Top 5 Bloggers/posts this year!

I’ve been crunching the numbers and checking out the stats for our year on the blog.  The numbers are exciting and we have some celebrations to share!

So, I’m here today to announce and celebrate our

Top 5 Bloggers for 2016!

These top five blog posts were determined by the number of views to their posts.  Congratulations to all of you!

  1. Paige Holden with 643 views of her post Just Keep Swimming, Swimming, Swimming… | 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry  On this post, Paige explained how she scaffolded her middle schoolers questioning in the Identify phase.  She expertly guided her students to expand their understanding of questions using Webb’s depth of knowledge to support and other strong scaffolds.  The post goes on to describe the actual student’s questions as a result.  She moves into the Gather and Create phases including information literacy skills embedded in the unit.
  2. Lizzie Walker aka Curious St George had nearly 400 views of her post Avoid Cheetah Reports in 8 Easy Steps! | 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry where she summarizes a fourth grade science unit where she flips the traditional animal report on its head! Using the concept of “All living things and their environment are interdependent,”  the students engaged in the GID process to dig deeper and in more interesting ways into the animals they know and love, and some that they had never heard of before!
  3. Kathryn Roots Lewis takes the third place with 200 views to her post GID-Making a Difference in Teaching & Learning | 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry . Kathryn brings a unique leadership perspective as she is the library leader in Norman, Oklahoma where a national model of Guided Inquiry Design is taking hold.  In this post nearly 200 people read about how the GID movement began and the far reaching effects of the practice in her district. Thanks, Kathryn, for sharing this important leadership perspective.
  4. Kelsey Barker and Dr. Buffy Edwards represented a team who was working at the district level to create a fifth grade science unit on biospheres.  In this post with 198 views, Taking Steps Back So We Can Move Forward | 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry the team, in the middle of the design process, took a step back to look at what they were planning from a student’s perspective and that shed new shining light onto their work.  It was fantastic to hear about their process and how it unfolded and what resulted from this team’s work together.
  5. And the fifth most read post was by yours truly.  People had been asking me in my GID workshops about REAL student questions and what questions arose out of this Guided process.  Educators are often worried that kids questions will be so far afield of the content and need some reassurance. In this post, viewed by 198 readers, I wrote about the exemplary model from Westborough High School in Massachusetts. I shared the questions from a unit in our recently released high school book as well as some of the questions from Kathleen Stoker‘s students participating in the psychology in literature class. Once you see the real questions that students have, and the level of these questions, as well as how they are relevant to topic, and have students passions embedded within them, you just have to give GID a try! 😀

Thanks all for the wonderful descriptions of what you have been working on this year using the Guided Inquiry model to make a difference in teaching and learning for your students!  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you all.

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Co-Author of the Guided Inquiry series

Professional Developer


Image credit


Preservation in National Parks (A 2nd Grade GID Experience)

My name is Kristi Mulligan. I am a Teacher Librarian (TL) in Selma, California. I work at two elementary schools that serve a combined total of approximately 750 students. I am one of six TLs employed by the district. Last spring, we attended a GID training, presented by Leslie, in our district. Under the direction of our Library Services Coordinator, our team has elected to make GID the model for our efforts in research with our students.

I first became aware of the inquiry process nearly 20 years ago through my experiences as a high school agriculture teacher.   At that time, I used a very abbreviated version of the GID process to engage my high school students in research and, looking back on it now, very limited individualized learning. As a TL, I have found that the GID process, as outlined by Leslie and her team, provides a structured and balanced approach to research. Since our training last spring, I have used all or part of GID with students as young as first grade and up to sixth. I know my colleague is very excited about pursuing research with her high school students this year using this process as well.

In subsequent blogs this week, I will be reflecting on the use of GID with a second grade class last spring. The classroom teacher and I collaborated and co-taught a unit focused on the preservation of land through the national park system. The teacher’s annual field trip to Kings Canyon National Park was the impetus for our unit. In years past, she taught her students, through traditional whole group instruction, about the park flora and fauna, with a focus on the Giant Sequoias. She then took her class to the park where they viewed those magnificent trees, went back to school and had them all write a selection about the field trip, and left that learning behind to move on to something else. After attending the GID training, we decided to drastically revise her previous efforts. That revision will be the focus of my future posts.

