Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Early Childhood Education and Literacy Studies

Major Professor

Kathryn Laframboise, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Janet Richards, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jan Ignash, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mary Lou Morton, Ph.D.


Elementary, Active learning, Integration, Social studies, Drama


The purpose of this research was to describe how two fifth-grade teachers help students understand social studies and language arts concepts through simulations. I observed two fifth-grade teachers, Lindsey and Paula, as they conducted a simulation focused on the Lewis and Clark expedition. I spent 100 hours over a period of eight weeks in the teachers’ classrooms. The following research questions guided my inquiry:

1. Why do the two teachers use simulations?

2. How do the two teachers implement simulations?

3. How do the ten students respond to simulations?

4. What do the ten students think about simulations?

To answer these questions, I interviewed each study participant three times, analyzed teacher resource materials and student work samples, videotaped and audiotaped the students’ and teachers’ behaviors, and observed the teachers’ and students’ interactions. I followed a phenomenological theoretical orientation and reported my findings through a descriptive case study. A detailed account of xi the early, middle, and late stages of a simulation depicted the participants’ actions.

I discovered that the two teachers used simulations because they believed simulations targeted students’ learning styles and enabled students to retain the material over time. Lindsey felt simulations allowed her to integrate content and create an active learning environment, and Paula believed simulations involved the students with authentic learning. To implement the simulation, the teachers increased students’ background knowledge on Westward Expansion, prepared them for their roles throughout the action phase, and evaluated student learning through written and oral assessments.

I observed how two groups of five students interacted throughout the simulation. I learned how they formulated an identity for their team, discussed dilemmas, resolved conflicts, and completed their tasks. The students shared positive and negative opinions about their roles as captains, journal writers, interpreters, and privates. They explained how they had learned about the content, teamwork, and historical figures associated with the Lewis and Clark expedition. All of the students gained on their posttests. Four of the students made connections with the simulation content to their lives and experienced positive attitudinal and academic transformations.