Interactive platform DBQuest wants K-12 history students to go deeper than famous quotes


A free online digital tool that helps students learn civics lessons has upgraded and expanded its offerings, adding a module on a key moment in the civil rights movement.

iCivics, a nonprofit education company founded by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, launched the upgrade of DBQuest to coincide with Black History Month. The new platform includes two modules for K-12 instruction: America’s Founding Preambles and the Nashville Sit-In Movement of 1960.

iCivics worked with Filament Games to create and design the platform, which allows teachers to track students’ progress and share their work with the class. The programs are available for computers and tablets.

On a recent journey through the interactive history and civics repository, a reporter was taken through the Nashville Sit-Ins, part of a nonviolent protest movement to end racial segregation at lunch counters in downtown Nashville, Tennessee.

Students are taken back in time through primary documents, a photograph of attacks on black students at a counter by white agitators, and a video interview with civil rights activist Diane Nash. As they go through the materials, they are prompted by young, animated tutors with questions to help the students review and analyze the movement.

Other resources come in the form of founding documents, letters, films and interview transcripts.

Carrie Ray-Hill, director of digital learning for iCivics, said students need to interact with more than just a piece of paper — like the traditional Document Based Question — to write thoughtful essays or answer questions.

“There’s a massive gap in supporting the actual skills needed,” Ray-Hill said in an interview. “Anyone can literally copy a quote and say, ‘Here’s the answer,’ and kids try to get away with that. So the goal of DBQuest is to act like an angel on a teacher’s shoulder to walk your students through without making it seem like being they’re lectured.”

The other new module will use historical sources to teach students how the American democratic system evolved from a confederation of free states to a unified republic.

The update was developed by iCivics and supported by the Library of Congress, which selected the nonprofit in 2016 as one of two organizations to receive a significant grant, and features primary sources from the Library’s extensive online collections.

“Teachers constantly tell us that they need better tools for teaching with primary sources, but that they struggle to find the resources and the time to create the materials on their own,” said Louise Dubé, executive director of iCivics. “DBQuest gives them a fun and meaningful way to teach students how to analyze information and build arguments around timely, socially relevant content.”

The upgrade boasts better navigation and a sleeker web interface, which nonprofit officials say will boost student engagement. Students have to identify and evaluate evidence, contextualize information and write sound supporting arguments.

Two more modules are on the way this spring: one on the Louisiana Purchase and another on the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Ray-Hill said the goal is to have 20 to 30 content areas across different times in history.

DBQuest, which first launched in beta in 2014, has had about 6,000 unique engagements, Ray-Hill said.

“We expect it to grow as the content and access grows,” she said.

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