A great journey!

For most of our students, OPEN, IMMERSE, and EXPLORE were really positive, and inquiry circles were a big hit. As librarian, I visited as many classes as possible during these phases, to listen, brainstorm, coach, and teach mini-lessons at teacher request. This exposure enabled me to share what was going on in other classes, which helped build excitement and a sense of a common goal. A student stopped me in the hallway with: “Mrs. Little, when are we going to work in our inquiry circles again? I really like that part!” Students coming into the library to grab books or headsets were happy to chat about what they’d learned, and where they were going with it. There was a lot of energy, and a sense of pride and purpose.

As we approached IDENTIFY, some students struggled to find a focus, and I was able to tag-team with the ELA teachers, to participate in some of those conversations, either in the classroom or the library; a student would appear, saying: “My teacher said I should come down to talk to you about my research question” (music to a librarian’s ears!). Knowing the ISP helped us to anticipate emotions, and assure students that they were moving in the right direction when they were frustrated or confused.

As our students settled on their research questions, we collaboratively curated resources that might be useful, and shared the Google Doc through Google Classroom. Only teachers could edit the Google Doc, but students could suggest sources, and teachers vetted them.

GATHER had our students diving into books (print and digital), database articles, and websites that we’d found together. At this point, from here on out, through CREATE, SHARE, and EVALUATE,  the ELA teachers definitely felt more comfortable – this was familiar territory!

As mentioned in an earlier post, the ten weeks we’d planned had dwindled to only seven, so SHARE was shortchanged. Our students wrote papers for their final products, but the original plan had been for them to also present their learning to each other in another format – we simply didn’t have time.  So instead, we  ‘advertised’ their work to the school by plastering their research questions to the windows of the library – which is passed by the upper grades en route to gym & lunch. We fielded questions from 7th graders: “What are the 6th graders doing? We didn’t get to do that last year!”


For Evaluate, we designed a Google Form to collect student input:

Our team met with our supervisor at the end of the year to evaluate the project. We had no shortage of ideas about how we could improve the project for next year, but there was a lot of enthusiasm for the process. Our end-of-project student reflection showed our students liked working in groups, choice (“learning about our OWN topic instead of a topic teachers picked”), the IMMERSE activities, and found working with their inquiry circles and talking with their teacher/librarian about the project to be very helpful.

For me, GID was a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. 

Maryrose Little, Librarian
Edgar Middle School
Metuchen, NJ

All Aboard!

Every teacher brought their own talents to the table as we worked on our session plans together. Some were excellent at locating resources, some liked writing the session plans, and all imagined the project through the eyes of their students, and suggested ways to adapt it for their students’ needs. Everyone came up to speed on the topic more quickly because we worked together – just like what we hope for when our students work in inquiry circles. We spent most of our planning time on the OPEN, IMMERSE, and EXPLORE phases, and so we entered those phases with materials and activities in hand. Teachers didn’t march in lockstep through the project, of course, but it gave everyone a framework they could refer to along the way.

Suzy Menafro Palmer is one of the 6th grade ELA team who wasn’t available to attend the Institute last summer, but was completely on board from our first meeting, and enthusiastically dove into planning and resource gathering as we prepared for our adventure. In hindsight, she offered her impressions of the unit (shown in blue):

The “Open” part of our Urbanization Unit was probably my favorite. Listening to my students be such little experts about their town was so impressive. I couldn’t believe how knowledgeable they were about the history of Metuchen. It was clear that their parents explain ideas to them like taxes and population increases, and they went on and on about what a great town they live in. They were so proud of their downtown appeal, the family oriented sense of community that has been established here, and their reputation for being “The Brainy Boro”.

We looked at maps of Metuchen over the years from the 1800’s to a more current map. Something that sort of took me by surprise was when it was evident that most students really weren’t familiar with reading maps. Once they understood what they were seeing, they were really intrigued and made some great insights about how the town has changed over the years.

What’s really exciting about GID is the opportunity for us to see how it connects to our students’ lives, and to see them as experts in things we otherwise would not have know about, and cross-curricular opportunities.  Suzy then went on to describe part of our Immerse phase:

We also did a walk around the school to see how the building has changed over the years. The students identified how there are different bricks indicating that there are additions to the building,  and there are new lockers that were clearly an afterthought because they don’t match the lockers already in place.


