Using Investigation and Discussion to Inquire about Issues in Primary Social Studies

Abstract

This article begins with the inquiry teaching approach for primary social studies and the rationale for its inclusion in the 2013 syllabus by the Ministry of Education, Singapore. It compares traditional instruction and inquiry-based teaching and describes the two types of inquiry that can be implemented in the primary classroom – discussion and investigation. Three useful inquiry models for primary children - Colin Marsh’s (2001) investigation model and two discussion models - Diana Hess’ (2009) town meeting model (TMM) and David Johnson and Roger Johnson’s (1999) structured academic model (SAC) - are elaborated. The application of these models is illustrated in two issue-based, inquiry centred packages designed for primary children by student teachers from the National Institute of Education. The article also discusses the challenges teachers may face when implementing such inquiry-centred packages and suggests ways of how they can be overcome.

Inquiry in primary social studies teaching

In Singapore, the primary social studies syllabus produced by the Ministry of Education (MOE, 2013) advocates inquiry as a teaching approach in schools. It is understandable why such an approach is encouraged in the context of Singapore’s development. Singapore is a knowledge-based economy (Ngiam, 2011) with strong governmental emphasis on research and substantial resources are channelled yearly to the various universities, ministries and statutory boards in advancing the country’s economy as a knowledge producer (The Straits Times, 2016). Research involves inquiry and it is never too young to start children to inquire in schools. Moreover, all children have an innate curiosity about the things around them and their incessant questioning of whys (Parker, 2012) should be tapped to promote their learning in the classroom. Inquiry can enable children to gain an enlarged understanding of the topic, problem or issue in question, develop essential skills such as critical thinking skills to evaluate the relevance, quality and strength of evidence, and to distinguish between well-reasoned and balanced arguments based on solid evidence, and acquire dispositions such as respect for diversity, empathy and perseverance and resilience in the face of challenges. Such learning outcomes can contribute towards citizenship education and participation in Singapore now and in the future. In recent years, the government has been more open to its citizens’ views on policy matters and have tweaked several of its policies on health, social and economic matters by incorporating their views. It has also encouraged greater community involvement in partnership with it to make Singapore a better and a more inclusive home for all of its people (The Straits Times, 2014). Hence, children as future leaders of the country will be well prepared for their citizenship roles if they start from young to learn in an inquiring environment. 

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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