As you may have guessed from the title, this is like, the Tyrion Lannister of blog posts- especially in comparison with yesterday. If you are not a crazed Game of Thrones fan like me (the show, not the books- sorry!), ignore my nerdy reference and let’s move on.
So, when my team and I went to training in 2015, we were the only ones from Whittier. So when we came back, singing Guided Inquiry’s praises and overflowing with excitement about our plans, I really do think people thought we were crazy. But then, there were two summer institutes, and Whittier teachers when to both of them. Then there was a fall institute, and more people went. Then there was a spring institute, and even MORE people when. I’m so ecstatic that this year, every single eighth grader and two-thirds of sixth graders experienced Guided Inquiry. And seventh grade- this is even more exciting- all the seventh graders will participate in TWO guided inquiry units. It’s spreading like wildfire in our school and our district, and I want to share a little of what other teachers are doing.
I loved hearing from Jan Filbeck, sixth grade social studies teacher and social studies department chair, about the cross-curricular unit taught by sixth grade social studies and Language Arts. Their unit was Ancient Cultures, focusing specifically on the Egyptians. Greeks, Incas, and Mayans. These cultures were chosen because sixth grade social studies curriculum covers the Western Hemisphere and language arts curriculum encompasses Greek and Egyptian literature. They wanted students to discover for themselves what makes a civilization great, and hoped that they would discover along the way that some civilizations create lasting literature and some don’t.
Jan also shared her frustrations about technology. This is a common theme in conversations about research, because we have eleven hundred students and an estimated two hundred student computers available for classroom use- IF they’re all working. She said that on the days the computers were all booked, some students used their phones, but not all students have web-enabled phones. Jan and her teammates are looking forward to next year, as the district’s 1:1 technology initiative is implemented, and all students will have their own device. She stated, “Most of our units are research based, so it will be easy to convert a new unit to guided inquiry now that I know what I am doing…I think it will work with several of our projects.”
Seventh graders at Whittier are especially fortunate this year. In addition to the Language Arts unit planned at the summer session, seventh grade science teachers are getting ready to teach a unit they planned at the most recent institute. I spoke via email with Kim Heaton, seventh grade science teacher and science department chair. She told me that the unit is about how technology has modified the traits of plants and animals. I can only imagine how interesting that research will be, and I can’t wait to hear about the great things their students learn.
Christiona Reid, seventh grade Language Arts teacher, shared with me about their Civil Rights unit, which is currently coming to a close. She did such a terrific job explaining that I have included her words here:
“Students began the unit with an open gallery walk using images from past to current civil rights issues. Next, students immersed themselves into a memoir about the Little Rock Nine. While students read, they created discussion questions and wrote journals about what they read.
For the explore phase, students were added to a Google Classroom to explore various topics dealing with the concept, then at the end of each day completed journal responses and responded to a classmate’s journal. The explore phase has been the most successful part of the Guided Inquiry Unit. Google Classroom has been helpful for differentiating material and checking progress. For students who were struggling with exploring through sources, I was able to schedule a time for material and websites to be sent out to those students. This allowed them to struggle a little and then have support at the right time.
For the identify phase, students in my class did a gallery walk for questions. Individually, students created higher level questions over various topics, then spent some time talking in groups and writing those are large sheets of paper. At the end of the day, we had questions from every class and almost every student. Then, the next day, students walked through the questions and wrote three that interested them. After the identify phase, we spent another day exploring. Students took their top three questions and searched to see if there was enough information. They then narrowed it down to one top question they wanted to research.
For the gather phase, students spend a week research their large research question. We reemphasized the importance of leveled questions for the gather phase. Students had to create lower level questions that helped answer their large research question. This phase I struggled with the most because of technology issues. Also, students created really tough questions that were above seventh grade level, but I didn’t realize it until they started gathering or were in the middle of the process. For example, one students created the following question: How did women in the military affect the military’s productivity?
We are about to start the create phase, where students are creating projects from a choice board. They have to make a physical product, complete a piece of writing, and complete their gather page with sources. When they finish, students will do a museum share out and a quick write evaluation.”
-Christiona Reid, Seventh Grade Language Arts
I am SO thankful to those awesome teachers for sharing with me, and to Norman Public Schools for being a district that values and invests in professional development. Because of them, the majority of students at our school were able to experience inquiry learning this year, and that will only increase as we have access to more and more technology. But more about that tomorrow. 🙂