I learned about the Inquiry Design Model and C3 Framework as a first-year teacher. At that time, I was working with MaryBeth Yerdon and she brought up the IDM, C3 Teachers, and the C3 Framework at a department meeting. MaryBeth learned about inquiry the previous year at a district-wide professional development. Her enthusiasm about inquiry was inspiring, but most of us were just trying to get by, me as a first year teacher and others responding to changing standards and assessments. However, later that year, three teachers in our department attended the NCSS Conference in New Orleans and there we learned a lot more about inquiry. Then, when our flight back to Las Vegas got delayed MaryBeth and I started writing our first inquiry: How should the United States respond to the threat of terrorism? That Friday, the first day of the Conference, on November 13th the Paris attacks happened. This is when I started to realize that inquiry isn’t just another education buzzword, it’s a way of practice. The inquiry based approach has managed to be the tool that I have used and continue to use most to guide my instruction as a high school Social Studies teacher. Likewise, inquiry is the tool that I preach to my colleagues in professional learning communities, and the tool that I challenge others to define as they use it in their classrooms.
Inquiry can be hard work, and it takes commitment. It’s a lot easier to assign work out of the textbook or to stand in front of the room and lecture. But, what pushes me in my commitment to using inquiry in the classroom is how the IDM allows me to create relevant and responsive learning experiences for my students. Usually, when my students see themselves in the curriculum it’s through a lens of victimization. But the language of inquiry and the structure of the IDM allows me to focus on important skills while highlighting the resiliency of my students’ communities. Simply put, through inquiry my students can see themselves reflected in the curriculum in culturally sustaining ways. Furthermore, when I lead with questions and give my students space to discover angles to arguments through inquiry they feel empowered because they get to speak from their own perspectives. As an AP teacher, I can’t always change the content I teach, but I can pick the questions, tasks, and sources that help my students develop the skills they need, not just for AP exams, but for democratic citizenry.
Since I started teaching, using inquiry has been the best way for me to help my students make meaning of their world. In the last nine years, I have taught all grade levels of high school Social Studies and in every class many students would rather be somewhere else. Unfortunately, for many of our students social studies has not been as stimulating as it could be. Many of us are so concerned with making sure that we have presented all the facts to the students, making sure kids have all the basic information before we move on to argumentation. However, after almost a decade in the classroom, I am seeing IDM, but the language of inquiry to leverage students’ experiences, perspectives, and interest in order to provide a stimulating learning environment.
These are all the reasons why I use inquiry as a tool in my classroom. With an inquiry-based approach, students see a bigger, more conceptual picture of the past, they have to make observations and connections, and then they get to make arguments, something all kids love to do! Plus, with inquiry I get to be the facilitator, not the sage on the stage. In this role, I can help students find and use the tools that they have and help them build important democratic skills they will need. I use inquiry because it gives space for students to teach themselves how to learn, how to be life-long learners, and how to engage in the world. Inquiry makes learning active and I have seen history come alive through using inquiry in my classroom. Over the last nine years, I have witnessed students from underserved communities discuss topics such as the Enlightenment with fiery passion because they had the space to develop not only their own arguments, but their own questions. Most importantly, I find that teaching in a diverse Title I school, it is essential to use content that centers People of Color, these are the stories that are most interesting to my students.
Ms. Bell’s Favorite Inquiries: I like these inquiries because they are not Eurocentric, they highlight the rich and complex histories of the peoples and societies under analysis in sustaining ways.