Open-access E-journal for 
International Scholars, Practitioners, and Students of Multicultural Education

ISSN: 1559-5005
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Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education

(SPRING 2004: vol. 6, no. 1)

Theme: Multicultural Education Curriculum for Social Studies

 Gallavan & Putney
HalgaoMule •  Ndura & Lafer •  Porfilio & McClary


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Nancy P. Gallavan
Southwest Missouri State University

LeAnn G. Putney
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

ABSTRACT: Social studies encompasses knowledge, skills, and dispositions emanating from twelve academic disciplines and organized into ten thematic strands fulfilling various goals. Due to their limited background, understanding, and application, elementary school pre-service teachers benefit from opportunities to explore social studies content, pedagogy, and context authentically extending personal practical knowledge and valuing multicultural experiences. Cultural Artifact “Me Boxes” empower pre-service teachers to connect social studies with self, others, and society through the exchange of personal narratives.

The Challenges
The Cultural Artifact “Me Box” Experience  
Critical Pedagogy
Benefits of the “Me Box” Experience  


The elementary school social studies methods course offers most preservice teachers with their one, and frequently only, opportunity to prepare for teaching social studies. The course expectations encompass an ambitious array of competencies incorporating knowledge, skills, and dispositions pertinent to both content and pedagogy (Shulman, 1987). The course encourages preservice teachers to learn about themselves, one another, and society by examining social studies curriculum, instruction, and assessment as a separate subject area and as part of integrated units. Importantly, social studies provides critical foundations for effective classroom management, community building, and connections beyond the classroom (Gallavan, 2003). [paragraph 1]

The National Council for the Social Studies (1994) defines social studies as: “…the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competencies...drawing upon (many different academic) disciplines… (with the) primary purpose to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world” (p. 3). During this methods course, most instructors seek to make visible the NCSS definition of social studies through their messages and modeling to build competence, confidence, and readiness in preservice teachers (Gallavan, Putney, & Brantley, 2002; Putney & Floriani, 1999; Putney, Green, Dixon, Durán, & Yeager, 2000).  [paragraph 2]

The context of contemporary social studies also relies upon methods instructors to incorporate essential concepts and authentic practices for understanding and valuing cultural diversity among their preservice teachers, so they, in turn, create welcoming environments and construct meaningful learning experiences for understanding and valuing cultural diversity among their young learners (Nieto, 1999; Oakes and Lipton, 1999). Today’s schools reflect the ever-changing demographics and complex social relationships found across the United States, representative microcosms encapsulating  the interdependency critical to negotiating the contemporary global society.  Integrating multicultural education with social studies, both directly and indirectly, is vital for classroom teachers to educate all children of today who will become the adults of tomorrow (Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1995, 2001; Beane, 1997).  Through deliberate preparation and mindful strategies modeled in their social studies methods courses, preservice teachers grow and develop both personally and professionally when applying responsive and responsible content, pedagogy, and context (Gay, 2000; Howard, 1999). [paragraph 3]

We honor these concerns and identify the challenges facing methods instructors by offering an effective strategy for building upon personal practical knowledge (Armento, 1996; Wink & Putney, 2002) and valuing cultural diversity (Gallavan & Putney, 2004) called the Cultural Artifact “Me Box.” This strategy provides methods instructors and their preservice teachers with the opportunity to connect all of the academic social sciences with the social studies thematic strands and state standards naturally and authentically through preservice teachers’ culturally diverse perspectives. We describe the experience, share reflections voiced by preservice teachers, and highlight benefits for teacher educators, preservice teachers, and young learners in understanding social studies and valuing cultural diversity in themselves, one another, and society. [paragraph 4]

The Challenges

Most elementary school preservice teachers enter their teacher education programs with little or no background knowledge or enlightening experiences necessary for understanding and appreciating social studies (Ellis, 1998), and most preservice teachers do not know what multicultural education is or use effective multicultural education practices (Gallavan, 1998). Preservice teachers bring limited memories of rewarding social studies education, particularly high-quality, student-centered multicultural experiences acquired during their own elementary school years. The messages and models resonating from their formative years communicate a lack of teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions critical for facilitating the content, pedagogy, and context essential for effective social studies and multicultural education (Evans, 2003). [paragraph 5]

