Provoking Inquiry: The Use of Primary Sources in the Primary Social Studies Classroom, pp. 6 of 12

Lesson 2 – Ancient Sumer

In the second lesson, students were introduced to the main inquiry question What was life like in ancient Sumer?”, following which, they were divided into groups of four and given pictures of historical artefacts (see Figures 1 and 2) containing information that could be confirmed by more than one picture source. They had to analyse these historical artefacts and record their findings on the A3 sized worksheet featuring the modified See, Think, Wonder approach (see Figure 3). Under the Think column, students were specifically reminded to write down their inferences and back them up using evidence from two or more sources to ensure validity.

Given the complex primary sources used, we also differentiated the lesson by content. HP students were given four sources. Only groups that displayed higher readiness level were given the Standard of Ur picture to work on. LP students were given two sources, the stone statues of a Sumerian priest and Sumerian worshipper, and only groups that displayed a higher readiness level were given more pictures of Sumerian artefacts to examine.

In general, we observed that students were highly engaged during the lesson. They were not only eager to examine the pictures of historical artefact but were also able to derive logical interpretations corroborated by evidence from different sources. For example, some students concluded that ancient Sumerians had a form of writing based on the inscriptions found on the Code of Ur-Nammu and the pair of cuneiform earrings, while others concluded that some form of religion existed based on the stone statues of the priest-king and worshippers. These inferences led students to wonder about broader questions that pushed beyond their interpretations such as, “How did Sumerians ensure a fair trial?” and “Who did the Sumerians worship?”

Research Findings from Students  

At the end of both lessons, students were required to complete a Student Feedback Survey. From the survey results, 91% of students found lessons built around primary sources highly engaging, while 80% of students felt that the modified See, Think, Wonder approach helped them critically analyse the sources that they were given. A focus group made up of 15 students from both classes also shared with us their learning experiences, and how primary sources and the use of the See, Think, Wonder approach benefitted them. Below were the top three key benefits identified by students.

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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