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Inquiry at Fort Ticonderoga: Helping Students Develop Historical Thinking Skills

Across the United States, Social Studies educators are picking up a new tool for use in their classroom. A new set of standards published in 2013 is the C3 Framework for Social Studies. This Framework creation was coordinated by the National Council for Social Studies and over 3,000 teachers and educators provided input. The main goal of the C3 Framework is to ensure that Social Studies education teaches historical thinking, and the studying of history as a process, rather than a string of names and dates. c3

At the heart of the C3 Framework is the Inquiry Design Model, a tool for teaching Social Studies that starts with a compelling question and four supporting questions. Students are guided to answer these questions by analyzing primary and secondary sources, forming conclusions, and completing a summative performance task using evidence to support their argument. The goal is that by starting with intellectually rigorous and compelling questions, and facilitating student use of documents, students develop historical thinking skills.

New York State has taken an exciting lead in developing Inquiries for use in classrooms. Professors at SUNY Binghamton, in concert with teachers around the state, developed the New York State Social Studies Toolkit, containing 6 inquiries for each grade level from Kindergarten through 12th Grade. Teachers have also been developing new inquiries, and adapting the original inquiries for their classroom.

Here at Fort Ticonderoga, we’ve been observing this exciting trend in education, and wanted to make sure that teachers using the inquiry model could use it to teach about Fort Ticonderoga. Liz Scully, our 2016 Edward W. Pell Education Fellow, developed an inquiry based on Fort Ticonderoga. The inquiry is written for 4th Grade students, and highlights resources onsite here at Fort Ticonderoga and in our collection. The compelling question Liz developed is: “How was Fort Ticonderoga a Crucial Part of the Northern Campaign during the American Revolution?  cover-of-inquiry

“ To answer this question, students are provided with documents, maps, and high quality images of artifacts in the collections at Fort Ticonderoga, and asked to make an argument support by evidence.

Are you curious as to how the inquiry model works? Let’s delve deeper by looking at one of the 4 supporting questions in our inquiry, and how students use it in the classroom.


“How was the Battle of Valcour Island important for the Americans during the Revolutionary War?”

Teachers can provide background information including secondary sources to give an overview of the work done at Ticonderoga and on the south end of Lake Champlain to build the American fleet. Students will have access to several maps and primary sources, including this one from James Murray Hadden’s Journal. Hadden was a British lieutenant with Burgoyne’s forces in 1776. Of the Battle of Valcour, Hadden writes:

Arnold ran his own vessels & 5 others on shore and set fire to them, the three foremost only escaped to Tyconderoga; as did Gen’l Arnold with most of the Crew’s of the burnt Vessels…It appearing too late in the Season for an attack on Tyconderoga 16 miles from hence.”

For Students in 4th Grade, this may be their first time encountering primary sources, so Liz deliberately used succinct sources that are more similar to modern English. Students will have an image of a watercolor in our collection, which highlights the battle at Valcour Island and the ships involved.   god-bless-our-armesThis prompts a discussion of the origin of these ships. Where did they come from? Who built them, and who sailed them? Who fought aboard them? How did a fledgling country build a navy that managed to outrun the more experienced, better equipped British army which had them thoroughly outgunned? Students can explore these questions in the classroom and also by visiting Fort Ticonderoga. Important artifacts and exhibits provide information on the Battle of Valcour and the American Fleet built at the south end of Lake Champlain.

It is our hope that by creating resources in keeping with current best practices in Social Studies, teachers will have assistance in teaching about Fort Ticonderoga and its place in our history.

To view this important resource, click here.