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Investigation and inquiry make for successful students of history

Social studies Teacher of the Year prioritizes student choice

Teacher Ron Hustvedt is selling a smart product.

In his classroom at the Salk STEM Magnet School in Elk River School District in Minnesota, Hustvedt encourages his history students to buy into his brand of inquiry-based learning.

This year’s National Council of the Social Studies Outstanding Teacher of the Year at the middle school level says his students are learning about people, places, viewpoints and character, among other lessons.

“Students are reaching deeper levels of learning, and it’s learning that they are driving themselves,” Hustvedt explains. “As a teacher, you provide a framework and structure. But you build into that student choice. When they have a choice, or the perception of choice, and if you can get your people to buy in and believe in what’s going on, they will follow you through thick and thin.”

History Days

Hustvedt points to his four-week project—called History Days—as an example of inquiry-based learning. Students pick a topic to explore, find the impact it had on history and cover the multiple viewpoints around it. With inquiry-based learning, students pose questions, problems or scenarios—rather than simply presenting established facts or portraying a smooth path to knowledge.

“For history I think it’s particularly essential because nothing is really 'settled' information and there are always new connections to be made,” Hustvedt says. “Often we think of history as a study of a static set of events, when it’s actually very dynamic. When students begin to see that, and learn that using a single source compared to multiples provides a much poorer version of what happened, they begin to apply that understanding elsewhere.”

One former student focused on hip-hop—how dance stemmed back to slavery in the U.S. and extends to the present. The student used the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which just opened in Washington, D.C., as a source.

“Slaves were not allowed to speak their own language, but music and dance were acceptable ways where self-expression was allowed,” Hustvedt says.

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