Angela Scavone
Oct 30, 2018 · 6 min read

In my previous posts I have been developing the idea of formulating an inquiry into the question, “why is Milwaukee the most segregated city and what steps should be taken to alleviate the problem?” Ideally, I would like students to comb through the different topics and articles about segregation available on WUWM’s website “Project Milwaukee: Segregation Matters,” ultimately choosing one segregation related issue in Milwaukee which they would like to pursue researching further in-depth and eventually create an action plan for change regarding the issue.

As their final culminating assessment for this inquiry unit will be their action plan for change, leading up to this, for a summative assessment, I would like students to complete a Timeline JS or Storymap JS on events that have taken place regarding their issue of study. While I don’t believe in the rote memorization of dates, I do think it is important to have an idea of a timeline of key events and these mediums will allow students to master this information. As, Ho and Seow’s article “Teaching Geography through: ‘Chinatowns’: Global Connections and Local Spaces,” attests to the value of interdisciplinary geographical knowledge, I can accomplish this with the Storymap. With Storymap I can incorporate not only a timeline, but geography and maps, as well, giving students important geographical knowledge and a mental map of where events with their issues are taking place. In doing this, students can begin to understand patterns and see why segregation and related events take place where they do. Lastly, by making the students complete annotated bibliographies for the sources used in their timelines and storymaps, this can allow me to check-in with their research to make sure they are progressing adequately and have a solid understanding of their issue of study.

These are two examples of Timeline JS and Storymap JS, which I completed for my internship on the protests that occurred at Marquette University regarding civil rights and Vietnam/Kent State in the sixties and seventies.

As the heart of inquiry is to take action and exact change, so I thought it was only fitting that for the summative assessment of the unit I would have students create an action plan proposal on what measures should be taken to improve their issue. I was inspired by Tracy Middleton’s public service announcement on Jamestown and the current drought in California, as a way for students to give solutions to the problem, having them “define the problem, determine alternatives, and decide which alternatives best solve the problem” (364). In doing this, I will have students choose from a wide variety of mediums as to how they would like to present their action plan. Some examples might include a written manifesto, podcast/digital storytelling, documentary, formal proposal, op-ed piece, a website, or a blog. The possibilities are endless!

The flexibility that the action plan takes is wonderful and it caters to a variety of different learning styles/intelligences. And although students will be presenting their proposals in different forms, I will be assessing the same objective of, if in light of their research, students can articulate specific actions to be taken to improve their segregation-related issue of choice.

Some real-life examples of these assessments include:

For the written manifesto a real example could be the Port Huron Statement created in 1962 by the Students for a Democratic Society, which identified the problems in American society and laid out solutions to be taken to improve these issues. In my Women in American History class we created a “Manifesto for the Improvement of Campus Culture Surrounding Sexual Assault and Harassment” at Marquette, based off a manifesto like the Port Huron Statement. I have included attachments below to both the Port Huron Statement and my class’s manifesto.

Students who might enjoy more freedom and creativity in their writing could do an Op-Ed, I included an example below from CNN of what a potential op-ed might look something like. This does a great job of outlining actions to be taken, but I would make my students be more explicit in incorporating their research in justifying why these specific actions should be taken.

Students who like more structure and want a more traditional approach, might choose the formal written proposal option. I included below an example of this kind of proposal that was done about the issue of segregation in Chicago. While I do not expect students to be this extensive, it is a good example of what a proposal could look like. Students who enjoy graphic design could also design the layout of the proposal in a more creative way, similar to how the Chicago example does it.

Students who enjoy speaking might like the option of doing a podcast/digital storytelling in which they can present their proposal in a more conversational manner. I attached an example from WBUR discussing charters schools as a means to end segregation in Alabama. While, I would like students to again be more specific in giving their actions during the podcasts, I think this example does a good job of showing how students might be able to use this medium for their action proposals.

Mark Hofer, Kathy Swan and Sharon Zuber in their article, “Teaching Social Studies Students to ‘Write with Light’ Using the Documentary Filmmaking Process,” highlight the growing movement towards using the creation of documentaries as a form of authentic assessment in the social studies disciplines. More creative students who also enjoy speaking might be interested in this option. An easy way to do this is through PowerPoint, in which students record their narration over PowerPoint slides with information on their topic. This is great way for students to still use the medium even if they might not have the resources such as a high quality video camera and editing programs. I included a video on how to create PowerPoint documentaries below.

I envision, after students complete their various action plans, to have a day in class that will act as a poster session of sorts, in which students can informally learn about each other’s research and plans. We could bring in some snacks and make it a fun way to celebrate what they accomplished. I attached a link below of high school students in Arizona presenting their inquiry projects in a poster session, showing what this could potentially look like when implemented (this is a much bigger scale that what mine will likely look like).

As the action plan requires students to come up with new ideas and apply them to real world situations in Milwaukee, it fits with Geoffrey Scheurman and Fred M. Newmann’s view of authentic intellectual achievement occurring through disciplinary inquiry and application beyond the classroom.

Similarly, Wiggins and McTighe claim that authentic assessments require transferability, and “transferability is not mere plugging in of previously learned knowledge and skill. In Bruner’s famous phrase, understanding is about ‘going beyond the information given’; we can create new knowledge and arrive at further understandings if we have learned with understanding some key ideas and strategies” (40).
By getting to the Bloom’s taxonomy’s top levels of evaluating and ultimately creating, students will be constructing this new knowledge by using their research to form action plans to exact meaningful change on their issue. Students will truly be “doing” Social Studies.

While creating action plans will not solve the problem of segregation overnight, it is an important start, because if we don’t try we are never going to accomplish change.


Hofer, Mark; Swan, Kathy & Zube, Sharon. “Teaching Social Studies Students to ‘Write with Light’ Using the Documentary Filmmaking Process.” Social Education, 78, 2014, pp. 131–137.

Ho, Li-Ching & Tricia Seow. “Teaching Geography through Chinatowns: Global Connections and Local Spaces.” Social Education, 77, 2013, 36–41.

Middleton, Tracy. “From Past to Present: Taking Informed Action.”Social Education, 80, 2016, pp. 362–364.

Scheurman, Geoffrey & Newmann, Fred. “Authentic Intellectual Work in Social Studies: Putting Performance Before Pedagogy.” Social Education, pp. 1–5.

Wiggins, Grant & McTighe, Jay. Understanding By Design (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.

Investigating Inquiry in the Social Sciences

A future teacher currently taking my social studies methods course. Join me as I document my experience creating a Social Studies inquiry unit at the high school level!

Angela Scavone

Written by

Investigating Inquiry in the Social Sciences

A future teacher currently taking my social studies methods course. Join me as I document my experience creating a Social Studies inquiry unit at the high school level!

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