Problem Finders

B.C.’s new curriculum, as I discussed in my last post, has meant some radical changes to subject content in every grade, but perhaps none so much as in Grade 6 Social Studies. Socials used to be: Japan and Peru. I remember studying Japan and Peru when I was in Grade 6… and I’m no spring chicken!

The new curriculum for Grade 6 Social Studies has a focus on global issues, social justice, media studies, and governance systems… which sounds awesome, until you actually start looking at the content “suggestions”. Here is just a small sample of the recommended topics:

International cooperation and responses to global issues

    • environmental issues
    • human trafficking
    • child labour
    • epidemic/pandemic response
    • fisheries management
    • resource use and misuse
    • drug trafficking
    • food distribution and famine

Regional and international conflict

  • Sample topics:

    • war

    • genocide

    • child soldiers

    • boundary disputes

    • religious and ethnic violence

    • Terrorism

That is only from two subtopics! I didn’t even get into media, migration of people, or systems of government! Altogether there must be about 50 individual suggested topics just in Social Studies alone. That’s a lot for 12 year-olds to handle.

Lucky for us, our Grade 6 Social Studies teacher was excited to dig into the new material. James Weber, who used to be my office-mate and the school’s inquiry teacher before he went to teach in Dubai for two years, returned to Vancouver and joined the team at the last minute due to a sudden vacancy. Even the redoubtable James, however, was daunted by the number of learning outcomes and the lack of direction in how to teach them provided by the Ministry of Education.

Luckily, after learning about Guided Inquiry from me, we realized that following the eight phases would lead to a rich learning experience for the boys. With such a vast array of material to “cover,” GID seemed like a natural approach: expose the boys to many different ideas in the Open, Immerse and Explore phases, and then let them identify a question of interest to investigate on their own. Thus the Problem Finders Project was born.

The Open phase was a simple gallery walk in the classroom: James posted about 20 photos around the room, each one related to at least one topic in the curriculum. Without prompting or frontloading the boys observed each photo and jotted down ideas or questions it inspired.

As the instructional team was planning the project, however, we realized that the Immerse phase might be a challenge to execute. With so many possible topics, how could we possibly provide an Immerse experience that could touch on all these ideas at once? Since James and I used to work together in the library, we had a brainwave. What about a giant Human Library session where we invited as many possible guests in who had some experience with any of these topics, and boys could rotate around and ask questions?

And that’s exactly what happened. The Grade 6 team put out feelers to parents, friends and community members, and many people happily volunteered. We had dozens of Human Library guests, with expertise in health, politics, environment, indigenous rights and many of the other topics suggested by the Ministry. A list was provided on the boards so boys could select topics of interest, and they rotated around for 10 minutes of discussion with the guests. This provided the students with an opportunity to put out feelers on these disparate topics, and start to formulate ideas of their own.

Following the Human Library Immerse session, the boys went on to Explore using our library databases, as well as meeting in inquiry circles with faculty members to continue to talk through all the ideas they had encountered, and to begin to identify a question to research further.

The Problem Finders Project thus continued through the phases of Guided Inquiry, and when it came time to decide how to Share their learning, we planned another Human Library event – but this time, the students were the experts!

Each boy wrote his inquiry question on a sign that he hung around his neck and held a portfolio of his work throughout the project – this included a magazine article, a slam poem, a letter to a stakeholder, as well as his notes from various stages of the project. The rooms of the Grade 6 neighborhood were dedicated to the different curricular topics, and the guests – parents, teachers, and other students – selected topics to rotate around and discuss with the Grade 6 experts.

A list of all the Grade 6 boys and their topics was provided for guests.

Rooms for Human Library appointments were arranged thematically.

To say the day was a success is an understatement. The level of knowledge the boys displayed was incredible – and they were able to delve into difficult topics with admirable maturity and insight. Parents and teachers were astounded at how well the boys were able to discuss their topics. Even the P.E. teacher, who sort of reluctantly wandered up at one point, told me he had never seen boys so engaged in an activity like that! Designing the Share session as a Human Library event made it very low-key for everyone. The boys did not feel like they had to spend extra time preparing – since they knew their topics inside-out – and there was no pressure to perform for the visitors.

This student is explaining his research on human trafficking to Senior School boys!

Small groups of parents and other students met with the Human Library experts.

Remember how the Ministry list of recommended topics seemed so vast and daunting? Here is just a sample of some of the questions the boys identified for their research:

How can Canada and B.C. ensure that we are getting more electric cars? What are we doing?

How has human trafficking developed and changed in China?

Why are all the bees dying?

How has the relationship between the Canadian government and the First Nations changed over the years and what will it look like in the future?

What are the emotional effects of human trafficking and child labour?
How and why did the Mexican drug war start?

Why has society become increasingly racist towards aboriginal group?  What have the aboriginals have done about this and how does it relate to African American Racism?

If the Grade 6 team had approached this as a typical unit – with textbooks, quizzes, class discussions – so much of the rich learning would be missed.