Too frequently, preservice teachers recount that their own social studies classes focused on reading lengthy passages from textbooks (usually history) that were neither easy nor inviting to read, answering many difficult questions at the end of the chapters, and taking terrifying tests to demonstrate achievement. Citizenship, economics, and geography were not featured aspects of the content; social studies education rarely was organized and facilitated as a process intricate to community building, classroom management, or connections beyond the classroom. Learning experiences appeared void of relevant opportunities for valuing cultural diversity authentically or viewing the world through multiple perspectives (Gallavan, 2003). [paragraph 6]

Young learners and their teachers repeatedly report that social studies is the least liked subject area. Research reveals that the majority of elementary school teachers do not know or appreciate effective social studies education nor are they well prepared or highly motivated to teach it through student-centered learning experiences.  Overall, teachers’ reflections indicate that social studies was and continues to be neither simple to understand nor contextualized to be relevant to their own lives and the lives of the people around them—locally to globally (Gallavan, Brantley, and Putney, in progress). [paragraph 7]

Prior to entering teacher education programs, elementary school preservice teachers are required to complete a variety of university social science courses. Due to the wide range of courses and varying quality of instruction, preservice teachers arrive with myriad reflections (Schön, 1997), frequently reinforcing the understanding and attitudes gained during their elementary school years. Thus, the challenges facing the social studies methods instructor include:

1.     establishing a scholarly foundation based on academic disciplines for preservice teachers to understand and apply the wealth of knowledge, skills, and disposition informing and supporting social studies curriculum, instructions and assessment;

2.     relating the academic disciplines to social studies thematic strands (NCSS, 1994, p. 21-45), state standards, and grade-level expectations (see Table 1);

3.     connecting academic disciplines with individual preservice teachers, empowering them to understand and appreciate themselves, one another, and society—members of the interdependent global society—and to experience critical social studies and multicultural education teaching/learning processes; and

4.     introducing and modeling the oral exchange of personal narratives (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Trathen & Dale, 1999) as an effective instructional strategy linking social studies across the curriculum. [paragraph 8]

The Cultural Artifact “Me Box” Experience

The Cultural Artifact “Me Box” experience addresses these concerns and challenges. Early in the social studies methods course, preservice teachers are asked to bring twelve cultural artifacts to class in a box (basket, sack, or other self-selected receptacle). Each one of the twelve cultural artifacts must relate to a different academic discipline. The purposes of this experience are for preservice teachers to:  

  • research each of the twelve academic disciplines that include: anthropology, archeology, economics, ethics, geography, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology;  

  • select an item from their personal lives that connects to each of the twelve academic disciplines; and  

  • introduce themselves in ways that exemplify each academic discipline.  

The preservice teachers are encouraged to prepare a few notes to reference while  exchanging their personal narratives; they are not required to write a paper. By design, little or no background guidance is provided in class describing the twelve academic disciplines or “ideal” cultural artifacts. [paragraph 9]

When sharing their Cultural Artifact “Me Boxes,” chairs are arranged in a circle so all of the preservice teachers can see one another clearly. The instructor prompts preservice teachers to introduce themselves connecting one artifact with one of the twelve academic disciplines (see Table 2). Generally, each preservice teacher talks for approximately six minutes describing the artifacts. Some artifacts are passed around the circle; some artifacts are shown to the other preservice teachers and returned to the box. The preservice teachers usually bring artifacts that may appear to be fairly common or of little cost. However, the selected artifacts are extremely precious to the individuals and include such items as jewelry, photographs, toys, and books. Occasionally, a preservice teacher brings a one-of-a-kind memento, a family heirloom, a religious symbol, and a war medal (See Table 2). It is common for preservice teachers to both laugh and cry as they share their artifacts. [paragraph 10]

Through the oral exchange of personal narratives, class members quickly get to know one another via an integrated social studies/multicultural lens. The preservice teachers not only share their own stories, they listen carefully to one another’s stories, ask critical questions, and become immersed in a multitude of perspectives—some similar and some different. The Cultural Artifact “Me Box” explorations rapidly help preservice teachers to comprehend each of the twelve academic disciplines, to participate in an effective pedagogical strategy, to connect social studies with multicultural education, and to build a strong sense of community within their methods course. [paragraph 11]

