MaryBeth Yerdon & Janae Bell
Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada

There are two curricular strategies that we have struggled to implement as we have begun to use the C3 Framework. The first is taking time to develop responsive units and the second is planning effective informed action. Many of our colleagues have expressed frustration with “getting through the material.” Social Studies, as a content area, includes a massive amount of curricular material and it is easy to get focused on the minutiae of one topic. For instance, we have fallen victim to teaching the Chinese Dynasties so intensely that we ran out of time for the Chinese Civil War or Japanese Feudalism; such is the chief rationale for avoiding curricular extensions.

When the Paris attacks occurred we decided we needed to sit down and plan a responsive unit. The rationale was that this current event might have significant implications for the next presidential election, for our country’s international relations, and, of course, international human rights. This led us to abandon carefully planned curricular components such as a Socratic seminar on which Chinese dynasty was the most deserving of the Mandate of Heaven, analyzing whether or not Alexander the Great was a hero or a villain, and even the age old question of if Andrew Jackson deserves to be the face of the twenty dollar bill. In the end, whenever you decide to implement a responsive unit, something else that you have carefully planned and scaffolded for is going to be taken out. This is why it is essential to focus on the skills contained within the C3 Framework and the CCSS. We were hoping that our students would be able to inquire, research, and apply learned skills in order to communicate conclusions and take informed action on issues surrounding ISIL. Fresh off the NCSS conference and after sitting in on C3 presentations on taking informed action, we thought, as we sat delayed in the Dallas airport, why not combine a responsive action mini-unit with the holy grail of the C3 taking informed action.

We started by revamping our school’s secondary lesson plan template to include a hybrid of Understanding by Design (McTighe & Wiggins, 2005) and the Inquiry Design Model (Swan, Grant, & Lee, 2013). Our informed action project would fall between a Socratic seminar and final essay. It would be built upon discussing the causality of the rise of ISIL and the consequences, both actual and projected, of the Paris attacks. Students in grades 9-11 would create community information boards that describe the causality and consequences of the Paris attacks and pose suggestions for how the United States should respond to international terrorism. In our vision, students would collaborate across grade levels to inform their school community about the complexity of how terrorist groups come to be, the purposes of terrorism, and the “best” way to respond.

Sounds great, right? We thought so too, and for the most part it was. But, our informed action did not turn out as we imagined it would. Where did we go wrong? In the end we decided that this was because our informed action was not as informed as it needed to be. This led us to question, how informed should informed action be and does ill-informed action cause more damage than good?

Here is what we found. Many students started out as you might think, by suggesting that the United States should take military action in the Middle East. The general consensus on day one, when students analyzed the causality of the rise of ISIL, was one of two conclusions. The first simply that it was not our responsibility to respond to the Paris attacks and the second that we should “obliterate” ISIL strongholds. By day three and four, more students were suggesting coalition efforts, no-fly zones, and peaceful defiance. The culmination of our endeavor was that students would creatively present their findings to the school and then write a White Paper on the causality and consequences of the rise of ISIL and propose a solution for how the United States should respond. Upon reflection we realized our faux pas was that we assigned the writing assessment after our informed action project. Our students were required to write introductory paragraphs for all reasonable thesis statements made during the Socratic seminars. This exercise, more than anything, caused our students to inquire about the possible outcomes. When it comes to the issue of informed action, we concluded that had it been conducted as a post-assessment extension our students would have produced a more informed product. When comparing the writing products to our informed action product, we concluded that ill-informed action does more harm than good. Informed action takes time! Students need time and a variety of avenues to explore and inquire about complex topics. Cutting a project short could cause serious detriment to civic participation.



Swan, K., Grant, S.G., & Lee, J. (2013). Social Studies for the Next Generation: Purposes, practices, and implications of the college, career, and civic life (C3) framework for the Social Studies state standards. Silver Spring, MD: National Council for the Social Studies.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.