Student Research Gets Personal @ BCPS

I’m excited to tell you about a high school course that we’ve been offering in BCPS since 2012, the Independent Research Seminar. This is an elective course which sophomores, juniors or seniors can take for a semester or a full year at the Standard, Honors or GT/Advanced Academics level. The Independent Research Seminar offers students a unique opportunity to do in-depth original research on a topic of their own choice. For the last five years, we’ve had students researching a wide variety of topics in virtually every discipline. Students learn a rigorous research process that includes a literature review and subject-specific research methodologies characteristic of college level research. They use an Online Research Framework to work both independently and under the guidance of content area teachers and the school library media specialist, who provides information literacy instruction for each step in the process. Students also consult with outside experts, and may have an opportunity to conduct research at an off-campus site. For example, we’ve had students work with scientists at a Johns Hopkins University scientific research lab, at area museums and historical societies, at local companies like Lockheed Martin, and at government agencies like the NSA, to name just a few. For several students, this course has led to an Internship and even employment. Students present their research to an audience of their peers, parents, mentors, school administrators and teachers at our annual Student Research Symposium.  This course is a great alternative to the AP Capstone course, which is not necessarily appropriate or appealing to all students. We have had diverse students take this course over the last 5 years, including English Language Learners, a student on the Autism spectrum, and a few reluctant learners who were otherwise not fully engaged in high school.


At the 2017 Common Ground Conference in May, I gave a presentation about this course with my colleague Joquetta Johnson, the Library Media Specialist at Randallstown High School who has been teaching the course for four years. For a good introduction to what the course is all about, view our Conference presentation  Student Research Gets Personal: The Independent Research Seminar, which includes student artifacts and videos.

Our High School library media specialists use this brochure to promote the Independent Research Seminar course to their students at registration time each year.  Students enrolled in the course use this Online Research Framework to access resources throughout the research process. Course instructors use Units and Lessons that correspond to each step in the Framework to facilitate instruction; these lessons are housed in our BCPS One Learning Management System (so unfortunately I am unable to share those Lessons with you). We will be revising the Lessons and Online Research Framework this summer (please excuse broken links).  We plan to incorporate GID strategies and tools, including some from the latest GID in Action: High School book.

 

The BCPS Student Researchers Wiki features Research Symposium video highlights, news articles, and digital copies of Symposium event programs for the last five years. You can read students’ research abstracts in these programs to get an idea of the wide range of topics they have chosen to research. Students are given secure folders on the wiki for uploading and organizing their work, and they can also use it as a collaborative workspace.

Although this course was written in 2011 (before our introduction to Guided Inquiry Design), I think you’ll agree that the model we developed bears many similarities to GID. For example, students keep a reflection journal throughout the research process, and they often engage in small group collaboration (e.g. Inquiry Circles).  Students sometimes choose topics that interested them in one of their other courses, or which relate to their college and career aspirations. In recent years, many students have chosen to explore issues related to diversity, equity and social justice. These are issues that are extremely relevant to students’ own personal lives and experiences. They would not have had the opportunity to explore these personally meaningful topics in depth, if not for the Independent Research Seminar course. This course is unique in providing that level of learning choice and voice, while empowering students with information literacy skills, not only for college and career readiness, but for citizenship and for life.

It’s been my pleasure to share some of our work around GID and student research at BCPS with you this week.  I hope you find some inspiration and ideas that you can apply to your own practice.  Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Kelly Ray,

Baltimore County Public Schools

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   Jamie.gregory@spart5.net

Introducing: Marc Crompton

Well… reintroducing, really!  I’m a Teacher Librarian at St George’s School in Vancouver, BC.  That’s right, the same school as the divine Curious St George!  While she’s at our Jr School (grades 1-7), I see the boys when they come up the street to our Sr School.  Yes, I used the word “boys” purposely as we are a single-gender (boys) school.  You might be interested in my posts (1,2,3) from last year where I talked about work with a grade 10 Social Studies Class and how I look at other tools as they work in conjunction with GID, such as NSRF’s protocols.

