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

Battle Spheres: Open, Immerse, Explore, & Identify

Good evening, fellow GID lovers! I’m back again today to (finally) tell you more about the unit we are developing for Norman Public Schools 5th grade science curriculum. You’ve met our team, read about the importance of a collaborative culture, and heard my thoughts on GID at the district level. Today, I walk through the first four phases of our project so you can see exactly what we’ve planned.

(Note: In this post, you will see shots of our planning team’s notes. If you’re curious, purple items are to-dos, red is the objective, and blue is the actual student activity. If you’re NOT curious, go ahead and make fun of my color-coding.)

OPEN

Our team notes on OPEN

You’ll see we have titled our unit “Battle Sphere”; this unit is being developed around the 5th grade Oklahoma science standards, looking at how the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere interact. To really hook students into the topic, our planning team will create a YouTube playlist of videos depicting these interactions. For example, students will view videos of landslides, weather events, eroded landscapes, and more. Then, the class will have a discussion about the videos, answering the questions:

  • What did the events have in common?
  • Can you think of ways that nature interacts that weren’t in the videos?
  • Has nature ever made changes in your world?

We hope that by showing students these dramatic interactions in videos, they will develop an interest in the topic and begin to form some questions about interactions between the spheres.

IMMERSE

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After they’re hooked, we will begin to immerse students in the content by watching two videos that will help make the spheres and associated vocabulary more accessible and interesting:

Four Spheres Part 1 (Geo and Bio): Crash Course Kids #6.1

Four Spheres Part 2 (Hydro and Atmo): Crash Course Kids #6.2

After viewing the videos, students will build a glossary of new terms they heard in the videos. This is an example the the flexibility I talked about yesterday. Depending on the students, teachers, and resources at the individual site, this step could look very different. Students could do this as a class, in small groups, with the teacher, or with both the teacher and librarian. I love that we are building in adaptability to customize the unit for every school. Where possible, we are encouraging teachers to build this glossary in Google Drive, but no matter how it is done, students will be able to access the glossary throughout the rest of the unit.

 

EXPLORE

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Using an inquiry log, students will explore through a carefully curated resource menu. They will track which resources they viewed and the corresponding questions that were sparked. In my personal experience with Guided Inquiry, I have learned that it is difficult for elementary students to foresee the scope of their research from the beginning phases. If we ask them to explore open-endedly, they can easily get off track, and they don’t understand the benefits of this phases as older students might. Assigning an inquiry log or journal in this phase is crucial to the success and engagement of younger students.

 

IDENTIFY

IMG_7119 (1)

As you can see from the picture of our notes, this phase isn’t quite as fleshed out as the rest yet. To identify which two spheres’ interactions are most interesting to them, the student will use an inquiry journal to elaborate on what they logged in EXPLORE. To facilitate this, our planning team will come up with specific questions for a journal prompt. After evaluating the journal responses, teachers will assign students to inquiry circles based on their area of interest. The inquiry circles will consist of students who are interested in the interactions between the same two spheres, so there will be six inquiry circles. We are allowing for flexibility here, but we discussed how fun it would be to have all 5th grade students in one school divided into these six inquiry circles.

And there you have it: the first four phases of our plan. What do you think? What do you see that you like? What would you change?
Kelsey

Cheese Fondue, Guided Inquiry, and Other Awesome Things

Happy Monday… and Happy National Cheese Fondue Day (nope, I’m not kidding)!

Kelsey Barker

I challenge you to name another job that involves Lorax mustaches.

My name is Kelsey Barker and I am a teacher librarian at Eisenhower Elementary School here in Norman, Oklahoma. That’s right… we are back in Norman, where we have been working hard as a district to implement Guided Inquiry at all levels. I’m so excited to tell you all about the awesome things we are doing here, but first, a little about me.

I guess you could say education is in my blood: I am the child of two public school teachers-turned-administrators (not sure what happened to my business major sister), and despite insisting for 22 years of my life that I would NEVER be a teacher, I find myself in my second year at Eisenhower and loving it every day. Ike is a great place to work: we have a motivated, hard-working staff, supportive administration, and this year, we are undergoing a major renovation. That means a brand new library, complete with Makerspace rooms, is in my future! We serve about 615 students from a huge variety of backgrounds, and a relatively young teaching staff means that we are working in a constant mindset of growth and innovation. Fortunately for me, this means that the teachers in my building are willing to try new ideas all the time!