The student feedback was overwhelmingly positive:

  • We could chose what to study
  • Having interesting conversations
  • The amount i learned about my topic, being an expert
  • I liked listening to the others
  • I liked how much time you gave use to complete the project and how you kept us relaxed
  • Doing the slam poem
  • That you could choose from lots of topics
  • How it was split into assignments
  • Having lots of little projects inside of one big one was really fun
  • I liked the presentation, we got to share our knowledge and experiences with other people
  • How it is covered in 2 subjects [Socials and Language Arts]
  • Seeing people interested in the topic we researched
  • Meeting new people
  • Seeing different projects
  • I love that we are actually sending letters
  • Answering other people’s questions
  • Fun!

Using the Human Library model in our Guided Inquiry Units this year has been a very successful endeavour, and one I would encourage other schools to try out! Take advantage of the expertise amongst your parents, friends and larger community, and you will be amazed at the connections and learning that will take place.

I’ve had a great time guest blogging here this week! Thank you so much for reading, and do get in touch with any questions or comments.

Elizabeth Walker

St. George’s School

Vancouver Canada


Cut and Paste

Hello everyone!

I’m back on the blog this week! Last year I wrote about some of the projects I helped to implement at my all-boys school in Vancouver, B.C.  This school year has gone by incredibly fast. I mean, they all do, but 2016-2017 seemed particularly speedy. One of the reasons is that British Columbia has an all-new curriculum and everyone at St. George’s has been working hard to adapt, imagine and plan. Later this week I will go into detail about how harnessing Guided Inquiry Design has helped our faculty to make sense of these new learning outcomes and content, which in many grades is vastly different from years past. But for today’s post, I thought I would share about how *not* following the Guided Inquiry framework religiously can also be of great benefit to your students!

As the go-to Guided Inquiry guru in my school, as well as the librarian (or The Oracle, as I prefer to be addressed), teachers are accustomed to approaching me for books and advice, so I have been able to help my colleagues develop and implement Guided Inquiry projects across the subjects and grades.

This is how I like to imagine myself at work.
Image credit:


Sometimes, planning and carrying out an entire GI unit is neither time- nor energy- efficient. In other words, the haggard-looking teacher who has come to ask me to pull books on a certain topic gets a glazed look on their face as I start evangelizing and verbally re-organizing  their whole project into an amazing cross-curricular GI unit. Sometimes, people just want a little help, and some books. And that’s okay.

One of the best features of Guided Inquiry is that adopting and adapting the Open-Immerse-Expore phases into a more traditional research project is simple and very effective. If you have colleagues who are a little resistant to implementing a full Guided Inquiry project, or you’re short on time, think about using some of the phases to help increase student engagement and boost attainment.

An example of doing just this came about last year when the aforementioned haggard-looking Grade 2 teacher came to ask me to pull books on animals for the students to do a simple research project. In years past, I just looked for a variety of grade-appropriate animal books from the non-fiction collection, making sure I got a range of different species, packed them into a book tub and sent them off to the classroom. However, this time around, I decided to change things up, and with only minutes to spare, I did some guerilla Guided Inquiry!

After consulting with the teacher, I decided to inject some GI flavour into this project by giving the boys an Explore session before choosing their animal. Instead of pulling books about single species, I selected books that gave information on a variety of different animals thematically. For example, we have a series of books from QEB called “Animal Opposites”, with titles like “Fastest and Slowest” and “Smartest and Silliest”. A big hit was “A Little Book of Slime,” which describes snails, slugs, and their ilk. “Unusual Creatures” was also really popular.

I also made a quick worksheet made up of four boxes with space to write the name of the book, the page number, the name of the animal, and to draw a sketch. When the Grade 2s came to the library, instead of being told to think of an animal they wanted to research – which can be hard, when you’re 8! – we instead set up the thematic books at different tables, and told the students to spend some time browsing the different titles. When they found a really cool animal they might want to learn more about, they were to write down its name, the book and page number, and do a quick sketch of it. Later on, they were told, they could think about the most interesting animal they found, go find the book, and read more about it. This was simply a period to poke around in some interesting books and get an idea of what information was available.

Was this a true Guided Inquiry unit? Nope. I planned it on the fly. I was only involved in one period. There was no Open or Immerse phase before the Explore session. However, I believe there were a lot of benefits for both the students and the teachers.

Having an open-ended Explore session allowed the kids to look at an array of different creatures that they might not have known about. (Axolotls were easily the most popular choice. No surprises there; they are pretty cute.)  

Adorbs. Image credit:

They were also able to assess on the spot if there was enough information about their animals – and if it turned out there wasn’t, they had three other creatures of interest on their worksheets. If a certain book was too difficult for them to read or understand, we encouraged them to move on to another. They were very content to flip through pages, take simple notes, and sketch, without the pressure of having a topic in mind. They carried out basic note-taking and bibliographic skills by jotting down the title and page numbers that they were using (and in fact this was very helpful to ME, later, when I had to help the boys find the books again once the project got into full swing). They got a sense of what books were available to them, and how useful they would be.