To put things in context, I’ve been at St George’s School for 25 years.  I was likely hired, in part, because I’d played rugby in high school, but I was brought on as a music teacher and have yet to spend a day on the rugby pitch.  In 2009, some different opportunities opened up at the school that I thought that I’d try my hand at.  I started leading an educational technology cohort of teachers and took on a very “part-time and temporary” role as our school librarian.  Since then, I’ve completed my MLIS at San Jose State and am permanent and very full time…  In the past year, I’ve also taken on the creation and administration of a grade 10 STEM program.  Through this time, I’ve written a number of articles for Teacher Librarian magazine, co-authored a book on Collection Development with Dr David Loertscher and, most recently and pertinently, have contributed chapters to Leslie’s High School edition of the GID book series.  I also have a personal blog that I’m recently not contributing much to, but if you’re more interested in the kinds of things that I think about, you could head over to Adventures in Libraryland.
My journey in GID started in a meaningful way, when Leslie was kind enough to organize a trip to Boston for myself, Curious St George and two of our Sr School Social Studies teachers to check out two schools who were deeply embeded in the ways of GID.  The teachers and librarians at Lexington and Westborough High Schools were amazing hosts and we had a chance to talk in depth with students and teachers about their experiences with GID in conjunction with some great chats with Leslie to help put it all in perspective.  From there, we came back to Vancouver and started implementing the model and spreading the gospel.  Since then, I’ve worked with teachers at our Sr School in Social Studies, English, Computer Science, and Languages to design and implement GID units.  Some were successful and some were less so, but all engaged students in meaningful ways and made research relevant.

In my own teaching, I’ve been looking at instructional design models that focus around building or making physical manifestations of student learning.  My current STEM cohort works most overtly with a Design Thinking model that has come out of Stanford’s dSchool.  This is not to say that I’ve abandoned GID however.  My experience and knowledge of the GID model has informed everything that I do within the Design Thinking model.  I actually see a strong correlation between the two models and I think that aspects of GID truly make Design Thinking, when used as instructional design, much more effective.

In a nutshell, the emphasis in Design Thinking is in the creating a solution to a problem.  In many ways, it is akin to Problem Based Learning.  What GID brings to the process is the stronger research structure and documentation of thinking.  While every one of my students thinks in terms of the Design Thinking model and are adept at adapting that model to a variety of situations, they are also using the tools of GID in their Inquiry Journals (blogs), and how they approach their Immerse and Explore phases.

My next posts will look at this relationship between GID and my students’ use of Design Thinking.  Likely, my last post will look at our current process and investigate how explicit use of GID concepts will allow us to improve the work that they are doing in a few key ways.  I hope that you’ll enjoy reading and I encourage you to push back and challenge me as we go.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I likely have even fewer than I think I do!

 

Marc Crompton

 

Race Cars, Mental Agility, and Hikers – Strategies for Slow Thinking in Inquiry

Yesterday I wrote about the role of relaxation in learning.  Educators across the globe are working to help our students to embody Carol Dweck’s  growth mindset.  Educators are also talking and thinking about mindfulness in education. Well, in Guided Inquiry these two things are occurring in practice while students are learning.

Daniel Kahneman (2011) in his book Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow talks about two different kinds of thinking.

  • System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious
  • System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious source

When we engage students in an extended study, such as inquiry, where we are seeking longer term learning and deeper learning, we strive for the learning of System 2.

In Guided Inquiry Design, we recognize the importance of slowing down the thinking especially in the Explore and Identify phases.  In our book, we describe the strategy of “Read, Relax, and Reflect” on (page 79) and highlight the action of “Pause and Ponder” in Identify phase (page 95), but there’s even more than that!

Barbara Oakley in her TED talk spoke of the Pomodoro Technique that provides frequent brain breaks between concentrated work times.  These brain breaks help learners to practice the ability to have focused attention and can enhance mental agility going from focused to relaxed.

As a classroom strategy, from a teacher effectiveness perspective, it seems like not only a technique that would enhance the overall tenor in the classroom, but also teach students an internal lesson about how breaks help their mental processing!  I also find it interesting that the Pomodoro Technique is being sold as a way to have a better “work life balance”.  This is a 21st Century skill as work is changing because we are always “on” with the use of technology.  So, mental breaks are worth implementing in a deep learning environment where students are working on ideas over an extended period of time. Focused attention mixed with short breaks facilitates deeper learning and connection.  It also might make us happier.

