Taking Steps Back So We Can Move Forward

Happy weekend, friends!

This post brings to a close the discussion of our Norman Public Schools Guided Inquiry unit for 5th grade science. Coincidentally, yesterday was our third planning meeting, so we want to tell you a little about our work then.

In our last meeting, we made some great progress fleshing out the student activities and hammering out tasks. Today was a little different: we ran into some philosophical roadblocks. But not only is it necessary to solve these problems now, before the unit goes to the teachers, but it was productive and thought-provoking to discuss with the planning team.

But before we get into that, let’s talk about what we did:

The NPS Dream Team! From left: Kelsey Barker, Buffy Edwards, Lee Nelson, Jeff Patterson, Teresa Lansford, Glen Stanley, Toni Gay

The NPS Dream Team!
From left: Kelsey Barker, Buffy Edwards, Lee Nelson, Jeff Patterson, Teresa Lansford, Glen Stanley, Toni Gay

 

Immediately, we divided the team into two groups: Jeff and Glen started working on the hands-on investigations for the unit, while the rest of us began to discuss the instructional sequence for each phase. Based on the comments Leslie left on this post regarding the student’s’ ability to generate their own questions, we discussed how to facilitate this in our unit. We both agree that one of the hardest parts of Guided Inquiry is getting young students to ask questions that will lead to the desired learning goals. We ultimately decided to give the teachers (optional) sentence stems to kick off the question-asking in the right direction.

At this point, Jeff had us take a step back and discuss possible interactions between each of the six combinations of speheres. As a group, we listed as many possible in each category… and quickly realized that this is HARD! But we could start to see some patterns emerging, and this exercise made everything else seem a bit more doable.

More giant sticky notes!

More giant sticky notes!

 

Because the spontaneous brainstorming activity was so useful for us, we decided to make it a part of the EXPLORE phase. As students look through their resources and begin to generate questions, they will add the interactions they come across to a master list. Ah, the power of collective brainstorming!

We also realized through brainstorming that most interactions involve 3 or even 4 of the spheres. It was so fun to interact with the content like the students will be doing! So we changed the objective of CREATE to state “Students will create an infographic showing the interactions between AT LEAST 2 spheres.” This opens up the opportunity for students to develop their infographic with 3 spheres from the start.

With our plan outlined, we took a step back to look at the big picture, and we realize another aspect of our planning process that is different from designing a site-specific plan: we don’t know the dynamics of the teachers who will use it. Fifth grade teachers in NPS may or may not have been trained in Guided Inquiry. They may or may not have done a previous GI unit, and as Jeff pointed out, they may have varying levels of comfort with the science content, technology tools, and standards.  

To add to our challenges, we see our unit potentially  functioning as district-wide marketing for Guided Inquiry. As librarians, as we work to implement the process in our schools, we have to help our staff understand that it is a worthwhile endeavor. A bad experience with this 5th grade unit could put a whole grade level off of Guided Inquiry. No pressure!

The planning team hard at work

The planning team hard at work

These are new challenges for our team, and while it’s good that we are dealing with them now, it feel especially imperative that we get it right the first time. Ultimately, following Jeff’s advice, we settled on providing as much support and as many suggestions and ideas in the teacher guide as possible. Teachers who are (understandably) uncomfortable with the new process will be able to follow the prescribed outline, while others will still have room for flexibility and innovation. Not only will this structure support teachers who may be uncomfortable with the process, but it will also help make the process (and the students) successful, which will hopefully help teachers understand the value of the Guided Inquiry process. When we introduce the unit to teachers, we will also make sure they understand our intentions that every site will be able to tailor the unit to their particular needs. And as Jeff said, what they do after we give them the plans is up to them. 

So that’s where we are at. Every member of our team has some homework so that when we meet in two weeks, we can refine and finalize our plans. We cannot wait to see the final product of this unit!

It’s been so much fun blogging this week, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our Guided Inquiry adventure. Perhaps after  the unit has been implemented we can share how it went and have feedback from teachers and students as well.  Until then — Cheers to success with all your  Guided Inquiry endeavors!
Kelsey & Buffy

Meet the Team

Happy Thursday, and happy Dolphin Day!

Now that you’ve been introduced to Buffy and me, I’m going to introduce the rest of the team involved in developing a Guided Inquiry unit for our 5th grade science curriculum.

Kathryn Lewis is the Director of Media Services and Instructional Technology, and she is credited with bringing Guided Inquiry Design to Norman Public Schools.

Jeff Patterson is the Science Curriculum Coordinator for NPS. He has been involved in the Guided Inquiry process in Norman from the beginning, helping teachers to break down the science standards in our units. In this unit, he is in charge of the experiments and hands-on investigations that the students will be doing.

Lee Nelson is the Technology Integration Specialist at NPS. She is helping our team as we look at where and what technology to integrate in our unit, as well as how the unit could evolve in the future as we acquire more technology. This is especially exciting, as a recent bond will give us LOTS more tech in the classroom!

Teresa Lansford is the National Board certified teacher librarian at Lincoln Elementary in Norman. She has previously worked with Jeff on designing a similar Guided Inquiry unit for the 4th grade science curriculum, so she has been a great asset in getting our team going.

Glen Stanley is the teacher librarian at Roosevelt Elementary in Norman. He is also a former science teacher and very familiar with the content of our unit.

Toni Gay is the librarian at Reagan Elementary in Norman.

With Buffy and me, that makes up our team! We are a diverse group, with different interests and specialties, but we all bring something unique to the table as we go forward designing this unit. I think that is important to help us design a unit that gives students the experience of the Guided Inquiry process, but that is still accessible (read: not overwhelming) to teachers who may or may not have gone through the institute with Leslie.

We were first asked to collaborate on this unit in February. At our first meeting, Jeff introduced the topic and broke down the content for us. I will be honest — at this point, I was feeling very overwhelmed!  With a background in languages and literature, the content of this unit was foreign to me. I probably had not thought about the hydrosphere or biosphere since… 5th grade science!

But that’s the great thing about Guided Inquiry: I don’t need to know everything there is to know about a topic, and my students can ask questions that exceed the scope of my knowledge. It feels uncomfortable, sometimes, to not know the answers that we want our students find; this is the biggest hurdle that I see teachers struggling with in Guided Inquiry units.

In our second meeting, things got real as we started breaking down the unit. Teresa and Jeff came with some great ideas for activities, but we were still only working with pieces of the unit. We knew the learning goals, but how would students show their learning? How would the investigations fit into the unit? And most importantly, how could we encourage collaboration between teachers and librarians while giving teachers what they need to implement the unit in their classrooms?

Thankfully, Jeff shares my love of sticky notes, and after we filled in what we had, we could more easily see the gaps we had to fill. I guess this is why Leslie’s lesson plan template says “design with the end in mind” at the top: you can’t know where to start until you know where you’re ending up.

GIANT Stickies!!!

GIANT Stickies!!!

I know that not everyone is as visual as me, but I really recommend my “sticky note” method for designing a Guided Inquiry unit. It is so helpful to view the entire unit at one time. This strategy makes it easier to see how each step informs the next, how the individual phases blend together to form a cohesive unit.
So what you’re seeing here is really the birth of a unit. It’s not perfect, and it’ll evolve and update over the next few weeks as we write it, and I’m sure we’ll have edits to make after the first time it is taught. But we are off to an exciting start, and I can’t wait to see where the planning takes us!