This year, with time flying by and new curriculum to introduce, the teachers did not ask me for help on this project, and they approached it in a more traditional way: Think of an animal. Find it in a book. Write down what it eats, where it lives, etc. Now, I don’t really think there’s anything terribly wrong with this sort of “bird project” (to quote David Loertscher) but it can easily grow frustrational for kids who have chosen an animal and can’t find any information on it. Grade 2 students are, generally, not savvy enough to use the Internet to find information that’s not available in books, so unless the resources – print or otherwise – have been carefully selected in advance, there is a real possibility that some kids will come up empty-handed. Which is exactly what happened this year, when a parade of little guys were sent up to the library for help with their projects. I was able to help find books about most of their animals, but there were a few boys who had chosen creatures that, for whatever reason, we simply did not have much information on. It was a real missed opportunity, and I felt sorry for the boys who had to be told to change their topic: this could have easily been avoided with a repeat of the previous year’s impromptu Explore session.

So, if the thought of implementing a full-blown Guided Inquiry unit seems unlikely, consider stealing one of the first three phases to change things up a bit. It will increase student learning, make teachers’ and librarians’ lives a little easier, and be more fun for everyone.  Think of Guided Inquiry Design more as a recipe that you can alter as you like, not dogma that must be followed to the letter.

Elizabeth Walker

St. George’s School

Vancouver, B.C.



Individualized Reading Plans and Reflection

As my last post, I’d like to share some collaboration between myself and another English teacher, Michael Jett. Michael requires all of his English students to read at least one book per 9 week grading period and present a project to the class. So we have the usual struggles: students who want to pick a book they’re already read so they can skip the reading part; one wanted to choose Captain Underpants just to be cheeky; some genuinely have zero interest in reading anything.

We devised a system that Michael named the Individualized Reading Plan (IRP). We agreed that each of his students would come to the media center to meet with either me or Karen Hill (fortunately 2 media specialists work at my high school of 1,700!).

To begin, Michael always has his students fill out a reading survey via Google Form. He then shared those results with us. When each student came to the library, we pulled up the spreadsheet and reviewed their answers with them. We had them create some specific reading goals for the 9 weeks. We also had time to provide reader’s advisory individually and help them pick a book to read if they didn’t have one already. In short, it was every librarian’s dream! We repeated this process after the first 9 weeks grading period in order to reflect on their progress toward their goals, to make new goals, etc.

We decided halfway through the semester that recording all of this information on one Google Sheet made it difficult to read (and while I love technology, use it, and teach it, sometimes paper is just easier). Plus, we realized that not every student remembered their reading goals. So we came up with a handout that the students used to write down their goals and specific steps they would take to reach those goals. We even included space for their parents to sign the sheet and write down any comments.

Of course because of things like student absences, tests, assemblies, and life, the timing of these conferences did not always occur in a timely manner. But overall we were all pleased with the process and are looking forward to tweaking it next year. Mostly we were so happy to collaborate with a classroom teacher who put so much faith in the media specialists!

The Individualized Reading Plan process fits into the GID model by emphasizing individualized education, goal setting, and reflecting throughout the entire process. We used the concept of Third Space to connect students to reading material that would interest them, and provided scaffolding for the student who wanted to read Captain Underpants just to be sarcastic. You don’t always just happen to find your next favorite book; sometimes we all need some guidance and suggestions! This is the brilliance of the school library. There is something for everyone that they didn’t even know they were going to love. This process reminded some students that they did enjoy reading (sometimes teenagers need that little nudge!).

Self-reflection is the process that gets our students to that next level. Having them write their own goals and sign their names next to them helps them feel involved in their own education. When they start holding themselves accountable for their learning or lack thereof, we know we are doing our jobs.

Farewell from South Carolina! –Jamie Gregory   @gregorjm

Michael Jett  @mrjett213

Keyword Inquiry Log

In my second post, I shared how Sarah worked with me and Karen to implement concept-based research as well as question-driven inquiry. Now we’ll shift to discuss how students conduct research in the Gather phase.  

I just finished my 4th year working as a school library media specialist, and I was a high school English teacher for 8 years before that. So I have a general idea of how a typical student at my school searches for sources: Google (most likely typing in an entire sentence or question), or at best a cursory glance at a database assigned by a teacher. We are continually striving to make the research phase more meaningful in order to support lifelong learning skills. Librarians crave more time with students in order to introduce them to all the databases available to them. And then databases function differently, requiring time for students to search within them and learn how to find the information they need.

This past February, I read “Doubling Up: authentic vocabulary development through the inquiry process” by Leslie Maniotes and Anita Cellucci published in the February 2017 issue of Teacher Librarian. (A new fiscal year is starting soon; be sure to get your subscription to Teacher Librarian!) When I saw this article and read the first paragraph, one word came to mind: genius! I knew I wanted to implement the keyword log introduced in the article because it just made sense, like the GID model. And I found just the teacher willing to collaborate with me on this project.

