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History Nerdfest 2018: Social Studies Inquiry Made Real. Teachers as Designers

It ranks right up there with the Holiday season, KC Chiefs football, and the first weekend of the college basketball tournament. It’s National Council for the Social Studies conference week. I’m lucky enough to get front row seats and am trying to live blog my way through it.


It’s something we all struggle with.

What does instructional design look like when we combine content knowledge with historical thinking skill. The answer?

The Inquiry Design Model.

It’s a great way to integrate the NCSS Inquiry Arc into actual practice. And like the rest of you, those of us in Kansas have been wrestling with this question since 2013. We created new state standards that focus on finding a balance between content and process. It’s a great idea but what does it actually look like in practice? Teachers want and need specifics about creating learning activities that encourage historical thinking skills in their students.

Created by S.G. Grant, John Lee, and Kathy Swan, the IDM becomes part of the answer by providing a structure for integrating content and process together. Based on the Inquiry Arc of the National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework, IDM helps build a connection between the head and the heart of our students while also training them to think historically.

The head has always been part of social studies but if we’re going to get under their skins, we have to connect with their hearts too. Most teachers know their content. But many struggle with helping kids care about the content

Think of a great inquiry activity created using the IDM method as “bigger than a lesson but smaller than a unit.”

What are the different parts of an IDM?

Essential questions are key to a great inquiry. A good essential question allows for different interpretations. A good question also:

  • is thought-provoking, encourage inquiry, and provoke discussion
  • is “un-Googleable”
  • aligns to the historical content of the Inquiry
  • connects the past with the present
  • requires skills such as cause and effect, continuity and change, similarities and differences, multiple perspectives, and dynamic relationships.

An example:

  • Was the Revolutionary War really revolutionary?

You also will be creating supporting questions such as:

  • What were the regulations placed in the colonists by the Townshend Acts?

Sources / Learning Activities
This is the guts of the Inquiry. Primary and secondary sources that spark curiosity while connect to and support the essential question. Looking and collecting at evidence, using thinking skills, and creating solutions to the question.

These could be:

  • define terms
  • list and rank problems, reasons, challenges,
  • annotate a source
  • make a timeline
  • create a t-chart or Venn diagram
  • write a quick exit card paragraph
  • participate in a debate or structured academic controversy
  • develop a claim or counter-claim

John says the sources you select become the “textbook” of the activity. So you’re going to always be sending your kids to the “textbook.” Be aware, says both Lee and Grant, is that you’ll probably need to adapt and modify your sources. (Get some ideas of what this can look like here.)

We need to ask kids to develop a powerful argument that addresses the compelling question.

You going to find a ton of resources, suggestions, and actual inquiries at the site. You’ll also find a link to their more detailed book Inquiry Design Model: Building Inquiries in Social Studies.

Some of other things that you’ll find are templates for starting the process:

And definitely be sure to explore the completed Inquiries that are posted on the site.

As we all are working to find ways to connect content and process, the IDM structure is a powerful tool that can help.


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. alondrarebeca #

    I loved how you broke it down, Arizona just passed new standards for history so I’ve been reading a lot!!

    February 4, 2019

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