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social inquiry

This Teachers' online course ' Developing a Culture of Thinking Like a Citizen' is soon to be released!

What Is Inquiry?

The ACARA national social education (or HaSS) curriculum requires that students become inquirers. The separate subject areas arrange their content descriptors around "key inquiry questions" and the achievement standards ask students to investigate depth studies, topics or issues using similar inquiry steps, skills and strategies of inquiry learning.

Familiarity with inquiry enables students to continue to learn throughout their lives and to better critique information, differing perspectives in the media and attitudes in their community. Practice in inquiry enables students to take on the role of active and informed citizens now and in the future with the certainty that they can find out how our society works.

A number of points need to be made:

What inquiry is not:

  • inquiry does not equal research. Research is part of an inquiry
  • it is not completely teacher-led, with all steps outlined in rubrics and a pre-determined outcome
  • it is not a matter of the teacher merely following the interests of the students. The teacher chooses inquiries that will interest students, but which suit the curriculum content and achievement standards.
What inquiry involves:
  • inquiry is a process that must be taught explicitly to students. Fully understanding the process takes time and it will gradually become more complex, so it is best to start as early as possible
  • it is student-centred inasmuch as students construct their own meaning, perspectives, conclusions and conceptual understanding. Students' conclusions, while they must be evidence-based, may differ
  • it is a complex process that incorporates many skills and strategies that also need to be explicitly taught to and practised with students
  • it is not necessarily a linear process. Critical thinking and reflection may prompt students to return to earlier steps or revise their questions.
Why social inquiry?

Social inquiry differs somewhat from inquiry in the physical sciences. In subject Science, the strand of 'Science as a Human Endeavour' teaches students that "scientific knowledge is used to solve problems and inform personal and community decisions". Social inquiry draws on the social sciences where there is more focus on people's perspectives and attitudes throughout an inquiry.

Inquiry Models:

As a result of the complex nature of inquiry, many different models of the process have been produced to assist both teachers and students.

ACARA has determined a single inquiry model for the primary level. However, for the secondary level, there are different models for each social science discipline from Year 7-10. See Table 1, and note the similarity of language used, though the steps may be in a different order.

Inquiry Models

SEAQ believes that, even in junior secondary, this is too confusing for students. If students are to metacognitively understand a model and use it intuitively, there should be a single model (as there is in Science), which can then be moulded to any discipline's purpose. 

Appropriate questions, concepts and some specific skills and research methods can be chosen for the discipline concerned. This then allows students over time to discriminate between the skills required to investigate any issue from a specific discipline perspective.

Some social issues for students to investigate in Civics and Citizenship: 

  • Firstly, it is important to find out what students think are the most important issues in their lives and those of their parents and community. (Ask for this to be done anonymously). Some of these may be discussed in other subject areas, like HPE (mental health, obesity), or Science (climate change) - therefore there is a need to confer with other subject areas. Maybe they are general topics used by English teachers to promote discussion and talk. Choose issues that can link with the strands of civics and citizenship.
  •  Secondly, have students generate questions using the Compass Rose and prompt other perspectives (as discussed in the editorial). Use an inquiry model to investigate the issue. Thirdly, use the Accountable Talk Toolkit to ensure that the ground rules for discussion are well understood.

Should the date of Australia Day celebrations be changed to be inclusive of our First Nations? 

Find some points in : 
SEAQ's Australia Day Page: Australia Day

Why Some Australians Want to Move This Controversial National Day:

Should single-use plastic bags be banned everywhere? 

First, see the proposed Queensland actions for 2018:

See how some schools have become involved in Tangalooma EcoMarines program of events and activities around Moreton Bay:

This is one topic that should definitely be seen from a global perspective. Watch the inspiring video (11 minutes) from a young man called Boyan Salat who has developed an idea for cleaning micro-plastic from the ocean:

Also recall the important ABC program from this year called the War on Waste

Confront your students with the small video where Craig Reucassel rolls a giant ball of plastic bags across Melbourne (follow the pictures down till you find him standing behind a giant pile of plastic - 1 min 45 video). 

How can our school be made more inclusive? 