Jena Smith teaches the Public Speaking elective at my school, and she is a strong supporter of using library resources with her students. We collaborate frequently throughout the semester. Her students came to the library after selecting topics for their researched argumentative speeches. She created a Google Doc for students to record their topics. Sharing it with me helped me prepare mini-lessons targeted toward their chosen topics. It also taught the students to revise their topics as they began to do research, as some realized their topics weren’t going to work or weren’t quite argumentative in nature.

The rationale for using the keyword log, as presented by Maniotes and Cellucci, is to promote academic vocabulary growth as well as knowledge of information searching strategies. Even if students know what a Boolean operator is, they need to have some knowledge of the vocabulary specific to their topic. Luckily, unlike Google, databases provide keyword searches that will give students suggestions. In EBSCO products, you can search in Subject Terms at the top of the page to learn synonyms.

I mentioned ProQuest’s SIRS Issues Researcher database in my second blog post. It’s super easy to search related subject terms for vocabulary development. The subject terms are listed at the end of each article, which students can click on.

I introduced them to the keyword log and modeled a few sample searches using the topic an at-risk learner chose in order to provide some targeted scaffolding. I added a few columns to the log described in the article just to ensure that students were providing detailed explanations.

As intuitive as I thought this log would be, we encountered a few obstacles during implementation. To start, students aren’t used to slowing down! They wanted to rush through the research process. We met some resistance when we told them they would be recording each search they tried. Of course the whole point was for them to discover that the Gather phase should take time in order to discover the best possible sources of information that would help them develop their researched argumentative speech.

Here are some of the first searches I modeled to the whole class (it’s not perfect; I tried to keep it simple at first):

Below is an excerpt from a reluctant learner’s keyword log. I sat with him as he completed his searches to show him different search strategies. In the first entry, you can see that he realized he wasn’t even searching for one of the main parts of his topic: how do violent video games affect children? His reflection in the second entry shows how I asked him to record his true search behavior, and what we know to be true from research: most searchers do not even scroll down on the first page of results.

I also spent a good deal of time telling them to type more in the results and reflection columns. As the research assignment progresses, students will see how useful the log is the more specific and detailed their responses are.

We discovered that we can really learn about how students conduct research simply by watching them and asking them to search how they would if they were on their own. Start with where they’re at as learners to gather information about their current skills and how they think about research. Then address misconceptions and a lack of skills as you see them.

There is an often overwhelming number of research skills that students can learn: how to search the open web using advanced search strategies and limiters; discovering special interests groups, independent groups, research organizations; picking which database fits their information needs; how to search different databases; how to paraphrase; how to cite. Yikes! But this keyword log provided an organized starting point. My goal is to work with more teachers to use this log at the beginning of their classes and tailor research assignments to target specific research skills instead of trying to teach every skill every time.

Most of the students shared in a survey when we were finished that they had never been taught Boolean search strategies and that the keyword log helped them stay organized. They gained a clearer understanding of how databases work. And remember that the GID model works in any discipline. Information literacy skills should be embedded in each and every course if we want our students to truly learn these lifelong skills.

The key here is that authentic learning does take time. Using databases isn’t always intuitive, and students need practice after direct instruction. Partner up with your school librarian to build these skills into your research units. It’s an investment that pays off in the end.

–Jamie Gregory  @gregorjm

Concepts and Questioning

Yesterday, I explained how I spent last semester introducing the Guided Inquiry Design model to a cohort of teachers at my high school. Today is all about showing student work related the Open, Immerse, Explore, and Identify phases of GID inquiry-based learning. I’m going to extend my discussion about using questioning as part of implementing GID by showcasing a unit my library service learners completed. I’m also going to show how one English teacher in particular worked to implement concept-based research assignments as well as questioning into her curriculum.

I am fortunate that my school offers media center service learning as an elective unit of credit. Students fill out an application and we take teacher recommendations. The students who participate learn about running a library, fielding reference questions, researching the future of libraries, you name it! My fellow librarian Karen Hill and I have developed a unit focused on learning about social injustice. For the Open phase in this unit, our students watched 2 shorter documentaries posted on the New York Times website (Check out the website, you’ll get lost in the possibilities!). We kept a shared Google Doc of questions in order to provide scaffolding at the beginning of the unit. For the Immerse phase, we created a gallery walk with 13 stations featuring various examples of social injustice in the world today. Students read from print books, articles, infographics, watched clips from documentaries, political cartoons, statistics, all sorts of fun stuff! They had to create their own lists of questions about each topic as they rotated through each station.

And there are so many opportunities here for embedding information literacy skills. Have students practice citing sources as they create questions, and have them question the sources themselves. Introduce them to authoritative resources they won’t know about, such as the ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States! Once students have experience with the gallery walk approach, start having them select the sources instead of the media specialist!

I cannot emphasize enough how effective we have found the stations activity to be in my experience with implementing GID. Students can move through the stations at their own paces, ideally, or you can use a timer if more structure is needed. Students respond honestly and find topics they are genuinely interested in. The great part about this particular group was that once we entered the Identify phase, only 2 students out of 10 chose a topic that was included in the 13 stations! They branched out and found other topics, which was inspiring to watch.

