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

The 4 Commandments of GID for Multiple Sites

Happy Tuesday!

As Buffy mentioned, we are going to give you a rundown of our unit, and hopefully, some awesome readers will be able to give us feedback to help us make it even better. I’m excited to get down to the nitty-gritty and tell you all about our unit plan so far. But before we get into that, I want to talk a little about the unique process of developing a unit for 17 different schools.

As we began planning this unit, it was immediately clear that each teacher librarian on the team had a different vision for their role in the instruction of the unit. Some of us anticipate co-teaching with the 5th grade teachers every step of the way through the unit. Others work in schools where the 5th grade team has been or will go to the Guided Inquiry Institute before teaching the unit, so we feel more comfortable handing the reigns to them. In my building, I could see myself being involved in a  few of the phases while letting the teachers handle the rest.

If there were so many different ideas on our planning team, then how would our unit be received by the rest of the district? Having only ever designed units for my own site, it was an exciting challenge to think about how to develop the unit in a way that was adaptable to every one of the vastly different elementary schools in our district. With varying populations, resources, and experience, the same unit could look different at each site.

For two weeks, I’ve been dwelling on this idea of unit adaptability, thinking about what to tell other educators working on a unit that will reach outside the walls of one site. Here are my commandments of Guided Inquiry when designing for multiple sites:

4 Commandments of Guided Inquiry Design for mutliple sites

  1. Thou shalt not dictate the roles of the learning team. In my own units, I usually carefully plan out each team member’s roles and responsibilities in the course of the unit. By leaving these roles more open-ended in the science unit plan, we are allowing each learning team to play to their unique strengths and take as much leadership from their librarian as necessary.
  2. Thou shalt not limit the options. Our district is headed toward more technology in the next few years, and more devices will give us the ability to use some awesome digital learning tools. But right now, there is a huge discrepancy in digital access between schools, so we can’t exactly mandate a specific tool. Additionally, teachers may have varying comfort levels with instructional technology. Filling our unit plan with options allows for customization at each site.
  3. Thou shalt not make them do all the work. In addition to the addendum, “collaborate with your teacher librarian” every step of the way, the planning team is doing the bulk of the work by building handouts, digital folders, YouTube playlists, and other necessary tools for the unit.
  4. Thou shalt not forget about the future. More technology, new digital tools, changing student populations… there are a million factors that will influence how this unit is taught next year, in three years, or ten years from now. By building in room for change, we are ensuring that this unit stays relevant, accessible, and exciting for years to come.

Developing this unit has been different from any unit I’ve done before, but I think I’ve grown as an educator, and I’ve certainly become more comfortable with Guided Inquiry Design through this process. I feel very good about our unit plan so far, and I can’t wait to share it with you tomorrow!

Have you designed a unit for more than one site? What commandments would you add to my list?

Kelsey