Breakout Box

My goal this week on the blog was to share my experiences and thoughts about making time for critical learning experiences in the Open, Immerse, and Explore phases of inquiry learning. Analyzing our own attitudes toward how we decide to spend our time in our classrooms is the first critical step. Then remember that you are not alone! When classroom teachers and school librarians collaborate, we can create some truly exciting opportunities for our students!

On Wednesday, I shared an idea to invite local community members to your library during the Immerse phase and plan gallery walks to expose students to lots of different types of information sources during Explore. Another fun idea to try during the Immerse phase is a breakout box activity!

Modeled after escape rooms, a breakout box activity can take many different forms and can be used in any classroom and level. Students can work as a whole group, in small groups, with a partner, or individually to solve clues, unlock locks, and discover what’s hidden in the locked box! Even our high school students get active and enthusiastic. One teacher said, “I see some of my students participating who usually do nothing!” One school librarian in my district planned a breakout activity for the faculty during an in-service day before school started.

We have successfully designed 3 breakout experiences: library orientation, book censorship, and the beginnings of the Cold War. We began by purchasing a box set from Breakout EDU which was $100. However, you can buy your own boxes and locks for less than that. The advantage to buying from the website is that you get access to hundreds of lesson plans. The set includes invisible ink pens with a special flashlight, which is incredibly fun for the students to use to solve clues. Also included is a small USB drive. I made a short video of myself giving a clue, saved the video on the USB drive, and hid the drive in a book.

To begin, create a scenario that is exciting for students. For example, when we use the breakout for library orientation, we play music from Mission Impossible while reading aloud the following:

“You and your friends have been investigating a biochemist on suspicions that he is making bioweapons. His evil plans are locked in a black box in order to prevent you from finding them and destroying them. You must find the evil plans and destroy them or this mysterious villain will unleash a deadly virus in 30 minutes!”

For book censorship: “A group of parents is angry about some of the books available for checkout in the library. Specifically, they are complaining about To Kill a Mockingbird, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Harry Potter. They have locked the offensive books in a large, black box and are planning a book burning ceremony in order to get rid of these controversial books! You have 30 minutes to save these books from an untimely and unjust end!”

For the beginnings of the Cold War: “World War II has officially been declared over with the unconditional surrender of Germany. While people around the world celebrate, another conflict has been brewing between the Allies, even before the war ended. The new world superpowers the Soviet Union and the United States are battling for territory and influence after the Nazi threat is defeated. As the United States is concerned about the imminent spread of communism, the Soviet Union also begins its own nuclear program. This new cold war has the potential to end in total devastation. You are the superpowers, the Americans versus the Soviets, working against the clock to prevent a world-ending nuclear holocaust. Be the first country to unlock the nuclear codes and get them out of the hands of the enemy. If you fail, your opponent will acquire your country’s nuclear codes, and a mushroom cloud may be in your future. You have 30 minutes to overcome Cold War mistrust and tensions to save the world.”

For the Cold War activity, we passed out paper copies of Soviet Union and American flags to students as they walked into the library, dividing them into two teams. This idea helped create an atmosphere to mirror the tensions of the Cold War (obviously on a smaller scale!). Each team worked to solve clues, but the box wouldn’t be completely unlocked unless both teams were successful. 

Design the clues so that students must access a variety of library resources in order to solve the puzzles and unlock the locks. For example, we use print books, eBooks, databases, infographics, and more. When we use this for library orientation, it’s a great way to test if they know how to use an index. And if they don’t, they’ll figure it out quickly because they become competitive and don’t want time to run out!

Here’s one clue from each of our activities so you can see examples if you haven’t created one yet. Library orientation: Those pesky librarians are always changing things around…this time, they have adopted a new way to use online resources called MackinVIA. Apparently they have given each student their own login. Go to schoology and open the MackinVIA link. Open the Opposing Viewpoints database. Some people call me a bully (imagine that!) and I want to know just how many news articles are available for me to read under the bullying topic.” Book censorship: “It’s not easy to stop people who want to burn books! For the first step in finding the key, figure out which book is number 6 on the list of books most challenged in 2016 as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom.” The Cold War: “You must find the type of uranium used in the center of the secondary fusion device to accomplish the most powerful explosion from the nuclear bomb before the other team. What is it? (Hint: Find Matt Bougie’s Strategic Inventions of the Cold War.)”

Most importantly, HAVE FUN! Use a free website to create fake text messages. I created the following conversation between Truman and Stalin as part of what was in the locked box during the Cold War breakout. You can get really creative with a breakout activity! Use QR codes. Maybe your principal could play a role or make a guest appearance.