Barbara continues to compare learners to race car drivers or hikers when she describes slow thinking. When we hike, we look around.  In a car, we zoom by and can’t capture the details.  I love this analogy because I love to hike and I love the natural beauty of our world so I often take photos of nature. Here’s a photo I took while in a car.  Beautiful shot of the Flatirons, right?

Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado

Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado

And here are two photos I took while hiking.  Notice the difference in detail that I could capture. My experience hiking was deeper and more sensory and perhaps even profound!

img_1238 img_1240

Let’s relate this slow thinking of a hiker to inquiry-based learning. Looking at a page and looking away to see what you can recall is a strategy Barbara describes as an effective technique that “builds profound neural hooks that help to increase your understanding of the material”.  This is exactly what we describe the simple strategy of “Recall, Summarize, Paraphrase, and Extend” (p. 85) to reflect in Inquiry Journals in the Explore phase. Physically looking away from the text or experience and having to recall is a mental skill worth developing. We also describe the “Stop and Jot” while reading in Explore. Looking away from the text and jotting some ideas that you recall has a deeper effect than the typical highlighting of the page and leaving the highlights there.  The highlighter creates that false confidence in learning.

As teachers highlighting is an easy evidence based assessment of what students read and thought was important. And we can do it at a glance.  But the journal response of their recall would be a better indicator of knowledge development.

Learning how to learn in inquiry requires us to facilitate that learning by helping our students slow way down.  The strategies seem simple, and they are, but the challenge for us is making the time to implement them in our daily practice in the tempo of schools that seems to be racing along like a race car round the track.

Be a hiker. SLOW down and enjoy the experience and learning that results.

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Author Guided Inquiry

Reflections on a Unit

Today I’m going to tell you about a unit I worked on with 4th Graders that was designed to address the societies of Native American tribes and their influences on American culture and history.  I am not going to focus on the steps we went through in the Guided Inquiry process as much as I am going to explain what worked and what didn’t work. As a reference point this unit was designed during a three day Guided Inquiry Design Institute by Kennedy’s Gifted and Talented Teacher and myself.  Classroom teachers were not able to attend the institute due to scheduling constraints.

What Didn’t Work?

Obviously, the main obstacle for this unit was not having a teacher on the design team.  Classroom teachers did provide a standard to work with and we knew they would willingly run with us as we dived into the process.  As soon as we began planning the unit we realized how crucial at least one classroom teacher was to the development of this process.  One, for their content knowledge.  Two, for their understanding of where it would fall in the curriculum.  Three, for the buy in they would be able to get from the other teachers on their team.  The inability to have a teacher as part of the design process was a stumbling block throughout the unit, because we were never able to fully articulate the process well.

I would say the second obstacle to this unit was in large part me.  You see, I tend to want to go all out with something and try everything to make the process smoother.  For this unit that meant providing composition notebooks as a tool for student to keep their inquiry log/journal in and later rolling out a similar format via Google Docs while using Google Classroom.  Students never really latched onto the electronic log/journal, so it wasn’t too big of a hindrance.  However, in hindsight I see that it was something that was not needed.  I also admit to not utilizing the journal effectively.

What Worked?

Partnership with the Gifted and Talented Teacher.  My colleague and I did a lot of team teaching on this project, tag-team style.  She was able to push into classes and teach how and what’s of the create stage.  In addition, we teamed with teachers during the gather stage to help guide students along the way.  She was a phenomenal asset and it was great for both of us to see how we could work together in the future.

Willing classroom teachers.  Even though the classroom teachers were not able to attend the training or help plan the unit they were always willing to do what we asked. The teachers also provided ample opportunities for students to research and work on their products during the create stage.  We could not have done this unit without their support.

Information Literacy Skills.  Students were able to learn the proper way to cite sources during this project.  They were able to learn how to “search smarter, not harder” using boolean operators.  They were able to navigate EBSCO using the Explora database and found article were helpful for their research questions.  Let’s be honest here folks, that is a difficult task for most of us and 4th graders were able to do that successfully multiple times.  I often overlook how integrated information literacy skills were in this unit, but reflecting on all that students were able to do with them is one of the best things I am taking away from this unit.

