Updated: May 9
Authentic Learning Experiences
On a sunny day in May, Jenny Herkins' second-graders beamed with pride as they gathered around the Community Garden they had created as part of the “Meeting Needs and Wants” unit of Inquiry Journeys. During the Inquiry Journeys unit, students work together to take informed action. They design their own community model, investigating key economic and civic principles, and eventually joining together to meet a real-world need in their own community - like the community garden project,
“We made an impact on our community!” Kinsely said proudly. “And we got to work with other people to get things done,” Cael added. “We found worms!” Isabella shared.
This kind of authentic learning experience - when students apply their social studies knowledge and skills to make a difference in their world - is an important part of each unit of Inquiry Journeys. Let’s take a closer look at how Inquiry Journeys helped Ms. Herkins and her students build knowledge and take action!
Start with an Inquiry Question
Just like every Inquiry Journeys unit, Meeting Needs is framed by an Inquiry Question that guides investigation and supports action: How can we help our community work together to meet its needs and wants? The Unit Launch starts with lessons that Hook students into the inquiry, by prompting them to build the foundations of their model community generate their own questions to explore. According to Ms. Herkins, that question hooked her students from the beginning. "They really wanted to make difference in our school community, wanted to leave their mark, so they were motivated to learn!"
Move Through an Investigation
After the launch, students started their sustained investigation, moving through a series of lessons organized around four, essential, need-to-know questions:
Why can’t I have everything I want?” With lessons that prompt students to examine the difference between needs and wants, and how to prioritize where to spend, save, or donate money
How do producers meet our needs and wants? With lessons that lead students to consider the goods and services needed in their community and create a fictional business to produce them.
How do we make tough choices when spending money? With lessons that prompt students to imagine scenarios that could affect decisions about needs and wants, and create a game to simulate tough economic decisions.
How does a community meet our collective needs? With lessons that help students consider the important role played by local governments and civic institutions.
As students move through this rigorous investigation, they are working together, thinking critically, and creating solutions. "If you walk in my room, my kids are not gonna all be sitting together," Ms. Herkins shared about her classroom during this phase of the unit, "it’s gonna be a little noisy and they’re going to be talking to each other and probably not doing the same thing all at once. It's active. It's inquiry. They really love it."
Create an Inquiry Challenge Statement
After their sustained investigation, students created an Inquiry Challenge Statement that described how they would use their learning to design and implement an action that had an impact on their community. Ms. Herkins shared that she chose the Persuasive Poster as the Inquiry Product, but that her students were the ones that really chose what action they would take: "We were brainstorming what type of problems and they came up with two ideas: creating an outdoor learning area at their school and bringing the school garden back to life."
Using the supports built into Inquiry Journeys, students worked with Ms. Herkins to develop
two Inquiry Challenge Statements that would guide their work. Each Inquiry Challenge Statement described the action they would take, the product they would create, the target group they would affect, the impact they wished to have, and the goals they would work toward.
Taking Informed Action in Inquiry Journeys
Due to limitations on guests in the classroom and other COVID-19 disruptions in the fall, the students weren’t able to present their work to the PTO, school administrators, and
staff. However, they had a passion for the project, so when Earth Day came around and they were learning about pollinators in science, they revisited their persuasive posters and Inquiry Challenge Statements and turned them into a presentation they could send to their PTO. The PTO agreed to a $100 budget to help support their project and Ms. Herkins and her students got to work figuring out how to make it a reality.
Using the funds from the PTO, Ms. Herkins collected supplies and the class got started clearing out weeds from the plant beds. After posting progress photos on Twitter, a local author of
children’s science books, Emily Morgan, reached out and the class began corresponding with Ms. Morgan through letters. They would ask questions and Ms. Morgan would respond with new topics the class could research and learn more about.
As the garden took shape, teachers at Heritage began noticing and soon different grades began to get involved. Kindergarteners had just released butterflies and found that the pollinator beds worked perfectly with their curriculum. First graders used pumpkins in their fall math units, so they were invited to start a pumpkin patch. And to help with their math unit on measuring ingredients, second graders planted ingredients to make salsa.
Impact the World
The students became leaders within their school and learned how to take action when they have an idea. As a result of their project, they created a school-wide learning opportunity and planted the seeds for long-term impact. Ms. Herkins sees long-lasting impacts.
"They learned that just because they’re in second grade doesn’t mean they can’t make a difference, make things better. I think it’s something they will remember and take with them forever."
Although the second graders won’t be able to harvest the wildflowers, pumpkins, and herbs, they still found a great sense of accomplishment and pride for starting something that reached beyond their classroom. Inquiry Journeys provided students with a hands-on, project-based experience that connected their learning across social studies, science, math, and language arts.
inquirED was founded by teachers with the mission of bringing inquiry-based social studies to every classroom. Inquiry Journeys, inquirED’s elementary social studies curriculum, is used in schools and districts across the country to help students develop deep social studies content knowledge and build the inquiry skills that are essential for a thriving democracy.
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