We had one particularly great success story this past year with a reluctant learner. She didn’t like to read at all, and it was hard each day to keep her from texting the entire class period. She truly blossomed during this project. She chose to research teen suicide because, as she told us, she didn’t know anything about it. She was engaged in her research and in her proposal wrote that maybe our high school should establish a help hotline.

Remember that in GID you do not begin a unit with an assignment; you begin a unit with an open invitation to learn! We didn’t introduce the assignment until the Identify phase. Don’t let students get stuck on the mechanics of the assignment; you’d rather their energy be spent on the content!

Now, back to the awesome English teachers I work with! In our cohort, we focused on designing concept-based research opportunities driven by student-led questioning beginning with the Open, Immerse, and Explore phases. One classroom English teacher, Sarah Plant, re-envisioned her traditional Great Gatsby research paper (by the way, Sarah recently had to move away. We’ll be sad about that for a long time). While students might traditionally research aspects of the 1920s, she realized that assignment might fall under the “bird unit” categorization. While it is, of course, still necessary and worthwhile to know and to understand 1920s culture for successful reading of that novel, we realized that there might be more effective opportunities for authentic learning and research by moving to a more concept-based assignment. Plus, students are too tempted to simply copy and paste information with “bird unit” assignments!

For the Open phase, Sarah had the students watch some short videos and they wrote down questions while watching, then sharing as a class. Sarah next came up with 3 concepts related to The Great Gatsby: effects of social media, effects of poverty (and the American Dream), and effects of money on happiness. (While choosing the concepts ahead of time provided scaffolding, students were allowed to research their own concepts discovered throughout this process.) Karen and I then searched through our databases for information related to the concepts. We printed relevant articles, infographics, found print books, encyclopedias, etc. (For example, try “How to Buy Happiness” from the Atlantic, April 2017). We then designed a gallery walk activity for the Immerse phase. Students were given time to visit each station as a group. The groups designed questions based on each station’s focus.

Most of the groups wrote down superficial questions, which gave us an opportunity to model asking effective questions. We also monitored the students while they worked in groups, giving guidance and suggestions as needed.

Sarah shared that moving toward researching concepts required more advanced researching from the students. This move required more synthesis skills from the students, and they genuinely learned something because they chose their topics. She saw improved essay structures and stronger thesis statements because they weren’t just trying to summarize historical information about the 1920s.

Sarah also had the students include questions about their topics and learning goals on the grading rubric:

This part of her project touches on the last stage of GID, Evaluate. I spent a good deal of time in our cohort meetings emphasizing the importance of self-reflection throughout the entire inquiry process. I shared some strategies I used in my own classroom to help students evaluate not only their skills but also their behaviors. Creating specific goals for each assignment keeps students from feeling overwhelmed, particularly the reluctant learners.

In my next post, I’ll share how I worked with Jena Smith to embed some more in-depth information literacy skills during the Gather phase of her research project, which gave me an opportunity to use an amazing article by Leslie Maniotes and Anita Cellucci! Stay tuned, again! (I’m sorry y’all, I have too much to share about GID and I just can’t help myself. Anyone who read this far, I love you.)

-Jamie Gregory, @gregorjm

Sarah Plant,

The Students Said What?!?!?

We asked two classes of geometry students, “What do you want in a renovated school library space that will better prepare you for learning in high school and beyond?” After we facilitated student learning through the guided inquiry phases, it was in the Share presentations that we fully heard their answers.

Numerous proposals called for a second floor. Students recognized the square footage of our library and the number of classes we accommodate each day often make it a tight fit. While some suggested a top floor to be a lounging area, others wanted to place 30-40 computers up there so the direct instruction space could be in a more isolated location. Same idea with two very different visions for the space. Hearing the rationales behind their choices was very interesting and made for great reflection and discussion.

A cafe was another popular recommendation. Having a place to purchase coffee, hot chocolate or tea was quite the trend. Students talked about how this could potentially raise more money for library books while helping them stay awake and energized throughout the day. Others wanted the cafe to be a self-serve vending machine so that the librarians wouldn’t have to run the space and yet it would still provide a place for students to get that mid-morning pick-me up. Regardless of how it was operated, students loved the idea of having a new place to relax and socialize throughout the school day.

There were very practical proposals too. Those included more durable and modern furniture, tables and chairs on wheels that would be easier to move, a new paint scheme, faster computers, and furniture with electronic device charging stations. The inclusion of whiteboards or whiteboard walls were often mentioned as a more convenient way for groups to work together too.

Other students pitched one-of-a-kind ideas. For instance, one student recognized our windowless space could be totally transformed by adding an atrium of sorts. Others wanted to install fish tanks — many, many fish tanks — so that we’d be different than any other school in the area plus have an interactive learning space for science classes. Another idea was to install a state of the art camera system that monitored each library space so librarians wouldn’t have blind spots anymore and took it one step further to suggest having monitor displays throughout the room so everyone could self-police themselves. Another person recommended taking out all the traditional bookshelves and install expandable (electronic) stacks so that we could house MORE library books in a smaller space to make room for other learning areas, including an expanded Makerspace.