Immerse.  The immerse phase was my favorite part of this unit.  As part of immerse we were able to visit the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History on the nearby University of Oklahoma campus.  The GT teacher was able to acquire a grant to the museum so that we did not have to pay admission for any of our students or chaperones.  This museum has an exhibit called the Hall of the People of Oklahoma that the sole focus of dovetailed superbly with our content standard.

Gimmerse4

We were able to download resources from the museum and have students paste them into their journals that they were able to keep notes on as they were guided through the exhibit.  Students were also given journal prompts in the exhibit and given the chance to reflect as they explored the exhibit.

In addition to an exhibit students were led through a fifty minute class called, “The Bison Hunters: Native Americans of the Plains.”  We had never been through a program at the museum and were skeptical of how this would go.  We had nothing to be afraid of.  During this program students were able to explore specific items in a group and tasked with identifying what they were made out of and what their possible uses were.  Every student was engaged in this activity and they were all excited to see what their items were.  Following the exploration time and comparing to identified materials the museum educator led the classes through what each item was and what it was used for.  Students were able to create lists in their journals that they referenced during the rest of the process.

GImmerse2

Student examining artifact.

 

GImmerse3

Items identified by museum staff that students used to compare to their artifacts.

Google Classroom. Google Classroom was used to push artifacts and links to students during this unit.  This was an effective way to get feedback from students as well.  I used Google Classroom to provide templates, links and survey questions.  Students completed surveys as an evaluative tool for their projects as well.

The extended learning team. The staff at the Sam Noble Museum knocked it out of the park in the classes that they taught.  The exhibit was exactly what we needed to provide greater background knowledge for many of our students. Our district technology integration specialist, Dr. Lee Nelson also provided templates for students to use in the create phase.  This help let the teaching team focus on helping students create from the template and not to worry about how to create the template.

Moving Forward

This post has been difficult for me to write because there are things that went exceptionally well with this unit, but there are many things that the team will improve upon when we implement this unit again in the future.  At this time two teachers from the grade level have since been to a Guided Inquiry Design Institute so that will be extremely beneficial as we go back and identify what we need to change in this unit.

I am glad that the students and teaching team were able to go through this process.  I’m glad that students were really forced to think and struggle with content in a new way and as a result create new knowledge from that struggle.  I’m glad that I struggled with this process because it makes me look forward with instructional tools that I can use to make future units better.  I’m glad that my GT teacher was able to such an integral role in the design and implementation of this unit because now she is my Guided Inquiry Design BFF.  I’m glad that the classroom teachers from this team were able to see the process before they attended a GID Institute because they were able to make connections to what we did as they learned about the the process.

-Stacy

@StacyFord77

 

Turning a Science Fair into a WONDER-FUL experience!

I mentioned in my first post this week that I’ve been traveling a little and seeing GID in action.  One place that I had the pleasure to visit was Saint George’s School in Vancouver British Columbia.  You’ve heard about this school already from a member of our GID family, Marc Crompton.  I went up there to visit, this March, to work with teams refining GID units and developing and designing new ones. As always, I learned so much from these conversations with teams. We talked about what kinds of questions kids should ask, and how to coach students to ask better questions. We thought together about problems of student motivation and connections to the unit design. We had great conversations about the role of student reflection across the process, when there was enough reflection and when there might be too much. As well as how to find that sweet spot in the Inquiry Journal prompt. One prompt that was super successful for them was in the Evaluate phase where students wrote a reflection giving advice to the students of the next year.  The kids couldn’t wait for the teachers to read these entries. There are so many elements and moving parts to Guided Inquiry learning where we can all learn and sharpen our practice.  For me it’s a great joy to be with smart educators and think through these issues.

