Jazz, Will Rogers, and Saving the Earth – Elementary students Questions in GID

As you might imagine as we move down the spectrum of levels in this “vertical” look at inquiry questions will include more simplistic questions at the elementary level.

In today’s post we have a few student questions from Kelsey Barker from three of her GID units in her Elementary School from last year.

Kelsey is an active GIDer and has written for this blog multiple times. To read her other posts click here.

Photo credit https://www.emaze.com/@AFQCROTQ/THE-JAZZ-AGE

Photo credit https://www.emaze.com/@AFQCROTQ/THE-JAZZ-AGE

Last school year, Kelsey worked with the music teacher on a Guided Inquiry unit on music appreciation. In that unit, the fifth graders asked specific questions about the Jazz Age.

  • What was life like in the Jazz Age?
  • What was the impact of Ella Fitzgerald on Jazz music?

These questions are not the run of the mill fact based questions we typically require in research units for fifth graders. These are interesting questions! Teachers would usually have the content laid out and require that all students find out when the Jazz Age was? Where did the Jazz Age take place? and Who were the main people connected with this? These are not only easy to find the answers, (just Google it) but they are low level factual questions that require no critical thinking to answer. The right questions for inquiry, at any level, are the ones where students need to investigate multiple sources to address them. The questions above can be labeled as great student questions from an inquiry.

Photo Credit http://flyokc.com

Photo Credit http://flyokc.com

The Biography unit! Many states have in their standards a list of famous people that the students in third grade have to know. If they don’t have that list, then students typically have a biography unit at some point in upper elementary. That unit traditionally turns into that Bird Report that David Loertscher warned us about long ago, where teachers have students pick one person from a list and they get the required information about that person, date of birth, young life, challenges and successes and so forth.

In Norman, through working with many teams on how to make the traditional biography unit an interesting inquiry based unit, we have flipped that famous people unit on it’s head. Instead of a list we start with thinking about the concept of a legacy, or what makes people great or famous.  This becomes a natural way into reading many biographies. Through this GID unit students can learn about not one but maybe even more famous people in order to understand the concept of what makes people famous. One student’s real question from that work was:

  • Why is so much stuff in Oklahoma named after Will Rogers?

There you have it! The student actually asked the question that we want them to know! But this time, they have a real desire to find the answers to that question and their learning, as a result, will be much richer than if we had them pick from a list and find stock information about Will Rogers. Don’t you agree?

A small innovation to a traditional unit can make a BIG difference in how students respond and what they learn as a result.  That’s the power of GID.

Photo credit http://www.safetysign.com/products/p7440/recycle-symbol-sign

Photo credit http://www.safetysign.com/products/p7440/recycle-symbol-sign

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! What a great thing to teach our next generation!  Through a first grade unit on Recycling using Guided Inquiry Kelsey and her team’s students came up with their own questions like :

  • How does recycling help the earth?
  • Why do we recycle?
  • What happens when we don’t save water?

These are basic but real questions that the students had.  In the early years of using Guided Inquiry students learn that their questions matter and that they can actively find out the answers to their real questions through research. This forms the foundation on which learning how to learn through inquiry begins and develops over the years.

So ends my week of posts on student questioning!  Many of you will be starting school with students this week… to you, good luck and best wishes on a year full of student questioning and research to you all!

Leslie Maniotes

Author Guided Inquiry Series

Natural Phenomena – Students Questions from the Middle

As Hermine approaches on the east coast this Labor Day weekend we have a relevant post about student questioning from the middle school level on the topic of natural phenomena. Yesterday, I shared some examples of high school student questions from two different content areas. Today, I’ll be continuing our discussion of student questioning in the Guided Inquiry Design process as we move down the grades to examine some examples from Middle School.

At any level, student questions in Guided Inquiry are a cornerstone to the approach. Inquiry based learning can be defined as an approach to learning where students ask their own questions. Guided Inquiry is uniquely positioned to support teachers to design instruction where a path is paved that supports student questioning through the early phases of the process. 