When preparing and facilitating the Cultural Artifact "Me Box" conversations, it is imperative for the methods instructor to allocate enough time for all of the preservice teachers to share in one class meeting. If time will not permit, it is suggested that only half the class members bring their “Me Boxes” on the first of two meetings with the other half bringing their “Me Boxes” on the following meeting. However, it is better to avoid having preservice teachers bring their boxes on both meetings; preservice teachers tend to get rather excited about this assignment and, they too want everyone to share on the same date. [paragraph 12]

The oral exchange of personal narrative plays a significant role in the Cultural Artifact “Me Box” experience. Preservice teachers’ stories convey language that enables them to develop concepts and assign meanings for understanding the content and context relative to both social studies and multicultural education. Personal narratives empower preservice teachers to connect intellectual and emotional relevance to their own experiences and to the experiences shared by others. These stories provide a coherence of thoughts, words, and actions that both contribute to the construction and cultivation of a healthy and rewarding learning community. Importantly, narratives serve a critical function in both eliciting and developing the ability to see, understand, and value the complexity and richness of human lives—the essence of social studies and multicultural education. [paragraph 13]

It is not uncommon to hear the following types of reflections after sharing the Cultural Artifact “Me Box” exchange:

At first this seemed like such a difficult assignment. I didn’t know the twelve academic disciplines, and I didn’t know what the instructor wanted. After I read a little about each academic discipline, I began to see the world around me in terms of social studies—the human experience. Suddenly, it was easy to select my cultural artifacts.

When we were introducing ourselves through our “Me Boxes” in class, I realized that everyone is unique and special in some way. Many of us have had the same experiences throughout life highlighted by a few exceptional events. It was wonderful hearing about the special ways each of us is different. I realize now that my young learners will be just like us.

I was amazed how our class represents the whole world. We have preservice teachers who are male and female; we come from a variety of races, ethnicities, and geographic locations; we’re all ages, sizes, and abilities. I doubt if we would have learned this much about ourselves and one another if we had not been given this assignment.  [paragraph 14]

Critical Pedagogy

Wink (2000) tells us that critical pedagogy “is a way of thinking about, negotiating, and transforming the relationship among classroom teaching, the production of knowledge, the institutional structure of the school, and the social and material relations of the wide community, society, and national state” (p. 30). It is “the prism that reflects the complexities of the interactions between teaching and learning.” Sharing Cultural Artifact “Me Boxes” through the oral exchange of personal narratives allows preservice teachers to experience critical pedagogy for themselves clearly conveyed by Wink and to achieve Parker’s (2001, pp. 32-39) six guidelines for teaching in diverse classrooms that include:

1.      Culturally Responsive Instruction: learning about the cultural and linguistic characteristics of learners and adapting instruction accordingly; teaching in ways that bridge the gap(s) between learner’s home cultures and the school culture;

2.      Knowledge of One’s Own Family History and Cultural Identities: studying one’s own family history through its cultural and ethnic characteristics, language, migrations, dialects, religions, social values, gifts, and disabilities; providing opportunities for learners to share their cultures with one another authentically;

3.      Multimedia: facilitating variation in the ways children acquire social studies and multicultural information, think about it, ask about it, and express what they are learning;

4.      High Expectations for Learning: communicating expectations, assistance, and encouragement for all students to learn while empowering them to express and share via their individual ways.

5.      Multicultural Curriculum: helping children understand key concepts, events, issues, and historical figures from diverse perspectives and agendas; and

6.      Flexible Grouping: organizing learners in various ways and changing groups often; scaffolding the learning to lift children to a higher level of competency collectively than they could achieve independently. [paragraph 15]

Preservice teachers experience for themselves what we call “transformative education” by making important intertextual links that become text-to-text, text-to-life, and life-to-text linkages (Cochran-Smith, 1984; Wink & Putney, 2002). The first dimension of intertextual links begins as they relate the text of their cultural artifacts to the text of the social studies academic disciplines (text-to-text). A second dimension occurs as they link their artifacts to the context of their own lives (text-to-life) and they relate how the artifact is representative of their lives. A third dimension is found as preservice teachers realize how they can implement similar activities in their own eventual classroom settings (life-to-text). Their understanding becomes transformative as preservice teachers recognize themselves as multicultural beings and educators when they recognize the importance of personalizing the educational experience for themselves and their young learners. [paragraph 16]