I was so happy to come to St George at a time when they were having the SHARE for one of their big units of inquiry in Grade 7.  In the Grade 7 Neighborhood they were holding the great annual WONDER EXPO!  It was the conclusion of their wonder time which was a long term work leading up to a science fair.  Many of these traditional contests like science fair can be so much improved if GID is used to consider the instructional design that wraps around these experiences. (You can imagine that in order to arrive at the science fair topic, the students could greatly benefit from the first three phases of OPEN IMMERSE and EXPLORE to IDENTIFY that question.) This team has recognized this powerful connection and they continue to shape this experience using the principles and phases of Guided Inquiry Design as a guide.

During the Wonder EXPO, I had the great opportunity to connect with students and hear their depth of learning and third space connections.Cc9xfrLUkAAXNOt

This young gentleman on the left had found a way to use light to detect oil and gas in the water.  He believes that if everyone was required to have such a light on their boat engine they would be able to detect spills and avoid them much more regularly.  This student is a huge advocate for Guided Inquiry, and confessed that although he loved the experience, not all students enjoyed it.  F
r the Wonder time, the learning was balanced between open time and some structure around the process.  Some students were able to benefit well from the open time, and others weren’t able to use the time as well as others. This is a common problem we face with prolonged open work time.  Some students need more structure while others are ready to go.  It’s always a challenge to find that perfect balance between guiding and freedom to meet every student’s learning needs

Cc9g4YkVIAAeOJcThe boys on the right had this interesting experiment and research on how taste buds change over time. They claimed that young children tastebuds generally favor sweet flavors and bitter tastebuds develop later in life.  Their tri-fold had clear concise writing for each phase of the science inquiry and they were each able to speak using academic language to describe the research that they did, explain their results, as well as possible implications.

My question to the boys as I walked around was, “And so, what do you think are the implications for this research that you did?”  It was interesting to hear how the students each could extend beyond the project and theorize about possible impacts.  In every conversation, I could hear the third space connections as students explained why they chose this topic.  If you’re interested in more of what they did, you can see many more photos on their twitter page.CV08rJ_UsAA65H8 They did have a vote and prizes as well as a big celebration!

As I mentioned before, at Saint George they are really working on student reflections across the process with the focus on “learning how to learn” through inquiry.  The Grade 7 Neighborhood even tweeted out this picture (Right) of the reflection they had for the Wonder Expo. Using a four corners exercise, the students reflected on different modes of thinking and which mode was the students preferred method.

The next day, I had a chance to speak with the team who designed and implemented this unit.  This fabulous team was truly interdisciplinary and includes the literature teachers, drama, science, social studies and their wonderful librarian. And like so many with Guided Inquiry, they still felt as though there were changes that could be made. Even with an extremely successful unit and SHARE event, great Learning Teams know there’s always more learning or something to be tweaked!  It was so fun to be with them and celebrate all the successes, and then reflect on Wonder EXPO for next year.

To sum up our conversation there after talking through it all the Science teacher recognized that although the traditional science fair has it’s drawbacks, they still want students who are interested to be successful enough to enter the local competitions. This meant that they would continue with the same format because to enter the competitions they had certain requirements to fulfill (Tri-board with specific elements present, research, experiment, data, results, etc). But when nudged to think about what makes every science fair above and beyond, the science teacher recognized the important element that the project helps humanity. And so it was, that next year’s focus for WONDER would not only include all the elements of a really well guided science fair project using Guided Inquiry Design process, but in addition, it would have the theme around “How does/can science help humanity?” Using this as the big idea for the unit has promise to impact all students projects to think beyond the experiment and into the world.  I’m really excited to hear how they progress and how that supports student engagement as results.

Thanks to all the excellent educators at St George for working with me and allowing me to continue to coach you on your design processes across the grades.

This wraps up my week of reflection- I’ll see you all again in a few months. Until then, keep on enjoying all these amazing reflections on practice!  I know I am!

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Author of
Guided Inquiry Design
Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century
Guided Inquiry Design in Action: Middle School

 

Experimenting with Guided Inquiry in primary school

In this second post of my week in 52 weeks of Guided Inquiry I want to tell you about some of the observations I did during experimenting Guided Inquiry in Finland. As I wrote to you my background is in school libraries. In Kaarina city I had collaboration with two schools, where I connected with two teachers who were eager to try out new ways of working. One of the schools were Finnish speaking and the other was Swedish speaking. With the latter school we had already done a project for a national reading program in form of a reading diploma with exercises done also with a tablet computer.

