Social Studies

Department Mission

The Overlake School Social Studies Department’s mission is to create a challenging, relevant, and engaging curriculum to inspire our students to become critical thinkers, effective communicators, and active and open-minded citizens of the world. Our curriculum at every level values the rich history of our shared cultural diversity and seeks to enrich our students’ understanding of our world by nourishing their curiosity and civic engagement. 

Core values

Social Justice: Our curriculum teaches about past and present injustices done to different groups and individuals to show the complexity of our collective history and examine the human condition. We challenge students to understand both the roots of the injustice, the reasons and ways in which people have fought such injustice and to understand the current issues that continue to create injustice in our society. We encourage our students to understand and embrace the reasons why we should continue to actively engage in making improvements and change to become a more just society.

Global Perspectives: We strive to help students understand the interconnectedness of world events and how one action in one place in the world can and often affects others throughout the world. We also expose our students to many different points of view and ways of thinking in an effort to allow them to see how different people and cultures view similar issues in many valid ways that should be taken into account when making decisions about how to engage with others. 

Civic Engagement: We seek to present our students with real-world opportunities for engagement in the classroom, in our community and our world. We want our students to be aware and curious about contemporary civic issues, and we challenge them to care and become involved in improving the world around them.

Historical Awareness: We believe that critically examining our history helps our students be prepared to tackle tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities. While we understand that it is impossible to cover all of human history, our curriculum is designed for students to examine critical past events so that they may make connections across human history and experiences.

How we teach

The Social Studies Department uses an inquiry-based approach to teaching through student-centered learning practices and a thematic curriculum that balances skills and content. We use a variety of sources and perspectives to teach concepts and events, with the goal of using the past as a tool to understand the present. We seek to foster students’ curiosity, empathy, and independent thinking by examining assumptions through an inquiry-based approach in our lessons.  We create student-centered learning environments to encourage active learning and critical thinking through a variety of methods including structured discussions, research, analytical writing, and oral presentations.

Curriculum Requirements

Three years of social studies are required for graduation: World History 9, World History 10, and U.S. History. Students may take U.S. History in either grade eleven or twelve.

Rising Tides: Environmental Justice

This course will address topics related to the history of environmental justice from a variety of disciplines and perspectives.  Coursework will include readings, field trips, studies of current events, discussion, and writing.

Contemporary Middle East and Africa

One semester elective. May be taken in either 11th or 12 Grade, or in 10th Grade with the permission of the department chair.

This course undertakes an interdisciplinary and contemporary view of the Middle East and Africa to understand in greater depth the history, economies, politics, social change, and arts of these important regions. Coursework will include a variety of source material and experiential learning.

Business, DECA and Economics Basics

One semester elective. May be taken in either 11th or 12th Grades, or by 10th Graders with the permission of the department chair.

This course will focus on fundamentals of business and economics along with practice aligned to DECA competition, which supports innovation and leadership in the fields such as marketing, finance, and communications.

Social Studies 5: Ancient Civilizations

Fifth grade social studies is designed to work in tandem with fifth grade English to create a humanities class with an integrated approach to the study of language arts and history. With myths, stories, and ancient civilizations as the focus, students consider the following essential questions:

  • What is a story and what elements are universal to all stories?
  • Why are stories and myths important to cultures around the world, including ancient cultures?
  • How is history in itself a kind of story?
  • How are the stories of ancient people relevant to modern culture? What might we learn?
  • Why it is important to know who is telling the story, whether the story is fictional or historical?

For social studies, students will explore the geography and history of the ancient world cultures of Sumer, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Greece. Beginning with the dawn of human civilization and a brief survey of early hominids, students will focus on the concept of seven cultural universals, a construct by which historians determine whether or not a group of people constitute a civilization. By examining the belief systems, government, technology, food supply, arts, social structure, and writing system of these ancient people, students will compare life in modern America with that of various ancient civilizations. Students will also make literary connections through various texts, including short stories, myths, non-fiction reading, and novels. Learning activities include simulations and individual and small group assignments. Students will also complete one major research paper on an ancient civilization not covered in class. Finally, students will practice formal and informal presentations throughout the year in order become more confident speakers.

Social Studies 6: American History

The sixth grade social studies curriculum chronologically studies American stories that begin with the people already settled on the continent before the European invasion over 500 years ago through the rise of US industry and the building of American power and wealth after the Civil War.