Breakout experiences are effective during the Immerse phase because students become exposed to lots of information through solving various clues. Design the clues so students use content area knowledge to solve them. After the breakout experience, debrief students. Have them share answers to clues if they worked on solving different ones. From here, students can choose which aspects they encountered during the breakout to investigate further in the Explore phase.

I hope you have enjoyed my blog posts for this week. I truly believe in the importance of educators making time for what matters and modeling their own curiosity and excitement to learn for their students.

-Jamie Gregory, NBCT, Duncan, SC


GID and Me: A Love Story

Hello fellow GIDers!

I am Amanda Kordeliski and I am currently the teacher librarian at Norman North High School in Norman, OK (yes, I am yet another of those Norman GID fanatics). This post is lagging behind when it should have appeared on Leslie’s fantastic blog because this is the first week of winter break for us. You know how you have all these good intentions of how your winter break is going to be the most productive week ever and then you set your computer and your planner aside and don’t touch them for six days? That’s me this week. I stepped away from the crazy of holiday planning and shopping to look at my “real” to-do list this morning and panicked at the thought of not getting my stuff up on the blog!

I have always been an advocate for student centered learning. I see the difference it makes in my own kids at home and with GId I get to see the impact at school as well. Long time readers of this blog will already know that my district adopted Guided Inquiry several years ago and we are in the process of training all our teachers in GId. My journey started alongside the other librarians back in 2013 when all the district librarians did a book study of Leslie’s first Guided Inquiry Design Framework book. Reading this book and seeing the how the framework followed the flow and design of the Information Search Process was my lightbulb moment.

When I say I had a lightbulb moment, I know everyone pictures a thoughtful librarian with a little lightbulb over her head. This is not what happened. See, in grad school when I was studying all the different Information Search Process modules and writing papers over their pros and cons and which ones worked and for what kinds of knowledge users etc, etc, I fell in love with Kuhlthau’s ISP. It spoke to me. I saw in her process exactly how I learn, and I was smitten. So when I say I had a lightbulb moment as I was reading Guided Inquiry Design for the first time, I mean I had a moment when I was jumping up and down in my living room trying to explain how exciting it was that all the things I had written about in grad school about learning and information searching were suddenly packaged in this amazing process with steps and a clear path for students to become inquiry based learners. It crystallized for me all the things I didn’t even realize I needed. It was exactly the thing I was searching for and this was a full blown fangirl moment. There might have been dancing and cheering involved.

I took this new, bubbling  enthusiasm to school with me (Up until last year I was the teacher librarian at Irving Middle School in Norman, I just jumped to high school in 2016) shared the book and a slew of ideas with a sixth grade teacher I had a great co-teaching relationship with, and our first Guided Inquiry unit was born. I will say looking back at the unit now and all the things I did wrong kind of make me cringe, but it is great way to look at the evolution of a unit and how I’ve grown as a teacher librarian to compare my first lesson to my current ones. The next school year I attended Leslie’s Institute and learned how to truly plan a successful GID. At school GID slowly spread from one grade to another and then began moving across content areas. 

Now that you know my love story with Guided Inquiry, in the next blog (the last two will come fast and furious in the next two days) I will share my experience working with our psychology teacher this past semester. We had the opportunity to shape the Psych II class into a complete GID semester long experience. I can’t wait to share!


Amanda Kordeliski

Teacher Librarian

Norman North High School

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

Slow and Steady: A long road to GId

Metuchen is a lovely historic town in central New Jersey, at the crossroads of transportation in our state. Metuchen is a small town, encircled by Edison Township. Just how small is it? Even lifelong NJ residents might not know exactly where it’s located! Some people may recognize Metuchen as a stop on NJ Transit’s Northeast Corridor line, an exit on the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 1, or Interstate 287.

Metuchen has a walkable downtown, and tons of local character and community spirit – arts & craft festivals, parades, community programs for all ages at the local public library, summer programs at the schools, the list goes on!

Metuchen is proud of its history, and protective of its tree-lined streets graced by historic homes – the tree canopy is even protected by local ordinance. 

Our District has four schools, with Edgar Middle School as home to 750 students in grades 5-8. Edgar School sent a team of four to the 2016 CISSL Guided Inquiry Summer Institute at Rutgers University: Dr. Tiffany Jacobson, then-Supervisor of English & Social Studies; Melissa Kovacs and Kristin Bruno, 6th grade ELA teachers; and Maryrose Little, librarian (me!), with the intention of designing a 6th grade ELA curricular unit to be used in the spring of 2017.

How did we find ourselves at CISSL Summer Institute? The short answer: an amazingly supportive, approachable, and open-minded principal and supervisor. The longer answer: a long and circuitous route that began in 2008, when I first learned about Guided Inquiry Design in the Rutgers MLIS program.