Paige Holden, a middle school language arts teacher with her team designed an inquiry unit using the Dust Bowl as the starting point for study about natural phenomena.

The overarching question for the instructional design was, “What are the social, environmental, and economical effects of natural phenomena?”

In the design, the team of teachers and school librarian collaborated to determine a concept and overarching question that drove the instructional design. Next, a learning sequence was determined to address the content as students become curious and connect the content to their own lives and interests in the third space. In this unit, Paige and her team examined the standards and focused the inquiry path on social, economic and environmental factors of natural phenomena. They wanted all students to have a grasp of those components.

You can read more about the entire unit from Paige in her posts here and here and here.

The students identified their questions after substantial investigation through the first three phases of the design process. As you read the students’ questions you’ll notice their connection to

  1. Natural phenomena and
  2. One or more of the aspects in the Learning Team’s overarching question. (social, economic, and environmental factors)

Students Questions

What past theories have been developed to explain the Northern Lights, and how have the lights affected tourism in areas where they can be seen?

How did the formation of the Ice Age Impact the Earth and humans?

How do bioluminescent waves affect the ocean and its inhabitants?

How have the discovery and exploration of blue holes impacted different fields of scientific research?

What myths about the cause of the rainbow are evident in cultural and religious traditions?

What is the relationship between disappearances at sea and the Bermuda Triangle?

TAKING LEAP – the Inquiry Trust Fall

Inquiry based learning requires moving away from covering content and opens up to a more facilitated approach, where the teacher acts as a guide. Letting go of covering content is a shift for many educators for a variety of reasons,

  1. The testing climate (we teach so that our students can perform on a test)
  2. The perception of a need to control what students learn
  3. The pressures from outside related to content (curriculum and pacing).

We know that covering material doesn’t ensure students will learn it. Even so, have you ever heard teachers say, “We went over that!” “We covered that, I don’t know why they don’t know this!”

People using an inquiry learning model have taken a leap to trust the inquiry process and their students, that they will learn the content through the process. These questions show this is possible.

Interest has staying power with regards to learning, where material coverage does not. These students’ questions are a fine example that although each student won’t learn deeply about each one of the factors that the Learning Team indicated as essential, they will learn deeply about at least one as it relates to something they are truly interested in.

Let’s look at the student questions related to each factor. Keep in mind that although each student isn’t addressing them all by way of their own question, they are all part of this learning community (or Inquiry Community). From these questions we know that each student will walk away with two important understandings

  1. what a natural phenomenon is.
  2. natural phenomena do not occur in isolation and that it will have an effect on other things

Once the students gain an understanding of those key ideas as related to their own interest they come back together as an Inquiry Community to share their own learning. As they have gained expertise on their question, they will listen to what others have learned with a new layer of knowledge. Their own research will allow them to understand and connect to the other students’ content and be able to apply their own understanding to new content in all three areas. (Think transfer task!)

So how much of these questions will address what the teachers were looking for?

Social – Four of the six sample questions had a social element to it.

  • Tourism is a social activity,
  • impact on humans implies social connections,
  • cultural and religious traditions are socially constructed,
  • and human disappearance in the Bermuda Triangle has social implications.

Economic – It seems one student addressed the economic factors in the question about tourism.

Environmental – Each of these questions being around a different natural phenomenon will provide opportunities for every student to learn about the environmental factors as they learn about the phenomena itself.

The questions about the Ice Age and bioluminescence were centered in the environmental factors.

It’s clear that the learning team allowed students to branch off into areas of interest as long as it was related to natural phenomena and one (or more) of these factors. The variety of questions shows a commitment from the Learning Team to students finding their own interests within the content.

Asking real questions around the content through an inquiry based model while closing down time for covering content, opens up time for deeper learning and applying what students have learned to other essential learnings in authentic ways.  Thanks Paige for the great work and material to reflect on again.

More tomorrow on questions from our smallest inquirers!

Leslie Maniotes

Author Guided Inquiry Series