Benefits of the “Me Box” Experience

Most elementary school social studies instructors seek the most effective methods to empower their students to understand the entire human experience in ways that help them to teach their own future young learners. The Cultural Artifact “Me Box” experience provides teacher educators with a teaching/learning strategy to participate actively, think critically, and create contexts of empowerment while exploring multicultural realities (Cummins, 1996). Through autobiographic reflection and mindful exchange preservice teachers connects their lives with today's culturally diverse society.  This constructivist approach links prior knowledge and past experiences with their heightened awareness and newfound understanding based on systematic inquiry and a different kind of learning opportunity that values all students (Cochran-Smith, 2004). [paragraph 17]

By sharing their cultural artifacts and personal narratives, preservice teachers integrate the twelve academic disciplines, link the academic standards to the ten NCSS thematic standards, and fulfill social studies goals and purposes. They experience for themselves the critical pedagogy and suggested guidelines for teaching in diverse classrooms to integrate social studies and multicultural education across the curriculum in ways that are enlightening and rewarding for them and their future young learners. By establishing both content and context through the oral exchange of personal narratives, preservice teachers give voice and value to their personal practical knowledge and multicultural experiences as they learn more about themselves, one another, and society. [paragraph 18]


Armento, B. J. (1996). The professional development of social studies educators. In Sikula, J., Buttery, T. J., & Guyton, E. (Eds.). The handbook of research on teacher education (pp. 485-502). New York: Macmillan.

Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development. (1995). Educating everybody’s children: Diverse teaching strategies for diverse learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development. (2001). More educating everybody’s children: Diverse teaching strategies for diverse learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Cochran-Smith, M. (1984). The making of a reader. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Cochran-Smith, M. (2004). Walking the road: Race, diversity, and social justice in teacher education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Beane, J. A. (1997). Curriculum integration: Designing the core of democratic
education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cummins, J. (1996). Negotiating identities: Education for empowerment in a diverse society. Ontario, CA: California Association for Bilingual Education.

Ellis, A. K. (1998). Teaching and learning elementary social studies. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Evans, R. W. (2003). The social studies wars revisited: What we should teach the children. New York: Teachers College Press.

Gallavan, N. P. (2003). What elementary school principals need to know about teaching…social studies. New York: National Association of Elementary School Principals, Educational Research Services.

Gallavan, N. P. (1998). "Why aren't teachers using effective multicultural education practices?" Five major insights from experienced teachers. Equity and Excellence in Education, 31(2), 20-27.

Gallavan, N. P. (in progress). Strengthening social studies education; Purposes, concepts, and strategies for middle school teachers and students .  

Gallavan, N. P. & Putney, L. G. (2004). Effective multicultural education: What today’s teachers want. Northwest Passage, 3(1), 55-63.

Gallavan, N. P., Putney, L. G., & Brantley, D. K. (2002). The influences of modeling: Elementary school preservice teachers rate their levels of competence and confidence for teaching social studies. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 14(3), 28-30.

Gallavan, N. P., Brantley, D. G., & Putney, L. G. (in progress). Dissonance among messages, models, and mentors; Student teachers' perceptions of social studies education. New York: Teachers College Press.  

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching; Theory, research, & practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Howard, G. (1999). We can’t teach what we don’t know: White teachers, multiracial schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

National Council for the Social Studies. (1994). Expectations of excellence: Curriculum standards for social studies. Washington, DC: NCSS.

Nieto, S. (1999). The light in their eyes: Creating multicultural learning communities. New York: Teachers College Press.

Oakes, J. & Lipton, M. (1999). Teaching to change the world. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Parker. W. C. (2001). Social studies in elementary education (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Putney, L. G., & Floriani, A. (1999). Examining transformative processes and practices: A cross-case analysis of life in two bilingual classrooms. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 34(2), 17-29.

Putney, L. G., Green, J. L., Dixon, C. N., Durán, R., & Yeager, B. (2000). Consequential progressions: Exploring collective-individual development in a bilingual classroom. In C. D. Lee & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Vygotskian perspectives on literacy research: Constructing meaning through collaborative inquiry (pp. 86-126). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Schön, D. A. (1997). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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Trathen, W., & Dale, M. (1999). Narratives in teacher education. Electronic Yearbook of the American Reading. Retrieved June 4, 2004, from yearbook/html/03_daleetal_99.htm

Wink, J. (2000). Critical pedagogy: Notes from the real world (2nd ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Wink, J., & Putney, L. G. (2002). A vision of Vygotsky. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.  

