4th Grade Geography Inquiry

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Supporting Questions

  1. What physical features make New York State’s geography diverse?

  2. Where in New York State did early Native American groups settle and how did physical features affect their settlements?

  3. How did the early Native Americans in New York State interact with their physical environment to meet their needs?

4th Grade Geography Inquiry

How Does Where You Live Matter?

New York State Social Studies Framework Key Ideas & Practices

4.1 GEOGRAPHY OF NEW YORK STATE: New York State has a diverse geography. Various maps can be used to represent and examine the geography of New York State.

4.2 NATIVE AMERICAN GROUPS AND THE ENVIRONMENT: Native American groups, chiefly the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) and Algonquian-speaking groups, inhabited the region that became New York State. Native American Indians interacted with the environment and developed unique cultures.

Gathering, Using, and Interpreting Evidence Comparison and Contextualization

Economics and Economic Systems Geographic Reasoning

Staging the

Brainstorm the relationship between humans and the physical environment through the concepts of opportunities and constraints.

Supporting Question 1

Supporting Question 2

Supporting Question 3

What physical features make New York State’s geography diverse?

Where in New York State did early Native Americans settle and how did physical features affect their settlements?

How did the early Native Americans in New York State interact with their physical environment to meet their needs?

Performance Task

Performance Task

Performance Task

Identify the physical features of New York State in a graphic organizer.

Using all available maps, complete a graphic organizer that categorizes the opportunities and constraints of the physical features that affected Native American settlements.

Develop and support a series of claims about how the Haudenosaunee and Algonquians modified and adapted to their physical environments.

Featured Sources

Featured Sources

Featured Sources

Source A: Image bank: Photographs of physical features

Source B: Image bank: Maps of New York State

Source A: Haudenosaunee and Algonquians settlement map

Source B: Topographic map of New York State

Source A: Excerpts from Haudenosaunee Guide for Educators

Source B: The People of the Shore: Shinnecocks of Long Island

Summative Performance Task

Argument How does where you live matter? Construct an argument supported with evidence that addresses the question of how physical features and available resources influenced the locations of early Native Americans settlements in New York State. Express this argument in the form of an essay.

Extension Express through Power Point presentations the ways in which the Haudenosaunee and Algonquian adapted to and modified their physical environments.

Taking Informed Action

Understand Brainstorm a list of the geographic opportunities and constraints in area neighborhoods and communities.

Assess Discuss how individuals and communities can turn constraints into opportunities.

Act Arrange for a local official to visit the class to review the class conclusions and discuss possible community actions.


Inquiry Description

This inquiry focuses on physical geography in general and on the relationship between early (pre-1700) Native American nations and their environments in particular through the compelling question “How does where you live matter?” The intellectual side of the compelling question highlights the idea that geography is not a neutral entity. Environments can exert an influence on human existence, but they are not immune from change—human activity can modify the physical landscape. The student engagement side of the compelling question is represented in the idea of agency—that humans can shape the environments around them. The reciprocal relationship between humans and their surroundings lies at the heart of this inquiry.

Three supporting questions guide students in their inquiry by exploring the diverse physical features of New York State, describing where two groups of Native American nations settled and the importance of the geography around them, and investigating how early Native Americans interacted with their physical environments in order to meet their needs and wants. Through an examination of the featured sources in this inquiry, students use early Native American settlements as a case study of the ways in which humans interact with the environment. The inquiry, then, is not intended to be the only one covering Key Idea 4.2 related to Native Americans in New York State. Other inquiries would be useful to explore Native American life through Conceptual Understandings 4.2b (Native American groups developed specific patterns of organization and governance to manage their societies) and 4.2c (Each Native American group developed a unique way of life with a shared set of customs, beliefs, and values).

NOTE: This inquiry is expected to take five to six 30-minute class periods. The inquiry time frame could expand if teachers think that their students need additional instructional experiences (i.e., supporting questions, formative performance tasks, and featured sources). Teachers are encouraged to adapt the inquiries​ to meet the needs and interests of their particular students. Resources can also be modified as necessary to meet individualized education programs (IEPs) or Section 504 Plans for students with disabilities. 

Content Background

New York State is home to a variety of physical features, including lakes, oceans, rivers, waterfalls, marshes, coastlines, hills, forests, valleys, lowlands, plains, plateaus, and mountains. Across New York State, one can explore many different types of landforms—the Adirondack Mountains in the north, plains along the Great Lakes in the north and west, and the coastline along the Atlantic Ocean in the southeast.

With such geographic diversity, early Native Americans groups in New York State used the land and natural resources to support their settlements. From Lake Champlain to Long Island, Native peoples settled in areas near waterways. Water was the primary means for transportation, and trade; access to water and other natural resources supported Native Americans in meeting their basic needs. The Algonquians and Haudenosaunee people used different natural resources. Living nearer to the ocean and salt water, the Algonquians built large canoes to harvest clams, mussels, and saltwater fish. In contrast, the Haudenosaunee depended more on lakes and streams for food and transportation. The Haudenosaunee also relied more on farming, including the Three Sisters crops (corn, beans, and squash). Both groups interacted with their environments, albeit in different ways because of their perceptions of geographic factors.