In these two schools we tried out GI in following groups and subjects:

  • Geography project with a combined class of student in the 4th, 5th, and 6th year students
  • Space project with 5th year students
  • Human biology with 5th year students

We entered Guided Inquiry from information seeking perspective and tried to work on amplifying the information seeking process according to Guided Inquiry Design. We did not use inquiry circles or journals. I am not going to present every project individually, but rather listing some issues that were interesting along the project. The last one, human biology, was the only one I did some information gathering of during and after the project.

Information literacy is used in universities, but the concept has not reached the primary or secondary schools in Finland. Information seeking instruction or information literacy instruction are not a part of teacher studies per se. Surely teacher students are seeking information for their own needs, but it is another business to instruct the students at class. Information seeking instruction is quite often considered to be the job of a librarian. And it is usual, that in the 7th grade a librarian comes to visit the class for 45 minutes during the year to show how the local public library database works. We do understand, that this is not enough. It is usually not combined to some actual learning situation. This is not advancing the information literacy skills of the Generation Z or post-millennials, whose understanding of information environment is totally different than those of the previous generations. We clearly are in need of other kinds of methods.

You have surely been reading about the Finnish schools during the years: Why are Finland’s schools successful?

Finnish education chief: We created a school system based on equality.

ajatuskartta

Picture: Jonna Hellsten-Impivaara

And an American on Fullbright scholar in Finland 11 ways Finland’s education system shows us that “less is more”.

I am not going to go into how Guided Inquiry would change the education as such but rather concentrating on how this would change our perspective of information seeking in Finnish schools. I will not refer to any studies in this blog post. Several of my writings in my own blog refer to same sources. There are several studies that are showing that students tend to look for facts and also, teachers tend to make assignments so that one can carry it out by finding facts. We all know that the digital native reference is a myth and thorough deep information seeking is not common in daily classroom situation in Finland. I often like to refer to the ‘Principle of least effort’ by Zipf in 1949 as well. It feels oftent that the result is more important than the journey.

Here are a list of some observations I want to take up:

  • First of all, the students were puzzled about the Open phase. Where are we going with this?
  • They were not used to seeing the librarian in the classroom. (!)
  • As the students relaxed, the Immerse and Explore phases were cozy, they really got interested and talkative!
  • They found it very difficult to come up with research questions, it was nothing they really had done before. They usually get the assignment from the teacher.
  • At a very early stage they just insisted on starting to write the actual presentation, which indicated to copy/paste information behavior.
  • They all had their booklet where they draw the mind map, writing up keywords and search terms and wrote down the sources they wanted to use. Information management in form of managing sources is poor. Inquiry Journals would have been perfect here for them as well!
  • Mapping out the topic of their choosing was very difficult for some of the student. The mind map could be as large as 8 notebook pages.

But, then positive things from the feedback questionnaires.

  • Students liked the new way of doing things!
  • There is still some curiosity left in a fifth grader!
  • On a scale 1-5 they rated themselves in self-evaluation to 3,9
  • Most difficult phase was presentation!
  • They were learning about information seeking right then and there, while working.
  • They did see, that one needs several sources (to find out which animal was sent to space first!)
  • Second and third most difficult phases were coming up with a topic and structuring it.
  • They strongly felt that they learn something new, it was a different way to learn and it was fun!
  • The teachers was happy that she had finally gotten a partner and she learned too!
  • The students learned to see the librarian in some another role than just lending books and the professional role of the librarian was changed.
  • This way of working brought also long term effects as the students started to use these methods even in the following assignment.

These were the major issues I wanted to take up. The overall feelings of trying out Guided Inquiry were very positive and supportive, both from the students and the teachers. Me as the librarian in the project just loved working like this! Being among the students, involved in their work, guiding them and making an intervention when needed. Giving the student the freedom of doing research, they do manage it. In my mind Guided Inquiry is an excellent way of working, already from the primary school all the way to gymnasium. Now even more important than before.

In the third blog post I will tell you about the educational change we are going through in Finland, about the new core curriculum, and how do I see Guided Inquiry fitting in. And it would fit perfectly!

Best greetings,

Anu