Year 5 Go Global

When I was first asked to help a Year 5 teacher, Catherine Havenaar, with an integrated Year 5 unit on ‘Global Connections’, I was initially a little cautious about how we would achieve the integrated English and Humanities outcomes. She was in her first year of teaching – after being a Paramedic for many years – but had been inspired to try Guided Inquiry after a seminar I gave to the whole Primary staff at the beginning of the year.

The first step of any unit of Guided Inquiry, of course, is to plan with the teaching team. By the end of the first session I knew we were on a winner.

Right from the start Catherine and I bounced off each other with ideas and this continued throughout the unit until it actually became an exhaustingly huge project. However, because the students all joined in the ‘fun’ of learning together it was an experience never to be forgotten.

The fact that the G20 Summit was taking place in Brisbane at the time was such a bonus. Having world leaders right here in Australia and on the news, made ‘global connectedness’ so relevant to the students. I love this research plan a student was working on later – Can there be a G21?

g20best

The Programme of work is available here: http://guidedinquiryoz.edublogs.org/practice-2/primary-guided-inquiry-units/

Australian Curriculum – Stage 3 

Human Society and Its Environment: Global Connections

Key Focus:

What impact does Australia have on the world stage through our global connections?

Contributing Questions:

In what different arenas does Australia contribute to the world?

What are our responsibilities in making sure all people are treated with respect and provided with basic human needs?

OPEN: As with all GID units we began with checking prior knowledge and global organisations that the students recognised.

Activity 1: Complete ‘pre-test’ to determine knowledge levels about Australia’s connection to other countries – Provide students with a question and answer sheet that they will complete as they move around 10 stations. Each station has a visual prompt relating to a different idea of global connection. Students have four minutes at each station and identify the prompt they know least about.

Other Activities: Watch “Global Connections” video on ClickView; Read“Around the world by lunch”; CDRom -“The Global Village” (oral activities)

IMMERSE: Students discussed Article 25 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recapped the importance of Australia’s role in providing aid and humanitarian support.

Students then selected an organisation and drew its logo with a description of its elements and meaning.

Using a scaffold “Making the Choice” to gather information on a number of organisations they read widely and took notes, discussing findings at specific points with the teacher and each other.

One student with dyslexia was catered for when Catherine decided to bring in her own Mac computer to give the student during lessons so that she could use the ‘Text to speech’ function. This student managed better than ever before, could listen to sites about organisations – and was so happy!

using-speech-function

Links to all the organisations selected were put onto a Diigo sites and used from the class Edmodo learning platform. Students also enjoyed sharing sites they found.

sharing-sites-edmodo

yr5immerse1

EXPLORE: Students determined an organisation to research and read widely from Diigo links, books and subscriptions such as online encyclopaedias and Skwirk.

Scaffolds were provided for recording information and the questions they raised about that organisation.

yr5-first-two-scaffolds

IDENTIFY: Students wrote a research question (with help from the teaching team) to focus their exploration and four contributing questions which were placed into a jigsaw scaffold and/or a mind map.

jigsaw

mindmap

GATHER: Answers were gathered in their books and throughout students were assisted with aspects of information literacy by the teacher librarian – everything from determining best sources of information to writing a Bibliography.

jigsaw_answers

CREATE: Now for the real fun! This is a prime example of students working in the ‘Third Space’ and where they all just blossomed.

Students created an organisation of their own based on the tenets of the one they had been researching. They had to create a name, logo, slogan, aims, goals and a script for a one minute infomercial which featured the student introducing their agency. Because they had selected an organisation originally based on their own interest we had organisations created for everything from wildlife conservation to soccer. This also integrated their Visual Arts and Writing programs. (see program : http://guidedinquiryoz.edublogs.org/practice-2/primary-guided-inquiry-units/)

Catherine and I had a discussion about how she could be involved in a fun way to model their tasks. It was decided that she should create the overarching organisation with which the students all had to register their created organisations! After a lot of thought and laughter we came up with OREO: Office of the Registry of Earth’s Organisations. A logo was created and Catherine made her own infomercial as an example for the students.