Kelsey Barker2

Cards and pictures from my students on National School Librarians Day.

When I’m not working at Ike or on projects for the Oklahoma Library Association, I enjoy reading an eclectic mix of children’s, YA, and adult books, doing yoga, going out to eat with my husband (Leslie’s right… we have a lot of great restaurants here!), and spending time with my friends, who double as my mastermind group.

Growing up in Oklahoma in a teaching family, I have no illusions about the state of public education here. Right now, we are facing our worst budget shortfall in years, and it is hurting Norman schools badly. Just last week, we found out that we will not have library assistants next year. For me, this means I will have to get creative with how to keep my current standard of teaching while also managing the daily administrative tasks of the library. While that seems daunting, it also motivates me to work harder to continue doing innovative things and providing the best possible learning experiences for my students. Thankfully, I work in a district that is constantly working to promote learning for students and teachers alike, and will continue to support movements like Guided Inquiry going forward.

For me, Guided Inquiry is all I have ever known: I was introduced to GID through professional development with other Norman Public Schools librarians in the fall of 2014, when I had just started at NPS. I hear talk of the Big Six and other methods from my fellow librarians, but for me, it has always been Guided Inquiry. We read the book, and I immediately fell in love with the idea that, through the process, students take ownership of their own learning. I could easily see how the elements of engagement, relevance, and especially student choice lead to those outcomes that all educators are aiming for every day. I was excited to try it out!

Over the course of last year, I began slowly implementing pieces of the process. Using only the book and the PD we had done, I designed my first Guided Inquiry unit last spring, using first grade as my guinea pigs. Looking back on this unit after completing the 3-day PD with Leslie in October, it’s embarrassing how many important pieces of the process I missed! But we were trying, and even with incomplete, imperfect lessons, I could see the magic of Guided Inquiry coming to life with my students, and I was sold.

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First graders using PebbleGo in the GATHER phase of my very first Guided Inquiry unit

After teaching that unit (and presenting it at a district conference), I became an unofficial champion of Guided Inquiry, especially for use with primary grades. My first unit was designed for first grade mostly because of the willingness of the team and the fact that 3rd-5th grades were testing that month, but it was obvious to me that this process WORKED, no matter the age. That’s why, when it came time to choose a classroom teacher for the Guided Inquiry Institute our district sponsored in October, it was important to me to choose a primary grade teacher to join our Gifted Resource Coordinator, Instructional Coach, and myself. I wanted to prove to everyone else what I had already seen first-hand.

Team Ike at the Guided Inquiry Institute in Norman, October 2015. (Leslie now has her own matching Ike shirt). From left: Maggie Allen, Gifted Resource Coordinator; Karen Campbell, 1st grade teacher; Lisa Raiber, Instructional Coach; Kelsey Barker, Teacher Librarian; Leslie Maniotes

Team Ike at the Guided Inquiry Institute in Norman, October 2015. (Leslie now has her own matching Ike shirt).
From left: Maggie Allen, Gifted Resource Coordinator; Karen Campbell, 1st grade teacher; Lisa Raiber, Instructional Coach; Kelsey Barker (me), Teacher Librarian; Leslie Maniotes

If I do say so myself, Team Ike killed it at the Institute. We developed an in-depth study of the impact of human beings on the environment for first graders. This science unit falls in April, so we are just getting started with it now, but I am confident it will be an awesome learning experience for our kids.

Team Ike planning away at the Guided Inquiry Institute!

Team Ike planning away at the Guided Inquiry Institute!

As Leslie told you last week, I’ve led a few more Guided Inquiry units at Eisenhower since the institute, and I would say we are on our way to having school-wide Guided Inquiry implementation by the end of the school year.

