Friday, May 16, 2014


In fifth grade in Minnesota, students need to meet 31 social studies benchmarks. Among those benchmarks are seven history benchmarks that fall within the era of "Revolution and a New Nation: 1754-1800":
  • Identify major conflicts between the colonies and England following the Seven Years War; explain how these conflicts led to the American Revolution.
  • Describe the development of self-governance in the British colonies and explain the influence of this tradition on the American Revolution.
  • Identify the major events of the American Revolution culminating in the creation of a new and independent nation. 
  • Compare and contrast the impact of the American Revolution on different groups within the 13 colonies that made up the new United States.
  • Describe the purposes of the founding documents and explain the basic principles of democracy that were set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
  • Describe the successes and failures of the national government under the Articles of Confederation and why it was ultimately discarded and replaced with the Constitution.
  • Describe the major issues that were debated at the Constitutional Convention.
With so many knowledge-based standards, the fifth grade teachers collaboratively decided to focus on the concepts, or big ideas, of causation, change, perspective, and organization so that the students could construct an understanding of the statement that voicing perspectives stimulates change.

In order to examine different perspectives and change during the era of the Revolution and the New Nation, fifth grade teachers planned to have their students inquire into the following events. The whole class would study the French and Indian War and then small groups of students would inquire into the remaining events.
  • Imposition of taxes
  • Start of the American Revolutionary War
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Changing sides
Teachers were noticing though, that their students were having a hard time inquiring into these topics, as they had such little background knowledge on this time in our nation's history. So, to help guide their inquiry, the students in one fifth grade classroom used the Visible Thinking Routine: Think-Puzzle-Explore.

Think-Puzzle-Explore is a Visible Thinking Routine from the book Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Morrison, and Church. It is a routine for introducing and exploring ideas. According to the authors, students are able to activate prior knowledge, wonder, and plan their research with this routine. This routine is good to use at the beginning of a unit to direct personal or group inquiry and uncover current understandings as well as misconceptions (p. 51).

Together with the teacher, the students identified what they thought they knew about each event. (It is important to note here that the students understood that what they thought they knew might be wrong; but their thinking was still acknowledged and recorded.) Then, students thought about what they wanted to know, or what puzzled them. Finally, as a class, the students came up with resources they could explore, to help answer their questions.

As students investigate the different perspectives voiced and changes stimulated during this point in American History, they are able to identify misconceptions they had previously believed to be true. Furthermore, as they gain knowledge on the important people (who), events (what), dates (when), places (where), and causes (why), they are able to link their new knowledge with the questions they had posed before.

After reading about how one fifth grade class used the Visible Thinking Routine Think-Puzzle-Explore to activate prior knowledge, wonder, and plan, how can you or have you use this Visible Thinking Routine with your students?

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