Who knew this is was what high school students wanted?

I wish you could’ve been there to hear these students present their ideas. For the most part, they were professional, positive, and attempted to solve issues that are currently dealt with in the school library. And on top of that, these students applied many of the geometry concepts they had been learning all year in a very real and practical way. It was an authentic project centered on mathematical content. And while I was hoping for a green screen and video equipment area, less bulky circulation desk and/or fitness bikes that would help keep both our minds and bodies healthy, that’s not what the students said. And that’s ok! In the upcoming renovation, it is my hope that we can work with school officials and architects to combine the students’ ideas and what the school librarians prioritize too. And that, I believe, will make our renovated space a truly unique place for our students to learn, collaborate, network, research and create with one another.

Amanda Hurley, National Board Certified Teacher

Library Media Specialist, Henry Clay High School

Student Choice & Student Voice


Imagine your school space was slated for a renovation. What would you change and why? Because our school library is slated for a renovation in the district’s facilities plan, we wanted to hear what students would change. For that reason, students were tasked with redesigning the school library to better equip students and staff to meet the changing demands of education in the 21st century.

In the open phase, school librarians designed a one period class involving multiple activities geared to get students curious about what exactly a 21st century library should look like and what additions, deletions or modifications would be necessary in their minds to create an innovative space.  

For Immerse, students spent time observing what happens in their school library before or after school and then took a field trip to three local libraries. First was another school library in the district, second was the central branch of the Lexington Public Library, and third was a state of the art university library. This activity helped students notate (and in many cases, photograph) layout ideas, furniture options, technology implementation, etc. To prepare for this important step in the process, the school librarians designed an observation sheet that students filled out to compile (and guide) their notetaking. One of us helped chaperone the trip too!

Exploring in any inquiry unit is key, and this project was no exception. The school librarians designed four stations for students to explore all things related to a school library. Within these stations students took notes on various symbols and floor plan designs, notated technology items and furniture options that may be beneficial for their proposal. One station even included a Symbaloo webmix created to help students brainstorm various elements of a 21st century library.

Students were given latitude in identifying which part or parts of the school library they would address in their proposed renovation and the classroom teacher often used Google Forms to collect this data.

Days were set aside for students to Gather whatever they needed to formulate a strong renovation plan. Each time this was done in the library. It was in this phase that students measured the library, worked on calculations, and revisited Explore station materials to determine what would be needed to make their individual renovation projects a success.

Ultimately, students Created a presentation which included (but not limited to): a Request For Proposal (RFP), a scaled model or drawing of their renovated space, and a budget, however, the format in how that presentation was created was entirely up to students.

Share presentations took place in the library so that librarians, classmates and guests could better visualize the renovation recommendations. Fish tanks, comfortable seating with electrical outlets, a skylight, an additional second floor, a cafe, new paint, updated computers and 3D printers were among the students’ proposals. More on this in the next blog post so stay tuned!

And just like any other unit, assessing learning is essential. That’s why there were several layers of Evaluation with this project. Math content standards were assessed in the scaled model/drawing, the budget and calculation page submissions. Speaking & Listening standards were addressed in the presentation rubric which was designed with input from the students. Writing skills were evaluated with the RFP rubric. And let us not forget self-reflection as this not only helps students to process their learning process but it is great information for teachers and librarians to use to modify and tweak instruction for the coming years too.

Our core learning team for this unit included one math teacher and the school’s two school librarians. Between the three of us, we collaborated, designed instructional experiences, co-taught lessons and served as a support to one another and our students throughout the entire project. Our extended team included the librarians at local libraries in the community and initially an art teacher. Due to a conflict between the timing of the project and the arrival of a baby in the family, this partnership didn’t work out this year, however, we will definitely include it in future years!

As always, thanks for reading the 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry blog! Please leave comments on the blog or contact me directly on Twitter using @HCHSLibrarian. I’m always eager to brainstorm GID ideas and work to make existing units better.


Amanda Hurley, National Board Certified Teacher

Library Media Specialist, Henry Clay High School

Always Learning

You’re interested in Guided Inquiry Design too? Oh, that’s awesome! You and I have a lot in common already. Hi, I’m Amanda Hurley from Lexington, Kentucky. I am finishing my 17th year in education, my 12th as a school librarian. I’ve been learning and attempting to implement Guided Inquiry Design since 2014. You can read about how I initially learned about GID from my February 2016 post here.

Co-teaching with classroom teachers is one of the things that makes me passionate about my job. That’s why I was thrilled when I learned my district, Fayette County Public Schools, supported 5 teachers to attend the the CiSSL Institute at Rutgers University in July 2016. The three day institute helped us learn more about guided inquiry design, experience instructional strategies to foster student-engaged classrooms and ultimately design a guided inquiry unit from start to finish. It was time well spent and if any of you have a chance to attend a workshop or Guided Institute with Leslie Maniotes, please make every effort to attend.

