This page strives to highlights standards-aligned classroom inquiries that have been taught in Illinois educators' classrooms.
Teachers at Beckemeyer Elementary School in Hillsboro, IL were kind enough to share a unit of inquiry that fourth-grade students engaged in earlier this school year. Shonda Ronen, a first-grade teacher and Teach Plus Illinois Teaching Policy Fellow was the elementary team leader for the Illinois Task Force to Revise the Social Science Standards and now continues to promote the implementation of the new standards across the state. Ronen has been working with Marcy Jorn, a fourth-grade teacher in her building, and her class throughout this inquiry-based civics unit earlier this school year.
Mrs. Jorn's 4th grade class engaged in an inquiry based civics unit in April. This unit aligns with the newly adopted Illinois Social Science Learning Standards by encompassing all of the Inquiry Skills Standards and Civics Standards at the fourth-grade level. In the area of civics at the fourth-grade level, students are asked to “Explain how rules and laws change society and how people change rules and laws in Illinois” (SS.CV.4.4), “Explain how a democracy relies on people’s responsible participation, and draw implications for how individuals should participate.” (SS.CV.2.4), “Identify core civic virtues (…) and democratic principles (…) that guide our state and nation.” (SS.CV.3.4), as well as "Distinguish the responsibilities and powers of government officials at the local, state, and national levels." (SS.CV.1.4).
Ronen and Jorn kicked off the unit by generating student interest with the School House Rock Video “How a Bill Becomes a Law”. The students were intrigued by the fact that a bill starts as simply an idea. This inquiry was structured to be very open-ended as students could choose to investigate how a bill becomes a law and then try to come up with an idea to drive change at the school, local or state level. This flexibility allowed students to distinguish the roles of the different officials. They quickly learned that some of their proposals didn't need to go to the Senator or Mayor but were more related to our own district and could be heard by the principal and superintendent/school board. Other proposals needed to be brought to the Mayor, Representative or Senator.
Students came up with their own ideas for change and then were grouped based on like questions or ideas. Groups utilized their textbook, other resources and trade books, and even using kid safe search engines to conduct research along the way. Throughout the unit local officials such as the school Superintendent David Powell, Mayor Bryan Sullivan, Representative Avery Bourne, and Senator Andy Manar visited Jorn’s classroom to speak with the students about their role and answer students’ many questions.
In culmination of the unit and to practice taking informed action, students wrote letters to the principal and met with him to discuss allowing an additional recess, wrote letters to the Mayor and Senator Manar to urge various bills and laws, as well as made flyers for the school and community to advocate for the issues they’d been researching. Their learning journey was also featured in the local newspaper! Students could demonstrate that they truly understood the fourth-grade civics practices after taking the lead on this inquiry.
Thank you for sharing Shonda and Marcy!
Shonda Ronen, a first-grade teacher and Teach Plus Illinois Teaching Policy Fellow at Beckemeyer Elementary School in Hillsboro, IL was kind enough to share an inquiry her first graders engaged in earlier last school year. Ronen has been implementing inquiry in the social sciences after serving as the elementary team leader for the Illinois Task Force to Revise the Social Science Standards and promoting the implementation of the new standards across the state.
In this unit, students had the opportunity to learn about Ruby Bridges as part of an inquiry to apply the Illinois Social Science Learning Standard that asks them to “Describe individuals and groups who have shaped a significant historical change” (SS.H.2.1) while engaging in all the Inquiry Skills standards for K-2.
Given her students' ages and experience with inquiry Shonda chose to have her students brainstorm all their questions about a slightly edited version of Norman Rockwell's print The Problem We All Live With (Ronen opted to crop the image to remove the racial slur before showing her first graders). All questions generated by the students to be investigated during this unit were recorded on chart paper by Ronen. In order to facilitate a discussion about what determines source quality, Ronen also asked her students to brainstorm a list of potential sources they could use to answer their questions. She was intentional with this inquiry about letting her students explore all sources brainstormed and answer all questions, they did not narrow the focus down to an essential question.
As students progressed through the inquiry, Shonda noticed that her plan for students to communicate their learning and take informed action was not the only way students wanted to apply what they'd learned. Shonda had envisioned students presenting what they learned about Ruby Bridges to the other first grade classrooms in her building. Her students began asking if they could write letters to Ruby Bridges herself. Ronen opted to be flexible and include both outcomes in her planning. Students culminated their learning by writing letters to Ruby Bridges that were mailed off to Ms. Bridges (and they received a response!) as well as presenting about Ruby to the other first graders.
Through this inquiry students not only were able to practice all the inquiry skills standards at the first-grade level but they also worked on many of the literacy standards as well. This inquiry made a big impression on Ronen's first graders as they began to see how their questions can drive learning in the classroom in addition to the understanding of how a young girl can make a big impact.
Thank you for sharing Shonda!
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Tried a great inquiry in your classroom? Use the button below to submit information about your inquiry to be included in the spotlight. Inquiries do not need to have gone perfectly to be included, there is value in learning what you'd do differently next time!
**Inclusion of an inquiry in the spotlight DOES NOT indicate an endorsement of curriculum by the State of Illinois**