All Aboard! (6th Grade Urbanization)

Every teacher brought their own talents to the table as we worked on our session plans together. Some were excellent at locating resources, some liked writing the session plans, and all imagined the project through the eyes of their students, and suggested ways to adapt it for their students’ needs. Everyone came up to speed on the topic more quickly because we worked together – just like what we hope for when our students work in inquiry circles. We spent most of our planning time on the OPEN, IMMERSE, and EXPLORE phases, and so we entered those phases with materials and activities in hand. Teachers didn’t march in lockstep through the project, of course, but it gave everyone a framework they could refer to along the way.

Suzy Menafro Palmer is one of the 6th grade ELA team who wasn’t available to attend the Institute last summer, but was completely on board from our first meeting, and enthusiastically dove into planning and resource gathering as we prepared for our adventure. In hindsight, she offered her impressions of the unit (shown in blue):

The “Open” part of our Urbanization Unit was probably my favorite. Listening to my students be such little experts about their town was so impressive. I couldn’t believe how knowledgeable they were about the history of Metuchen. It was clear that their parents explain ideas to them like taxes and population increases, and they went on and on about what a great town they live in. They were so proud of their downtown appeal, the family oriented sense of community that has been established here, and their reputation for being “The Brainy Boro”.

We looked at maps of Metuchen over the years from the 1800’s to a more current map. Something that sort of took me by surprise was when it was evident that most students really weren’t familiar with reading maps. Once they understood what they were seeing, they were really intrigued and made some great insights about how the town has changed over the years.

What’s really exciting about GID is the opportunity for us to see how it connects to our students’ lives, and to see them as experts in things we otherwise would not have know about, and cross-curricular opportunities.  Suzy then went on to describe part of our Immerse phase:

We also did a walk around the school to see how the building has changed over the years. The students identified how there are different bricks indicating that there are additions to the building,  and there are new lockers that were clearly an afterthought because they don’t match the lockers already in place.


In our “Explore” phase students were in groups reading articles about the subtopics of urbanization. This was so well organized by the team of teachers who put this together. It went seamlessly, and the students were really interested in all of the topics. Some of them even cheered when I gave them the folder for “Trends in Migration” (I was in shock). Ideas that I thought they would be totally bored by, they were excited! I have to say… I did have an exceptional class of 6th graders this year who are very task oriented, people pleasing, high achievers. However, I was still pleasantly surprised they were interested in the topics as they were.

…and then Identify…

When it came time to get even more specific and come up with their research questions, I was again impressed with the variety and specificity they came up with for questioning. They were interested in animals, war, drones, flying cars, city gardens, and so much more. One of my students even wrote a paper about how advancements in technology for cities with apps like Uber have decreased the number of DUI’s in a certain city.

There were some students who really went above and beyond, and then there were some students who were pretty basic and surface level with their research with little insight. But that’s sixth grade in a nutshell! Some kids are just more engaged and capable of taking it to another level, and some of them just aren’t there yet, and I’m really okay with that. I was happy that they found a topic they were interested in and worked start to finish.

The Gather phase required lots of flexibility, since so many students needed to share resources, and technology was at a premium, because we were in the midst of standardized testing. We spent a lot of time negotiating for the use of laptop or Chromebook carts (and not always successfully). Books were on a cart that stayed in the library, and students came down to borrow them as needed.

Amazingly, we didn’t misplace one book or headset in the process!

Everyone seemed to understand that other classes were working with these materials – there was definitely a sense of a community of learners throughout the 6th grade.

Next up: Create, Share, and Evaluate

Suzy Menafro Palmer, 6th Grade ELA teacher and
Maryrose Little, Librarian
Edgar Middle School
Metuchen, NJ

Lincoln Elementary Does GId

Welcome fellow designers! I am Teresa Lansford, teacher-librarian at Lincoln Elementary School in Norman, OK. I am about to embark on my 6th year as a school librarian and my 14th year in education. I am a National Board Certified Teacher: Early Childhood Generalist, and received my Masters from the University of Oklahoma. I am a data driven, passionate practitioner, ever on the quest to bring my best to students so I am sure you all can understand how excited I was to learn about Guided Inquiry and what it does for kids.

Our school has adopted GId and ran with it in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. This week I will be sharing how we came to be a school with nearly an entire staff trained in GId, who all think in terms of GId, and who have utilized the process with both student and adult learners. I will share examples of how all grade levels have learned through GId, and how we have enhanced our use of technology through GId.

