Inquiry Option in Social Studies

Burnaby students and Burnaby teacher Angela Woolf recently engaged teachers from around the province in discussion about Syria utilizing United Nations General Assembly procedures. With global learning a major side benefit, presenting a Model United Nations simulation as a tool for student inquiry in the social studies classroom was a focus. Tips and classroom materials were shared as well so such a process on the topic of indigenous peoples of the world could be instituted in grade 10 social studies classes.

pano_vantech_workshopInquiry as a teaching strategy in Social Studies has been in the social studies curriculum since the 1970’s, when the BC social studies curriculum emphasized the acquisition of a specific body of knowledge but also encouraged developing “some facility in using the methods of inquiry through knowledge in the social domain is discovered and acquired.” Social studies methodology has come a long way since then.

While 1989 saw the BC provincial education ministry set out a vision of an educated citizen who would think clearly and critically and adapt to change,” the 2017 curriculum is founded on the vision that students would still be taught the “basics” yet through more “flexible” curricula with “personalized learning” and education for the 21st Century as an emphasis. This will represent a shift in education practice, putting students at the centre of their own learning.

But how to develop such innovative environments where students can discover their own passions, solve problems which don’t yet exist, and still get hired by great companies? There are many innovative and challenging possibilities. Model UN simulations represent just one, but one with great potential in social studies classrooms for leading to increased engagement, motivation and development of important lifelong skills like collaboration, communication and problem-solving. This is what our very skilled students and teachers have been attempting to promote with the workshops on Model UN.

Model UN inquiry can be highly personally relevant for our students. First, such a project requires students to choose a country of interest – one that might be associated with cultural heritage, or a political ideology of interest, for example. Secondly, while a general topic is chosen for the class such as climate change or managing water resources, students delve into the topic via their own questions and discovery. What they learn is how intricately related all citizens of the planet ultimately are, along with how vastly different actions on the same issue can be. Students form their own opinions, but must act and speak in the interest of their chosen country. Lastly, the resolutions created by blocs of these student member state representatives are reflective of compromise and/or broad acceptance; no one perspective or opinion will become the final goal of the world community. The whole process is one in which we all must participate as contributing citizens of our communities and of the global context. Civil society and peace on earth depends upon our young people learning such a process, and though it is not always easy it can be personally rewarding.

Notably, teachers introducing the process of the highest level of inquiry to their students aren’t giving “the” answer all of the time; conversely, skilled inquiry teachers ask questions of their students – challenging them to go back and find out more, figuring out complex details – in order that students can build their own scaffold for knowledge and problem-solving. The result can sometimes be anxiety and even a kind of irritation for some students who are more comfortable with a traditional learning approach. Such a symptom may surface through innumerable questions about how to complete the activity or if they are doing things right. With Model UN investigation, some students express concern about having to read numerous sources on the same topic, rather than pre-selected text at standard reading levels. One researcher believes that with a teacher focus on the concurrent development of necessary self-regulated learning (SRL) skills, students can successfully adapt to the inquiry model in the classroom. He is one of many teachers actively rethinking teaching and learning practices.

One thing is clear. The social studies teachers in this workshop were actively engaged with personal stories of interest and fascination with the world of Model United Nations. The students leading the workshop were excellent examples of the benefits of Model UN simulation – articulate, globally informed and passionate. Examine the photo more closely to see who are the definite role models for this trending, challenging and informative experience. And then, if you haven’t already, find out more about Model United Nations opportunities.