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Lewis & Clarke Dine at the White House: Middle School Students Engage In Research

Teachers report  they are being discouraged from doing interdisciplinary units because of the Common Core. That’s just wrong-headed thinking!  Recently.  I was at Eastport – South Manor Junior-Senior High School on Long Island and talked with Ken Hanlon, a social studies teacher.  He shared with me details about an interdisciplinary unit his team developed that focuses on the Lewis and Clarke expedition.  The culminating activity is dinner at the White House with President Thomas Jefferson.  Students assume roles and each brings a guest.  Their charge is to discuss the flora and fauna they discovered along their route to the Pacific as well as to speak in detail about the Native Americans they met. Students use primary source material to do their research. Excerpts similar to the one below are available online:

June 28, 1804
William Clark

(They repair the perogue, clean out the boat, sun their powder and woolens, examine their goods, weigh the specific gravity of the two rivers, speculate on the headwaters of the Kansas, and write about the decline of the Kansas Indians)

… I am told they are a fierce & warlike people, being badly Supplied with fire arms, become easily conquered by the Aiauway & Saukees who are better furnished with those materials of War, This Nation is now out in the Plains hunting the Buffalow…the high lands come to the river Kansas on the upper Side at about a mile, full in views, and a butifull place for a fort, good landing-place, the waters of the Kansas is verry disigreeably tasted to me.


Ken described  the students’ enthusiasm for this project which didn’t surprise me. The unit provides just the right mix of academic rigor with active learning to engage and intrigue young adolescents.

We didn’t talk about the Common Core but as I flew home I reflected on my day and thought about this unit. An interdisciplinary unit such as Ken’s one on Lewis and Clarke provides teams a great opportunity to work together to help students master the Common Core standards.  Immediately these anchor standards came to mind:

Reading primary source material is certainly a way to address Reading for Key Ideas and Details

 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.


There are multiple opportunities in an interdisciplinary unit to address Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 

Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.*

Interdisciplinary units usually include research and the development of a product to demonstrate learning.  That work most certainly addresses the standards related to Research to Build and Present Knowledge

 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Collaborating  to address the complex array of Common Core literacy standards just makes sense. Historically, interdisciplinary units  are known to engage young adolescents at high levels.  When students are involved in positive and meaningful learning experiences, achievement will increase.

My thanks to Ken Hanlon for allowing me to share this idea with my readers.

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