Social Studies and Building an Inquiry Design Model
“Inquiry is training for life,” Dr. John Lee explained at the 2021 Studies Weekly Educator Summit in October.
Lee continued with a quote from John Dewey in his 1916 book, Democracy and Education.
“No thought, no idea, can possibly be conveyed as an idea from one person to another. When it is told, it is, to whom it is told, another given fact, not an idea…. Only by wrestling with the conditions of the problem first-hand, seeking and finding [his/her] own way out, does [he/she] think.”
“Social studies is about what it means to be human, about why we do the crazy things we do, and how to make sense of it,” Lee said. “Give kids time to, as Dewey says, wrestle with it. To sit with it and deal with it in their own space.”
Inquiry-based learning gives students the tools, time, and space to wrestle with the people, events, and issues that shaped our past, and are still shaping our future, Lee explained. And the Inquiry Design Model (IDM) teaches them how to thoughtfully work through a problem toward a solution.
Designing an Inquiry
Lee modeled for Summit attendees how to design an inquiry using the Studies Weekly Social Studies curriculum, explaining that IDM is usually “bigger than a lesson, but smaller than a unit.” An inquiry can take as little as one day, or it can go as long as 15 days, even more.
The groundwork for IDM is questions, sources, and tasks.
“You must focus on where you are going. You start with a compelling question that sets the opening for inquiry,” Lee explained.
Attendees got to try their hand at crafting compelling questions using one week of a Studies Weekly 5th grade. Some were able to create a question quickly, and see a path for students to use in the curriculum. Others found it harder than they thought to create a question that was open-ended enough that students could form their own opinions, supported with sources.
Lee then asked attendees to work through how students might find sources for both sides of the argument in the Studies Weekly articles. Some groups had to revise their questions because they realized that they hadn’t left space for more than one opinion or argument.
“We found that we knew a lot, but we had to ask, ‘Could we prove a lot?” one educator shared.
“That’s what this process is for — to test it out!” Lee excitedly replied.
Lee added that students must have access to solid sources, as provided in Studies Weekly print and online publications. These sources spark curiosity, provide background information, and help students ultimately construct and support claims.
To help students move from the compelling question to that final claim, they should have supporting questions that move in a logical sequence, and start from simpler to more complex. These questions contribute to and guide the students’ understanding of the issue.
Lee showed an example of this with three supporting questions about the Electoral College that move through a logical sequence:
- What is the purpose of the Electoral College?
- Which voting method is more fair: a direct popular vote, or an indirect Electoral College vote?
- What are the benefits and drawbacks of the Electoral College?
As students move through these supporting questions about the Electoral College, they build their understanding and think critically about the people, events, and issues.
Finally, educators must keep in mind that they are preparing students to create a constructive, logical claim supported with evidence. This is the main outcome of IDM. How students share this claim and evidence can be determined by grade level, project, or topic.
After an inquiry, teachers can have students do extension tasks that help them transfer their knowledge to a different setting. Examples include writing a letter to their representative or volunteering in the community.
Ultimately, IDM teaches students how to be thoughtful citizens of society, and to go beyond the shouting matches prevalent in social media today, where no one listens to the other side.
“Social studies teachers are on the front line of creating safe spaces where kids can have differing arguments that they can discuss and back up. We’re teaching them how to be in a democracy,” Lee said.
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