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Social Studies Research and Practice

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Reform efforts in social studies education such as the College Career, and Civic Life (C3) framework encourage students to consider civic engagement and action based on the understanding of real-life social issues. Few studies have, however, systematically examined the foundational documents representing the official state stance on content selection. Fewer studies have sought to understand the affordances and constraints in the depth of reasoning expected from young students in social studies elementary education. This study explored the dynamics of context-based critical thinking within the frame of states’ Kindergarten-5 social studies content standards in the U.S.A. Employing a quantitative content analysis approach, the results indicate complex variations in context-based critical thinking levels are required by the states’ content standards with an extensive orientation towards superficial contextual thinking. The study discusses the implications of the states’ K-5 standards expectations on engaging students in complex thinking. It provided a new lens to make sense of students’ context-based critical thinking as they relate to standard expectations.


This is a submitted version of a published work. The published version appeared in Social Studies Research and Practice, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 203-217.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.



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