Lincoln Elementary is a Title 1 school of under 300 students. We have an autism program as well as a DD program. We serve grades PK-5 with two teachers per grade level. Our school is highly collaborative which I believed has helped to promote and support Guided Inquiry. None of us work in a bubble. We have a shared vision of elevating learning to foster creative, innovative members of a community. This has led to us becoming an Oklahoma A+ school for the arts, and winning an OETT grant that allowed us, along with a district bond issue initiative, to be nearly 1-1 in iPads for grades PK-1 and MacBooks for grades 2-5. We are constantly striving to push our students and help them grow beyond the test.

Guided Inquiry gave us the tools to transform how we look at research and think about questioning in our building. I am excited to spend this week sharing with you all that we do!

GID Transforming Student Research @ BCPS

In my last post, I referenced a few examples of our BCPS Online Research Models (ORMs) for extended, in-depth research, which our Office of Digital Learning Library Media team has been designing using the eight phases of the GID model since 2012. I’d like to share in a little more detail how one of our ORMs was completely transformed at last summer’s 2016 Curriculum Workshop using the GID model. In 2001, our BCPS Office of Music requested a research model on Native American music for the Grade 8 American Music curriculum. As a library media specialist on the ORM curriculum writing team that summer, I co-designed an ORM titled First Music, First Nations—it was the first research model I ever designed. Courtesy of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, I can show you the Webpages for the original 2001 version of the “First Music, First Nations” ORM — even though I’m extremely embarrassed to do so!

As you can see, we were using our own research process steps at the time: Scenario, Task & Product, Assessment, Question, Gather, Organize and Conclude. This ORM has a nice poem at the top (but no connection to the poem is made anywhere in the process), and lots of “cutesy” clip art of Native Americans, drums, etc. The Scenario and Task & Product were NOT authentic or engaging —how many 8th graders would seriously be excited at the prospect of being a museum curator for the Smithsonian Institute? Students were asked to select from 5 research topics about traditional Native American music (Instruments, Pow-wows, Dances, Songs, or Ceremonies), take notes using resources including targeted Websites, and create a “display” of some sort; usually students made a diorama or something like that. Believe it or not, this ORM remained virtually unchanged (except for updating broken resource links) until summer 2016. THEN, with some new leadership in the Office of Music and new state learning standards for Music education, our team was asked to do a much-needed revision last summer.

The result was the new ORM, Native Dreams: Contemporary Native American Music. This research model benefitted in SO many ways from our use of the GID model.

First and foremost was our consideration of “Third Space” to make real-world connections to the content for students. We focused on contemporary Native American music artists and framed the research around the overarching Inquiry Question: How is contemporary Native American music both an expression of traditional culture and a powerful force for change? The musicians we featured have fused traditional Native American sounds, instruments, etc. with contemporary genres that are familiar to our students – hip-hop, rap, pop, EDM, heavy metal, etc. These music artists are also passionate about social justice and the issues facing Native Americans; these are issues that many of our students and their families/communities are facing themselves. We found articles, music videos, and songs online for students to read, view, and listen to as they did their research.

As we always do now, we included many GID tools for students to use throughout the process—Inquiry Journals, Inquiry Logs, Inquiry Circles, etc. We also included student choice of topic selection in the Explore phase, and choice of presentation formats in the Create phase. In the Share phase, students are asked to apply their learning from their own research and from each other’s presentations in a culminating activity, by responding to a quote from one of the musicians featured in the research model (in their Inquiry Journals and then in a discussion with Inquiry Circles and the whole Inquiry Community):

In the Rebel Music: Native America video episode you saw in the Immerse phase of this research, Native American rapper Frank Waln said: “The music is my shield and my weapon.”

  • What do you think he means? How does this statement relate to music as both an expression of traditional culture and a force for positive change?
  • How is this statement true for the other contemporary Native American musicians that you and your classmates researched?

This culminating activity allows all students to apply and synthesize their learning from each other, to build a response together to the overarching question posed at the beginning of the inquiry. In the Evaluate phase, we included a suggestion for students to extend their learning by researching a social issue that is personally relevant and important to them, and to create their own music or other form of artistic expression about the issue.

Thanks to the GID process, our students in 8th grade American Music classes at 27 Middle Schools across the district now have an inquiry-based learning opportunity that is both engaging and rigorous. Feedback from the music teachers who implemented this model during the 2016-17 school year has been really positive, and they report that this was a MUCH more rich and meaningful learning experience for their students than the previous ORM was.

I welcome your feedback about this research model!  NOTE: Please excuse any broken links in this ORM; I did make a few updates since my last blog post before sharing with you here today, and any remaining broken links will be updated during our Summer Curriculum workshop beginning next week. We are looking forward to designing more ORMs like this one this summer!

Kelly Ray, BCPS