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Social Studies Instruction

The ultimate purpose of Social Studies is to advance democratic values by preparing future adults for civic responsibility and engagement in civic life. Too often, though, democratic values, such as critical questioning of power, are overshadowed by a drive to preserve the status quo. We assert that the heart of democracy is the continuous consideration and questioning of systems of power in order to create a society that values the full humanity of, and fulfills its responsibilities to, all who live within it. 

Understanding systems of power and collective responsibility requires teachers and students to engage in critical thinking through deep inquiry into relationships between people, nature, and power throughout time and into their own identities in relationship to systems of power. Engaging students in this style of questioning requires the shifts in pedagogy and instructional practices outlined below. 

At PPS, we challenge students to critically engage in thinking about the world they live in and those who came before them.  By fostering a deep-seated curiosity in social and political histories through high-level curriculum, PPS students will gain the knowledge and skills to become future change-makers in their own communities.

Guiding Principles:

  • Inquiry is driven by an exploration of relationships between peoples and places, individuals and communities, and power and economics and draws on students’ backgrounds, experiences, identities, and questions. Inquiry requires a shift from siloed curricula to curricula rooted in interconnection and responsiveness.

  • Inquiry based learning engages students and teachers in the development of cultural humility through questioning deeply held beliefs and viewpoints, grappling with conflicting perspectives, considering contextualization and causation, developing a sense of chronology, and engaging in decolonization (click to read explanation of how we’re using that term). Cultural humility and decolonization require a shift away from the teacher as an expert and toward the collective construction of knowledge and community.  

  • Developing informed opinions and making critical decisions requires students to build their critical thinking capacity by evaluating source quality and reliability, considering competing and contradictory information, explaining their perspectives and/or opinions, supporting their thinking with evidence, and adapting their perspectives and/or opinions as new information is presented and as their thinking evolves. Developing opinions and making critical decisions requires a shift away from rote learning and toward the development of curiosity and the skills for thoughtful consideration and meaning making. 

  • Preparation for civic responsibility and action requires students to initiate inquiry into relevant issues and to understand the relationship between their individual identities and larger social and natural systems. Preparation for civic responsibility and action requires a shift away from a presumption of passive acceptance to an expectation of civic action.




  • Teachers will ground inquiry in compelling questions that explore relationships between peoples and places, individuals and communities, and power and economics across systems and time periods.

  • Teachers will support students in building a schema for chronology (breadth) while also allowing for focus on a specific topic or angle (depth).

  • Teachers will base inquiry, instruction, and assessment in Maine State Social Studies Standards with explicit attention to Maine Native Americans. 

  • Teachers will present students with a variety of perspectives, vantage points, voices, and source types and invite the sharing of varied perspectives.

  • Teachers will guide students in probing for hidden histories, erased perspectives, and silenced voices in order to reveal the contributions, resistance, and resilience of subjugated and marginalized groups.

  • Teachers will drive inquiry into  relationships (see core principles) by presenting multiple lenses, including causation, contextualization, and the questioning of colonial structures and legacies. 

  • Teachers will guide students in evaluating source reliability and validity.

  • Teachers will present students with multiple opportunities and modes for developing and articulating opinions and making and supporting critical decisions.

Social Studies at PPS is connected to and informed by our district goals around Equity outlined in the Portland Promise. Our curriculum is organized and align social studies information through the instructional vision, links to curriculum for Africana Studies and Wabanaki Studies.

-Fiona Hopper
Social Studies Teacher Leader and Wabanaki Studies Coordinator
Portland Public Schools

“[Wabanaki Studies is essential if] Maine is to become a welcoming, hospitable place for people of all racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.”

- Xavier Botana
Portland Public Schools