Collaboration With AEA Brings Student Learning to Life


Central Rivers AEA has partnered with Union Schools to create a powerful Social Studies curriculum allowing for increased student agency and engagement. Watch an example as it happens in a 3rd Grade Classroom. with Dysart Elementary teacher, Michelle Keegan, and Union Curriculum leader, Corindy Stoakes.

Collaboration With the AEA Brings Student Learning to Life

Over the past two years, elementary teachers in the Union Community School District have collaborated and created a powerful and engaging Social Studies curriculum that focuses on inquiry. Union has two elementary buildings, one in Dysart and one in La Porte City. District leaders made a commitment to improving the learning in Social Studies, and provided multiple days for teachers to come together and work. 

The first step had teachers engaging in professional development around inquiry and active learning in collaboration with Central Rivers AEA consultants. The learning involved looking at research and best practice for engaging students in the process. There was learning about the Inquiry Design Model of a lesson and unit design. This was followed by looking at the Goldie’s History Kits offered by the State Historical Society of Iowa, and studying all of the materials that are part of these free resources. 

Teachers then spent the next school year building out units of learning that aligned to the Iowa Social Studies standards. Each unit combined Social Studies inquiry standards as well as content standards, at grade level appropriate levels. Teachers also embedded ELA standards within the units, creating an integrated unit.  Focus was put on active learning strategies that gave agency to students and allowed for students of all abilities to engage and be successful. Teachers were asked to create 3 units per grade level and teach one at a time. There was continuous support from Central Rivers AEA consultants and district leaders. At the end of the 2022-2023 school year, each team had multiple units to teach. 

As the 2023-2024 school began, district leaders again affirmed their support for growing the Social Studies learning for their students. They again offered multiple opportunities to partner with the AEA with focus now on reflection and improvement. Teachers were led through a process that tasked them with reflecting on the units they had taught and identifying the positives and the areas that could be improved upon. They were introduced to K.U.D. (Know, Understand, Do) as a way to narrow down what makes learning more powerful for students. This research comes from Carol Tomlinson around differentiated instruction. This process asked teachers to dig down to the core learning expected of each student.  Students were able to connect facts and details to concepts and skills and develop deep connections to new and prior knowledge. Lastly, teachers identified what they wanted students to be able to do with their new knowledge. This was more than creating a poster or writing a paper, but a task to highlight the skills they were building at higher Depth of Knowledge levels. 

This process is ongoing while teachers are striving to incorporate these ideas in all content areas to grow student agency and knowledge. The goal of the teachers is to create learning that makes the students a part of the process while connecting to real world examples students can relate with.  Union is proud to share this VIDEO highlighting the fruits of their labor in one 3rd grade classroom. 3rd grade teacher, Michelle Keegan, and Curriculum Coordinator, Corindy Stoakes, demonstrate how primary sources encourage higher order thinking through questions and peer feedback. This is only one small example of the power of inquiry on student agency and engagement.
If you have any questions, please reach out to Keith Halverson, Central Rivers Area Education Agency.