Since I’ve last blogged, my colleagues and I have designed or tweaked 4 more GID units, most of which were in high school mathematics. That doesn’t make me an expert but my colleagues and I are beginning to feel more comfortable with the process. With each unit, and subsequent revision after reflection, we feel students are owning more of the learning process and are encouraged to find more ways to embed it in our instruction.

If you have time, please respond to this blog post in the comments. I’m always eager to talk about GID! You can also reach me on Twitter, @HCHSLibrarian.


Amanda Hurley, National Board Certified Teacher

Library Media Specialist, Henry Clay High School

Getting STEAMy with GID, Alexander Calder, & Balance and Motion

For our final post, we wanted to share about a unit on which we have actually collaborated! Carole, our fabulous fine arts teacher Carrie Howes, and myself came together to create an integrated science unit. While it is still a work in progress, the students (and teachers) have learned a lot and are incredibly passionate too!

The beginning:

On the same day, both Carrie and I talked with Carole about presenting at the HOT Schools Summer Institute. This week-long experience brings together other HOT school teachers, artists and many others for incredible learning opportunities. This summer, the focus is STEAM. The idea of collaboration between the Library, Art room, and classroom was born. As we began planning, GID was a natural fit. The three of us met several times during lunch breaks to brainstorm and lay the foundation for this work.

Carole shared about the concepts and curricular areas that her class would be focusing on. I suggested and found a copy of The Calder Game book to spark the curiosity of the students. Always on the lookout for STEAM connections, I also wondered if sphero robots could add to this unit of study with their connection to motion. Carrie began to research the works of Alexander Calder and connected the concepts of the mobiles to balance and motion, the underlying curricular theme. She also collected and gathered materials for the students to use when creating their group mobiles. Carole created the student groupings and loved every moment of researching the art, science, and technology that would make this unit come to life for the first and second grade students. In addition, our technology teacher Bridgette Schlicker has been partnering with us. We became so excited about this unit and will indeed be sharing it during the HOT Schools Institute!

As with anything, the GID process for this unit has not been linear. One of the hallmarks of HOT schools is student voice and choice. So while some of this unit could be planned, at times we worked flexibly as students helped decide the directions we would go.

Here are the steps in the GID process and how they worked with this unit.


Carole used several items for the Open phase. The class read aloud is The Calder Game. Together with biographical information on Alexander Calder and pieces of Calder’s art, students were immediately hooked!


Much of the immerse phase took place in the classroom. Students watched YouTube videos of Alexander Calder’s mobiles, museum exhibits, Calder working in his studio, and his circus. Students selected a focal art piece to display in the classroom and spent time looking at Calder’s stabiles. In library class, I had curated as many websites as possible using Symbaloo and students explored these sites. All of this added to their knowledge of Calder and his work. Throughout, the ideas of balance and motion were discussed, although they were not the focus yet.

Image from


Again, much of the explore happened in the classroom. Students made stabiles out of paper with partners. They explored balance scales and weights. While reading The Calder game, students drew a five piece
mobile. Extending this further, students then added a numeric value to the pieces to make a balanced equation. An Art Farm performance of the Little Apple Circus continued to expand students’ knowledge and understanding of balance and motion concepts.

In library, we worked with Sphero robots to gain experience with moving them around the room, first using the app to just drive the Spheros and then using the Tickle app which utilizes coding to move the robots.


The identify phase has probably been the most difficult. These are first and second grade students and they have constant questions and also this unit almost has two areas of focus, balance and motion and Calder. In library, we created a list of questions about Calder together and then learned as much as we could. I don’t think that these questions were as deep as they could have been. However, I believe that when Carole and her students began to think about balance and motion concepts, these became those deeper types of questions. This works well because the balance and motion is the major focus of the unit.



In the library, the classroom, and in technology class students collected all kinds of information. We used this Gather phase to integrate some information literacy, such as citing sources and note taking.


A variety of creations are happening with this unit. Carole began to have her students create Calder curations. She asked them to select three favorite pieces using Safe Search. Students then created a Google doc with an explanation and reflection of each art piece. This was begun in the classroom and continued in library. The Eli Whitney Museum is nearby and students used kits from the museum to build a balance and motion circuses. Mobiles are being created collaboratively with inspiration and information from our art teacher as students focus on craftsmanship. These 2D mobiles will (we hope) be made into 3D objects to use in the share that we are imagining.

Collaborative Mobiles


Carrie Howes, art teacher, creating mobiles.



At this time, we are planning to create the “Four Ring Circus” with each group programing a Sphero robot which will be used to show balance and motion concepts. They will also use the elements from their 2D mobiles and translate them into 3D objects in the ring for the “circus act” to engage with. This work will be shared in part at an Assembly (which are held each Friday afternoon) and in whole for the school wide Share Fair.

Image from:


The students will have a rubric to complete for each “circus act”.  They will search for evidence of balance and motion, Calder inspirations, and technical use of the Sphero as they watch each performance.

