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An inquirED Blog

Sources as Mirrors and Windows: Making the Case for Elementary Social Studies

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Photo by Allison Shelley: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

How do the sources teachers choose provide mirrors and windows for students? We explored that question with Cereescia Sandoval, one of inquirED's Learning Experience Designers. Scroll to the bottom of the page for the webinar recording. This blog post and the associated webinar are sponsored by inquirED and the National Council for the Social Studies.


Sources Matter

At inquirED, we've been thinking a lot about the sources we use in Inquiry Journeys, our elementary social studies curriculum. We are continually reexamining lessons to keep our sources up-to-date and relevant because we understand that the sources we provide to teachers have a powerful impact on students, especially in inquiry-based social studies classes.

In inquiry-based social studies, the teacher acts as a facilitator, supporting students as they learn from the sources they are investigating. That's something I really didn't understand until recently. For a long time, I’ve known that a teacher shouldn't be the source of all knowledge in the classroom. Twenty years ago in my social studies methods classes, I was told, “Don’t be the sage on the stage, be the guide on the side!”

I remember it because it rhymed.

But it didn’t help me. If I was the guide on the side, what were students learning from? The textbook? That didn’t seem right for a million reasons, least of which was the fact that my textbook was eight years old and, in 2005, kept using the phrase “Someday, in the year 2000…”

So if not me – or the textbook – what could be the source of knowledge?

When I came to inquirED and started to dig deeper into inquiry-based social studies, I began to understand that in inquiry “THE source” is actually “A source” – one of many. At the heart of every lesson is a source, whether it's a map, document, photograph, painting, piece of art, or even student-created work. Students are waiting to question it, connect with it, and absorb it, learning about themselves and the world in the process.

That's why sources matter. And that’s why we invited Cereescia Sandoval to talk to us about how sources act as mirrors and windows for students. Cereescia is a bi-racial Indigenous American educator who sees her identity as directly connected to her purpose. In fact, her devotion to re-imagining education for Black and Brown students and disrupting educational inequity is what led her to inquirED.

Mirrors and Windows

When I asked Cereescia about the terms "mirrors" and "windows," she referenced Emily Style's "Curriculum As Window and Mirror" as the first scholarship that applied the terms to the classroom. "They demonstrate the importance of providing a way to look out and see others," Cereescia stated, "and also a way to see yourself represented in the curriculum and classroom."

As for Cereescia's own learning experiences with mirrors and windows, she reflected that "what I often experienced was windows, looking into a white-centered, male-centered version of the world." It wasn't until later in life, in college and graduate school, that she began to find mirrors in some of the sources she was exploring. In her work at inquirED, writing social studies curriculum for elementary students, she hopes to make sure that students don't have to wait that long to see themselves in their learning. "There are opportunities for mirrors and windows across all curriculum, but there's a real importance to there being mirrors and windows in reference to social studies."

Why Social Studies?

For all learners, the disciplines of social studies provide unique opportunities for mirrors and windows. Civics examines our relationship with others within a group, whether it’s a classroom, community, or country. History teaches us to analyze the past to inform our actions in the present and future. Economics asks us to investigate how we meet our wants and needs and balance them in relation to other people’s. Geography prompts us to consider how we affect our environment and how our environment affects us. This list of examples is not exhaustive. Add in psychology, anthropology, archaeology, philosophy, religion, and sociology, and you have nearly the whole spectrum of human experience as your area of study.

Cereescia spent her career teaching kindergarteners and other young learners, so I asked her about the power of social studies in the early grades. She shared her belief that social studies provides young learners with an "opportunity to engage with the real world, to consider their own lived experience and the lives of others." In this way, when we teach social studies, we have an even greater responsibility to ensure that the sources we choose provide mirrors and windows. After all, if we agree that social studies "is life work – not just classroom work" (as Cereescia put it), then our students must be able to see themselves and others in that work.

Immediate Shifts

Teachers can make several immediate shifts to make sure that they are including sources that provide mirrors and windows in their social studies classrooms. Resources like the Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books can help teachers perform a source audit of their existing materials or screen new materials they are considering including in the classroom. During the webinar, we looked at two different sources that inquirED's Learning Experience Team considered for inclusion in Inquiry Journeys.

Using the criteria shown here, we enlisted the help of webinar attendees to evaluate and audit these potential sources. Interestingly, both sources were found to be lacking, but Cereescia revealed that her team elected to use one of these sources in the curriculum. "Sometimes you can use a source that's limited to get students to think critically about those limitations." She emphasized that the point of analyzing these sources with students is not to judge one source as "good" and another "bad" but to help students start to understand the limitations of any one source.

Long-Term Work

As teachers, we act as facilitators in an inquiry-based social studies classroom, but we can't help the fact that we are also an influential source of information for students. They watch and listen to us, picking up cues on how to act, think, and interpret the world.

If we truly want to interrogate the sources we bring into our classroom, we must also interrogate our own beliefs, implicit biases, and actions. According to Cereescia, this kind of work is hard to do alone. "Learning communities are important," she said. " It’s important to have people that are highly supportive of you and also push you to interrogate your own beliefs."

As you continue to do the hard and necessary work, keep connected with us – and stay tuned to our upcoming webinars to connect with others who are passionate about elementary social studies.


The following resources relate to the issues and ideas discussed during the webinar.

  • Social Justice Books: A great selection of multicultural and social justice books for children, YA, and educators, including a Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books.

  • inquirED's Source Checklist: A checklist to use when gathering sources for your classroom.

  • inquirED's Curriculum Rubric: For those of you who are searching for a curriculum – and want a rubric to check up on how that curriculum incorporates high-quality diverse sources.

  • inquirED's Source Analysis Poster: A classroom poster to help students ask questions about the sources they encounter.

  • The National Equity Project: Supporting teachers and leaders in transforming their systems into equitable, resilient, and liberating environments.

View the webinar recording below:


About inquirED

inquirED has moved beyond the textbook, offering a customizable, digital curriculum that supports teachers in shifting to student-centered instruction. inquirED delivers year-long, student-centered curriculum and assessment with engaging content and activities for students and embedded professional learning for teachers. Inquiry Journeys is inquirED’s core elementary social studies curriculum. Inquiry Journeys is a comprehensive inquiry-based curriculum with embedded PD that helps teachers shift their practice to a more inquiry-based approach. Learn More.

About our Panelists and Hosts

Cereescia Sandoval

Learning Experience Designer , inquirED

Cereescia is a bi-racial Indigenous American educator who sees her identity as directly connected to her purpose. She is devoted to re-imagining education for Black and Brown students. Cereescia has been teaching for 13 years and received her Masters in Ed. at University of Oregon as part of the Sapsik’ʷałá Indigenous Teacher Education Program. She has a dedication to Deeper Learning that was nurtured through the High Tech High organization. Her experience as a Leading for Equity Fellow with the National Equity Project prompted her to pursue a path focused on disrupting educational inequity, which led her to inquirED.

Martin Andrews

Communications Director, inquirED

Martin has taught for 20 years at the K-12 and college levels. As a Social Studies and Latin teacher in Ohio, he developed narrative-based middle school Latin and high school World History curricula. After earning an MFA in Theatre, Martin co-founded Working Group Theatre, helping to create over 15 original plays to educate children and adults. His work has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Metlife Foundation, and others. Martin joined inquirED in December 2017.


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