The curricular year is broken up into themed learning units with the following topics:

  • Physical geography of North America and settlement patterns of First Americans
  • Exploration and colonization by Europeans
  • Establishment of independence through rebellion and war
  • Establishment of a nation through Constitutional law
  • Expansion of territorial boundaries and population growth from immigration
  • Fighting for individual and group freedoms and rights and national conflict
  • The rise of industry and technology post-Civil War
  • Washington and Northwest history as case-studies

Within a well-defined curriculum, this class provides tremendous freedom for the students’ interests and learning styles while stimulating growth across multiple intelligences. Issues around identity, cultural assimilation, and citizenship are lenses of the course, including the relationship between individuals and government, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, and the roles active citizens play in affecting change. We begin to debate some of the big questions over the course of the year and take a serious look at how history impacts us as well as how we impact history. Current events (or history in the making) are constantly connected to the past and the future to help students construct a global framework of understandings.

Readings come from a variety of textual resources and from narratives that capture the sense and feel of historical periods and change. Students participate in a wide variety of independent, individual and cooperative projects throughout the school year. Projects are designed to hone the students’ research and presentation skills, raise their self-confidence, personally connect the student and his/her family to the fabric of American history, and develop creative abilities through visual and verbal expression.

Social Studies 7: World Geography

Seventh grade social studies is a cultural and physical geography course designed to open students up to the world and how it works. The course is grounded in physical geography, and we spend the early portion of the year solidifying our understanding of landforms, maps and where things are. After that, our exploration of the world and world cultures takes off, and we approach various regions of the world with the same questions: What is the physical layout of this area? What are some of the cultural characteristics of the area? What are the connections between these two ideas?

In addition to this regional approach to cultural and physical geography, students in the course are expected to keep a close eye on current events, as they are discussed in class on a regular basis. There are also research and writing projects throughout the year on various topics. Some of the learning units include: Fundamentals of Physical Geography; Refugees and Human Rights; Geography, Culture and Recent History in South, Southeast and East Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America.

Social Studies 8: Civics & Citizenship

The goal of eighth grade social studies is to foster a sense of informed and active citizenship. The course will begin with an examination of what a democratic system looks like through active and cooperative exercises. We will explore the issue of how information is disseminated in a democratic state and we will conduct a critical study of how information is delivered in our society through the study of historical and contemporary propaganda. We will then focus on the political and legal system created by the US Constitution, as well as the individual rights spelled out in that document. Investigations into governments at the local, state, and national level will include participatory projects that explore historical as well as current political and social issues.

We will explore current issues of civic importance. Students will learn that citizenship involves forms of civic engagement that go beyond the simple act of voting. The course will ask students to do considerable analytical work through their written and oral expression. They will be asked to develop their note-taking skills, as well as their ability to read critically. Students will conduct extensive research to support their ideas and will also have the opportunity to express them in a variety of written and oral forms throughout the year including a formal debate and many individual and group oral discussion opportunities. Students will be asked to continually work on exploring a variety of perspectives, challenge their own opinions, and consider many points of view. Students will be challenged to write persuasive pieces as well as pieces that show the learning process through the deep analysis of issues connected to a topic of discussion. Students will be asked to be engaged with current events and issues, and will have many opportunities to consider their stands on issues that affect us all. Most importantly, students will not only be asked to consider issues of civic importance, but will also be challenged to take action in a variety of ways. The ability to work well individually as well as in groups will be of great importance to the overall success of students in the course.

World History 9: Development of World Civilizations

In the 9th grade we examine the development of early human societies, as well as how those societies have adjusted to environmental, political, social, economic, or other pressures over time. In the first semester we will focus on the rise of two ancient empires, Rome and China, as a way to thinking more deeply about the nature of power in society. In the second semester we will look at the Middle Ages and early modern era, a time when civilizations around the world are drawn together through an increasingly complex global network fueled by religious expansion, overseas exploration, international trade and war. We will conclude by looking at the power of the new ideas about both the individual and society that emerged from this period.

World History 10: The Modern World

In this course, students will gain an extensive knowledge of major changes and events of the 19th and 20th centuries in different parts of the world. Through varied and engaging activities in class and major assignments, they will improve their skills in thinking, writing, discussing, presenting and researching. By the end of the course, students will have gained an improved understanding of the political, social and economic developments in various parts of the world from 1800 to 1960. We will focus on particular themes – equality, justice, how major changes occur and make links between what has happened in the past with events happening at the present time.

Honors United States History

May be taken in either 11th or 12th grade.

World History 9 and 10

This course is a chronological and thematic study of significant developments in the social, economic, and political history of the United States with a focus on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Instead of attempting to survey all of American history, we will examine selected events and developments in depth. The core work of the course will consist of reading and analyzing first-hand accounts of past events. Class activities will include discussions, role plays, and simulations. The goal of the course is to help students develop critical thinking and argumentative writing and speaking skills.

AP U.S. Government and Politics

Full-year elective. Open to all students in 11th and 12th grades.