See it here: https://vimeo.com/192400121

SHARE: A Global Summit was organised to which all parents, the Head of Primary and the Principal were invited…

In groups of five the student’s infomercials were played. Each group then entered to sit around the OREO table dressed for their role in their organisation. Parents had been given prepared questions to ask and the students, in a very professional manner, stood and answered for their organisation.

Morning tea was served to all and of course there was a distinct Oreo theme!

A large number of parents and grandparents came to the OREO Summit:

oreosummit1

Here they are watching the ‘Infomercial’ videos the students made for their created organisaton. (Note their Logos on the wall!)

oreosummit2

But a unit of work does not end with Share!… We conducted evaluations of students and the teaching team but also were surprised to receive a number of feedback comments from parents.

Stay tuned for the Evaluation blog and some links tomorrow. Finally I will reflect on a few more GID experiences towards the end of the week.

Alinda Sheerman – Broughton Anglican College, Menangle Park (75 km south west of Sydney, Australia)

 

 

 

Aldine ISD Online Resources Cultivate Guided Inquiry!

This year I am attempting a new Guided Inquiry project.  I meet with fourth graders in the computer lab two days a week for an hour for inquiry based lessons that are planned with the Guided Inquiry Design model.

The first lesson I have designed and implemented is one stemming from a State of Texas 3/6 grade reading list called the Texas Bluebonnet program.  The Texas Bluebonnet Program publishes a new list of books from a wide range of genres each year.  Students in 3-6 grades read at least five books and then vote on their favorite at the end of January.  The winning author is honored at a luncheon at the state library conference and a group of students are invited to present the author the award.

One of the books on the list this year is Space Case by Stuart Gibbs.  The introduction in the book is a letter to the reader that welcomes them to the first permanent human habitation on the moon.

I used this letter/introduction as the Open to our first GI project.  I then had students spend a few minutes thinking about what it might be like to be sent to live on the moon.  We opened a Google Doc and students jotted down notes, thoughts, ideas, and questions.  Must not forget the questions!

Boy were the questions, thoughts and ideas good ones!  As was the enthusiasm from the students.  At first the students weren’t sure what to write and so, one by one questions started coming out.  I would answer their questions by saying something like “Wow, that is a great question, write it down!”  I also did some of my own wondering on my paper; things like I wonder what it’s like on the moon…do they have a day and night.  I only put a few on my Google Doc and that sparked the ideas, thoughts and questions.  I also was sure to say, “These are my thoughts, I’m sure most of you have different thoughts than mine.”

I then introduced the students to 3 of our district online resources such as Britannica, Scienceflix and PebbleGo.  I had them look at the sites; explore what was on them about the moon.  It was so thrilling to see the students excited about using the online resources rather than “Googling it.”  I fully support Google; don’t get me wrong, but our fourth grade students need a place to go to find legitimate, readable sites on their level.

I can’t tell you how often the students get stuck in Immerse and Explore phases when they use Google, at first.  I watch them Google a phrase, often misspelling it, find thousands of websites and proceed to open then close them without reading the first word.  They move on to open, close, open, close over and over and then get frustrated.  Or, I see students immediately go to images to learn about, say natural resources and spend hours looking at photos without actually learning any specific details.  Therefore, it was exhilarating to see them excited about their searches and the information they were oohing-and-ahhing over.

gid-space-case-online-resources

The next class period, I introduced three more district and state sponsored online resources and allowed them to continue exploring to see what they could find about the Moon and potential life on the moon.  On the third class meeting, I showed the students a clip from Discovery Education of a modular unit that has plans for use on the moon.   I allowed students then to continue exploring other video clips about life on the moon, life in space, space travel, etc.

We again logged into Goggle Drive to take notes and document questions and thoughts as they were exploring.  Students were motivated to ask if they could go back to a previous website, or if they could try new ones, and were excited over the details they were finding.  I had students ask if they could use specific information databases they knew about that I didn’t introduce, or explore others listed on our district online resources page.  The energy for this project is high, even for students who don’t necessarily gravitate toward space or space travel topics.  Equally exciting, when I gave them 10 minutes of “free exploration time in district sponsored games and resources” for working so hard, more than half of them chose to stay in the online resources tab to either explore other interests, or continued exploring space topics.

