A Fun Inquiry Activity for History Class:
Wonder Days Projects
Imagine you took just one day, a single lesson, and devoted it entirely to students exploring something they are curious about. The lesson plan and learning goal could fit on a post-it! It might look like this:
Explore a topic you are interested in and show your learning anyway you choose.
Teacher, author, and creator John Spencer, calls these “Wonder Day Projects” and I have loved them from the moment he taught me about them on this History Teachers Club podcast episode.
HOW I WOULD SET UP A WONDER DAY PROJECT
If you are incorporating some of the strategies that I have taught in this month’s newsletters “Developing Powerful Inquiry” that went over how to get students more curious, asking, and improving their own questions, and how to foster rich discussions, then students should be able to thrive with this activity! (Note- this is surely different than how John Spencer would set them up- but it aligns with the big idea.)
Give students time to create inquiry questions
For whatever unit you are studying, allow students (individually or in small groups) to develop a question that they are interested in exploring. For the Civil War they might ask, “What medicines did they use to treat soldiers?” “Were there any women soldiers?” “How did spies help the Union win the war?” If you’re studying Ancient Egypt they might ask, “How did they learn the math and science to build the pyramids?” “Did the Nile River ever get polluted?” or “Could Egyptian slaves ever get freedom?”
It might benefit the whole class for students to share their questions in small groups or aloud with the class as it could lead those curiosity sparks to catch fire! This might take 5 minutes.
Task students with coming up with how they’ll show their learning
To really empower students, allow students to choose how they'll show what they learned. This could be a simple 1-2 slide presentation (or a thin slide if you use Edu Protocols), a short report that summarizes what they learned or discovered, a sketch, drawing, or diagram, or if you were doing a two-day Wonder Project, they could even do a mini-podcast that John Spencer calls a Curiosity Cast which might sound like a conversation between group members about what they learned, what was interesting or surprising, and what they’re confused about.
For younger students who need more structure, feel free to limit the choices or decide it for them. Just remember- more choice leads to more ownership. ; )
Start Researching & Exploring!
For the majority of class, students will use their chromebooks, textbooks, or other resources to explore and research their questions. I encourage students to take simple notes along the way and record new questions that surface during their research. Your role is just to support students - but resist the urge to solve all their problems for them. A nudge and encouragement is what most students need. With ten or so minutes left, remind students to complete their slides, summaries, sketches, or reports. For me, quick and dirty is okay! The process is what counts here.
Share Their Findings
Depending on the length of your classes, this might not be feasible. But giving students 5-10 minutes to share what they learned with their peers (either in groups or as a whole class) can be really powerful and help students feel more accomplished and proud of themselves.
Closing: Reflect on the Process
Students will really benefit from a few minutes to reflect on the process. As an exit pass you could ask students to reflect on what they learned, the challenges they faced, how they overcame them, and how they might improve their research in the future.
Let it Get Messy
Be prepared for things to get a wee-bit messy. Some students might get stuck or lost, others might not find any reliable answer to their question or find contradictory answers, while others might want to change their question half-way through the lesson. This is not just okay- its kind of the point!
To prepare students for an uncertain future, we need to give students opportunities to get off-track, frustrated, and lost, so they can learn how to problem-solve their way through the mess! Its one of the most important things we can do as educators!
Go For It!
I hope you find at least one day before the end of the third quarter for a Wonder Day Project! Even if you are a little nervous, even if you are a little behind on your pacing, and even if you worry your students might struggle, I encourage you to give it a shot!
Because just like learning, teaching is all about experimentation! You and your students might just love it!
History For Humans