The AP U.S. Government and Politics course challenges students to analyze and interpret the intentions of the various institutions that comprise the American political system and the U.S. government. The practical and theoretical understanding of policy-making and power as it pertains to Constitutional principles, federalism, political parties, interest groups and the media, and individual rights and liberties serves as the foundation of the course. Students will explore concepts through projects, case studies, and written assessments in conjunction with preparation for the final AP exam in May.

View the College Board AP U.S. Government and Politics Course Description.

AP Macroeconomics

Full-year elective. Open to all students in 11th and 12th grades.

AP Macroeconomics is a year-long, basic college level course that provides a general understanding of basic macro-economic concepts. In a time when there is so much discussion about priorities in the economy, business cycles, climate change, international trade, inflation and unemployment, this course will help students understand both how the economy functions and the alternative choices that we have. Students will gain a solid understanding of government fiscal, monetary policies, and international trade and how they impact employment, GDP, and growth. There are daily references to what is currently in the news such as the impacts of COVID, and students are constantly applying the theories to contemporary economic, political, and social issues. We will use a range of resources including graphs, charts, data analysis and videos to describe and explain economic concepts. We will also make use of resources in the community for case studies. Students will also research and present to the class on aspects of the economy.

View the College Board AP Macroeconomics Course Description.

Intro to Psychology

Semester elective. Open to all students in 11th and 12th grades and to students in 10th grade by permission of the department head.

The study of psychology is the study of the how we think, feel and behave. This course is designed to give students an introduction to this subject by examining the major psychological perspectives including Behavioral, Cognitive and Social-cultural. This class will cover topics such as development, perception, learning, motivation and personality. Through reading, demonstration and experimentation, students will gain a better understanding of who they are and how they function. They will also learn how broad the field is and how it applies and can be applied to their own lives.

Ethnic Studies

New semester elective course for the 2022-23 school year. Open to all students in 11th and 12th grades and to students in 10th grade by permission of the department head.

The Ethnic Studies course will engage students in the stury of the historical and current socio-cultural experiences of racial and ethnic groups in the United States. This course will explore a number of issues affecting ethnic groups and will look at how their experience has been shaped by our social, legal and economic systems over time.  We will tackle the history of racial discrimination, the resilience of the different groups studied and the promises of the future that come with a multi-cultural and diverse population.  Students will have the opportunity to learn about a diverse group of ethnic groups, and also will be able to study a specifc group or issues affecting a group during the semester.  

The Cold War

Semester elective. Open to all students in 11th and 12th grades and to students in 10th grade by permission of the department head.

By understanding the historical development of the Cold War from multiple geopolitical perspectives, students will examine the legacy of the Cold War period as it relates to current international relations.  The course digs into the origins of the Cold War, providing an overview of the different economic and political systems that characterized the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Examination as to how the Cold War affected Europe, East Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America from multiple perspectives will provide context for topics like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Soviet-Afghan War, and the Space Race. Discussions, simulations, primary-source readings, and student-designed projects will enable students to understand the legacy of the Cold War as it relates to twenty-first century geopolitical relationships and the continued diplomatic struggles that continue to affect our world today.

Technology and Social Change: Life in the Coming Years

Semester elective. Open to all students in 11th and 12th grades and to students in 10th grade by permission of the department head.

Most social studies courses explore the past.  This course explores the future.  What will the coming decades be like?  How will current and newly developing technologies alter not only our daily lives but perhaps what it means to be human? How will an internet a billion times more powerful than today’s empower humanity? What changes might augmented reality and AI bring? What happens when machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence?  Given that the coming decades will likely bring the greatest changes in human history so far, what do you need to know to better understand our rapidly changing world? What challenges, dangers, and opportunities lie before us and what skills might you need to successfully navigate the future?  Although we will explore multiple areas of coming change, most of the course will focus on technological changes based on current expert predictions for the next 20 years and less certain theories about the decades beyond.

Popular Culture in the US

Semester elective. Open to all students in 11th and 12th grades and to students in 10th grade by permission of the department head.

This course will explore US history since 1915 through the lens of music, film, and television. The course will examine how our culture both reflect and challenge ideas about race, class, gender, sexual morality, and US politics. Students will explore the role of culture in shaping social movements and public opinion, how technology has shaped how Americans consume culture, and the effects of mass culture and subculture on American society and politics. Units include: rise of mass culture through film and radio in the 1920s, cultural responses to the Great Depression, the rise of television and post-World War II mass culture, the Cold War in American culture, the rise of subcultures in the 1960s and 1970s, and how the development of new technology is shaping how Americans consume culture today. Assessments include source analyses, critical reading of cultural sources as primary sources, and an essay on a topic of each student’s choosing that synthesizes multiple cultural sources to foster a deeper understanding of the impact of popular culture in the United States.


Sara Baquero-Garcia
Social Studies Department Chair