In my mind, Guided Inquiry Design is not a solo act. In my first SLMS position after graduation (‘08), I didn’t manage to find a collaborative partner willing to dip his/her toes into GID with me, so Guided Inquiry lived only in my head and on my librarian bucket list for years. It was kept alive by sessions at our NJASL annual conference, where I listened to other school librarians describe their collaborative partnerships, and how their students benefitted from Guided Inquiry experiences. “Maybe someday”, I thought wistfully, with a touch of envy.

When I moved to Metuchen’s Edgar Middle School in 2014, I looked across all four grades to try to understand how research was taught – from our 5th grade Explorers project to the 8th grade ROGATE program. Over time, I spoke with administrators, librarians at our other schools, teachers, and our Director of Curriculum about how we teach our students to perform research, K-12. Did I mention I love research? Along the way, I read Guided inquiry design : a framework for inquiry in your school, and peeked in on Dr. Maniotes’s edWeb webinars, where I learned another CISSL GID Summer Institute would be offered in July 2016. Maybe someday was here! But how to make that happen for us?

My principal Kathy Glutz listened patiently and thoughtfully as I described Guided Inquiry, then suggested I reach out to Dr. Tiffany Jacobson, our ELA and Social Studies Supervisor – what better content areas?  Dr. Jacobson invited me to join in curriculum mapping with the 6th grade ELA team, who hadn’t yet mapped their non-fiction text unit, and we continued to talk about Guided Inquiry – what grade, teachers, and content area made the most sense to approach?

Ultimately, Tiffany asked me to describe Guided Inquiry and the CISSL Summer Institute to the 6th grade ELA team during one of our mapping sessions.  I spoke briefly, showed the team this blog (thank you, Leslie and bloggers!), and floated the idea of attending the upcoming Summer Institute. Our facilitator, Deanne Opatosky, hadn’t previously heard of Guided Inquiry, but she immediately recognized its value, and made connections to our locally-developed Metuchen Common Research Cycle used at our elementary school. Of the teachers who expressed interest, two were available during July: Kristin Bruno and Melissa Kovacs. All the stars had aligned in Metuchen, and it looked as if we were heading off to the Summer Institute!

Well, not so fast – there was that pesky little detail of actually applying! We brainstormed to come up with a topic that our students might find interesting. Most of us didn’t know the term “Third Space” yet, but we knew enough to make a start. We thought about Metuchen’s history and current local “issues” – what kinds of things might families be talking about over dinner? What was going on in Metuchen that our students might care about? None of us live in town, which made it a bit tricky, but something we see daily is our school bursting at the seams – there are not enough classrooms for our student body, plus there’s more building going on in Metuchen. Is the lovely little history-laden town going to lose its small-town feel? Is the character of Metuchen, which keeps families living here generation after generation, changing?  We chose ‘Change’ as our idea, wrote our proposal, mailed it off, fingers crossed, and were thrilled to learn we’d been accepted!

CISSL Guided Inquiry Design Summer Institute was an amazing experience – if anyone reading this is on the fence, go for it! We were treated to an opening which included Dr. Kuhlthau’s review of her career and findings, which powerfully set the stage for our learning. Every librarian in the room knew what a treat this was; by the time she’d finished speaking, so did everyone else. We worked hard over our 3 days, and by the time all was said and done, our ‘Change’ theme had morphed into ‘Urbanization’. Additional curriculum-writing time over the summer resulted in a 8-10 week curriculum unit, intended for use by all 6th grade ELA classes. 180 student researchers at once! An ambitious plan for what we hoped would be a powerful learning experience.

Our unit was set for 4th marking period – no pressure, right? Our September and November in-service days were spent with other teachers who were interested in inquiry-based learning – an opportunity to share what we’d learned at the Institute, but had yet to practice in the classroom. But how could we bring the rest of the 6th grade ELA team fully on board with GID and our unit? As marking period 4 approached, we asked for one day to meet to hash out all the remaining details, and give ELA teachers who hadn’t attended the Institute time to wrap their minds around the process and the curriculum unit. At the end of that day, we had well-defined session plans for Open, Immerse, and Explore, including resources to share.

Fourth marking period was then upon us, but 6th grade PARCC testing and spring break caused our 8-10 week long unit to be pared down to 7 weeks. At the beginning of May, we boarded the GI train, each of us feeling various amounts of trepidation and preparedness, but curious to see where the journey would take us.

Details of our adventures in coming posts!

