The Social Studies Critical Thinking Lab

Author: Rachel Hernandez-Eckert

We all get ideas from time to time, but not all ideas are equal.  Some ideas are just fleeting thoughts, while other ideas actually turn into something substantial.  My hope for one particular idea is to have a lasting and meaningful impact.  In the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that this idea wasn’t exactly mine (my apologies if I led you on).  In October of 2012, I attended a session at the Western History Association Conference that was co-led by a professor from Northern Arizona University.  The professor, Linda Sargent Wood, spoke of “History Labs” that she incorporated into her methods class for pre-service history teachers.   I thought this was a pretty interesting idea, so I took to finding her published article, Hooked on Inquiry: History Labs in the Methods Course.  As I read it, I was captivated by the idea of presenting students with an assemblage of primary and secondary sources and posing a historical problem that requires students to interpret through historical investigation.   Dr. Wood intended for her students to “…wrestle with historical narratives and accounts rather than simply memorizing facts and concepts.”


After reading Dr. Wood’s article, I thought this idea needed to be incorporated somehow into my work as a Social Studies Education Specialist at Region 13,  so we applied for a Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Grant using the historical lab as the cornerstone idea.  The goal of the grant, The Social Studies Critical Thinking Lab, is to use the Library of Congress digital primary source materials to produce teacher-created historical labs.   Region 13 was funded for the grant in August 2013 and within a few short weeks we quickly moved to forming a cohort of elementary, middle, and high school social studies teachers that will spend time in deeper scholarship around the development of historical labs.


To assist in the process of learning, we will be engaging in a group study of Bruce Lesh’s book, “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12.  Written by an experienced history teacher, this book chronicles Lesh’s approach to developing and incorporating historical study investigations with his students at the center of the process.  It is a remarkable read for anyone searching for a practicable method of engaging students in historical analysis.  The teacher cohort formed for this grant will dedicate time to creating labs of their own to guide students in effective reasoning, decision making, and historical interpretation.  I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to cultivate a professional learning community among my peers that will ultimately impact students.  I think this idea is getting at the heart of what it means to think critically.



Lesh, Bruce. A. “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12 (Portland: Stenhouse, 2011).

Wood, Linda Sargent, “Hooked on Inquiry: History Labs in the Methods Course,” The History Teacher 45 (2012), 549-567, accessed January 2013.

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