The first time I encountered inquiry I was immediately hooked. As a novice teacher, I knew that I wanted my curriculum to be relevant, responsive, and sustaining, and I knew I wanted to attend to those resource pedagogies through asking questions. I knew that I needed to plan my course backwards, starting with big ideas, essential questions, and enduring understandings. But, in my early years, I had a hard time not only asking the right questions, but figuring out the difference between types of curricular questions. Inquiry helped me do both!
I was in graduate school studying to become a social studies and special education teacher when the New York State Tool Kit and inquiry-based standards were in their infancy. Fortunately, we received an advanced copy of the standards early in our methods course study, so inquiry has been part of the way I learned how to teach from the beginning. However, as I transitioned to my teaching job in Las Vegas, I had a hard time making inquiry-based standards come alive in the classroom: I had the what but not the how.
Like many teachers, my first year felt like I was running on a treadmill that was turned up too high. I could barely keep up. During my first year, I did some good work, but most of the curricular planning I did ended up in the trash. I just couldn’t get it right. I couldn’t sequence asking the right questions, selecting the right sources, and constructing accompanying assessments. Then, my school signed me up for a district-wide professional development with Kathy Swan, John Lee, and S.G. Grant, where I learned about the Inquiry Design Model.
I was pretty excited about IDM for the rest of the year. I started using inquiries in my class, but I still had a hard time explaining what inquiry was or why the things I was doing in my class were so great. I didn’t yet have the words to get others hooked on inquiry! Hungry for more on the IDM, I wrote a proposal to attend the NCSS conference in New Orleans the following year. At the conference, I attended as many C3 Teachers and IDM sessions as I could. There, I learned more about compelling questions and the IDM Blueprint, but more importantly I started to learn how to talk about inquiry to other teachers. Finally, I had both a model that made sense and the language to talk about it.
As my colleague Janae Bell and I sat in the airport, awaiting our delayed flight back to Nevada, we decided to dive into inquiry and try writing a responsive inquiry geared towards addressing the attacks on Paris that occurred earlier that week in November, 2016. Our first dive into inquiry, “How should the United States respond to the threat of terrorism?” wasn’t great. We made a wide variety of mistakes, and that was okay. From there, I decided that before I started writing my own inquiries I needed more practice by using the inquiries on the C3 website. What I like the most about the published inquiries is that they are adaptable, they honor and respect the knowledge of teachers, and they give you an idea of what the developers were thinking when they developed their inquiries. Some of the inquiries I used after returning from the 2015 NCSS Conference included the following:
- Was the French Revolution Successful?
- Do the Boxers Deserve a Bad Rap?
- Did the Printing Press Preserve the Past or Invent the Future?
- What Ended Apartheid?
Still hungry for more inquiry, I convinced my principal to let me attend the Inquiry Summer Institute. At the Institute, I learned so much about inquiry, not just from the presentations and workshops, but from working with like-minded teachers, who were working on implementing inquiry in their classrooms. Working with these teachers, I also learned that inquiry is a community, and C3 Teachers is a place for us to share our practice and learn from each other. Now, when I think about teaching, I think about inquiry. I don’t know how to do it any other way.