Inquiry-Driven Westward Expansion Mini-unit

When my student teacher abruptly postponed her assignment last week, I was disappointed. I enjoy coaching new teaching talent and wanted to see her succeed. I also looked forward to some freedom to sort through a variety of new instructional ideas to implement next year. However, this became an opportunity to try some new ideas out – teach from scratch. With no real time to plan a unit, this has been a fun challenge to be creative with how I’ve designed the unit. My personal challenge was to do mostly new instructional ideas while maintaining the engagement and enthusiasm of History Fair.

Screenshot 2017-03-22 at 11.49.58 AMAfter using our textbook (note: if given more time to prepare I would have preferred to use primary sources) to collect background knowledge, we moved on to organizing with a question in mind: did people move west for social, political, economic, or cultural reasons? This inquiry method utilizes a framework for social studies thinking  (Fitzpatrick, 2011) to organize and better understand historical events. This process requires students to use inquiry to really evaluate an event and understand where it belongs. For only having a 10-minute primer on this process, students did a nice job. We’ll revisit the SPEC definitions during the Civil War Unit.

This process also lead to a day-long QFT (Right Question) usingScreenshot 2017-03-22 at 11.45.06 AM John Gast’s American Progress. Students generated questions which ranged from the concrete (“what is that cable?) to symbolic (“why does the lighting change from right to left”). As usual, the QFT extracted thoughtful questions which pivoted into our next activity: Students using those questions to develop an understanding of what happened during Westward Expansion.

Our inquiry and research activity today was a both a test of our research skills (corroboration, validation) and analysis as it pertains to the goal today (“Why did Americans expand West”). Students identified questions which they deemed important and examined several sources, as well as those at their own discovery, to find answers to the questions.

Screenshot 2017-03-22 at 2.43.46 PMScreenshot 2017-03-22 at 2.43.26 PM

Our next two days will focus on a final evaluation of the Social, Political, Economic and Cultural impact of the Westward Expansion. We’ll do some skits tomorrow, then write (with evidence!) on Friday. Looking forward the culmination of a whirlwind 8-day unit.