Maryrose Little, Librarian
Edgar Middle School
Metuchen, NJ

Anatoly Sukhanov [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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

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

Plans: When they Fall Through and Making them for the Future

Happy weekend, GIDers! It’s Kelsey Barker again. I hope you have had a wonderful week. Mine was really busy! May always seems to be jam-packed with meetings, banquets and ceremonies, retirement and graduation parties, field trips, and other special events that make it fly by. We only have 14 more days of school here in Norman, and the kids (and teachers!) are feeling the nearness of summer vacation!

I’m so glad that my blogging week fell in May this year; while I would normally be just trying to get through this month, writing about this unit has required me to pause and reflect. Plus, it’s fun to share with like-minded GID lovers around the world. So without further ado: the rest of our unit!


You’ll remember that we left off with students identifying inquiry questions using the Level 1, 2, and 3 questions framework. Their questions were so varied and hit on all periods of history, from Cleopatra to Colin Keapernick. I love that they were able to make connections between their topic and that of their classmates.

In a normal Guided Inquiry unit, I would co-teach with the classroom teacher all the way through the Gather phase. But due to the scope of this unit, that wasn’t physically possible. So I created this document of model Gather session plans to give teachers an idea of how I would structure a Gather session. Some of them followed it to the letter, others used bits and pieces. The important thing is that we provided some structure to our students as they look for information to answer their inquiry question.

We had students start out using the resources provided by National History Day before moving on to databases and web searches to find more resources. Due to the range of topics covered by their inquiry questions, they often had to look for their own resources to help them find answers.



We provided students with a choice board and rubric they used to create their final products. I was amazed at how many students opted for one of the low-tech products like a poster or skit. This could be a testament to their frustration with the age and lack of reliability of our school computers, or it could be that they spend all day connected and wanted to do something different. I’d love your feedback on this, readers!



We had planned to set up a gallery walk in the library for one week where every student displayed their product for the rest of the school to see. Due to time constraints, this is not going to happen this year. Instead, students shared their products in class through presentations or displays. Some students who created digital products asked me to publish them on YouTube or other sites so they could share them with their parents. In future iterations of this project, I would love to create an online NHD museum where students and parents could view student work all in one place!



Back in their inquiry journals, students journaled in response to prompts about the content and process of this unit. They also were asked to describe how their idea of what it means to take a stand changed through this unit.



As with any unit, there were aspects of the NHD project I would want to change for next year. We designed the unit to stretch through the year in part because of our lack of computers for students to use. Next year, our district is going 1:1, so that thankfully won’t be a problem! I would love to complete this unit in one month to help students keep up momentum and engagement. In the future, I would also like to be sure to make the Share phase a big deal for our students; they deserve the opportunity to show off their incredible learning.

However, a lot of good came from this unit as well: we can say that every student at Longfellow has completed a Guided Inquiry unit this year, which I don’t think many other schools can say! We developed a common language around questioning and the GID process, and we definitely worked out some kinks and had feedback I’ve already been able to apply in units with other subject areas. And overall, I think our students really enjoyed the process, especially being in control of their own learning. With a couple of units under their belts, I’m so excited to see what this group of kids will be able to accomplish next year. But first, summer vacation!

In Which I Become a YouTube Star

Happy Wednesday!

It’s Kelsey Barker again, back to give you an overview of the first half of our National History Day (NHD) Guided Inquiry unit. Before we get started, here’s a little background: in September, the Longfellow social studies department chair told me that the social studies curriculum coordinator for Norman Public Schools had encouraged secondary teachers to use the NHD program in their classes. The department chair clearly understands the value of a teacher librarian because she came to me about facilitating student research! After some discussion about the depth and difficulty of NHD, we settled on restructuring it with the Guided Inquiry process to make it accessible for all students. Even though no one in our social studies department had been through the Guided Inquiry Institute and I was brand new to Longfellow, the entire department took a leap of faith and agreed to try it. I think that is a testament to the open minds and incredible passion of these teachers!

In order to facilitate this unit on such a large scale, we built a website for the social studies teachers to use as a resource to guide them through the process. A page for each phase featured the purpose of the phase (critical for untrained teachers), a general timeline, estimated duration, resources including anything that students used, and an activity outline. That website can be found here. If there is anything here that is useful to you, please feel free to use it… and let me know how it worked for you! I’m always happy to share resources.


Because the concept of this unit (and the NHD theme for the year) was “Taking a Stand,” students viewed videos from a series called “What Would You Do?” featuring difficult social situations. In groups, they discussed the following questions:

  • Who in the video took a stand?
  • What could have cause them to do so?
  • What would you have done in that situation?

The students were dramatically indignant watching some of these videos! This introduced them to the idea that there are many ways to take a stand.



