Friday, March 27, 2015

Slice #27 of 31- Inquiry in a Social Studies Classroom

For the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by the community of writers at Two Writing Teachers. Many of my slices are at my personal blog, Just Write, Melanie, but ones that deal specifically with education appear here. All are welcome to join the slicing party by reading and commenting. People write amazing posts.

In the fall, we had a visit from Emily Smith, as Staff Developer from Teachers College. We were working on content area literacy with fifth-grade teachers, and Emily set up centers for students to do inquiry work around topics related to exploration. She created a timeline center, a map center, a close reading center, a compare and contrast center, and a pictures center. I duplicated this work for colonialism, and one of the teachers used the cards that we developed for the unit. Watching the students, it amazed both of us how engaging and how powerful this sort of learning is for upper elementary students.

Students had specific tasks at each center. We developed inquiry questions that were open-ended to structure their thinking. For example, when they looked at the paintings from the colonial era, what could they learn about the roles of men and women? What biases existed in the artwork, and how could they tell? Since we had five separate centers, groups of three or four students each spent fifteen minutes at the first three centers, traveling clockwise around the room. Our centers were: statistics and data, maps, timelines, architecture, and art. The conversations that happened during this activity were amazing.

They had maps and timelines that they had to analyze. Their conversations about how the maps related to the timelines were also full of realizations, reflections, and wonderings. Some of them wondered about how the maps looked so different based on only a few years. Then, when they looked at the timelines, they made some realizations about the discoveries and exploration that was happening at the time. 

At all of the centers, students took notes based on their conversations and observations. It was fun to watch the different note-taking strategies that they've been learning in the reading units reappear in their social studies work.

They also had a significant dose of math in that they analyzed data, reading graphs, interpreting tables, and thinking about percentages.

Inquiry is such a powerful way to learn. No, the students could not learn everything that there is to learn or even all of the standards around colonialism. However, they asked serious questions and they are inspired to find out more about the answers. Next week, they will finish the first round of centers, and then travel through each center a second time since their understanding deepened as they learned different concepts from each center. I'm looking forward to hearing their reflections and plans for their next round of learning!

Happy Slicing!


  1. I would be very interested in hearing the feedback from the students! Sounds exciting!

  2. Great blog about great teaching. Increasing engagement is our building's focus next year. The learning benefits from this structure for learning is apparent (Do you notice a decrease in behavior problems too?) We have an EPIC school near us--- a project based school with a STEM focus. So epic! Good job

  3. This work is so inspiring, Melanie. I'm hoping to work with one of my colleagues setting up her upcoming social studies unit in a similar way. As you point out, "Inquiry is such a powerful way to learn."

  4. I love this idea of having the kids look at different things, converse, and take notes - then see what they come up with. I'd love to know where you get your maps, etc that you provide to the kids. Do you have an outcome in mind that you want the kids to reach? I teach US history through the reconstruction and would love to implement this type of learning next year.
    Are We There Yet?

  5. This is a really informative knowledge, Thanks for posting this informative Information. Smoke Damage Restoration Dover