In February, I was asked, along with four other NPS librarians, to be a part of a team developing a Guided Inquiry unit for 5th grade science curriculum. It has been an awesome experience so far, but I’m going to leave you in suspense on the details. You see, it just so happens that next week’s 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry guest blogger is a part of that team, too, and we have decided to shake up the format and spend the next two weeks taking turns telling you about our experience. Tomorrow, you’ll hear from Buffy, who won’t tell you that she is one of the most incredible librarians out there, mentor to many and admired by everyone who knows her. I’m excited to share these weeks discussing our science unit with her, and as readers, you’ll get to see two different perspectives on the same idea.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have some cheese fondue…

 

Kelsey Barker

Teacher Librarian

Eisenhower Elementary School

Norman, OK

when learning runs deep

I love twitter!  There, I have met some awesome educators, had great little conversations with amazing folks about education and my PLN (personal learning network) has grown since I started tweeting eight years ago… I didn’t like twitter at first, but once I realized the potential for connecting and sharing with other educators, I was hooked.  I realize that my work in education is one thing in life that gives me incredible joy! I love this work, the creative component of designing instruction that makes kids laugh and love learning motivates me to work hard and for long hours (I’m known as a hard working’ momma in my house).

Sometimes twitter brings me little gifts that are presents from people whose lives I’ve touched through the professional development I have led on Guided Inquiry Design.  And today, just now, was one of those moments. And so in the spirit of my Quaker education I have been rightly moved to share this with you all.

This year I have had the pleasure of partnering with Norman Public Schools and it has been so gratifying, mainly because they wanted to do it right.  They insisted that they wanted to cut no corners, and because of that, now, we are all reaping the rewards.  I have made some new friends in Guided Inquiry, met some AMAZING educators, eaten some yummy food- seriously there are so many good restaurants in Norman, OK, you must go and visit the University and dine in the many fun and yummy restaurants around town.  It’s a great place.  Well, and if you know me… if it’s not about education and the people, it’s all about the food!  😀

But I digress… so the leaders (Kathryn LewisShirley Simmons and Beth Spears) in Norman decided to do it right. What does “doing it right” look like?  Well, we have had 3 full Guided Inquiry Design Institutes where I taught teams to “fish”. Librarians, instructional coaches and teachers learned about the design and how to design units of inquiry together. They were looking for K-12 implementation so at lest one team from each school came to an institute this year.

So I got a tweet from Norman today that was evidence that they are fishing, big time!

I have to take it back a little, because today’s tweet has a little backstory. This one  elementary librarian Kelsey Barker, during the institute, decided to visualize the plan for her team.  I love the way she used post-its to mirror the process as a visual aide to her team’s design process. This photo was taken at one of the institutes this fall.  I placed the picture next to the GID process so you can see the match. She used a sticky note for each phase while the team was developing their design and then placed them in line just like the process.  This was a summary of their plans, not their entire thing but a synopsis to be sure they captured the essence of each phase.

Kelsey Barker ProcessGID Process

The district leaders asked each school to implement one unit this school year, but as Guided Inquiry does when people have a deep understanding of the process and all the components, it began to take hold.  At some schools, like Kelsey’s, the people who attended  the PD welcomed more designing and more implementation, as they saw the effects on student learning, and engagement. IKE was one of those places.

A few months later, I got another image, as Kelsey was working with another team at her school to design yet another unit. (See photo) I was a proud teacher at that moment because not only was Kelsey able to continue beyond district expectations, she was still grounded in the materials from the Institute (Institute notebook in the background). She was referencing the phases true intent while designing and clearly showing that “inquiry stance” (as opposed to a ‘know it all’ stance). Kelsey was taking risks and applying everything that she had learned in our time together.

Kelsey Barker Design time2

And, today they have gone BIG!

I just got this tweet showing that they continue to use this format as a way to plan.  This plan is more public. Using large stickies like this is a great way to make a plan and then get feedback right on the phases. It makes the thinking transparent for all to see and opens the conversation.  This happens to be a group of five working to design a unit of science on spheres for the district.  In this case, large stickies was the way to go! That’s Kelsey in the picture and Buffy took the photo, thought of me, and tweeted it out!  Thank you ladies!  These things make me so proud and happy, you have no idea.

Big Design Kelsey

Because of the PD, the educators in Norman are continually showing how they can extend what they learned in those intense 3 days and not just stop with that first iteration. This is only one excellent example of all the good things happening with GID in Norman.  Good learning runs deep.  That’s what we want in our PD for teachers, learning that can be extended and applied in a multitude of ways.  And, it’s what we want for our students. We want to provide a rich context for learning. We want to connect learning to life where what students learn doesn’t only stay in the classroom but connects outward in a multitude of ways. Learning can be applied and transferred to other areas of life when the learning runs deep.

The Guided Inquiry Design Institute did just that for these folks. And, I couldn’t be more proud!

Leslie Maniotes, PhD