History Inquiry in the New Year

This week was rough as we were some of the few, but mighty, to get back to work.  As much as I would have preferred to relax for a few days longer, the History room was buzzing with more creative energy in the New Year on our first days back from vacation.

Some of the work was new, as in the case of the 7th and 8th graders, who were introduced to new inquiry, new historical issues to chew on, and new material.  Some of the work was a holdover from before the break, as in the case of the 6th graders, who were in the middle of composing persuasive speeches. All of it was engaging, as we can see from the work we have done on Wallwisher:

Here is the 8th grade inquiry.  Students are investigating the several compromises that postponed dealing with the crucial issue of slavery in the 19th century.  I posted some essential questions, then divided the class into 4 groups for more focused inquiry.  The general goal is to have the 4 groups present their findings to the class after each becomes somewhat "expert" in their topics.  The wall is great because all groups can read summaries of each others' findings, then refer back to wall for studying or reference for later.  My questions posed:

Then the beginnings of uncovering facts:

And more (I couldn't fit the whole wall into one screen shot):

In the 6th grade, students are working on persuasive essays.  The question under consideration is whether they think the Pharaoh or the U.S. President has a tougher job.  This class is interesting in that there is a close to even balance of those who think the Pharaoh has it toughter vs. those who think the U.S. President has it tougher.  This close balance has not happened in the past; most classes tend to have stronger feelings one way or the other.

I enjoy this assignment because it encourages students to think critically; it helps them to practice their persuasive writing techniques; it allows students to practice their public speaking (because they will perform these speeches to the class); it helps students to organize their thoughts since I have them post their top five reasons for their thinking; and finally, it forces them to choose a side.  One of the requirements of this exercise is that they must choose a side.  Many students will want to know where I stand.  A caveat at the beginning of the assignment is that I will tell them what I think AFTER they have all presented their speeches (much to their dismay).

I like the wall, again, because it is a record of students' thinking, it allows other students to see how their peers are thinking, which can serve as a model for their own ideas, or can help to generate more or different ideas, and the whole class can see a visual of who is on what side. 

Students on the President's side:

Students on the Pharaoh's side:

This is such a great tool for generating discussions, as well.  In all grades, I encourage students to comment about each others' posts, or to post questions of concepts or issues that they didn't understand in their reading.  I also encourage  students to answer each others' questions or to offer suggestions for further study or research.  Wallwisher is a fantastic tool for collaboration, note-taking, record keeping, generating discussions, and probably many other things that I haven't discovered yet.  Enjoy!

7th graders helping each other with a difficult reading:


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