Throughout this inquiry, students will explore how early Native Americans reacted to and modified their environments to meet their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Because of the differences in physical environment and climate across New York State, early Native American groups took varied approaches toward meeting the needs of their people. Accordingly, there is evidence throughout New York State of various forms of shelter used by early Native Americans, including the Haudenosaunee longhouses and Algonquian wigwams.

NOTE: Haudenosaunee, the people of the longhouse, is the preferred term for the confederacy of five, and later six, nations the Europeans called the “Iroquois.” In this inquiry, the term “Haudenosaunee” will be used when referring to this group of otherwise independent nations. Algonquian refers to a language family rather than a political entity, so the phrase “Algonquian nations” will be used to signify that, although related by language, the groups are politically diverse.

It is also important to note that, although the terms “Native Americans” and “Native peoples” are used in this inquiry, the terms “American Indians” and “Indians” are used in much of the scholarly literature.

Content, Practices, and Literacies

A robust curriculum inquiry marries the key content students need to learn and the social studies practices they need to learn and master. The formative performance tasks in this inquiry build students’ content knowledge of New York State geography and support students as they apply social studies practices to learn how early Native American groups interacted with the land around them. The first formative performance task focuses students’ attention on identifying the range of physical features around the state through the practices of gathering evidence and applying their geographic reasoning. The second formative performance task introduces the case study of early Native groups. Continuing to employ the practices of Gathering, Using, and Interpreting Evidence and Geographic Reasoning, students layer on the social studies practice of Comparison and Contextualization as they examine the opportunities and constraints evident in physical surroundings. The third formative performance task highlights the ways humans interact with their geographic environments. In order to do so, students add the practice of Economics and Economic Systems to the accumulating practices of Gathering, Using, and Interpreting Evidence, Comparison and Contextualization, and Geographic Reasoning.

Evident across the three formative performance tasks is an increasing complexity of thinking. The first task works at the identification level in that students are identifying the various physical features of the New York State landscape. The second task also has an identification element in that students are asked to identify where early Native American groups settled. That task also asks students to identify and categorize the opportunities and constraints geographic features offered Native Americans. In the third task, students move to the interpretation of evidence by making and supporting claims about how Native groups modified and adapted to the areas in which they settled.

The New York State P–12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy offer social studies teachers numerous opportunities to integrate literacy goals and skills into their social studies instruction. The Common Core supports the inquiry process through reading rich informational texts, writing evidence-based arguments, speaking and listening in public venues, and using academic vocabulary to complement the pedagogical directions advocated in the New York State K–12 Social Studies Framework. At the end of this inquiry is an explication of how teachers might integrate literacy skills throughout the content, instruction, and resource decisions they make.

Staging the Compelling Question

Compelling Question

How does where you live matter?

Featured Source

Source A: World topographic map

The inquiry opens with the compelling question “How does where you live matter?” Teachers might begin with a student-driven brainstorming session in which the class teases out several meanings of this compelling question. Ultimately, this inquiry relies on exploring the reciprocal relationship between humans and their physical environments.

To begin parsing the question, teachers may first ask students to wrestle with what it means for something to “matter” or “not matter.” Drawing on their real-world experiences and their background knowledge (including the third-grade curriculum that focuses on world cultures), students can describe examples in which places around their communities and around world matter (or do not matter) in people’s lives. Then teachers can draw students’ attention to the world topographic map asking them to think about what the map represents (i.e., geographic features) and what it supports and/or complicates about their initial ideas about which physical features matter. NOTE: Teachers will want to be sensitive to students’ prior knowledge and experience with maps; a preliminary discussion of the nature, value, and use of maps may be needed to refresh students’ understandings.

Teachers may wish to channel the discussion toward the identification of opportunities, or the advantages an environment can offer for human activities, and constraints, or the perceived limitations geography can present. If desired, a physical map of the world may be used as a visual aid to generate student observations and questions. Using a source like a map to spark students’ curiosity can help to illuminate any misconceptions they have. Those misconceptions may necessitate background lessons before the in-depth study evident in this inquiry.

Students may discuss their ideas as a whole class or in small groups, and then document their initial findings as teachers see fit. It might be helpful to plan time for this introductory discussion before beginning Formative Performance Task 1 in order to leave time to address any knowledge gaps or to share student work. Ideally, students can return to these ideas during and at the end of the inquiry. As the year progresses, students should be able to analyze and articulate how their ideas and perspectives may have changed or developed as a result of this inquiry. Concepts like opportunities and constraints could be useful in a number of inquiries throughout the grade four curriculum.

Staging the Compelling Question

Featured Source

Source A: World topographic map

Public domain. National Geographic Data Center. http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/topo/pictures/GLOBALeb10colshade.jpg.

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