What is Social Studies about?
Subject-specific terms are in development and will be published later this year.
Social Studies is about people. Who they are, what they do, how they change, and what happens to them. Social Studies looks at people in the context of societies in local, national, and global contexts. Students examine the causes and effects of social issues relating to identity, culture, and organisation, and investigate how people respond to change. They consider the past, present, and possible futures.
Students learn how they can take part in society as informed, critical, and active citizens. Social Studies takes a flexible and inclusive understanding of the concept of ‘citizen’. This recognises the multiplicity and diversity of identities, cultures, and experiences in Aotearoa New Zealand and connectedness with the wider world as global citizens.
Students learn to understand and be responsive to Aotearoa New Zealand’s diverse cultures and identities, and the associated knowledges, values, and beliefs. Teachers encourage students to express their voice while also modelling sensitivity to others. All ākonga can learn the tools to access, understand, respect and value mātauranga Māori and indigenous Pacific knowledges along with Western knowledge.
Central to Social Studies is a focus on conceptual understanding and social inquiry. Deep conceptual learning occurs when multiple concepts are re-visited over time, and their connections explored in diverse contexts. Learning develops in selected contexts through the skills and processes of social inquiry – researching, exploring people’s values, perspectives, decision-making, and responses on social issues.
Through inquiry processes, teachers can also open students’ minds to participation in society. Learning is about personal acts and agency, as well as understanding the individual and collective actions of others.
Social Studies presents rich opportunities for student voice and choice, and reciprocal teacher-student relationships (ako) – students are storytellers, investigators, and agents of change. The scope of contexts for learning can draw from learners’ lived experiences, whakapapa, and prior knowledge. This also enables the engagement of whānau and local cultures and communities in the learning process.
Progression across Curriculum Levels 6-8 involves examining key concepts in different and increasingly complex contexts, with greater depth and distance from personal experience. Learners' inquiry skills become more sophisticated with practice and experience.
Big Ideas and Significant Learning
This section outlines the meaning of and connection between the Big Ideas, Significant Learning and Learning Matrix. It then explains each Big Idea.
Big ideas are derived from the Learning Area essence statement and capture the essence of a subject, ensuring coherence rather than fragmentation of learning. At the subject level, they inform the Significant Learning – learning that is critical for students to know, understand, and do in relation to a subject by the end of each Curriculum Level. This covers knowledge, skills, competencies, and attitudes. It also includes level-appropriate contexts students should encounter in senior secondary education.
The Significant Learning is collated into a Learning Matrix and progresses across Curriculum Levels 6-8. Teachers can use the Learning Matrix as a tool to construct learning programmes that cover all the ‘not to be missed’ learning in a subject. There is no prescribed order to the Learning Matrix within each level. A programme of learning might begin with a context that is relevant to the local area of the school or an idea that students are particularly interested in. This context or topic must relate to at least one Big Idea and may also link to other Big Ideas. The Learning Matrix is designed so that educators have the freedom to create courses that are both flexible and coherent.
The nature of the Learning Matrix and Significant Learning, where Social Studies concepts can be explored in multiple contexts using inquiry processes, enables rich engagement with mātauranga Māori, Pacific knowledges, and other knowledges, values, and lived experiences. Social Studies assists to sustain te ao Māori and recognises the diversity of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Social Studies Big Ideas
The complexity of people and societies means the three Big Ideas interweave. Concepts relating to culture, identity, social organisation, and globalisation are closely connected. Appreciating the relationships between them will give students deep, transferable knowledge and understanding.
Underpinning and woven through the Big Ideas is social inquiry – the mechanism to explore and understand the Big Ideas and Significant Learning and develop conceptual understandings in multiple contexts. Social inquiry provides a strategy for researching social issues, as well as an approach to planning teaching and learning.
Social inquiry processes involve: researching; exploring different values and perspectives; examining how people make decisions and the consequences; engaging with how people respond to challenges; and, evaluation and reflection. This approach is particularly valuable when dealing with contested or problematic concepts.
Through social inquiry skills, students learn to engage actively and critically with real-life social issues. This means Social Studies learning can respond to contemporary social issues and the dynamic nature of society. Students can engage in authentic and personally meaningful learning, drawing on both teacher and learner strength and knowledge.
Social inquiry includes opportunities to engage appropriately with multiple knowledges and develop understanding of the diversity of Māori and Pacific perspectives. Teachers can equip and support students with inquiry frameworks that ensure inquiry can occur in a responsive, sensitive, ethical manner. Such engagement leads to richer, deeper, and more insightful understanding and knowledge.