In our “Explore” phase students were in groups reading articles about the subtopics of urbanization. This was so well organized by the team of teachers who put this together. It went seamlessly, and the students were really interested in all of the topics. Some of them even cheered when I gave them the folder for “Trends in Migration” (I was in shock). Ideas that I thought they would be totally bored by, they were excited! I have to say… I did have an exceptional class of 6th graders this year who are very task oriented, people pleasing, high achievers. However, I was still pleasantly surprised they were interested in the topics as they were.

…and then Identify…

When it came time to get even more specific and come up with their research questions, I was again impressed with the variety and specificity they came up with for questioning. They were interested in animals, war, drones, flying cars, city gardens, and so much more. One of my students even wrote a paper about how advancements in technology for cities with apps like Uber have decreased the number of DUI’s in a certain city.

There were some students who really went above and beyond, and then there were some students who were pretty basic and surface level with their research with little insight. But that’s sixth grade in a nutshell! Some kids are just more engaged and capable of taking it to another level, and some of them just aren’t there yet, and I’m really okay with that. I was happy that they found a topic they were interested in and worked start to finish.

The Gather phase required lots of flexibility, since so many students needed to share resources, and technology was at a premium, because we were in the midst of standardized testing. We spent a lot of time negotiating for the use of laptop or Chromebook carts (and not always successfully). Books were on a cart that stayed in the library, and students came down to borrow them as needed.

Amazingly, we didn’t misplace one book or headset in the process!

Everyone seemed to understand that other classes were working with these materials – there was definitely a sense of a community of learners throughout the 6th grade.

Next up: Create, Share, and Evaluate

Suzy Menafro Palmer, 6th Grade ELA teacher and
Maryrose Little, Librarian
Edgar Middle School
Metuchen, NJ

Slow and Steady: a long road to GID

Metuchen is a lovely historic town in central New Jersey, at the crossroads of transportation in our state. Metuchen is a small town, encircled by Edison Township. Just how small is it? Even lifelong NJ residents might not know exactly where it’s located! Some people may recognize Metuchen as a stop on NJ Transit’s Northeast Corridor line, an exit on the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 1, or Interstate 287.

Metuchen has a walkable downtown, and tons of local character and community spirit – arts & craft festivals, parades, community programs for all ages at the local public library, summer programs at the schools, the list goes on!

Metuchen is proud of its history, and protective of its tree-lined streets graced by historic homes – the tree canopy is even protected by local ordinance. 

Our District has four schools, with Edgar Middle School as home to 750 students in grades 5-8. Edgar School sent a team of four to the 2016 CISSL Guided Inquiry Summer Institute at Rutgers University: Dr. Tiffany Jacobson, then-Supervisor of English & Social Studies; Melissa Kovacs and Kristin Bruno, 6th grade ELA teachers; and Maryrose Little, librarian (me!), with the intention of designing a 6th grade ELA curricular unit to be used in the spring of 2017.

How did we find ourselves at CISSL Summer Institute? The short answer: an amazingly supportive, approachable, and open-minded principal and supervisor. The longer answer: a long and circuitous route that began in 2008, when I first learned about Guided Inquiry Design in the Rutgers MLIS program.

In my mind, Guided Inquiry Design is not a solo act. In my first SLMS position after graduation (‘08), I didn’t manage to find a collaborative partner willing to dip his/her toes into GID with me, so Guided Inquiry lived only in my head and on my librarian bucket list for years. It was kept alive by sessions at our NJASL annual conference, where I listened to other school librarians describe their collaborative partnerships, and how their students benefitted from Guided Inquiry experiences. “Maybe someday”, I thought wistfully, with a touch of envy.

When I moved to Metuchen’s Edgar Middle School in 2014, I looked across all four grades to try to understand how research was taught – from our 5th grade Explorers project to the 8th grade ROGATE program. Over time, I spoke with administrators, librarians at our other schools, teachers, and our Director of Curriculum about how we teach our students to perform research, K-12. Did I mention I love research? Along the way, I read Guided inquiry design : a framework for inquiry in your school, and peeked in on Dr. Maniotes’s edWeb webinars, where I learned another CISSL GID Summer Institute would be offered in July 2016. Maybe someday was here! But how to make that happen for us?

