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How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry

By Harvey "Smokey" Daniels, Sara K. Ahmed

Welcome to Sara Ahmed’s classroom. With Smokey as your guide you’ll see how she uses inquiry to turn required curriculum into amazingly engaging units that provide the complexity the standards demand while turning students from bystanders into Upstanders.

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Upstanders is about helping young people question the world, build knowledge, become skilled researchers, and communicate thoughtfully—in the service of humanity, not just themselves.” Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Sara Ahmed

How can we meet today’s elevated academic goals and engage middle school kids—but not simply replicate our competitive, winner-take-all society? How can our students achieve an even higher standard—demonstrating the capacity and the commitment to bend the world toward justice?

In a word, inquiry.

Welcome to the classroom of Sara Ahmed. With Smokey Daniels as your guide you’ll see exactly how Sara uses inquiry to turn required curricular topics into questions so fascinating that young adolescents can’t resist investigating them. Units so engaging that they provide all the complexity the standards could ever expect, while helping students grow from bystanders to Upstanders.

Smokey and Sara describe precisely how to create, manage, and sustain a classroom built around choice, small-group collaboration, and critical thinking. You’ll be inspired by what Sara’s students accomplish, but you’ll also come away from Upstanders with a can-do plan for teaching your own classes thanks to:

  • a developmental look at what makes middle school kids special, challenging, and fun
  • specific lessons that develop collaboration, self-awareness, and compassion
  • a toolbox filled with teaching strategies, structures, tools, and handouts
  • “Point-Outs” from Smokey that highlight key teaching moves
  • “Game-Time Decisions” from Sara that reveal in-the-moment instructional choices
  • narratives that document the incredible work that inquiry allows kids to do
  • ambitious, engaging, and important units on commonly taught middle school themes.

What kind of classroom do we want for our middle schoolers? How about one that develops the skills the standards demand and prepares kids to take action in the world right now? We can do it—if we help kids become Upstanders.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)



Part 1 Welcome

  • A Core Curriculum of Heart and Mind
    • Hard Work, Heart Work
    • Introducing Ourselves
    • Teaching Middle School Today
    • Passing Periods
    • How the Book Works

Part 2 Our School as Our Homeplace

  • The Kids
    • Reframing Stereotypes
    • Working with (Not Against) Adolescent Development
  • The Teacher
    • Starting with Ourselves: A Teaching Identity
    • Yourself as a Learner
    • Yourself as a Human Being
    • How to Respond to the Common Core and the Corporate Reform Movement
  • The Space
    • Sara's Classrooms
    • Classroom Environment Reflection (for You and the Kids)
  • The Toolbox
    • Anchor Charts
    • Backchanneling
    • Blogging
    • Gradual Release of Responsibility
    • Hot Seat
    • Identity Webs
    • Inquiry Journal
    • Mind Maps/Concept Maps
    • Notetaking Forms
    • Online Collaboration
    • Read-Aloud
    • Silent Dialogue/Written Conversation
    • Standing Discussions: Mingle, Gallery Walk, and Human Continuum
    • Text Annotation
    • Turn and Talk

Part 3 Open Hearts and Inquiring Minds

  • Lessons in Identity and Empathy
    • Exploring Identity
    • Empathy/Bullying
    • Risk-Taking: Home Court Advantage
    • Working in Groups: Team Behavior
    • Disagreeing Agreeably: Framing Friendly Challenges
    • Responsibility: Building (and Protecting) Your Brand

Part 4 A Compassionate and Challenging Curriculum

  • Mini-Inquiries
    • Types of Inquiry Projects
    • Exploring Mini-Inquiries
    • What Did This Mini-Inquiry Accomplish
    • What About the Required Curriculum?
  • Curricular Inquiry
    • Building Background from the Textbook (I do use it sometimes)
    • Written Conversation 
    • Read-Aloud
    • Think-Aloud with Annotation
    • Guided and Independent Practice
    • Choice Articles
    • Synthesizing Learning Online
    • History in the Hot Seat
  • Literature Circle Inquiries
    • Book Club Basics
    • Training Students for Literature Circles
    • Going Public
  • Open Inquiries
    • What Do You Wonder
    • Jumping into Research with a Reading Frenzy
    • More Research and Group Formation
    • Further Investigation
    • Extending the Research: Scanning and Assessing Website Information
    • Refocusing Topics and Supporting Each Other as Researchers
    • Interviewing and Expert
    • Co-Creating our Inquiry Project Rubric
    • Deciding How to Go Public
    • Preparation for Sharing Learning
    • Celebration Day
    • Final Assessment
    • So Worth It


Companion Resources

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Email if you would like to contact Harvey "Smokey" Daniels directly about professional development support.

PD Resources From Sara K. Ahmed