116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Kindergartners at Horn Elementary School are investigating what it means to be in a community as a part of a new, inquiry-based social studies curriculum for K-6 called InquirEd.
The kindergartners are asking themselves questions about what superpowers they have that contribute to their school community. Are they kind, friendly, helpful, a problem solver?
“What I love about InquirEd is we are posing a question and helping kids become drivers of their own learning,” said Sara Cummins, Horn Elementary kindergarten teacher. “What we’re seeing right now in the classroom during social studies time is nothing like I’ve seen in my 13 years teaching.”
The Iowa City Community School District began piloting InquirEd last year as a part of its regular curriculum review. The district expanded the program to all K-6 grades this year.
Diane Schumacher, executive director of teaching and learning, said when she visits classrooms weekly, she observes more excitement and student engagement during social studies.
Social studies traditionally has been taught with a textbook and answer questions at the end of each chapter, Schumacher said.
“Very dry,” she said.
InquirEd is “hands on,” getting students to learn by taking action, Schumacher said.
Patrick Snyder, Iowa City elementary science and social studies curriculum coordinator, said students showcase their learning in creative ways.
InquirEd encourages “action projects,” Snyder said. They are challenged to transform what they’ve learned in to an experience.
Students have written plays and poetry, given speeches and even created a cookbook with recipes from each students’ cultural background. One class even raised money to buy blankets for children in the hospital through a cocoa fundraiser at their school in response to what they learned in social studies class.
The InquirEd curriculum is entirely online, which means it can be adapted if a new article or video better represents history, Snyder said.
“Previous textbooks might not have been representative of all voices that are a part of our history,” Snyder said. “By learning and growing, we’re able to find more inclusive voices.”
The curriculum is not only helping students learn social studies, but also work on developing oral language and social-emotional learning, said Cummins, Horn Elementary kindergarten teacher.
During social studies, students are moving around and talking to their peers instead of sitting at a desk.
“We’re a diverse school, so it really allows our English Language Learners to build that academic and social language and become stronger at communicating with their peers,” Cummins said.
When Cummins first learned about the curriculum, she said she was “apprehensive” about being able to get kindergartners to formulate questions.
“I’m blown away,” she said. “I can’t wait until this curriculum moves through each grade, to see how much further our kids are, not just academically, but in their ability to navigate the world.”
The curriculum is helping students improve academically in other subjects such as science, math and reading, Cummins said. They are more confident in asking questions and trying to find the answer on their own, she said.
Anne Coatar, teacher-librarian at Alexander Elementary School in Iowa City, works closely with teachers and students to provide supplemental text to go with the curriculum.
A couple examples of supplemental text includes:
- “We Are Water Protectors," by Carole Lindstrom, a picture book that tells the story of a Native American girl who fights against an oil pipeline in an effort to protect the water supply of her people.
- “Dreamers,” by Yuyi Morales, a book about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protected from deportation eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States when they were children.
Fifth-grade students are being asked: “How can facing the complexities of America’s past help us to meet the challenges of the present?”
It’s a complex question, Coatar said. In finding the answer, students learn about colonialism, the earliest encounters Europeans had with Native Americans, and human enslavement, she said.
"Learning is driven by students,“ Coatar said. ”There’s an essential question students are trying to answer through inquiry-based learning.
“It’s less feeding the kids information and more of them coming to it on their own through discovery.“
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