The Social Studies Department offers a broad and rigorous program designed not only to prepare students for college, but also to help them develop the skills and knowledge necessary to be informed and educated citizens of the world. The social studies program cultivates a unique and in-depth perspective on history and the social sciences, and provides students with valuable understanding of how the world works. The program is designed to foster critical thinking, develop specific interdisciplinary reading and writing skills, and nurture an affinity for learning beyond the classroom. In addition to skills and understanding, students will graduate with a firm grounding in knowledge derived from history and the social sciences will support their post-high school endeavors.
Students are required to take a social studies course each of the eight semesters they are at RZJHS, focusing first on global studies, then Jewish history, followed by US history, and culminating senior year with Middle Eastern studies and a social studies elective of their choice including psychology (AP), sociology , and microeconomics (AP).
History class sizes range in size, which creates a variety of learning experiences and opportunities for students. Whether they are in the honors track or the college prep track, students are taught to seek answers to important historical questions on their own, in small group work, and through whole class discussions. Students meet with teachers frequently outside of class time to clarify materials, discuss additional topics, and receive guided instruction with regard to historical essay writing and thesis statements. History teachers work closely with the guidance counselor and learning specialist to ensure that students with special accommodations are provided for, and they regularly check in to with support staff to certify that students are making appropriate and productive progress.
Departmental teachers deliver daily instruction in a variety of ways: interactive lectures, substantive and meaningful classroom discussion, collaborative work on historical projects, scenario-based role playing, in-class debates, artistic interpretations of historical events, primary document analysis, and writing exercises, all undertaken while considering multiple perspectives on historical issues. At home, students are expected to complete readings from the textbook, from additional secondary sources, and from primary documents, which prepare them for content covered in class. Student learning is assessed in a variety of ways: multiple-choice exams, short-answer writing prompts, document analysis, and poster board and other types of collaborative presentations that promote cooperation and sharing of diverse ideas about historical topics.
There are several central ideas that guide the Social Science Department. Understanding the past is important: students must gain insight into the events, individuals, and ideas which have shaped the world if they are to be thoughtful and informed citizens of the United States and of the world. With this in mind, classes expose students to the political, economic, social, psychological, and cultural foundations of human history. Beyond the content of history, students are trained to think like historians so that, working on their own and collaboratively, they will be able to think through and explore important historical problems and questions. Central to thinking like a historian is recognizing the importance of perspective. History is not handed down as fact – it is pieced together bit-by-bit, using accounts and evidence from a variety of sources. The fullest and truest understandings of history recognize the diversity of perspectives that exist. To effectively handle these perspectives, students learn to read with a critical eye and to craft clear and informed historical responses. History students are prepared to ask meaningful and thoughtful questions about the past, and to answer them effectively by critically analyzing various perspectives and drawing on a wealth of content area knowledge.