Inquiry-Based Learning: A Quick Definition
If inquiry is the process of asking a question and researching to find its answer, and learning is gaining knowledge and skills, then inquiry-based learning is gaining knowledge and skills through the process of asking a question and investigating. Inquiry-based learning also gives students agency over their learning -- whereas traditional learning methods have teachers reciting information and students memorizing that, inquiry-based learning is more active, having students ask questions and design their own research processes.
For a more thorough definition, click here.
How Can We Use Inquiry-Based Learning in the Social Studies Classroom?
Inquiry-based learning can be utilized in any classroom, adaptable for any grade. In social studies, it works especially well -- the students aren't just students, they're historians and researchers. It's a way to get them to understand that social studies is a living document -- not just a set of texts. And as teachinghistory.org explains, "through using evidence to investigate historical questions, students are given the opportunity to see that history is not just a collection of facts, but rather a rigorously constructed set of arguments."
Inquiry Learning in Social Studies: Let's Take a Deeper Dive
By using the C3 Framework for Social Inquiry. According to Stanford University, "Social Inquiry (SI) courses focus on probing questions that are of social nature; for example pertaining to social arrangements, human behavior, and forms of social, political, and economic organization."
The C3 Framework, or the college, career, and civic life (C3) framework for social studies state standards, is "centered on an Inquiry Arc--a set of interlocking and mutually supportive ideas that frame the ways students learn social studies content. By focusing on inquiry, the framework emphasizes the disciplinary concepts and practices that support students as they develop the capacity to know, analyze, explain, and argue about interdisciplinary challenges in our social world."
With this framework in mind, "students are now asked to consider the work of historians and take on their role. They are encouraged to ask and create their own questions, inspect primary sources, and make inferences about the past."
Benefits of Inquiry in Social Studies
As you may have expected, the benefits of using inquiry-based learning in social studies is really the same as using it in any other subject -- it triggers student curiosity, boots their engagement, improves their analytical, evaluative, and critical thinking skills, and what they learned usually sticks with them, since they're doing rather than just receiving.
Inquiry Tips + Lesson Plans
Letting your students act as researchers in the field sounds great -- but how do you do that?
- The New York State Social Studies Resource Toolkit details a lesson on economic inquiry for first graders: What Choices Do We Make With Our Money?
- From Facing History and Ourselves, a facilitation plan for students to create their own social change projects.
- Savvas has a bunch of tips, steps, and lesson plan samples for implementing inquiry for multiple grades.
- Teachinghistory.org also explains how to run an inquiry lesson in the social studies class.
- PBS has created lesson plans that help prepare students for the work of inquiry in social studies. Here are a couple: Think Like a Historian and Testing the Hypothesis.
- And, Virginia Tech also has a great primer of all the skills necessary to embark upon your own inquiry.