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The inquiry method, dinosaur teachers, and Social Studiesball

Six years ago, almost to the day, I uploaded a post titled New standards, the C3, dinosaurs, and Social Studiesball. The state of Kansas was in its very first year of implementing a new set of social studies standards – a set of standards that focused on creating a balance of content and historical thinking skills. A lot less memorizing and a whole lot more application and process.

It freaked some people out.


It freaked a lot of people out.

It was a different way of doing social studies. More student centered. More skills based. More problem solving. More use of evidence to support claims. Less focus on specific content and recall of basic facts. Heck . . . the state department of education basically said “within these rough scope and sequence parameters, teach whatever you want.” No check boxes of required test items. No multiple choice state assessment.

The 2013 post used the Michael Lewis book & Brad Pitt movie Moneyball as an example of how a shift in thinking can impact current practice.

And now, after six years, we’re revising the document and the state assessment with an even stronger focus on the inquiry model and historical thinking processes. It seems appropriate to revisit the 2013 post with a few updates.


A few years back, I picked up a book called Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. It focused on the Oakland Athletics major league baseball team and their general manager, Billy Beane. Burdened by a lack of funds, Beane was constantly struggling to win games against teams with way more money to pay their players than he did. But by 2002, during a season that saw his team set a century old record for consecutive wins, Beane had found a way to beat those teams.

The answer?


Sabermetrics is the application of statistical analysis in order to evaluate and compare the performance of individual players. But not the traditional statistics. Beane and the A’s looked at a completely different set of statistics in ways that hadn’t been done before. This different way of thinking about baseball gave them a competitive advantage – they could now find solid players that had been ignored by everyone else. And because these players were being ignored by everyone else, the A’s could pay them less and win games while staying within their budget.

Win / win. A sweet team for less money.

The problem?

Nobody thought it would work. The traditional way of doing things – described as “The Book” by Lewis – said it wouldn’t work. Because using these new statistics and measurements was just not how you manage, coach, and play the game.

But it did work. The A’s went on to become one of the most successful baseball teams of the decade, winning more games with less money. Beane and the A’s changed baseball.

It wasn’t easy for Beane and those who believed in him. During a scene in the 2011 movie adaptation starring Brad Pitt, Beane was told:

I know you’re taking it in the teeth out there. But the first guy through the wall, he always gets bloodied. Always. This is threatening, not just the way of doing business, but in their minds, it’s threatening the game.

Long story to get to social studies, I know. But I think social studies right now is in the same place Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s were back in 2001. We’re stuck in the past. Doing things the same way we’ve always done them. And struggling.

Why are we doing the same things the same way?

Because “The Book” says we should. Because the state assessment focused on content and check boxes and multiple choice. Because we’ve always lectured. Because we have pretty textbooks that we feel obligated to use. Because we don’t know anything different. Well . . just because.

In the same movie scene, Beane was told:

 . . . anybody who’s not tearing down their team down right now, and rebuilding it using your model – they’re dinosaurs.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months having conversations with all sorts of people about the new Kansas state social studies standards. And I’m not sure I could have come up with a better re-phrasing of that movie line to describe the state of the discipline:

. . . any teacher that’s not re-thinking their curriculum and instructional design right now, and rebuilding it based on historical thinking skills and the inquiry model – they’re dinosaurs.

I try to be polite when I encounter teachers and admin types poo-poohing the new standards, when they say historical thinking process skills are a fad, when they try to describe how effective their outdated strategies of 60 minute teacher-centered lectures and popcorn reading are with kids. These types see this different way of doing social studies as an attack on the game.

But it will be hard from now on to listen to teachers like that without hearing that Moneyball quote in my head.

. . . dinosaurs.

We are making progress. The pendulum is swinging back to research-based, brain-based methods that support the doing of history and social studies rather than rote memorization. And . . . we’ve just had the release of the the new C3 standards from the National Council for the Social Studies.

Years in the making and months behind schedule, the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: State Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History supports the concept of doing rather than memorizing. It’s an incredibly useful document for guiding and supporting the development of more detailed curriculum documents at the state and local levels. I especially like the Inquiry Arc that the writers have included as part of the document.

And while this is not Sabermetrics, focusing on process rather than simply concentrating on the short-term acquisition of foundational knowledge is transformative. It’s a different way to think about how we manage, coach, and play the game of history and social studies.

I’m going to call it Social Studiesball.

We’ll be talking more about Social Studiesball over the next few weeks. So hang around the park and share your thoughts.

(Since I wrote this back in 2013, there’s been an explosion of resources available to help teachers design instruction around the C3, the use of primary sources / evidence,  historical / critical thinking, inquiry strategies. Some of my faves?

What would you add to the list?)

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Speaking and Consulting page.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Thank you for sharing this resource. Inquiry based method is developing, I see more people asking for inquiry based lessons each year!

    September 6, 2019

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