Considering the concept of Taking a Stand, students journaled in inquiry journals about people in everyday life who took a stand, including themselves. Looking back, I would have loved to give them more of an experience: perhaps a guest speaker who took a stand for something significant. But that’s why I love this blog so much: it’s a great opportunity to reflect and learn and grow!



The National History Day organization has an excellent list of curated resources available on their website, and we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel! In Explore, students dipped into these resources and looked for topics and themes that interested them. We created a NHD Google Doc that students would use through the rest of the process. We have since duplicated this inquiry log/journal/chart combo for multiple units, so our students have become used to the format.

At this point, different grade levels had different expectations for their students. Some required a set number of boxes filled in during Explore, and some were less prescriptive about this phase. The unit was designed to be flexible depending on the teacher, grade level, and individual students.



Immediately, I knew that the Identify phase was where teachers would need my assistance the most. In my experience, the most difficult part of GID for teachers to grasp is that students are writing their own inquiry questions. To facilitate this, we had the Gifted Resource Coordinator, classroom teachers, and myself on deck each day of Identify. Looking back, it’s amazing what we accomplished with 750 students and 5 teachers who had never written inquiry questions before!

We decided early on that we needed a structure for questioning that would become common language across the school. We agreed on Level 1, 2, and 3 questioning, a framework loosely based on an AVID strategy and adapted to fit our needs. I did a day of leveled questioning practice with every single class before we started writing inquiry questions, and due to the scope of the project, made this video about Level 1, 2, and 3 questions to use as a review. Now that video has over 700 views on YouTube… wow!

I’m a believer that conferencing with students is critical at the Identify phase in middle school. There is so much growth potential when a member of the learning team can work with a student one-on-one to craft the best possible Level 3 question that also draws that students’ interest. We continued to use this model in later units.

To this point in the process, we kept the activities very simple. I wanted the classroom teachers to have a positive first experience with GID. It was also the first Guided Inquiry unit for many of our students, so we were all learning together.

Come back on Friday to hear about the last four phases, the lessons we learned for next year, and how I managed to teach 750 students at one time!

Kelsey Barker

Teacher Librarian

Longfellow Middle School

Guess who’s back, back again…

Hello again, GIDers!

I’m Kelsey Barker, teacher librarian for Norman Public Schools in Norman, Oklahoma. You may remember me from the last time I blogged with the incredible Buffy Edwards around this time last year. Now I’m back with another year of GID under my belt and lots to share!

This year, I transitioned from my position in an elementary to a middle school in the same district. Middle school has always had my heart, and I’m so happy to back with this strange, delightful, hilarious age at Longfellow. Despite moving up, I’m still a huge advocate for Guided Inquiry in elementary school, and thankfully connecting with librarians across the US on Twitter has allowed me to keep talking about my passion for GID at all ages (shout out to Jen and her team in Wisconsin!).

Working with a new set of students isn’t the only thing that has changed since the last time we talked. I’ve been lucky to have become a Guided Inquiry Coach last summer, and I was thrilled to be among the first ever Guided Inquiry Trainers when our district implemented this program with Leslie Maniotes in February. My GID journey has been incredibly fulfilling and more fun than I could have imagined, and I’m only getting started!

Here are the first NPS secondary trainers: That’s me squinting on the left, followed by Cindy Castell, Amanda Kordeliski, Martha Pangburn, and Leslie Maniotes, Professional Developer for GID.

Additionally, my new school, along with two others in Norman, was chosen to be a part of a half-million-dollar IMLS grant that will study Guided Inquiry and Makerspaces in schools. These last few weeks have been full of ordering Makerspace materials, planning two new Guided Inquiry units, and working with our learning team on what exactly it looks like to teach four full-scale Guided Inquiry units in one year in 7th grade Language Arts.

I have been living the GID life this year, and I wouldn’t change a thing. At Longfellow, we have had 16 teachers participate in 6 Guided Inquiry units this year with plans to expand next year. Every student at Longfellow has experienced at least two GID units this year, and a lucky handful of students have done up to four Between our widespread implementation, coaching and training, and the IMLS grant, I definitely have a lot to say about GID… way too much for a week’s worth of blog posts!

So I’m going to be sharing just one unit, and it’s our most ambitious unit of the year: a whole-school, year-long unit designed around the National History Day program that every single student participated in through their social studies class. With a learning team of seven and not one social studies classroom teacher trained in GID (yet!), it was an exercise in preparation, faith, and flexibility. I can’t wait to share our successes, failures, and lessons learned along the way.

Until next time!

Kelsey Barker

Teacher Librarian

Longfellow Middle School

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, 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.


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