When reflecting upon the lesson with the first group of students, I added a step or two here and there with the next group.  I wanted to have students record their thought processes and add a reflection piece as well.  Therefore, we had a mini-lesson about logging into our district Google account, opening a document, brainstorming thoughts, adding a title, etc.  Students used a Google Doc to jot down thoughts, ideas, questions, and reflections before, during and after exploring online resources.  So, see I do support and use Google for education!

We have not finished this unit, our next step will involve a minilesson on academic honesty and citing sources.  We then will begin to actually search for answers to our questions, now that we have a good idea of which databases and online resources will be most helpful.

Tara Rollins on twitter

Keep Going! – Change the culture of schools to develop conversation

My journey continues…

Between 2000 and 2010 I told teachers and students about ISP. We tried in all kinds of ways to adapt what we learnt from it in our information seeking instructions, in our supervision and in the instructions that the teachers gave to the students. We were convinced that it should inform our practice. We made many mistakes. We thought we knew, over and over again. But since the students kept getting more or less impossible assignments and I knew that they wanted us to be kind and needed us to understand their “non-library” questions we learned and learned and learned.

In 2010 I got the chance to get to know Randi Schmidt. The story is long about how this meeting came about but it contains my story with ISP as you’ve read it above, people in Sweden whom I had found and networked with, coincided with financial possibilities and Randi´s and my conviction that ISP/GI really had it. I don´t know if Randi is known to you but my short version of her goes like this: When she found out about ISP she decided to create a program at her school (Gill St. Bernhard, Gladstone, NJ ) that would fully implement the findings of the research – her practice should be based on research. And that she did.

Ten years later I walked into that library. I came as prepared as I could and the ten days that I spent with her, her colleagues, students, teachers, researchers at CISSL and the colleagues that I travelled with from Sweden equipped me with a massive experience. It was just as holistic as the voices I heard from my informants only that the web was getting even more complicated. But there were connections, there were methods, there were forms to be filled in and reflection sheets, structured lessons and instructions and there were questions answered and I saw it all, it wasn’t just talk but also walk.

During my visit I asked myself: what am I going to do with this when I come home? I just thought it would be so sad if I would plant the seeds but then fail to make them grow and flourish. It would be so sad. I wanted so badly to be part of a listening and encouraging culture that would help both grownups and teenagers to create deep knowledge.

So I asked for advice and thought and read my own notes from the trip and the ISP/GI texts over and over again.

I decided to trust conversation and discussion.

I don’t think that we have that as a natural part of our culture in my school when the intention is to develop professional knowledge in the staff.

And I decided to challenge that.

I decided that it was the only way to go and that I knew that I had to be patient and firm. If I or the teachers assumed that we were getting nowhere, nothing was happening I had to remain in the position of a discussing, conversing person. If that didn´t work, nothing else would.

I started by talking to my principals and somehow they must have experienced that there was something – not clear what – of quality in my sayings and doings and a year later I had a full time job. Still unclear what I was doing or should be doing, but there it was.

My vision was not to become a star school librarian but to teach the teachers and then work together with them. In 2013 I had evaluations from teachers, their voices and student voices from six projects, involving about 200 students and six teachers and I was invited to present as a practitioner at the CISSL Symposium celebrating the 30th anniversary of the dissertation of Dr. Carol Kuhlthau.

I flew to the US to talk for 15 minutes. It’s kind of funny to think of it that way, but of course there was so much more to it. I was back at Gill with Randi, I met with new people, learned that my presentation and the result we had was worth something – we were on the right track – and that there was interesting stuff going on in Australia as well. So, going back home again, what next?

I went back and told my school and anyone else that was interested that those who know say that we’re on the right track. We don’t really know what we’re doing but people who know say: keep going. So we did.

Lena

Lena Fogelberg Carlsson in her library

Lena Fogelberg Carlsson in her library

The Passion Project: choice and flipped learning using Guided Inquiry Design

Some student work from the Passion Project that was shared in the library

Some student work from the Passion Project that was shared in the library

I don’t like to play favourites with my projects, but the Passion Project was definitely one of the highlights of my Guided Inquiry journey this year. The project was the idea of two Religious Education (RE) teachers who wanted to bring a greater level of choice to their students’ learning, thereby providing a more meaningful and deeper experience in the classroom. They came to me after one of the teachers had collaborated with me using Guided Inquiry in a science project and she thought that the principles could be applied in RE.  Religious education in Australia is not tied to the curriculum constraints of other subjects, but is considered a very important part of our school curriculum. Therefore, we had a lot of freedom in our project design…and that made it so much more fun.