Final thoughts

From the classroom: If time allows (we are getting very close to the end of the year!) the students will be able to design an individual balance and motion experiment to further test one of their “big questions” about this concept. By combining GID and STEAM elements together, this project has become totally purposeful and engaging for everyone involved.  All learners were able to shine in a strength area with their group as there were so many styles of learning that were needed for the different stages of learning.  So much of the work was hands on and experimental which also raised engagement. The kids were using the language of the 4Cs of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity to describe this work. Students had to push their thinking further in each step. It was astonishing that not one group struggled to balance their mobiles. Because of the groundwork, they have a great conceptual understanding of how to construct a balanced mobile!

From the library: I have loved every minute of this process. While there are days when we literally go by the seat of our pants, the learning has been amazing. Echoing Carole, the student engagement has been so much fun to watch. In the future, I would like to be more intentional about the information literacy skills that are embedded and also assess those more. I would also like to include more student reflection throughout.

We will update this post with pictures of the circus that I am confident will take place!!!

Thank you for learning with us!

Jenny and Carole


Diving into GID

I was supposed to post this earlier but the heat wave took its toll. My school had swimming gala last weekend. The temps were 41 but felt like way higher, throw in the humidity factor and you get a picture of hell on Earth. Standing there from 8:30 till 12:00 was killing. So yeah heatstroke! And hence the delay… Apologies peeps!

Jumping In…

My recent foray into GID has been a lot of trials and errors and I’m still not sure if I’m on the right track. I’ve been reading posts by various educationists who are using GID in their classes, but I think I need a personal coach to tell me where I’m going with what I’m learning.

The purpose of this second post is to share how I used GID with my students. We (not so) recently celebrated Pi Day with a Math evening at our school. For this my students designed their own games from scratch. But way before we did that, we started listing down all the Math concepts that we had covered until now since the beginning of the school year. The topics ranged from place value (7digits), the four operations, base ten, factors and multiples, graphs and charts, fractions, measuring and converting length/weight/capacity/time, area & perimeter, patterns, shapes, angles, etc. Some were still not sure where the conversation is headed, but they thought about the content to make further connections.

They also listed down games that they could look into for the Math Night. These included mostly board games and card games. At this stage, they were questioning and looking for interests. It was loud! But they were so engaged because by then they were beginning to make connections between the content and games they listed. Some even used Chalk Talk to make connections. It is amazing how these kids have started using different strategies to help them learn better. They’re learning how to learn, and that is more important than learning the content itself.

Math Game Design Project - Grade 4

Math Game Design Project


Required Elements for the Game – Grade 4

After listing down the games, the students explored the instructions leaflets to look at the format. They picked out the similarities in all the instructions to figure out what they needed when they made their own games. They researched rules for various board and card games to compile a list. We went over strategies for putting the ‘re back into the research’ (a phrase taken from an AIS colleague…yes that’s you Jeff). Do keep in mind that during all this, I was a learner along with my students… there are times when I was so overwhelmed with the process and not even sure whether I was leading them in the right direction.

During this stage the students identified and connected the IB key and related concepts used in the board and card games they found online. They looked for the big ideas to construct their inquiry questions. They also thought about why they’re making these games…in other words goals not just for themselves but learning goals for their audience, especially the lower grades coming in to play them during Math Evening. It is amazing what kids can do when we teachers, or rather adults, let go of the controls. I just loved the conversations bouncing back and forth. They were so excited to teach these concepts to those coming in.

Students worked in groups of three and looked at videos on Brainpop, Khan Academy, YouTube, Math-Play, etc., to start gathering resources to build their own games.


Game Project Proposal

Game Project Proposal



Rough draft/sketch of game

Rough draft/sketch of game


By then they were just too excited and wanted to just dive in to start building their games but before that they needed to make checklists and rubric to ascertain their goals. We did this as a class and came up with a rubric assess requirements, rules, playability, design and the accompanying Math questions. They would use this as a self as a peer rubric.

For designing their games they used the Design Cycle since they were already familiar with it. They had used the same for their Passion Exhibition at the beginning of the year.

I think they took the most time during this process. They wrote their game design in detail, starting from how they will make it, who the target audience is, and how the game should be played for a win. They drew their rough sketches to plan their designs.

Math Game Designer Rubric (self-assessment)

Math Game Designer Rubric (self-assessment)



Math Game Peer Rubric

Math Game Peer Rubric


Using the project proposal and sketch draft, they made a prototype and initially played it in their small group to make any changes if needed. Next they invited other groups to play each other’s games to get feedback from their classmates. They had to either justify their design or use that feedback design a solution to the problem.

Lastly, they used the rubrics for peer checking and a self-check. I am so proud of my students for using academic honesty for grading. It is a very difficult task, especially at that age to not focus on the grade itself but on the learning. AS you can see from the rubrics above, their is clear evidence of the connections between the learning and the process.

Next post

Reflection coming up soon… In the meanwhile please help me learn better by providing your feedback. Thanks all!

Hilaa Mukaddam