings of the meanings of ‘history’ and ‘history education’ vie for dominance (Nakou and Barca, 2010). A common polarity in debates on history curricula is the opposition between ‘knowledge’ and ‘skill’, an opposition that has had considerable currency in recent curriculum reform processes in England which have emphasised ‘core knowledge’ (DfE, 2013)."

Military Government and its Discontents: The Significance of the British Military Administration in the History of Singapore and Malaya

"The post-war British military government in Singapore and Malaya has often been relegated to a marginal place in historiography. In this article, I argue that this period bears closer study, because its legacies were central to the subsequent turbulent political history of the region, and therefore has much relevance to both researchers and educators. "

Serious Fun: Game Design to Support Learning about the Surrender of Singapore

"Chronology, or putting past events in temporal order, is a starting point for making sense of the past (Seixas & Morton, 2013). However, sequencing the past into chronological order requires more than the memorization of events and their dates. Chronological thinking is central to historical reasoning because it enables us to organize our thinking about the past, consider relationships between events, determine cause and effect, and identify the structure or “plotline” of stories told about the past (i.e., those contained in accounts or historical narratives)."

Towards an Effective Professional Development Model to Deepen History Teachers’ Understanding of Historical Concepts

"This small-scale study explores professional development (PD) designs for history teachers in Singapore and proposes a PD model that uses a job-embedded collaborative approach. Drawing from research on effective PD and data gathered from questionnaires and interviews conducted with participants involved in a PD workshop, this paper considers the value of collaborative PD approaches aimed at promoting and encouraging historical thinking. The authors conclude that PD history workshops that are carefully designed to support the development of teachers’ professional knowledge bases, and ones that offer opportunities for teachers to actively translate conceptual ideas into concrete teaching strategies, are critical in transforming beliefs and practices that can work towards more robust historical thinking and discourse in the classroom. "

Teaching for Historical Understanding (TfHU): Developing a Discipline-based Curriculum Model at Tanjong Katong Secondary School

"This paper reports the experiences of the History Unit at Tanjong Katong Secondary School (TKSS) in their attempts to craft a discipline-based curriculum model focusing on instruction that develops students’ historical understandings. The paper describes the project structure and development of the Tanjong Katong (TK) Teaching for Historical Understanding (TfHU) approach to historical instruction, shares some reflections by teacher participants involved in the project, and highlights several learning points and implications for curriculum change at TKSS. The history teachers at TKSS recognised that the TfHU project had further developed their awareness of more effective methods to teach history, and were confident that the focus on disciplinary understandings will enhance student engagement in their history classrooms. They demonstrated strong belief that students can be made to understand complex issues in history if they are given the proper tools or cognitive challenges suitably crafted to develop deeper thinking about aspects of the discipline."

Conceptual Teaching in Primary Social Studies: Teaching the Primary Three Reader,“Making the Little Red Dot Blue and Brown” in a Conceptual Way

"This paper looks at what conceptual teaching is about, the differences between conceptual and traditional teaching and the advantages of conceptual teaching. Different deductive and inductive approaches for teaching the big ideas of subject matter, that is, the concepts and generalisations, are described. The paper also focuses on the teaching of the primary three social studies reader entitled, “Making the Little Red Dot Blue and Brown” using some of the conceptual teaching approaches mentioned. The paper concludes with the importance of teacher subject matter knowledge in conceptual teaching."

Diversity: Approaches to building conceptual understanding in the Social Studies classroom

"With the heightened emphasis placed on students’ understanding of core content or key concepts in the 2016 Social Studies curriculum in secondary schools, it remains of utmost interest for the social studies teacher to revisit some of the key strategies and beliefs involved in building conceptual understanding in the classroom. This pedagogy was developed to strengthen students’ understanding and appreciation of key concepts and principles while encouraging them to apply these concepts to their understanding of the world around them. This article thus seeks to explore the various pedagogical beliefs, instructional strategies and challenges that would be applicable for the classroom teacher in the conduct of the new Social Studies syllabus. For the purpose of this article, we will be touching on the concept of diversity to anchor our discussions. Having a good grasp of the key concept of diversity is an essential part of students' learning as this concept forms the building blocks for gaining a better understanding about the issue on ‘Living in a Diverse Society’."

Developing Conceptual Understanding in Social Studies Using Technology and Discussion

"Social studies concepts are tools for understanding our experience, the past, and the social world. They are broad, organizing ideas that can be expressed in one or two words and they are defined by key characteristics or attributes. They help us think about groups of objects, actions, people, issues, or relationships in the social world and can be applied to make sense of new situations and information that we encounter in our experience. Concepts help us learn by organizing new information and experience into mental constructs or schema. In social studies, concepts like trade-offs, identity, integration, and interdependence serve these purposes."

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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