The Passion Project asked the students to choose what they would like to focus their study on for Term 3 in relation to Christianity and faith. It asked, “what are you passionate about?” and provided the students with the freedom to ask the big questions related to faith, religion and spirituality. We emphasised that there will not be one answer to your question which was something that some students found challenging and others found exciting.

We opened the project with a number of games which were designed to get the students brainstorming the kinds of things they were passionate about, whether it was Game of Thrones, Justin Bieber or animal cruelty. We used chatterboxes to get conversations started and students worked in partners and small groups to support each other in the creation of a mind map which would form the basis of their Explore phase.

This page of resources held sources for students to explore as well as videos which were allocated to each stage of the Guided Inquiry process

This page of resources held sources for students to use in the EXPLORE phase. Each of the four tiles (e.g. Using the inquiry log, etc) had Youtube videos that I personally created to model information literacy skills.

As we only had one lesson to spend with the students per week, I decided to implement a flipped classroom approach. Students used the learning management software to access videos and instructions on various stages of Guided Inquiry. They also accessed their Inquiry Log and Inquiry Journal for the EXPLORE and GATHER phases. This enabled teachers to spend less time at the front of the classroom teaching skills, and more time for student inquiry and teacher interventions as required. We implemented EVALUATION throughout the process and the classroom teachers used reflections using Google Forms at the beginning of each lesson to gather important information to inform whether the student needed additional support. This also provided valuable feedback which informed whether the students needed more or less time at each stage of the inquiry process.

This is me recording the flipped classroom videos in our very own soundproof recording booth at school! It took many, many takes. Note to self...write a script!

This is me recording the flipped classroom videos in our very own soundproof recording booth at school! It took many, many takes. Note to self…write a script!

I cannot emphasise enough how important the reflection component was to this task. I have found that the inclusion of reflection is something that requires a bit of persuasion on the part of the teacher librarian or Guided Inquiry practitioner for a number of reasons: there is little time, does it add value, I’m not sure how to do it, etc. Reflection is something I strongly believe in as a teaching tool because it encourages reflective practice both in students and teachers. It encourages us to question how we go about our teaching and learning and provides valuable insight into our students and how they are feeling/thinking/behaving at each stage of the project. It also provides valuable evidence of the impact of teacher librarians – something that we do not always have access to if we are not assessing, reporting and providing formal feedback. In this case, the RE teachers were big fans of reflection and were quite happy to use it to ensure the students were properly supported throughout the project.

I had many interesting discussions with students in the beginning stages of the project. The ISP emphasises the fact that students will go through periods of doubt and uncertainty, and this was true for our students. A couple of students begged me to “just give me a question to answer!”, which only confirmed that the process of making choices is essential for improving information literacy and skills that will help them become lifelong learners throughout their life.

It took the girls 6 weeks to get to the stage where they could begin to plan their creations. This was also a valuable lesson to those who like to jump right in and create before they have a deep understanding of the subject (often this leads to a lot of copying and pasting in my experience). Like the choice of subject area, they were able to choose their method of sharing their findings. We gave the students physical and digital platforms for sharing and this led to many amazing creations. Examples included:

  • Youtube cooking videos exploring food and religion;
  • Infographics which visually compared characters in religious inspired films compare to the Bible or discussing Harry Potter and Religion;
  • Google Slides on Christianity in Sport;
  • Artwork and collages on various topics;
  • Poetry and short stories;
  • Instagram posts;
  • Vlog posts; etc

In all, the Passion Project was valued both by teachers and students. Using the Guided Inquiry Design model provided the structure and scaffolding needed to properly ensure that the knowledge that the students gained would be personally meaningful. It also personally allowed me to get creative with my own pedagogy and play around with technology to improve the learning experience. I particularly enjoyed recording the flipped classroom videos. Although this was time consuming in the planning phase, it was worthwhile in the learning phase. All in all, the project was a huge success and will be repeated next year.

