Primer on Social Science Inquiry

Primer on Social Science Inquiry

The Activities on this site are based on the principle of learning through inquiry.

Using inquiry, students do not merely memorize facts from textbooks -- they go out into the real world to find answers to open-ended questions, ideally questions they have come up with themselves because they are genuinely curious. They create knowledge; they do not merely receive it. What they find gradually re-shapes their understanding of the world.

Teaching using the inquiry process requires a fundamental reexamination of the relationship between the teacher and the learner. Instead of a sage delivering information that the learner notes down and memorizes (the traditional role of the teacher), in inquiry the teacher becomes a guide for the learner's process of discovery.

Learning Adventures in Citizenship is intended to be used for inquiry by middle-school-aged kids and middle-school teachers across America. Using the PBS series NEW YORK: A DOCUMENTARY as an example of how cities and communities across America developed into unique civic centers, the site both teaches New York history and prompts middle-school students to critically examine their own communities, and become active participants by volunteering and working there. Learners can use its multimedia Web materials about New York as a springboard to investigate their own neighborhoods to better understand the political, economic, and cultural issues facing their community in the past, present, and future.

The following Web site is an excellent resource for learning more about inquiry:

Institute for Inquiry
The Exploratorium's Institute for Inquiry provides workshops, programs, on-line support, and an intellectual community of practice which afford educators an experience of how inquiry learning looks and feels. Primarily aimed at science teachers, but has applications for all branches of learning. Features descriptions of inquiry, links to other resources, scholarly articles, and more.

The Activities are tied to middle-school social studies curricula; specifically, to new standards developed by the National Council for Social Studies, which defines social studies as the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence. Because the goal is to teach students ways to become responsible citizens in their communities (local and more broadly defined), inquiry activities fit well into this framework.

For a list of the standards, you can visit:

National Council for the Social Studies
Standards, teaching resources, news, professional development, and more.


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