Preparing to Use Place in Historical Inquiry: Creating an Inquiry Lesson

Preparing to Use Place in Historical Inquiry: Creating an Inquiry Lesson

Once educators (pre-service teachers or classroom teachers) are familiar with the inquiry process demonstrated in Historic Places and the Inquiry Method: Analyzing Evidence from a Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plan, they may want to develop their own inquiry lesson for use in the classroom. Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plans provide an excellent basis for an inquiry lesson because each one offers a collection of resources that work together to tell the story of a historic place. These lessons address a wide variety of themes, time periods, and standards.

The intent of an inquiry lesson is two-fold. It will,

  • Engage students in the steps of the inquiry process that historians and social scientists use

  • Guide students to learn about a specific topic or time period through history.

By participating in the inquiry process, students will gain experience in gathering information from various types of evidence and applying knowledge to form conclusions. By completing the inquiry lesson, students also will gain knowledge about the specific topic.

The following guidelines illustrate how to adapt a TwHP lesson plan for use as an inquiry lesson. The case study lesson plan is Gold Fever! Seattle Outfits the Klondike Gold Rush.

Questions a teacher must ask in advance of an inquiry lesson:

1. What is the problem to be solved, the situation to be explained, or the puzzle to be unraveled?

This problem or question forms the basis of the inquiry lesson. Students are asked to solve the problem or construct an explanation by studying the evidence you provide. Before selecting a problem or composing an inquiry question, it is important to consider what you want students to learn from the lesson overall. To ensure that the inquiry lesson is relevant, the topic should fit well into the existing curriculum. With that in mind, you may want to look at curriculum standards for your district or state curriculum standards to get a general idea of potential subjects. The model shown here can be applied to any TwHP lesson, so a variety of topics, locations, and time periods can be studied.

If you have not selected a subject for your inquiry lesson, begin by visiting the TwHP lesson plans web page. Here you can search more than 135 lesson plans according to theme, location, time period, skill, National Standards for History, or Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. If you already have a topic in mind, begin by checking the TwHP web site theme page for a corresponding lesson plan.

For example, if you are interested in addressing Westward Expansion, look for that topic under the theme page and then refer to the short descriptions of each lesson to help narrow your search.

Once you have identified a potential TwHP lesson plan (in this case, Gold Fever! Seattle Outfits the Klondike Gold Rush) visit the About This Lesson page to find where it fits into the curriculum and to identify relevant national standards in history and social studies. This section also includes a list of the materials students will work with in the lesson. Once you are familiar with these materials, you are ready to construct the specific question or problem. The problem should engage student interest, be intriguing enough to make them want to pursue an answer, and be answerable using the available resources. Remember that students should have to examine several pieces of evidence to arrive at the solution or explanation. Therefore, the question should be carefully crafted to promote a multi-dimensional answer. For example, the problem to be solved in this case is: How and why did the U.S. city of Seattle benefit from the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory?

2. Based on current scholarship, what are reasonable conclusions one can reach with respect to the inquiry problem? What are competing conclusions about which historians disagree?

TwHP lesson plans are well-researched, well-documented, and are written by site experts, educators, or historians. As a result, each lesson conveniently provides the information necessary to form the basis of an inquiry exercise.

3. On what evidence are these conclusions based?

There are many types of evidence or sources--primary, secondary, visual, written, etc. TwHP lesson plans are based on a variety of sources to ensure a well-rounded approach to the topic. The Determining the Facts section of each lesson typically contains one or more readings based on multiple sources. When possible, this section includes primary documents as well. Locating the Site and Visual Evidence sections contain an array of historic and modern images, drawings, maps, etc. When studied together, these multiple forms of evidence combine to provide a more representative view of the problem.

4. How can I make this evidence accessible to my students, in the form of 2-D and 3-D primary documents—accessible in the multiple senses of “proximity” (is it a place that can be visited), “retrievable” (is it a document or an artifact that is available for examination/use) and “understandable” (for example, is the language of the document comprehensible to my students)?

As stated above, TwHP lesson plans are a convenient tool because each one offers a ready-to-use collection of primary and secondary sources related to a historic place. Refer to the “Materials for students”section under About This Lesson for a complete list of materials in each lesson. Gold Fever! includes the following materials or evidence:

5. Is there an initial document, artifact, model, photograph, map, or physical setting I can present to students that:

  • Will generate an awareness of the problem,
  • Will spark interest in constructing an explanation that resolves the problem, and
  • Will prompt students to propose several testable hypotheses for which additional evidence can be brought to bear?

The initial piece of evidence sets the tone for the students’ experience with the inquiry lesson. Selecting this piece of evidence is critical, but can be tricky. It needs to provide students with enough information to formulate one or more hypotheses, but not so much it leaves nothing to be solved. It is important for students to examine and analyze multiple pieces of evidence (visual and written, primary and secondary) in order for them to reach logical and thorough conclusions. The initial piece of evidence, however, is the only tangible material students will use to formulate their initial hypotheses. As such, it should provide thought-provoking clues, but should not reveal the answer(s) to the question.