My principal Kathy Glutz listened patiently and thoughtfully as I described Guided Inquiry, then suggested I reach out to Dr. Tiffany Jacobson, our ELA and Social Studies Supervisor – what better content areas?  Dr. Jacobson invited me to join in curriculum mapping with the 6th grade ELA team, who hadn’t yet mapped their non-fiction text unit, and we continued to talk about Guided Inquiry – what grade, teachers, and content area made the most sense to approach?

Ultimately, Tiffany asked me to describe Guided Inquiry and the CISSL Summer Institute to the 6th grade ELA team during one of our mapping sessions.  I spoke briefly, showed the team this blog (thank you, Leslie and bloggers!), and floated the idea of attending the upcoming Summer Institute. Our facilitator, Deanne Opatosky, hadn’t previously heard of Guided Inquiry, but she immediately recognized its value, and made connections to our locally-developed Metuchen Common Research Cycle used at our elementary school. Of the teachers who expressed interest, two were available during July: Kristin Bruno and Melissa Kovacs. All the stars had aligned in Metuchen, and it looked as if we were heading off to the Summer Institute!

Well, not so fast – there was that pesky little detail of actually applying! We brainstormed to come up with a topic that our students might find interesting. Most of us didn’t know the term “Third Space” yet, but we knew enough to make a start. We thought about Metuchen’s history and current local “issues” – what kinds of things might families be talking about over dinner? What was going on in Metuchen that our students might care about? None of us live in town, which made it a bit tricky, but something we see daily is our school bursting at the seams – there are not enough classrooms for our student body, plus there’s more building going on in Metuchen. Is the lovely little history-laden town going to lose its small-town feel? Is the character of Metuchen, which keeps families living here generation after generation, changing?  We chose ‘Change’ as our idea, wrote our proposal, mailed it off, fingers crossed, and were thrilled to learn we’d been accepted!

CISSL Guided Inquiry Design Summer Institute was an amazing experience – if anyone reading this is on the fence, go for it! We were treated to an opening which included Dr. Kuhlthau’s review of her career and findings, which powerfully set the stage for our learning. Every librarian in the room knew what a treat this was; by the time she’d finished speaking, so did everyone else. We worked hard over our 3 days, and by the time all was said and done, our ‘Change’ theme had morphed into ‘Urbanization’. Additional curriculum-writing time over the summer resulted in a 8-10 week curriculum unit, intended for use by all 6th grade ELA classes. 180 student researchers at once! An ambitious plan for what we hoped would be a powerful learning experience.

Our unit was set for 4th marking period – no pressure, right? Our September and November in-service days were spent with other teachers who were interested in inquiry-based learning – an opportunity to share what we’d learned at the Institute, but had yet to practice in the classroom. But how could we bring the rest of the 6th grade ELA team fully on board with GID and our unit? As marking period 4 approached, we asked for one day to meet to hash out all the remaining details, and give ELA teachers who hadn’t attended the Institute time to wrap their minds around the process and the curriculum unit. At the end of that day, we had well-defined session plans for Open, Immerse, and Explore, including resources to share.

Fourth marking period was then upon us, but 6th grade PARCC testing and spring break caused our 8-10 week long unit to be pared down to 7 weeks. At the beginning of May, we boarded the GI train, each of us feeling various amounts of trepidation and preparedness, but curious to see where the journey would take us.

Details of our adventures in coming posts!

Maryrose Little, Librarian
Edgar Middle School
Metuchen, NJ

Anatoly Sukhanov [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Guided Inquiry and the IB Extended Essay

Dear Colleagues,

The International Baccalaureate is a global curriculum and one that we proudly offer at our school. Very recently I became the Extended Essay Coordinator. As you will note in the image below, the Extended Essay is part of the core of the Diploma Program of the IB. It is one of the few occasions that students are able to pursue a topic that they are interested in. It is the perfect foundation for the implementation of Guided Inquiry Design.

The IB Diploma Program with the Extended Essay at it’s core. Copyright International Baccalaureate

The Extended Essay is a 4000 word academic piece of writing centring around a question based on one of the subjects that the student is currently studying. The student needs to have enough background knowledge to tackle the topic in depth. Students are allocated a supervisor (based on their topic) at school who will spend about 4 hours over the course of the year, guiding and intervening as necessary and various stages of the process. As you will note in the document below, using the various stages of Guided Inquiry breaks up the year long project into manageable steps.

