An inquirED Blog

Up to the Task: How to Support Student-Led Learning in Elementary Social Studies

Updated: Aug 5

Student-led learning tasks in K-8 inquiry-based social studies not only build content knowledge and skills but also help students take ownership of their learning. We explored the benefits and challenges of designing student-led learning experiences in social studies in our webinar with Elisabeth Ventling Simon (Co-Founder and Head of Learning Experiences, inquirED) and Jillian Corr (Senior Learning Experience Designer, inquirED). Read below for a recap of webinar content. To view the recording scroll to the bottom of the post


What Makes Something an Inquiry Task in Social Studies?

Students in traditional social studies classrooms act primarily as record keepers. They write down information, memorize it, and then recall it on a quiz or test. Of course, developing deep background knowledge is important, but that kind of knowledge isn’t built through record-keeping (for confirmation of this, just try to remember the battles and dates from your experience as a social studies student!). In contrast, in inquiry-based social studies students aren’t acting as record keepers but as social scientists seeking to understand the world and share this understanding with others.

Students are Engaged in the Work of Social Scientists

What does it mean for students to be engaged in the work of social scientists? First, they are engaged in the fundamental inquiry work of scientists in any field:

  • asking questions

  • gathering & processing information

  • drawing and communicating conclusions

  • taking Informed Action from their findings

And second, students are investigating the themes, building the skills, developing the literacies, and using the tools of social studies, with opportunities to practice thinking like a Historian, Geographer, Economist, and Civic Participant.

“But it’s not just that they are doing the work of social scientists,” according to Elisabeth Ventiling Simon, Co-Founder and Head of Learning Experiences at inquirED, “it’s also critical that we can assess this work.”

On our webinar, Elisabeth brought with her several examples of tasks, objectives, and look-fors (i.e. specific, observable indicators of student learning). In the example above, students are introduced to winter counts, a form of artwork that serves as a visual timeline, a record of history, and a tool for storytelling. As they investigate, they engage in the work of historians (analyzing and describing sources, corroborating findings, and evaluating historical context) and are assessed with clear indicators of learning (classifies a historical source as a text, interview, artifact, etc).