The best place to start is with our common humanity. All students need to know that we are more than 99% the same and the ancestors of all of us came from Africa. Look at the small video in There are many programs for schools that focus on inclusivity. Concentrating on collaboration helps to build respect. See the Global Digital Citizenship site

Plastic Oceans Australasia

'Plastic Oceans Australasia offers the only curriculum-based education program in Australia dedicated specifically to the issue of plastic waste.

The Plastic Oceans Australasia Education Program equips primary and high school students with the knowledge and skills to drive public awareness about the global plastic problem. The under 18s of our world have the influence to change consumer behaviour within households, communities and amongst peer groups.'

Some Suggestions for Inquiry presented in the 2017 PD titled 'Pedagogies for Civics and Citizenship'

In SEAQ's professional development seminars held in 2017 we suggested and used many strategies in looking at two separate inquiries. The first one was the sort of small local inquiry that can provide a platform for explaining an inquiry model. The issue was one of how to prevent littering in the schoolyard. The need for a problematic and open Key Question was canvassed. Sub-questions were developed using the Development Compass Rose strategy. This enabled us to consider Natural (environmental), Economic, Social and political aspects (Who decides?). What If? and a Consequences Wheel were used to consider consequences. (Complexity at this point would depend on Year level and could lead to extension into local, national and global ramifications of waste.) However, the question related to school, and the POOCh decision-making model was used to evaluate various options and choose the most practical and ethical ways to take action on the issue at the school level. The Frayer model of concept development highlighted the concept of Sustainability, and a Y-chart was used to reflect on the value of Responsibility.

The second and longer investigation centred on the question of how reconciliation can be achieved between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Australia. We used the TELSTAR model of inquiry, because its simple words and easily remembered acronym encourage metacognition. As with the strategies, any inquiry model must be taught and reiterated explicitly. The Tune In step consisted of a Visual Learning strategy called See/Think/Wonder centred on early Tasmania where Governor Davey proclaimed that the rule of law must be maintained. The bulk of the time was undertaken as an Expert Jigsaw strategy, with attendees given material on aspects such as Stolen Generations and Stolen Wages that might be barriers to reconciliation. While information was shared and discussed in home groups, participants were encouraged to use principles of active listening and accountable talk.  Implications of the findings were explored using a Possible, Probable and Preferred Futures diagram, and another Visible Thinking strategy, I used to think ... but now I think was used for reflection. Respect was the overarching value here.

 Any social issue inquiry will provide opportunities to weave in the General Capabilities and, depending on the topic, cross-curriculum priorities. We did a check to make sure we were covering the three elements of the national curriculum, and in particular the four targeted capabilities. In the process we were also fulfilling the national goals for Young Australians, which includes a reference to "working for the Common Good".

With respect to the development of deep learning by explicitly teaching strategies and learning techniques until they are internalised as habits of mind, we mentioned a number of strategies conducted through the PD session. Our advice was: Don’t use too many strategies at once – too confusing – but reiterate in some way soon after each has been introduced. If possible try to reiterate with the same students in another subject or topic. Planning for introduction and early reiteration and spacing of strategies is very important.

The TELSTAR model

SEAQ recommends the TELSTAR model. TELSTAR was the original communications satellite and is therefore a worthy acronym for a model that helps students communicate new learning. Telstar 1 launched in1962. It successfully relayed through space the first television pictures, telephone calls, and fax images, and provided the first live transatlantic television feed.

Benefits of using TELSTAR:

It was designed to develop a metacognitive understanding of the entire inquiry process

Simple terminology allows students to comprehend what each step entails from an early age

This in turn provides a basis for class discussion about the questions, skills or strategies to be used in each step of a specific inquiry so that they are metacognitively in charge

The TEST step is where students test whether their research data can answer the Key Question and how they should use this data.

This model provides an action component, which may involve straightforward reporting of results, or authentic tasks driven by the findings of the inquiry

The reflection step involves not only answering the question "What have I learned?", but also metacognitive awareness of the skills and strategies used and how they could be improved, as well as conceptual development and attitude change.

The role of the teacher

(Still to come)


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