A concept driven inquiry into history…

The inquiry 

Central Idea – ‘Investigating history helps us understand the present.

The teachers collaboratively develop a rubric for the desired conceptual understandings so that, with shared goals in mind, we can plan a couple of powerful provocations and then wait to see how the learning unfolds.

The understandings

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 4.29.22 pm The provocations 

  • An excursion to Sovereign Hill, an open air museum, where children explore the Australian Gold Rush (mandatory Australian curriculum) via hands-on experiences, while observing and noticing through the conceptual lens of change and taking photographic evidence.
  • Exposure to a range of maps, headlines and artefacts from the past to provoke curiosity. (Details here)

What next?

The learners are engaged and excited, with plenty of questions and wonderings, BUT… so far, their focus is entirely on change. Rubi and I chat about how to provoke them to think about causation too.

Inquiry through drama 

In the spirit of trans-disciplinary, concept-driven learning, we engage the students in a drama activity to push their thinking further…

The class is split into two. One group stands in a line facing the wall and we play a version of Chinese Whispers, except with movements instead of talking. The teacher acts out a series of movements for the first person in the line. The children then turn around one by one and pass the actions down the line. The role of the second group is to observe. (They talk first about what observing is – more than looking, watching carefully, thinking about what we see, really noticing.)

Much fun and laughter ensues, as the movements change time and again as they are passed down the line. By the time the last person acts it out, it has become something different entirely. After switching groups and repeating the activity, the children talk with partners about what they think caused the changes. 

Making connections 

Before we have an opportunity to make the connection, Josh excitedly calls out – ‘I know how this connects to our unit of inquiry!’  Wonderful! We have succeeded in shifting the learners’ beyond just how things change over time, to causation… 

The surprise 

Josh says that the activity shows how, when things are passed down, they get changed along the way. How do we know that what is presented as history is accurate? How do we know if there are different perspectives on the way things happened? 

Rubi and I exchange glances. Not what we’d expected, but much, much deeper! Before anyone states the ‘obvious message’, another learner says it made her realise that ‘the past’ might be one minute ago, change is happening all the time. Another notes that it can be a lot of little changes along the way that add up to the big changes in history. Yet another says it’s about looking for patterns of behaviour that cause change… And all of this before someone mentions that it could relate to the people and things that have caused change over time. (our intention)

Our learners are ready to take their wonderings to another level. They haven’t even seen the rubric yet and they are already developing the desired conceptual understandings.


  • Never play ‘guess what’s in my head’. Learning is not about coming up with the one right answer.  Given the time, space and encouragement to think, learners will surprise you with their responses.
  • Don’t over-plan. Wait and see how the learning unfolds and plan responsively.
  • A simple, seemingly unrelated, activity can provoke deep thinking when learners are able to make connections.
  • Use a variety of approaches to teaching and learning in order to appeal to all kinds of learners. Don’t underestimate the power of drama in provoking thinking and deepening understanding.
  • Content based teaching just focuses on forgettable facts. (We used to ‘teach the Gold Rush’.) Concept driven learning is about big transferable ideas that transcend time, place and situation, helping learners make sense of the facts and of the world around them.
  • Don’t cover the curriculum. Let the learners discover and uncover for themselves…

About whatedsaid

Teaching and Learning Coordinator at an IB PYP school in Melbourne, Australia. I'm a teacher, a learner, an inquirer...
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6 Responses to A concept driven inquiry into history…

  1. Joanna says:

    Would you be willing to share your IB planner for this unit with me?


  2. Pingback: OTR Links 03/30/2014 | doug --- off the record

  3. Adam says:

    We developed a unit here around how records of history can change our perspective. Gets better and better each year. Great explaining the need for a variety of resources when researching.


  4. Pingback: Inquire into ‘Inquire Within’… | Inquire Within

  5. Pingback: Inquiry into ‘Inquire Within’… | Inquire Within

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