Social inquiry includes looking at the ways people can respond to challenges, personally or collectively. Responses could contribute to change or preserve what exists. Exploring possible action prompts students’ thinking about social and environmental justice, ethics, (in)equalities, and fairness. It contributes significantly to developing students as informed, critical, and active citizens.
Culture and identities can change and this shapes societies
In Social Studies, students bring their own identities, culture, lived experiences, and knowledge. They are enabled, via social inquiry, to apply their own and others’ lenses to social issues and explore the causes and consequences of change.
Social Studies considers identities and cultures in the broadest terms, encouraging wide exploration and understanding, and promoting diversity and inclusion. Culture and identity are closely connected; students examine the relationship between them, and how they are shaped by perspectives and worldviews, beliefs and values, wairuatanga, and religion.
Culture and identities can change. Cultural interactions – anything from conversations to colonisation – and other social factors (economic, political, religious, technological, environmental) can cause change. Cultural continuity may also result. For example, students can come to recognise mātauranga Māori and indigenous Pacific knowledges as living systems grounded in the past but continuing to grow, adapt, and evolve.
What change means for people and how it shapes society is explored. Social Studies asks, what happened next? This opens the dialogue between teachers and students, creating conversation about real life that students can touch, feel, smell, and breathe too – enabling teachers to perceive the world as their ākonga might.
Students can investigate and debate contested, controversial ideas and concepts. This might include how cultural expression and status in a community or society can reflect aspects of power, privilege, and cultural dominance, and impacts on minority groups.
Societies are made up of systems and structures, which impact individuals and groups
Societies are developed through a range of systems and structures that have multiple impacts on the lives of people. Students learn about social organisation in the past and present, and consider implications and challenges for the future. They develop understanding of place in these societal systems, informed by their own lived experiences.
Decision-making is at the heart of this Big Idea. Students learn how decision-making frameworks determine what roles and responsibilities, rights and obligations people have. In turn, they develop understanding of how these frameworks evolved and are shaped by values and beliefs, ideology, norms, and customs.
This Big Idea can encompass a breadth of systems and structures. Students can examine political, economic, and justice systems. The Big Idea also gives opportunities to explore and compare social, cultural, traditional, and spiritual forms of decision-making systems and structures.
Students develop understanding of the contested and controversial nature of concepts such as ‘rights’ and ‘justice’ in systems, and their relationship with decisions and actions in the past. They can explore how power, privilege, and control in decision-making are central to the impacts on and the different experiences of people. This Big Idea involves a critical examination of the challenges faced by some, such as marginal groups, and barriers to participation.
Learners will consider possible future change in social structures, through understanding, questioning, and critiquing the status quo. They will understand how they may be able to participate to influence decision-making or bring about change, such as through social action, political engagement, or policy processes.
Global processes and flows shape society
Global processes, and flows of ideas, people, and media, shape past and present societies and possible futures. We live in an interconnected world where community, local, and national contexts are shaped by global forces. This Big Idea concerns how global processes impact people, places, and systems.
Students can explore some key global social, cultural, economic, political, and environmental processes that shape places and societies in the past and today. Some examples are: climate change, global youth culture, migration, global indigenous movements, social media, global influences on nation state independence, conflict, and technological changes.
Students can learn about different impacts and responses, including in relation to people’s identities, cultural practices, and beliefs. For example, the growing diversity of societies and communities due to increased flows of people – and different responses to this growing multiculturism.
International and globalising processes also shape conversations about what it means to be a global citizen. What can citizens of a nation do to address some global issues – such as international conflicts, climate change, and global pandemics? What are indigenous world views on globalisation? How are Māori and Pacific voices heard, seen, and acted on in global processes?
Students will develop skills and understanding in critiquing problem-solving and decision-making at the global level. This could include examining the place of power and cultural dominance. Students will also consider possible futures in specific contexts and envision how that could come about.
Key Competencies in Social Studies
Developing Key Competencies through Social Studies
New Zealand Curriculum Key Competencies align well with key purposes of Social Studies – to equip students to be critically literate, active, and future-facing thinkers and citizens – and are inherent in social inquiry processes.
Students in Social Studies will:
- problem-solve – what do we do about this issue? What are the challenges and possible responses?
- use inquiry frameworks appropriately
- engage in critical thinking and analysis – such as evaluating evidence, developing perspective thinking, and making informed decisions
- think creatively – such as planning, considering personal and group action, considering possible futures
- interpret a range of resources, making meaning from research.