Erin Patel

Exploration to Formulation

One clarification for yesterday’s post, once the girls had their questions and understood that the homework would be exploring for information, time was spent introducing library resources for this task. We use EBSCO Discovery Service as our gateway to the library collection and databases. Since this type of search is new to most freshman students, instruction was specifically how to locate research starters and e-reference collections.

Day Two was very successful. The freshman were prepared with their handout completed and each had learned something about their topic identifying interesting, surprising, and unusual information. They identified questionable or controversial information and aspects they might still not understand. The final task on the homework had them identify two questions they might pursue as they continued their research.

The rest of the instructional period was spent practicing the development of key terms and using them in searches interspersed with instruction on narrowing search results using the database tools. By doing this within the class time, I was able to assist, reteach, and feel confident that the students were heading down a successful path. They practiced using synonyms and suggested subject terms from the database. We also reviewed the use of Boolean terms and other search strategies for the students with a limited amount of search experience. They used a handout to record their results using a concept cloud and by the end of the session had developed 2-4 successful key words with which to continue their Exploration. For myself and the classroom teacher, it was a time to work one on one with students and to identify where additional instruction/practice might be needed. Students were asked to complete this practice for homework and begin reading with the purpose of narrowing the concept/ topic to answer the questions they had formulated on the first handout the previous night.

The next day, Day Three, we moved on to the first phase of formulating a focus with a demonstration. Taking my own topic of interest, I modeled the next step of narrowing the concept/ topic to a focus. After listening to and watching me work, the girls were put into pairs and given time to “talk it out” with their partner. In an all-girls school, talking is a very successful strategy as there are not many girls who do not like to talk.  As the teacher and I listened in, we heard the student actively engaged and reflecting, building on what they had learned, and genuinely interested in continuing learning.  While they did not all come away from this exercise with a focus many of them understood what they needed to do next. We also observed a sense of stress release among them as they realized that each was in the right place and were not alone.

Upon completion of the “talk it out” exercise, we reviewed the next phase of Collection and how it would be a different sort of search and gather pertaining to the focus. We also reiterated relevance and redundancy as closure tactics. This ended our three days of instruction/practice on a Friday so that the students would have the weekend to absorb and maybe even reflect.

Next: A Week of Collection

Making it Personal (Part 3)

We all know the value of a great PLN. I only wish there were more hours in the day so that I could devote more time to learning from, and sharing with, others!

One of the most important things, I believe is to share personal experiences. I don’t use twitter as much as I should / could, I have a number of feeds to my email from TL networks, but these tools are both avenues for short, sharp pieces. I wanted to find a way to demonstrate to my students the desirability of creating a positive digital footprint, and I realised that I could use a blogging platform to share my personal experiences with Guided Inquiry at the same time. So I created a Digital Dossier to document my professional pathway, but with specific focus upon my GI journey. If you would like to have a look you will find it at http://myprofessionalpathway.weebly.com/  It is very much a work in progress; time is the enemy again! If you click onto the “more” tab, the “Guided Inquiry” there are some practical examples of where and how I have used GI at my school.

Making it Personal (Part 2)

In my last post I spoke about the value of Third Space at the Identify stage: allowing the personal interests and passions of the student to find synchronicity with the curriculum. Allowing students the opportunity to select an area of personal interest, and to allow them the choice of presentation mode goes a long way to ensuring engagement, a quality product and a wonderful sense of achievement and improved self-esteem for the student.

So can “Third Space” be applied to the Open phase? At this beginning phase, surely the “Hook” to engage all students with an item of personal interest would be impossible to find. And isn’t that the aim of Immerse and Explore: to allow students time and space to find their area for study? So, is “Third Space” relevant during Open?

