A Focus on Inquiry in GEMS Social Studies

Target 1. Student-Centered Learning –  FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step – Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students and staff.

How did corn help civilizations thrive in the Americas? Why did slavery begin in the new world? How did potatoes impact Ireland? These were among the numerous questions students generated recently in Eric Hadd’s 8th Grade Social Studies classes at GEMS. Students completed an inquiry project which will serve as a common assessment at the 7th and 8th grade levels for schools in FWSU.The idea behind a common assessment is that a group of teachers will ask their students to complete a task which measures the same skill or key concept. The resulting collection of work will be examined by the group of teachers and they will discuss ideas for fine-tuning instruction to achieve improved learning outcomes.

Following some introductory learning about the Columbian Exchange, Mr. Hadd asked his students to formulate a probing question related to the massive transfer of plants, animals, technology, disease and culture between the old and new worlds which began in 1492. A probing question often asks how or why and requires an explanation, evidence and examples to support the answer. The ability of students to formulate probing questions is one of the standards addressed by the project.

Students then conducted research by locating quality sources and collecting relevant information that they used to produce a succinct, well supported answer. This research process along with citing sources and presenting results through appropriate formats is the other standard teachers have been looking at closely. Short research projects are an important part of the new Common Core State Standards that FWSU is continuing to implement across the curriculum.

The final phase of the project involved creating an infographic to provide an alternate and more visual way to share their research with others. Infographics were created using a variety of design apps on the students’ iPads. Most included images, timelines, graphs, maps, important vocabulary and a small number of key notes. When students shared their findings the infographic format made it easier to show others what they had learned, answer questions, and defend their conclusions.

potato blightMr. Hadd has found inquiry activities to be a valuable part of his classroom. Powerful learning takes place when students are allowed to go in-depth with a question they have chosen within a broader topic of study. When students formulate a question it is highly relevant to them, thus making inquiry a great way to personalize learning. The research and higher-order thinking of these projects also transfer well to other content areas and life activities.

FWSU Teachers will be meeting in teams during the January 21st inservice day and the discussions about student work will be a valuable part of planning future instruction.

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