Using language, symbols and text
Students in Social Studies will:
- engage with oral, reading, and written language along with visual and audio
- access and communicate information in a variety of formats
- develop multiple literacies, for example: digital, popular culture, media
- use clear, logical writing with supporting evidence, multiple sources, and robust, ethical research skills
- use diverse knowledges obtained and expressed in different ways
- learn specific concepts and develop connected, conceptual understanding.
Relating to others
Students in Social Studies will:
- undertake authentic tasks where they can engage with families and communities
- engage in social inquiry processes – exploring and understanding values, points of view and perspectives, valuing diversity, acting in a sensitive and ethical matter, and being aware of how their actions may affect others
- develop empathy, compassion, and respect.
Students in Social Studies will:
- develop increasing responsibility for managing own learning and choice (for example, when using social inquiry frameworks)
- manage hauora/well-being, particularly in the context of challenging social issues
- gain deep understandings of human society and skills to equip them as citizens
- reflect on social issues and the (further) action or responses that may be required.
Participating and contributing
Students in Social Studies will:
- actively engage in their learning and collaborate with others
- practice active listening and focused dialogue, in a space where presented ideas are questioned and critiqued
- use their learning in situations that matter to them, and potentially bringing about change.
This section of New Zealand Curriculum online offers specific guidance to school leaders and teachers on integrating the Key Competencies into the daily activities of the school and its Teaching and Learning Programmes.
Introduction to sample course outlines
Sample Course Outlines are being produced to help teachers and schools understand the new NCEA Learning Matrix and Achievement Standards. The draft Course Outlines that were published at the end of Phase 1, Level 1 product development are now being taken down. Work will continue on these, reflecting the changes noted in the SEG responses, and the additional detail that will be provided in Phase 2 products. They will be re-published for the next cycle of feedback on the Phase 2 products in early August 2021. Exemplars of student work will be provided after the Pilot phase in 2022.
Unpacking The Standards
These statements help to unpack the ways in which the Achievement Standards assess the Significant Learning in the Learning Matrix.
1.1 (Internal) Conduct a social inquiry
Students will conduct a social inquiry into a social issue or concept using social inquiry process, with appropriate ethical and culturally responsive methods, to find answers to their inquiry questions.
Understanding and applying social inquiry process is woven through the Significant Learning in Social Studies as the mechanism to explore (in teaching and learning), and research, social issues.
This assessment will include evidence of students navigating the social inquiry process, and their answers to the inquiry questions.
Students will use an inquiry framework to find out what people think about the issue, what people do about the issue, and what they themselves could do about the issue. Students will be engaged in: researching, finding information, identifying and exploring values and points of view, and considering responses and decisions.
1.2 (Internal) Demonstrate understanding of values and varying points of view on a contemporary social issue
Students will study a contemporary social issue using social inquiry process and skills. They will describe and explain values and varying points of view, and show understanding of how values shape points of view.
Understanding the variance in points of view is key to Social Studies, in that these are nuanced and not always directly oppositional.
The standard links to both the content of Significant Learning and the Big Ideas, along with the practice of social inquiry.
Teachers will be able to use meaningful and rich contexts that tie into the learning done in class. This will give options in terms of contexts students can use for the assessment.
1.3 (External) Interpret resources to demonstrate understanding of Social Studies ideas
Students will engage with resources and demonstrate understanding of concepts that underpin the issues and ideas raised. Students will apply problem-solving skills to suggest possible solutions and consider implications of these for individuals and groups.
Students will be able to demonstrate conceptual understanding they will have developed through Significant Learning, and apply critical thinking skills to resources given in the assessment.
1.4 (External) Reflect on participation in a social action
Students will take part in a collective social action and complete a reflection evaluating the action.
Considering people’s responses to social issues - including social action - is a key element of the social inquiry process.
Students could participate in a variety of ways. Participation is how students engage with a social issue and work towards a solution. This could involve, for example, social media posts, conversations, or producing materials to communicate a message.
The reflection will show evidence of the student’s involvement and understanding of their role, and the processes that were followed (such as research, planning, collecting information, and interacting with people). Engagement in the social action will be ethical and culturally responsive.
However, the focus of the reflection is on why the action was taken. Students will need to justify and evaluate the action in relation to their knowledge and understanding of the social issue involved. They will address whether the action was beneficial and appropriate in that context.