“You want to stand out, you want to make a difference? Rafe Katchadourian’s mother asks inquisitively, as he sits contemplating his next move in the trailer ”Middle School the Worst Years of My Life”, based on James Patterson’s best-selling book. “Think outside-the-box …,” she constructively advises him, as Flo Rida’s “ Welcome to My House” breaks into play in the background.

While Rafe’s clever solutions to Principal Dwight’s standardization problems are hilariously celebrated throughout the storyline, without question, it has become a true challenge in today’s classrooms to nurture the high level of creative “out-of-the-box” thinking necessary to help all students feel both comfortable and confident in making good choices in and outside of the classroom. Often curricular constraints make teachers feel that they must choose conformity over creativity, producing a tug of war that falls vitally short of anyone being a winner. As the pressure on teachers and students to achieve quantifiable results continues to rise, we should be asking ourselves: “how are we really helping our students to be smarter, more resourceful thinkers?”

And so the question then becomes how do we get kids, especially in middle school to engage with the hard stuff constructively, let alone be excited about doing so? For many teachers, this sounds like an impossible task, especially for those students whose personal mission it is to challenge every person’s authority they come in contact with. We need to help them to embrace the challenge by adding another level of dimension to our instruction that keeps even our most discriminating students engaged and anticipating what comes next. It all begins with creatively propelling inquiry forward!

Turning the IDM model from theory into clever practice while continually meeting content deadlines isn’t as difficult as it may sound. One very effective way of I have found of getting students to embrace the increased rigor of the C3 Framework while still staying true to covering a vast amount of content was to target their historical thinking skills practiced through being SPECulaTinG SPECulaToRs, referred to in a previous post. I developed an American Modernization Unit through combining the content topics of the Transcontinental Railroad, Rapid Industrialization in America, The Immigration Experience, and the Progressive Era Reform Movements into an inquiry-based investigation, exploring how each of the above topics impacted the evolving American society and culture. The unit was dedicated to targeted inquiry that sharpened students observational, analytical and written skills, while also helping them understand how to become better, more concrete and creative thinkers. Each topic area subsequently began with an activity that known as the “AIM to CLAIM” series. I took our traditional AIM question for each lesson and modeled the process of how AIMs are converted into CLAIMs. The AIM to CLAIM allows students to earn the knowledge for themselves by asking students to do some hypothetical SPECulaTinG followed by a series of individual note-taking activities where students were allowed to individually identify specific evidence that they felt was most relevant and in turn, formulate their own evidence-based claim:

Fig.1 Jingold. Authentic Materials. AIM to CLAIM


  • First, you define for them what the purpose of an “aim” is and how the AIM will help them to identify the process of “how to” collect supporting evidence
  • Then, you help them decipher the meaning of what their “claim” will represent.

Fig.2 Jingold. Authentic Materials. AIM to CLAIM.2

Students are then fully immersed into a research-based task, using either an individual source or a set of specifically selected sources. I usually like to do these with video clips. I find that the nature of the activity works very well with the multisensory approach to historical assessment that video clips provide. Many students tend to be very dismissive with video clips, so this activity actually brings more value to a class where a video or video clip will provide the majority of the instructional material.

Students become more discriminating observers as they engage in the inquiry process provided by the parameters of the guided practice. Students look deeper into the details of the video clip, rather than simply dismissing its content or viewing it simply as general knowledge information:


Fig.3 Jingold. Authentic Materials. AIM to CLAIM.3

Fig.4 Jingold. Authentic Materials. AIM to CLAIM.4

Extending the activity over two days often allows for best practice and fine-tuning of the skills practiced on Day 1, especially if you are either combining sources or using a collection of both primary and secondary sources:

AIM to CLAIM activities serve as the precursor to helping students begin the process of generating their own evidence-based arguments. “Teachers use many forms of assessment tasks, but few capture the nature of inquiry as well as the construction and support of an argument” ( Swan et.al; 2015). Students begin to master the art of evidence collection, taking ownership of inquiry while learning to use their minds more creatively. Through generating a hypothetical AIM in the beginning of the lesson, they learn the process of seeking out and collecting evidence in order to either prove their historical hypothesis or see that the evidence, perhaps takes them in another direction. With continued practice, students begin to acquire the skills to both see and appreciate multiple perspectives during investigation for a single claim.

Continued practice allows them to increase their ability to be possibilities thinkers and better able to think “outside –of –the box”. Creative genius, which promises to stimulate learning on a number of levels, increase enthusiasm for our subject, and promote possibilities thinking should never be sacrificed simply for covering the content. When teachers provide appropriate scaffolds to help structure historical thinking, student skill level and ability to show progress in constructing and producing high quality arguments is limitless.


Kathy Swan, John Lee, and S.G. Grant (2018). Inquiry Design Model: Building Inquiries in Social Studies. National Council for the Social Studies and C3Teachers.