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DB Quest: The latest Super Sweet Tool from iCivics and Library of Congress

Illustration of DBQuest Tutors from iCivics

A few days ago, I bragged on one of the latest (opens in new tab) Library of Congress interactive tools titled CaseMaker. Part of the Teaching with Primary Sources project, CaseMaker joined the three earlier tools (opens in new tab) that rolled out last year.

But wait. There’s more. Called DBQuest (opens in new tab) and developed by the awesome people over at iCivics, this fifth tool helps you teach history and civics through the use of primary-based documents and evidence-based learning. The multi-platform app teaches students how to make sense of evidence, contextualize information, and make and support claims using evidence-based arguments.

In DBQuest, students are provided with a Big Question that is used to guide student thinking and examination using three selected primary resources. Each of the four Big Questions uses a variety of texts, images, and videos and document-based guiding questions to help students dig into the evidence.  Teacher Guides offer step-by-step instructions, timelines, maps, and context for supporting the learning activities. Each of the Questions provide a handy online glossary of terms to support contextual understanding and you can follow their progress using a report system.

The tool takes students through the same four steps for each source:

1. Rate the document for usefulness and determine perspective

2. Identify and analyze the text and visual elements that assist with answering the questions

3. Address the supporting questions in your own words

4. Summarize your findings as a response to the Big Question

The Louisiana Purchase, for instance, poses this investigation:

Students can work on the prompt in either Freeform Mode, allowing for more creative and independent engagement, or in Guided Mode, probably best for students new to primary source analysis or who might need reinforcement. Guided Mode provides a variety of scaffolding tools including pre-selected evidence options and just-in-time feedback.

Students review the three sources by sequentially answering multiple choice questions; analyzing the documents looking for textual evidence; and responding in writing to prompts.

"America's Founding Preambles"screenshot

Each Quest provides a virtual avatar tutor to help as your kids walk through the Quests. Students select a tutor at the beginning of the Quest that acts as a guide and resource throughout the project. The tutor’s role will be to draw out the student’s thought process for each source and offer a deeper level of questioning. The student is also be able to engage with their virtual tutor for support.

DB Quest virtual tutor screenshot

A small problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a handy landing page where you can easily access all of the different DBQuests. But you can get the video below and an Info pdf here (opens in new tab)

[Real or Fake? Factitious is a Breakthrough Tool for Assessing Student Online Literacy]


Right now there are four DBQuests:

The Louisiana Purchase: Branching Out (opens in new tab)
President Jefferson usually gets the credit for the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which doubled the size of the young nation. But this ignores one important actor, the U.S. Congress. Nearly every step of the process involved the approval of, and funding from, the Legislative Branch. This DBQuest will walk you through primary sources that show the give and take between the two branches.

The Nashville Sit-Ins (opens in new tab)
What makes a movement successful? The people? The actions? The outcome? Students find out that answering this question is more involved than it may seem. Each of the three primary sources reveal a new perspective on the Nashville Sit-In Movement of 1960, and lead to a deeper understanding of what it means to work for change. Students will hear from a local businessman, student activist, and view newspaper coverage of the event.

The Constitution’s Cover Letter (opens in new tab)
In 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention decided that it was time for a change. A new plan for government was outlined in the Constitution, and it was George Washington’s job to present this document to Congress. As with any important document, the Constitution was delivered with a letter of introduction. Part background, part persuasion, Washington’s cover letter provides a behind-the-scenes look at how a new government came to be designed.

America’s Founding Preambles (opens in new tab)
Learn how the American idea of government evolved from a revolutionary response to monarchy to a unified nation. The sources will illustrate the effort taken to reach “a more perfect union” through a close read of our founding documents. Students will dig into the preambles and introductory text of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution.

You get a variety of Teacher Resources:

  • Teaching Guide & Tips
  • Classroom Printables
  • Anticipation & Reflection Activities
  • Evidence Guide
  • Overview Reading
  • Glossary

Each Quest will take one to two class periods to complete and can be done in a 1-to-1 computing environment or as a whole class activity. And because it’s an iCivics tool, you get all of the iCivics goodness to create classes and track student progress.

So pick and choose from all of the powerful Library of Congress interactives (opens in new tab) – make your kids smarter. 

cross posted at

Glenn Wiebe is an education and technology consultant with 15 years' experience teaching history and social studies. He is a curriculum consultant for ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas, blogs frequently at History Tech and maintains Social Studies Central, a repository of resources targeted at K-12 educators. Visit to learn more about his speaking and presentation on education technology, innovative instruction and social studies.