After three years of working with the C3 Frameworks, I have a collection of American History inquiries that make students curious and open to new ideas.  Recently, I wondered: how do I tie these together into a curriculum?

The essential questions of our curriculum remain valuable as a broad overview of our content goals for the course.   For example, when studying the Progressive Era, the essential question is: how did the Progressives solve the social and political evils created by modernization?    While this question may be clear to adults, the addition of compelling questions in kid-friendly language bridges a gap.

Now students explore the Progressives with the compelling question: At what point should businesses run freely, and at which point should government step in to protect workers and consumers?  

Students investigate the answers to formative questions, using primary sources:

  1. Which resource is more reliable: a New York Times article or a personal recollection about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire?
  2. Comparing The Jungle and Fast Food Nation, how have things changed and how have they remained the same?
  3. Which is more effective to a historian of Child Labor: a historical narrative, or Lewis Hines’s pictures?
  4. How does bias affect an author’s work? (Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell)

Inquiry has shifted the focus of our work from content (progressives) to the students’ work using content.   This shift also draws in key disciplinary skills such as sourcing and contextualization.   And, with the use of inquiry, students are more likely to be using strategic and extended thinking as measured on Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix.   Throughout the shift to inquiry, essential questions continue to keep me true to the goals of the curriculum while my students investigate to draw their own conclusions from the sources.

In the end, students enter class with a bubbly excitement ready to read and investigate history.    Their freedom to draw conclusions about real documents, history and issues, is empowering to them.   In this way inquiry has brought a new life to my classroom.

Acknowledgements:  I’m grateful to my colleagues who have written curriculum and inquiry with me: Greg Cumpstone, Linda Monroe and Dennis O’Rourke.