Service Learning in the Social Studies
prepared by the Constitutional Rights Foundation
The approach to service learning in the social studies explained
here is based on the work of the Close Up Foundation and the Constitutional
Rights Foundation in Los Angeles in developing Active Citizenship Today
(ACT). ACT is a unique social studies service learning program because
it includes the analysis of public policy as a crucial step in the service
Although service learning is often defined as "learning by doing,"
it is actually much more. In a good service learning program, students
learn by doing something real that needs to be done. There is a true connection
between the classroom and what is happening in the community. Students
develop a deeper sense of caring about others, as well as the ability
to put their caring into practice.
[Although] many of the materials in
this publication have been adapted from ACT, the overall framework focuses
on ACT's five fundamental steps.
A Working Definition
Service learning, as defined by the Alliance for Service Learning in
Education Reform Standards Committee, is a method by which young people
learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized
service experiences that:
- meet actual community needs;
- are coordinated in collaboration with
the school and community;
- are integrated into each young person's academic
- provide structured time for a young person to think, talk,
and write about what he/she did and saw during the actual service activity;
young people with opportunities to use newly acquired academic skills
and knowledge in real-life situations in their own communities;
what is taught in the school by extending student learning beyond the
- help to foster the development of a sense of caring for
How Service Learning Fits With the Social Studies
[Whereas] service learning can fit into many subject areas at nearly any
grade level, social studies teachers have come to value the powerful connection
between service learning and the goals of social studies. In an effective
service learning program, what students know, what they are able to do,
and what they value intertwine with the goals of social studies education.
The core of the social studies is the goal of
helping students develop into effective citizens. To contribute to
must be able to deliberate with one another about the nature of
the public good and how to achieve it, and take an active role
Service learning provides students opportunities to develop
and practice the skills needed to create positive change. Whether through
a position on a public policy issue, volunteering in a direct service
program, or forging coalitions to solve a problem, effective citizens
are "doers." Just as effective science education involves
lab work, service learning can be a laboratory for civic education.
students structured opportunities to make decisions in the real
The Service Learning Steps--Using the ACT Approach
[Although] no two teachers will--or should--infuse service learning
into their curriculum in exactly the same way, the steps of the
provide a framework for each teacher's creative implementation.
In this model, students study the strengths and needs of their
and study a specific problem, analyze a public policy issue related
to the problem, and conclude by conducting a service project and
STEP 1: Students define and focus on their community.
Students begin by defining "community" for the purpose of their
project. Typically, they complete a "draw your community" lesson.
The geographic area must be of a manageable size so that students
can have an impact. They then identify the resources, strengths,
in their community. At the close of Step 1, students brainstorm
a list of community problems.
STEP 2: Students research community
problems, select one, and research it more fully.
In this step, students research the problems they brainstormed.
Research might involve interviewing political, community, or business
creating and conducting community surveys; or attending meetings
of governing bodies. Students then narrow the list of problems
conduct further research focusing on the questions, "What
are the causes of the problem?" and "What are the effects
of the problem?"
STEP 3: Students analyze and evaluate public
policies related to the problem.
Public policies are made by citizens and/or their representatives
in matters that concern the community. In this model, public policy
defined as a plan of action designed to solve a problem or achieve
a goal. Students
consider the existing and proposed policies to address the problem.
STEP 4: Students design and implement a service project to address the
Using knowledge gleaned from research and analysis, students develop
and implement a project to address the chosen problem. Projects
take many forms, from raising community awareness to working in
agency or collaborating with local government.
STEP 5: Students
reflect upon and evaluate the process.
Throughout the service learning process, students are encouraged to reflect
on and evaluate what they are learning. Activities structured around the
questions, "How did the project help the community?" and "What
did I learn from this experience?" promote academic, social, and
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