We begin our journey one year before it’s due date. Students are presented with the Extended Essay (Open) and asked to engage with all of its possibilities. We spend a couple of weeks immersing the students in the EE, walking through the potential for different topic areas, we concept map different ideas, they talk to teachers and do a lot of reading before submitting a proposal of potential topics. We need to do this quite early in the process to ensure that we can allocate a supervisor to support them through their journey.

One of the most difficult parts of the process is the Identify step, where students are required to narrow down their topic to a specific research question which will guide them through the rest of the research process. In order to get there, we ask students to undertake a literature review during the Explore phase, which requires them to annotate at least four sources of information. This has the double effect of ensuring that their topic has enough background information to formulate a question and identify where their extended essay is going to go. Note, that we often go back to this step during the process because as we all know, often our research starts in one area and ends in another. The reflection process is incredibly important to students at these important points in the process because it enables them to understand their own thinking and make steps in taking the next step in the process. It also allows supervisors to intervene and offer guidance, make suggestions, and help students move on in the inquiry process. We use a system called Managebac, which easily allows students and supervisors to communicate throughout the process, while also scaffolding the reflection process.

After identifying their question, students spend a whole term gathering sources of information that will help them answer their question. This allows them to conduct primary and secondary research while at school and gain support and guidance from teacher librarians and their supervisor. We ask that they write a big chunk of their essay (create) over the Christmas (long summer break in Australia) holidays, which then allows us to provide some feedback and guidance on the direction of the extended essay. You will see that at the end of the process (which actually takes about six months), students are in a revolving door of creating, sharing and evaluating their work. We repeat this process at least once, allow students to self-assess and make changes before submitting the essay to be externally marked.

Students are required to be highly independent during this process. This is their work and close marking is not allowed by supervisors or teachers. This is why Guided Inquiry Design is so important in scaffolding the process for students.

I welcome your questions and comments about this and would really like to hear how other teacher librarians use Guided Inquiry Design in the Extended Essay!

Erin Patel – Head of Libraries & IB Extended Essay Coordinator, Kambala

Guided Inquiry and Reflective Practice

Dear Colleagues,

My name is Erin Patel and I am the Head of Library Services at Kambala Girls School, an independent girls school in Sydney, Australia. If you have been following the 52GID blog for a while, you might remember I posted last year about the use of flipped learning in the Guided Inquiry process, Guided Inquiry for global collaboration and the importance of reflection.

A few things have changed and grown since last September in relation to my approach to Guided Inquiry Design. I have been able to adapt and change some of my projects based on my own reflections of how successful they were last year. A focus on reflective practice is a strategy that I have adopted in my new role as Head of Libraries to ensure a strategic approach to how we implement our inquiry program across the school curriculum.

My own reflective practice has required conversations with teachers, a lot of listening and being open to feedback in the same way that we expect our students to listen to our feedback. This can be a difficult think for some, but I have found that it has been invaluable in building relationships and creating further collaborations.

Another big change in my role is that I am now the IB Extended Essay Coordinator. Our school runs both the NSW Curriculum and the IB Curriculum Diploma Programme. The Extended Essay is an independent piece of academic writing based on research into a topic based on one of their subjects. In the following posts, I will explain how I have used Guided Inquiry Design to plan and implement the Extended Essay process.

Implementing Guided Inquiry Design within my programs allows me to help students to articulate where they are in the inquiry process, be reflective and independent learners, whilst also ensuring that they receive help and intervention at appropriate times. This is essential in the Extended Essay process. The framework also provides guidance for Extended Essay supervisors – all subject teachers, incredible experts in content but not necessarily inquiry – and enables them to better understand how to support their allocated student throughout the journey.

Thats it for now. If you are an Extended Essay supervisor or Coordinator and have used Guided Inquiry in this process before, please comment below!



What now?

After our GI unit, we had time to reflect. I used the last entry of the student journal to get student feedback about the GI unit. Since it was new for both me and the students to do GI in math, I wanted their reflections. What I found most interesting is that the high performing students were the ones with the most push back on this unit. They are so used to doing so well in math; they listen, memorize, critically think and solve problems. However, this is all when they are given the questions. This time, since they were the ones creating the questions, it was hard for them to understand what to do. That freedom scared them and it was a bit of a struggle on both ends to get them motivated for the unit. On the other hand, students who are normally less engaged enjoyed the freedom of taking the lead in what they were learning. These students surprised me the most with what they learned and how much they participated. Regardless of the quality of their presentations, the quantity of what they learned was deeper than ever before.