To me, finding the “Third Space” during Open is all about asking students to become personally involved with the topic. They are not asked to find a specific area of interest yet, but engaging activities in this phase still employ the same principle: of connecting the student to the topic, and making it “relatable”. I have tried to employ this principle when working with a Year 5 (10 years old) class who were studying the Gold Rush in Australia in the mid 1850s. The objective of the unit was to consider the effects of the Gold Rushes upon the people involved: the miners, their families, those who plied a trade on the fields, the government etc. This clearly required a level of personal empathy; as this was somewhat out of their immediate experience (!), I tried to think of how to engage them with their heart, and not their head. So I devised an activity where they would adopt the role of a miner. We provided groups with a map, and a box of goods. Some boxes contained useful items, others not so; some contained a miner’s licence, others not. We spray painted some rocks gold, and “buried” them in an area of the school (in long jump pits, inside tyres, behind posts etc. They were then given 20 minutes to try their luck! I posed as the Licence Inspector; those without licences were sent to gaol! Some found little, others a lot; some stole in order to get rich! (just like the real thing!) The students were amazingly engaged, and most of all, during our de-brief, they demonstrated that they had a very good understanding of some of the difficulties the miners encountered, and the feelings that they might have experienced. They were now ready to learn!

open-gold-rush open-gold-rush-2

 

GID and US History

One of the things I love most about my job as a middle school librarian is that I get to work with every department and every grade level. I work with some departments more than others, and a goal of mine this past school year (since it was only my second year there as librarian) was to work with my seventh-grade United States History staff. They were looking for a way to assess the end of a recently-taught unit, 1890-1910, using their class sets of laptops. We tossed some ideas around and I introduced the idea of Guided Inquiry, with which they were unfamiliar. After a quick overview, they were sold. We decided to pose the question to students: Which event, person, or invention from this time period had the most effect on its time period, today, and will have the most effect 50 years from now? We chose the outlet Padlet.com, a free online curation site, to display their work (which was also unfamiliar to them), although students were able to use any platform they wished to display their ideas.

After some quick instruction in finding resources – they all had to be digital – and reminders for how to cite digital sources, students reviewed the time period, their notes from the unit, and did some research into some possibilities. Students had a few class periods to work on their projects. I assisted occasionally during these work times, answering questions and also asking some that would fine tune their thoughts.

On the day their projects were due, students had the opportunity to review each other’s work, filling out a peer-response form that asked about what the project did best, places for improvement, and general comments. Many of the students remarked how much more they learned about topics by looking at what others had done. The creativity of students was outstanding! See below for an image, and here to see some of the best ones.

Lightbulb1

Looking back, I liked that this project generally followed the GID process, but we made it a bit more casual for my first attempt with a new department and their first attempt with both GID and Padlet. When asked at the end of the project, students said that this was one of the best end-of-unit projects they did and that it was so much more engaging than a test or another paper/pencil assessment. Students completed the research process,including citations, but in a digital way and on a topic of their choice. The teachers stated that some projects were better than others – which is normal in a middle school classroom – but students were consistently on task and engaged with what they were working on. The teachers also agreed that this project is something they would do again this next school year, and that the quality of work was better than typical assignments/projects they had assigned earlier that year.  If I were to change anything about this project, it would be to delineate more of the process, perhaps curating a few resources for them on the time period and pointing students to databases (and perhaps doing some instruction on advanced Google searching) that could give them some more ideas.

As a librarian, I appreciate that GID gives me additional opportunities to collaborate with teachers who are looking to transform their students’ learning. It helps the staff to see for themselves that I don’t just check out books but I am an instructional partner as well. Sometimes teachers know it in theory, but it’s assignments like these using GID that help reinforce that to them. I’m looking forward to doing this project again (and hopefully others!) with them during this upcoming school year!

Rachel Grover

Adopting and Adapting

My last post was about carrying out a Guided Inquiry unit in its entirety, from Open through to Evaluate. Even though it’s a very structured framework, one of the best aspects of Guided Inquiry is that it’s not dogmatic. It is flexible enough that many of its components, especially the first three phases, can be applied  to projects that are not Guided Inquiry projects per se.

Earlier on the blog, Leslie discussed her visit to St. George’s in the spring, when she visited our Grade 7 reimagined science fair, the Wonder Expo. Even though the Expo follows a very teacher-directed plan, we adopted the Immerse and Explore phases of GID to help our students determine a topic. In years past, the students were simply told to “pick a topic” and given very little, if any, guidance . The result was that those boys who struggled to find a good topic were instantly behind their peers in terms of carrying out their experiment, analysing the results, and putting everything together into a report and poster board.

