During the past few annual meetings of the NCSS, the momentum behind the C3 framework has been building. From Seattle to Boston, the trajectory of implementation has been marked by excitement, professional collaboration, and a desire to explicitly articulate how the C3 framework will improve social studies education. Now planning and discussion are becoming practice. Working with a team of eight high school social studies teachers this summer provided that launching pad that we have been anticipating for over two years. The result was nothing short of inspiring. In essence, the build-up and wait was worth it.

Moreover, I loved every minute I worked with this team of teachers. This post attempts to encapsulate the experience and contextualize our team’s efforts. It is a narrative of sort which shares the discussions, decisions, work, and revisions our team experienced when creating C3 units for high school social studies in Fairfax County for the 2015-2016 school year. It is my intention that sharing these details will contribute to the discussions educators are having and inform the processes and tools being used to generate C3 lessons.

The Buildup

Working with New York teachers during the pre-conference seminars at NCSS Boston convinced me that the C3 Framework complemented the instructional shifts happening in the state of Virginia. As the high school social studies specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools I design and propose summer curriculum projects. These are typically 40-hour projects in which I lead a team of teachers to create resources to be used by educators in the county. It is important to note that the C3 Framework is relatively unknown in our county. However, with Fairfax’s emphasis on performance assessments and inquiry-based instruction, the C3 framework is an ideal model to utilize. The framework complements both the county’s definition of performance assessment (see insert) and the state’s move to skill based standards.

As I prepared for the project, I realized, and was energized from, the work that we were about to do was going to contribute to a new movement in social studies education. In addition, webinars with Professor John Lee and conversations with Stephen Armstrong, State Social Studies Consultant, provided valuable information regarding C3 resource creation as well as validation that what we were going to try in Virginia was on the right path. But as the school year was coming to a close, I was still uncertain about the unit/lesson creation process. Even a workshop I ran to test run the C3 Framework with one of our high school’s departments left questions unanswered. But, ultimately, bumps in the road were smoothed. The release of the Inquiry Design Model (IDM) was the final tool needed for the summer project’s realization. We celebrated Independence Day and got to work.

Two Weeks in July

The goal of our summer project was to create C3 lessons for each of the 4 core courses Fairfax students take in high school – World History until 1500, World History 1500 – Present, VA/US History, and VA/US Government. Four teams of two generated a pair of lessons per course. I created one for VA/US History making our total of C3 lessons for the 2015 -2016 SY nineteen. But, as stated before, the teams’ familiarity with C3 needed to be developed. Presenting the C3 Framework in a positive light and as valuable work would be crucial to the project’s success.

So, before work began on creating the resources, I presented an overview of the C3 project. Taking the time to frame the framework was an opportunity to engage with teachers’ mindsets and beliefs regarding social studies education. Additionally, it was essential that the team came to agreement on a number of structural aspects and terminology. The outlines below identify the main aspects of these two pre –design steps we took as a team.

My hope is that these will inform planning and procedures regarding implementation of the C3 and/or C3 resource creation.


Part 1 – C3 Overview (90 – 120 minutes)

  • Contextualization of Resources and Objectives of Project
    • Share experience with C3, support of NCSS, and application for our system.
    • C3 Framework is theory model and IDM is the Application tool.
    • Read and discuss the article Instructional Shifts.
    • Jigsaw Activity for the C3 Framework’s 4 Dimensions. List and explain salient points for each dimension.
    • Discussion and Q and A.
  • Exploring Existing Work
    • Overview of the IDM – utilize blank and annotated resource.
    • Explore the C3 Bloggers (I suggested a list of bloggers and encouraged teachers to read others) and group share out. Note: Greg Ahlquist, Carly Muetterties and Dave Johnson’s blogs received significant praise)
    • Read and discuss the NY inquiry on the French Revolution.
    • Discussion and Q and A.

Part 2 – Team Norming (45 – 60 minutes)

  • Template for Lesson Design
    • We agreed to use the NY template and modified it as a team for our use in Fairfax.
    • Note: Changes made to template were ongoing as work continued
  • Lesson Creation
    • Teachers knew that the resource they created would be taught by them and would be made available for other teachers to use.
    • Team agreed that the lesson would be created for a 2 – 3 blocked time period.
    • Instructionally, the C3 would not be used as an “add-on” to existing instructional approaches. Rather, using the C3 would be an opportunity to change the way the topic/standards had been taught and assessed.
    • It is essential that the C3 lesson be matched to specific course standards that are typically taught over multiple classes.
    • Rubrics would be created as part of the lesson.


With this ground work established, the team was ready to create their first C3 lesson. Total time devoted to each unit varied. In general, the time for designing and editing the lesson ranged between 8-12 hours. It is important to note that the lessons we created are, in essence, self-contained modules of 20 – 30 pages that include instructional suggestions, suggested scaffolds/differentiation, all the resources used with the inquiry, and rubrics. And, it was their first attempt at doing this ground breaking work.

This table lists the inquiries that were created!


Course Inquiry


World History through 1500 Who was the better Caesar – Julius or Augustus?
World History through 1500 How did early trade routes impact history?
World History 1500 – Present How are cultures impacted by trade?
World History 1500 – Present How have political and social structures impacted Latin America?
VA/US History Is Reconstruction complete?
VA/US History How effective was the Civil Rights Movement?
VA/US History To what extent is the United States an Empire?
VA/US Government What are the major influences of the US Constitution?
VA/US Government What rights should the accused have?




What’s to Come

On September 2nd, members of the summer team presented their work to interested teachers at our back- to- school mini conference. During these 55 minute presentations, we received valuable feedback marked by sincere interest in their work. I consider this reaction to be very good signs for future work on the C3 Framework. Some of the feedback is provided here:

  • I didn’t know what C3 was but between my own research and our discussions I felt comfortable putting together a lesson.


  • I really liked the C3. It was something very new to me and I think that if teachers don’t like the whole process, they can at least use some of it.


  • I plan on presenting this to my department.


  • I like the ideas behind C3 and the dimensions and think it would be beneficial for the county.


As I eagerly wait for our summer team to teach their C3 lessons this school year, a step that will further refine this summer’s work, I find myself reflecting about developments surrounding the C3 Framework since this past July. The website redesign is impressive! The New York resources are outstanding! These developments are important because they create a feeling of continuance. In turn, my excitement is sustained.

I am eager to support the summer team and expand our teachers’ experiences with C3.   Specifically, I know that Dimension 4 will need to be demystified by providing a specific, doable, range of options for teachers to get their students to take informed action. I am happy to say that work in this has already happened.

But that is for the next blog….