Table 1. Twelve Academic Social Science Disciplines; Ten Social Studies Thematic Strands, and Corresponding Elementary School Content and Practices  

Twelve Academic Social Science Disciplines (primary connections—most disciplines support various strands)

Ten Social Studies Thematic Strands identified by NCSS


Corresponding Elementary School Social Studies Content and Practices

  1. anthropology
  2. archeology  
11.  religion  
10.  psychology  
12.  sociology

I.      Culture -- sociological and anthropological characteristics of people individually and as members of many different groups to learn more about themselves and one another

  • sociology

  • multicultural education

  • international education

  • global education

  • classrooms as learning communities

  6.  history*

II.     Time, Continuity, and Change -- historical connections to the past to understand the present and plan for the future  

  • world history  

  • American history

  • state history

 4.  geography*

III.    People, Places, and Environments -- interactions among the physical and human geography throughout time and space

  • physical geography

  • cultural geography

  • world geography  

  • local geography

10.  psychology

IV.     Individual Development and Identity -- personal growth and change (mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, culturally, etc.)

  • psychology

  • classrooms as learning communities

12.  sociology

V.      Individuals, Groups, and Institutions -- individual participation as members of various groups and institutions

  • sociology

  • classroom management

  9.  political science*

VI.     Power, Authority, and Governance -- historical creation and evolving functions of individuals and groups through political and socio-cultural structures

  • civics  

  • citizenship  

  • government

  3.  economics*

VII.    Production, Distribution, and Consumption -- application of concepts including needs and wants through economic interdependence locally to globally

  • economics  

  • community connections

  5.  geography*



VIII.   Science, Technology, and Society -- balance of natural and physical science, humanities and social sciences

  • interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and      cross-curricular connections

  • community connections

  5.  geography*



IX.     Global Connections -- diverse interests and priorities through international relations, respect, and understanding

  • links with families, communities, and the interdependent global society  

  • current events and controversial issues

  • international relations

  4.  ethics
  7.  law
  8.  philosophy

X.      Civic Ideals and Practices -- full participation for democratic rights and responsibilities, human rights, and social justice

  • all of social studies with theory into practice

  • visible both in classrooms and throughout schools through service learning

*subject areas of highest priority according to most state standards and academic expectations  

Table 2: Twelve Social Science Academic Disciplines and Two Sets of Corresponding Illustrative Cultural Artifacts

Twelve Social Science Academic Disciplines

Corresponding Illustrative Cultural Artifact – set A

Corresponding Illustrative Cultural Artifact – set B

 1.   anthropology

 1.   family photograph

  1.   town stories/oral histories

 2.   archeology

 2.   arrowhead from family farm

  2.   time capsule

 3.   economics

 3.   catalogue of favorite things

  3.   university tuition bill

 4.   ethics

 4.   newspaper article describing an  important issue

  4.   scene from a movie with        which the viewer identifies

 5.   geography

 5.   map of town or neighborhood

  5.   world atlas

 6.   history

 6.   copy of the family tree

  6.   a famous biography

 7.   law

 7.   driver’s license regulations

  7.   speeding ticket

 8.   philosophy

 8.   a favorite saying

  8.   contemporary song

 9.   political science       civics/citizenship

 9.   voter registration card

  9.   children’s video: How a Bill Becomes a Law

10.  psychology

10.   child psychology textbook

10.   book of happy sayings

11.  religion

11.   a piece of jewelry

11.   poem

12.  sociology

12.   book about a particular decade (teenage years)

12.   club photograph  


Nancy Gallavan, Ph. D.  is a teacher educator specializing in social studies and multicultural education. Active with ATE, NAME, and NCSS, she has more than 40 books, chapters, and articles in publication.  (You may contact the author at; the editors of EMME at

LeAnn Putney, Ph. D. is Associate Professor of educational psychology, whose teaching focuses on qualitative research and classroom assessment. Her research focuses on how classroom participants construct responsible and equitable communities. (You may contact the author at; the editors of EMME at

Recommended Citation in the APA Style:

Gallavan, N. P. and Putney L. G. (2004). Valuing diversity in self, others, and society through cultural artifact “Me Boxes” in social studies methods courses. Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education [online], 6(1), 18 paragraphs. Retrieved your-access-month date, year, from