EAD Educator Reflection: Civic Accessibility for Elementary Students

Submitted by sbosna on

How do you bring civics to life while making it accessible to young elementary students? Limited literacy skills can get in the way of studying important ideas about the privileges and obligations of being a citizen of our community, state, and nation. However, when you’re tasked with ensuring that students learn all standards, the desire to deliver on this promise pushes you to find a way. By combining the EAD inquiry framework with primary source documents, a team of us discovered one answer to this dilemma that has the potential to help you too!

Not too long ago, the state’s history and social science standards for third grade shifted to include a focus on Arizona Studies from prehistory to the present day, including the 22 Indian Nations that reside in Arizona. This shift caused a real challenge for educators because materials on this topic are scarce, and those that do exist were typically written for older grade levels.  I didn’t realize when I started learning from the leaders at ASU’s Center for Political Thought and Leadership that they would introduce me to Educating for American Democracy’s Roadmap and that this would solve a problem I had been facing for a while. However, because of the professional development we received as members of the Civics Task Force, a team of us created a unit that would address these challenges while focusing on the EAD Content Theme of “Our Changing Landscapes.”  

I recently taught a lesson from the EAD unit, From Ancestors to Arizonans, to a class of third-grade students. Throughout the lesson, students read texts and utilized highly visual primary source documents. These primary sources included historic and current photographs of the Tohono O’odham tribe, their lands, traditional foods, and maps of the Sonoran Desert. 

The students used these primary sources to better understand one of the 22 tribal nations of Arizona, explain how people build communities and engage with the land, and explain how the environment has impacted their lives and communities both in the 1900s and in the 2020s. This may sound like lofty goals for your typical third-grade classroom, but because of EAD’s inquiry framework and the primary sources used throughout the lesson, you could see students standing up to point out details in photographs and maps and hear them exclaiming their insights to each other with 8-year-old energy! They could draw and write descriptive captions in response to questions I asked and to questions, they asked each other. They even began to see the way the land impacts how people go about their daily lives.

Learning from leaders from ASU’s Center for American Civics about the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap has shifted the quality and intentionality of my questions and the thoughtfulness with which I approach student investigations into learning. Without the EAD framework, I never would have thought to ask this depth of questioning to early elementary students while weaving together important historical and civic content. I would have continued to struggle to find accessible resources for my students. So if you want to make civics come to life for your students, you’ll be glad you checked out using the EAD inquiry framework and primary source documents to lead your students’ investigations.

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Author bio
Portrait of woman with dark hair, necklace and blue shirt

Chryste Berda is an American educator and author who began working in education in 1998. She has been an elementary, middle, and high school teacher and served as an Instructional Coach, Coordinator, Director, and Consultant for both general and gifted education. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Interdisciplinary Studies from Western Oregon University and two Master’s degrees – one in Curriculum and Instruction with a Gifted emphasis and the other in Educational Leadership – both from Arizona State University. She is concerned about the marginalization of social studies in elementary schools and passionately believes in the importance of civic engagement and helping students take action to influence change.