I will be honest, this was the first guided inquiry and only guided inquiry I have done. SO FAR! It was the end of the spring semester and there was not enough time to plan for and create another GI lesson to fit before final review and final exams.

However, in reflecting with my team, we are all in agreement about incorporating Guided Inquiry into our course. (Before all was lost in my mind, I created a notebook of all documents used for this GI unit, including any student work, so that it could be my personal reference when I start to design another unit.) Our first goal/step is to create a unit for our first semester. That way we have one GI unit for each semester that we can work with and tweak as we get more comfortable with the process. In reflecting on my own, I want to incorporate GI into my other courses as well. This summer has been full of a lot of reflection for me as a teacher and my head is full of so many ideas that I want to do for the 17-18 school year. I am so thankful that I have the support of my team, our librarians and the administration to back me up on the implementation of these ideas and lessons.

Sending positive vibes to all of you out there that are wanting to try a GI lesson/unit in your classrooms. There is so much support and already created lessons out there. You just have to jump in and try it. You will be amazed at what your students can do and what you can do as well as a teacher. The impact on student learning is far worth the input of creating this lesson/unit. Good Luck.

How does GI look in Math?

In the last post, I told you all about the beginning stages, learning about Guided Inquiry, pushing our minds to grasp how it could work in the math classroom, and finally coming up with an idea. When my team of 3 (Algebra 2 teachers) left the conference in the summer, we left with an idea about a Sequences and Series GI Unit but knew that we had a lot of planning and prep in order for this Unit to be successful. Section 11-1 Sequences As Functions 2017 Guided Inquiry-1pcblr9

School starts, fall semester goes by, and then there we were in second semester creeping up on the Sequence and Series chapter. {Side note: the thing I love most about my school and mostly my team, is that we look out for each other, support each other, and hold each other to the same high standards that we hold ourselves. This is true for the GI unit. We were going to do this, but we made sure that we did it together. No one gets left on an island by themselves.} A few weeks out, we met after school to talk through the idea again. Remind ourselves, and the other two members of the team who could not attend the conference,  about all the details that went into GI. We came up with a plan:

First, the math brained people that we are had to map out the unit and create an assignment sheet that reflected the GI stages. This gave us a better idea what each day would be like. Chapter 11 Assignment Sheet 2017-2mvemvs We knew that the students would be coming up with their own questions but were unsure of what they would be. We had a few thoughts in our back pocket but wanted to be as open minded as possible so that the ideas came from the students.

Second, we decided that we would meet after school on the day that the students created their questions to help each other out with the following days’ plan. When we met the second time and we searched through the questions, there were some common themes coming out of the post it notes. We each decided to group up the common themes that were specific to our classes. In my class, it worked best to create 5 groups, as you will see on the attachment, which also worked best physically in my classroom. Guided Inquiry Explore Results-2bujvwc  When the students came in the next day, I talked through the 5 common themes and then let the students choose which one of the 5 groups interested them the most. As a group, the began to explore deeper about that specific theme.

Third, we let the students take the led. They gathered more information about their topics. Each class created their own rubrics on how they wanted to present their findings. Example from 1st hour: Sequences and Series Presentation Rubric 1st hour 2017-1b4xeb8 They created amazing presentations and shared them with the class just wonderfully. I was more than impressed with the results both of the quality of the presentations, but also with how well students worked together. (I will share some reflections from both myself and students in the next post) At the end of that day, I left school feeling GREAT!

Enjoy some pictures of their wonderful presentations.

Jamie Rentzel, Norman High School, Norman, Oklahoma

Guided Inquiry in a High Math Classroom? Really?

Yes, it can be done. We took Guided Inquiry and worked it into the math classroom. But why does everyone seem baffled at the the thought of a math teacher being able to make this work? I think it is what we have always been missing.