And – Shock! Horror! – the boys would also frequently do their “background research” (a bibliography with three sources was required as part of their report) the day before the science fair! When I, affronted librarian, questioned one boy why his background research was the very last thing he was doing, and maybe he should have done it before he even began his experiment, he burst into tears! The science fair caused a lot of stress.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve begun immersing the boys in science in the fall, well before the March due date, to build background knowledge and curiosity. This year, we hosted “Wonder Wednesdays” where we invited in scientists and watched videos on interesting topics to get their scientific juices flowing. We also made an annotated bibliography an early deadline. I created a LibGuide and instructed the boys in how to use the databases, so they were able to explore sources and ideas well before deciding on their final topic. The result? No crying in the library! Adopting some of the stages of guided inquiry into current projects can really help boost student curiosity, motivation and confidence.

The Explore phase is a really great idea to inject into traditional projects, even if teachers don’t have the time or inclination to do a whole GID unit. Late in the spring, the Grade 2 teachers approached me to pull some books on animals for a mini project the students were carrying out on animals. It’s a pretty standard animal project: pick an animal you like (CHEETAHS!), find information in a book, and write about your animal.

Instead of just checking out our animal books to the teachers, I invited the classes into the library.  I made a simple sheet with four boxes and space to write the name of an animal, draw a picture, and write down the book title. I selected the more “thematic” animal books rather than books about single species. Titles like “Biggest and Smallest Animals,” “Unusual Creatures” and “The Little Book of Slime”. The boys rotated around the tables, browsing through books and noting down the name of any animals that seemed interesting to them, along with a quick sketch and the name of the book so they could find it later. Massive success! The boys didn’t feel pressure to pick a random animal, they learned about all sorts of interesting creatures and were able to determine which books had “just-right” information, and which ones might be too difficult or too scant on information. Plus, they got a taste of keeping simple citations. Having an Explore session in the early part of this project really made it successful for both the students and the teachers.

I can proudly announce that I’m a Guided Inquiry evangelist now! Guided Inquiry Design has had a profound effect on my teaching, my relationships with my colleagues and, most importantly, my students.

Elizabeth Walker

@c@curiousstgeorge 

Avoid Cheetah Reports in 8 Easy Steps!

Remember this charming critter from my last entry? My Guided Inquiry Design mascot? This creature is a Pompeii Worm, and the reason it represents the power of GID, to me, is that this animal was selected by one of our Grade 4 students as the subject of his Guided Inquiry project on animal adaptations.

 

Hello. It's me again. Photo credit: Alison Murray, ARKive

Hello. It’s me again. Photo credit: Alison Murray, ARKive

If you’re an elementary teacher, I’m sure you’ve encountered an animal project in some form. You know the drill… the kids choose an animal and do a little report on it: what it eats, where it lives, etc. This kind of project is a nice introduction to research skills, and because most kids are interested in animals to some degree, there is high motivation. You will find that the vast majority of students will pick pretty standard animals. Wolves. Zebras. Sharks.(Note: when I was in Grade 3, I chose echidnas, thus cementing my nerdiness for years to come. I digress.)

However, it is a truth universally acknowledged that at least 55% of your class will choose cheetahs.

Yeah, we get it, Cheetah. You're very noble. Photo credit: Anup Shah, ARKive

We get it, Cheetah. You’re very noble. Photo credit: Anup Shah, ARKive

Look, I have no problem with cheetahs. They run fast. Their claws are unretractable. They hunt gazelles. They are endangered.  Their cubs are ridiculously adorable.  Cheetahs are LEGIT. I get the appeal. Kids LOVE them.

OMG SO CUTE | Photo credit: Suzi Eszterhas, ARKive

OMG SO CUTE | Photo credit: Suzi Eszterhas, ARKive

But they are so… predictable. I’m sure you’ve marked dozens – nay, hundreds! – of cheetah reports in your professional life. It’s time to move on. Wouldn’t you rather learn about something a little different? A little out-there? For instance… a Pompeii worm?

A cheetah’s got nothing  on a Pompeii worm. (I mean, fine, a cheetah would easily take one down  if, say, a Pompeii worm somehow found itself stranded on the Serengeti. No contest there. I’m speaking more ontologically.)