After examining all the materials in the lesson plan, select a single piece (most likely a photograph, map, or other visual as opposed to a reading) that best meets the above criteria. The initial piece of evidence selected for this case study is Map 1: Routes from Seattle to the Klondike Gold Fields. This map provides enough information to give students a bit of context without “giving away” too much information. At this point, you may need to slightly modify the wording of the problem to make sure it fits well with the piece of evidence.

With the inquiry question/problem in hand, students are asked to carefully study the map. Remember not to provide any additional information at this point, including the title of the lesson plan or questions associated with the initial piece of evidence. You may want to ask students to begin by writing down facts gathered from the evidence and how they relate to the inquiry question. (You might use Taba questions like, “What did you see? What did you notice?”.) For example, the arrows and the caption on the map can be used to deduce the approximate location of the gold fields. Students also can see from the map that Seattle is a long way away from those gold fields. They most likely will notice that two of the routes start from Seattle. If they closely examine the map they can extract some key information and use it to generate hypotheses. Possible hypotheses (generated from questions such as, “How would you explain . . . ?”.”What might we infer from . . . ?”) might look like this:

  • Seattle benefitted from the Klondike Gold Rush because of its location along two of the common routes to the gold fields. Miners probably stayed in Seattle before setting off for the Klondike gold fields and on the way back to their hometowns.
  • Seattle benefited from the Klondike Gold Rush because it was closer to the gold fields than other cities in the continental U.S. People who lived in Seattle at that time may have been more likely to go the gold fields because of its location. If so, Seattle residents who found gold may have spent their fortunes in Seattle.

Be sure to ask students what in the evidence makes them think this.

6. How shall I make that additional evidence available to students in a way that will help them analyze the evidence, make inferences from the evidence, and test hypotheses leading to a well-reasoned tentative conclusion?

Once students have formulated a hypothesis, the next step is to test it by examining more evidence. When selecting additional pieces of evidence, keep in mind that each piece should contribute to students’ overall understanding of the problem. Students should be made aware that they are to analyze and gather information from each piece as opposed to simply looking at or reading it. When dealing with multiple types of evidence it is also important to consider the order in which you will present them to students. Ideally, each type of evidence should build on knowledge gained from the previous one. For example, after students have written a hypothesis based on examining the route map, provide them with the following pieces of evidence in the order described below:

Reading 1: This reading provides context and explains what miners needed to set out on their journey. It also explains that Seattle was “beset” with stampeders.

Document 1: A photo and transcript of an article gives reasons why Seattle was the best place for stampeders to get outfitted for the gold fields.

Reading 2: This reading provides statistics on how Seattle was promoted and shows students how important Seattle boosters thought it was to promote their city.

Map 2: A map of Pioneer Square shows the number of hotels used to house stampeders.

Photos 1-3: Three historic photos allow students to picture the amount of supplies available and the character of the town.

Photo 4: A photo of the Pioneer Building illustrates the permanence of Seattle and provides a contrast with Photos 1-3.

Photo 5: A photo of stampeders on the trail gives students a better sense of the conditions, terrain, amount of supplies carried by stampeders, etc.

Reading 3: This reading provides information on the legacy of the Klondike Gold Rush. As the final piece of evidence students examine, this reading allows students to understand the lasting impact of the Klondike Gold Rush on Seattle.

After examining all the evidence, students are equipped to formulate a tentative conclusion that solves the problem (“What can we say generally?”).

7. In short, the teacher works backwards from the tentative conclusions to the evidence that is accessible to students. The teacher makes that evidence available to students, who can use it to test hypotheses and develop tentative conclusions (and perhaps also generate additional questions worthy of further investigation).

As expressed above, in order for the inquiry lesson to be most beneficial, the educator should have a clear idea of what he or she wants students to gain by completing it. For this case study, the chosen topic was Westward Expansion. The lesson plan on the Klondike Gold Rush was selected based on theme, materials, and relevance to the curriculum. It contains a variety of evidence types that educators easily can make available to students. Students use these materials to test and retest their original hypotheses. By the end of the inquiry lesson, they will have gained enough knowledge to develop tentative conclusions about how and why Seattle benefitted from the Klondike Gold Rush. Their conclusions should include points similar to those listed below:

  • Seattle’s physical location made it a natural starting point for American miners going to the Klondike gold fields.
  • Seattle’s local government worked hard to make the city the number one departure point as well as the premier place for outfitting. Intense advertising efforts brought increased attention to the city.
  • Local media encouraged prospective miners to live in Seattle for the winter before setting off for the Klondike. This brought more people and business to the city.
  • Some miners who did not make it to the Klondike returned to Seattle to live because the city offered good jobs.
  • Local businesses--hotels, outfitters, restaurants, barbers, etc.--benefitted from stampeders coming to Seattle. Their success encouraged more people to come to the city and led to a strong local economy.
  • Some miners who did find gold and become rich came back to Seattle and invested their fortunes.
  • Seattle’s population and boundaries grew as a result of the gold rush.
  • Before the Klondike Gold Rush, Seattle most likely seemed remote to most Americans. By the turn of the century, Seattle was considered the premier city of the Northwest.
Before the Klondike Gold Rush, Seattle most likely seemed remote to most Americans. By the turn of the century, Seattle was considered the premier city of the Northwest.

Last updated: December 5, 2015

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