How often does a math teacher hear the question, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”  With Guided Inquiry, the students are able to really answer that question. Let me start by staying, I am not one of those teachers that hears this question from a student and then gets immediately upset and irritated at the student. Actually, it is the best question they can ask, because that is the point of school. To teach the future citizens the knowledge and skills that they need for “real life.” Sometimes I have a perfect answer in my back pocket and other times I do not.

Mathematics is really about problem solving. Assessing the situation and determining which route to choose. Should that route lead you down a rabbit hole, then step back and try another approach. Problem Solving and Critical thinking are the top two skills that most all employers are looking for in a new hire. And what better place to learn these two skills than in the math classroom.

Now let me circle back to Guided Inquiry. How did this all start for me? My principal promoted this Professional Development called Guided Inquiry Design and he wanted to see a few teams go to it last summer. After thinking about it for a few days, I wasn’t quite sure what all it entailed, but knew that my Algebra 2 team has always been really strong and are willing to try new things if it is best for our students. So after talking to the team, I signed us up. In the end only 3 of the 5 of us could make it, but that didn’t stop us from going. Of the 3 that attended, two of us were veteran teachers to the school and to Algebra 2 and the other teacher was a brand new teacher, fresh out of college and eager to join the team.

We went to the 3 day PD for Guided Inquiry Design open-minded and after day 1 felt drained. It was hard. Hard in a good way. It really pushed us out of our comfort zone. The three of us tossed around ideas while we sat with lots of Elementary Ed, History and English teachers. We felt like we were on an island by ourselves. However, Leslie Maniotes (the institute leader), Martha and Taryn (our school librarians) were all so encouraging. They were supportive and helpful.

We refreshed over night and came back for day 2 determined to make this work. We picked our topic and started doing our own research, as if we were the students. This was really scary because the students can go so many ways with their questions, and for a math teacher to plan for the unknown, we still felt uneasy.  (Actually, I am pretty sure that we were all uneasy from the beginning of this institute until we finally completed this unit with our students in the spring.) So we stepped into Day 3 and made a short presentation to share with the group and ended up receiving really great feedback from all the other teachers there. We were on the right track, we just needed to be more confident with ourselves and more confident that our students would be able to make this work. At the end of the 3 day conference, we left with a plan for a unit on Sequences and Series. (In my next post I will go into all the details, mathematics and teacher prep.)

For now, I hope I have gotten the attention of some math teachers out there that have been skeptical about Guided Inquiry. Yes, it can be done!

Jamie Rentzel, Math Teacher

Norman High School

Norman Oklahoma

Living Guided Inquiry

Teresa Lansford, Lincoln Elementary, Norman OK

Since our staff started the year with the understanding that the Guided Inquiry Process was the way we were going to structure our learning through research for the entire year, there was never any turning back. For those who had not yet been through formal training there were times that we dipped into the process without developing a complete unit. Students had opportunities to get excited about a topic through Open, develop a common vocabulary through a rich immerse activity, or explore an area of interest in an inquiry circle. As these small steps were successful, there was much more interest in developing entire units to address concepts with students. They saw how much  more engaged students were under this process.

Our teachers immediately valued the ownership students had of their work. One fifth grader in particular had spent a previous unit sitting with arms crossed refusing to work. When she had the power to ask her own questions she was fully engaged.

Our fourth grade teachers implemented a wave unit. When we went to form inquiry circles it just happened that most of the special education students ended up wanting to focus on the same area. We took notes using They created a web to connect their areas of interest. At the end of one session we zoomed out and a student proclaimed “We know all that?” Jaws dropped a bit as these students realized how much they had learned and came to understand that they had valuable contributions to the larger group’s understanding of waves. Seeing these students thrive who previously may have floundered would have been enough of a selling point, but we consistently saw added value across all demographics. All students were challenged to grow at some point during the process.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of our principal, by the end of the first week of school all staff had embraced the idea of guided inquiry, by mid year we were engaging students with units across all grade levels, by the end of the year we had a staff that lived and breathed Guided Inquiry.

Our practice was more than just units of study in a framework. When it comes to research and questioning, Guided Inquiry has become how we think. When our leadership team was tasked with leading professional development for our site, they looked to the Guided Inquiry framework to develop the PD. We have went beyond just using it with our students because we see its universal value. At Lincoln Elementary we give our students a voice, ensure they have choice, and live a growth mindset in order to encourage students to have one as well. Guided Inquiry has been an invaluable tool to help get us there.