Team Pompeii Worm | Photo credit: Greg Rouse, ARKive

Team Pompeii Worm | Photo credit: Greg Rouse, ARKive

 

These guys live in the deep sea in hydrothermal vents. The end of the worm that sticks out in the water has to endure near-freezing temperatures in the frigid water of the deep ocean. So? Lots of organisms live in the deep ocean. The really cool thing about Pompeii worms is the end of the worm that’s in the vent has to contend with blasts of hot water that can be as high as 80 degrees Celsius, or 176 Fahrenheit. How does it survive in this environment? Most animals would poach themselves within seconds, yet these worms thrive in such a hostile environment because of bacteria that live on their bodies that help to regulate their temperature!

Admit it: that’s cool. Or hot. (Whatever.)

How did we discover Pompeii worms? Well, Guided Inquiry guided us to them! The whole process was important, but because we leveraged the power of the first three phases – Open, Immerse, Explore – for this unit, the students were able to explore some carefully curated resources about animal adaptations and make notes on different adaptations and animals that have them. In this way, the boys were exposed to a vast array of animals that they might not know about, and successfully carry out their research. Rather than designing the project around teacher-led discussion on adaptations, the boys discovered the concept on their own and built knowledge themselves.

The provincial learning objective for this Grade 4 science unit was: “All living things and their environment are interdependent.”  The instructional team – the Grade 4 teachers, our wonderful Inquiry resource teacher and myself – decided that the students should learn about how different environments can affect the adaptations that animals have developed to survive. These would be independent projects culminating in an animal “fact file” with a labelled diagram and paragraph.

 

Fact files on display. Photo credit: me

Fact files on display. Photo credit: me

 

We started the OPEN phase by projecting a panoramic Google maps photo of Dinosaur Provincial Park in our neighbouring province of Alberta. This park looks very different from our own local temperate rainforest, so we had the boys brainstorm and discuss questions about the environment there. What kinds of animals might you find there that you wouldn’t find in Vancouver? Why? We then went out to our wooded area to take photos with iPads. This OPEN activity got the boys thinking about how environments can impact plants and animals.

We timed this project around the boys’ first overnight outdoor education trip, which became their IMMERSE phase. They spent two days at a local outdoor centre, where most of the programming revolved around adaptations of local flora and fauna. Full disclosure: I did not attend. I stayed warm and dry, but from all accounts, the experience was highly IMMERSive!

After they returned from camp, we set up the EXPLORE phase. Instead of letting the boys go nuts on Google, or wreak havoc on my painstakingly arranged 590s shelves, we gave them only one option: a brilliant website from BBC Nature: Animal and plant adaptations and behaviours This site has an exhaustive list of adaptations, with an easy to read description for each and multiple examples of organisms. We put the boys into Inquiry Circles and had them browse the site, noting down on a specially-created worksheet any animals or adaptations that they thought were interesting.

Because this BBC site has such an exhaustive list of adaptations, and because we gave them free range to browse the site, the boys were learning about everything from behavioural adaptations such as swarming, to feeding strategies like kleptoparasitism! Thus, one young man discovered the Pompeii worm, neatly filed away under symbiosis. His curiosity was piqued. What the heck is a Pompeii worm? (Probably what you were thinking at the beginning of this post!)

After a couple of sessions exploring the BBC site, we helped the boys review their notes and IDENTIFY an animal they really wanted to learn more about, and to write a strong research question about it beginning with “Why” or “How”.

From there, we provided more curated resources for GATHER: the BBC site again, ARKive, World Book, and in some cases, reliable websites that I vetted for those boys who chose an unusual animal with scarce information available.

They CREATEd their fact files and we SHAREd with a big celebratory class session involving small-group informal presentations and a gallery walk of all the files. Finally, the boys were EVALUATEd on the science learning objective as well as a self-assessment on the whole process.

The results? The boys were so motivated and excited each week when they came to the library. The learning was student-centered with each boy striving to answer his own question, instead of following a list of criteria from the teachers. Those pesky note-taking skills were a breeze to teach, and the science learning objective was hit out of the park (ask one of our Grade 4s about any possible adaptation – they know them all!)

Those are all very noble, altruistic goals for the betterment of our darling students. Allow me to be selfish for a moment – of 48 projects completed there was not a single one on cheetahs. If that’s not a career highlight, I don’t know what is.