The students were beginning the year doing inquiry studies on the Native American cultures of North America. They were then moving into inquiries about Westward Expansion.  Because Inquiry incorporated reading and literacy we decided to incorporate Literacy, Social Studies and Art in our unit.

Student #1

Students sorting construction studio supplies

We decided to let the students have a kinesthetic experience of what it might have felt like to enter a wild territory and decide how to organize and inhabit the space, both respecting the existing space and including the culture one brings to the space.  We did this through having the students take all of the donations for the construction studio (like the Natural resources the pioneers would have found)  and sort through them to make some sort of order.

Student #2

Construction Studio (Wild West) organized

After sorting and organizing the resource the students identified the best way to arrange the materials into the studio.

Student #3

Laws of the Construction Studio

Each student had identified their strength and weaknesses earlier in the unit.  Students decided what type of pioneer they might be.   A group of 8 decided that they would make good leaders and government officials.  This groups created the laws of the studio.  It was remarkable how similar their struggles were to the struggles of our US senate, down to Filibusters and lobbyists.  In the end the laws were solid, based on experience and dictated the whole schools usage of the space for the rest of the year.


While struggling with organization and collaboration we noticed a need for the students to develop their collaboration skills.  These are skills that are extremely important in the Inquiry process.  Through using Fishbowl method students identified what is active listening and other collaborative behaviors.  Then the students used these new found skills in constructing topographical maps of their regions of inquiry.

Student #1

Fishbowl activity on active listening and other collaborative behaviors

Student #2

Topographical map created by the students of the USA

The students envisioned in bas relief what the landscape of North America before man using celluclay, foamcore, and paint.  Through research of the physical features of the various regions of North America they were able to identify important landscape features.

Student #3

Acetate overlay of the Native American inhabitants of North America

As the students’ research revealed information about the Native American Cultures before European arrivals they illustrated aspects of their cultures as icons for the map on an acetate overlay.   This became the first layer of inhabitants on this land that the students documented on the map.


The students prepared the map to place on the next layer of their learning by illustrating the various movement of Westward Expansion.  The inquiry groups were, Trail of Tears, Homestead Act, Gold Miners, Lewis and Clark, The Transcontinental Railroad to encompass all aspects of Westward Expansion.

Student #1

Students' icons for the Gold Miners contribution to westward expansion

These icons were created on acetate to enable the students to attach the images to the layer of acetate over the map.  This was done to document the movement over time across North America.

Student #2

Gold miners inquiry group going public

Student Inquiry groups each chose a variety of ways to go public with their learning.  This group chose to recreate the mine and place the questions and answers from their research around the artifact.  They also wrote a rap to accompany their presentation. scye and max gold miner’s rap

Student #3

World's Fair final inquiry presentation on China

At the end of the school year we have a World’s Fair where the students do inquiry units of study on different cultures.  Students take on an aspect of culture and dive deep into inquiry on the topic.  This is a sort of final assessment of student learning through inquiry.  We develop rubrics of going public to ensure accountability in the learning.  This presentation is developed and shared with all of the other student’s work at the fair and the Share Day held the day before.

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