The Questions that Drive Me Forward

At the end of the day, there are always more questions than answers and this is what keeps pushing forward to learn more.  Guided Inquiry and Deign Thinking were never intended to work together, but they do have interesting similarities that can be leveraged to benefit each other.  But what are the challenges that present themselves when using these models either together or individually?

The first that comes to my mind is in the process of helping students to find their Third Space.  How do we better connect students with topics that are meaningful to them?  I’ve spent significant time with students who just can’t seem to find that topic that has personal meaning within the curricular domain that we are studying.  I’ve had students who flip flop between projects as they try to find that one design problem them that they really need to solve.  Guided Inquiry certainly has some ideas that support this process through the Open, Immerse and Explore phases and these can be leveraged in or before an Empathy phase in Design Thinking but there always seems to be one or more students who are so connected to the game of school or disconnected from the subject matter that finding Third Space seems to be impossible.  They just want to be told what to do and they will go off and do it.  Give them a hoop, and they will jump through it.  What can we do for them, hopefully without devoting so much time to one or two students that we neglect the rest of the class?

Creating and Prototyping require skills.  There is a second domain of learning that is required for a student to be able to make anything.  We spend years teaching students how to write an essay.  When they are asked to write a paper on topic X, they know what to do, but what happens when we say, “OK, make whatever you want to demonstrate your learning.”  Or if we say, “Here’s the problem.  Make something that solves it.”  We need to structure the Create/Prototype phase in a way that at least helps the student take inventory of what they know how to do so that they can apply the right skills to the problem at hand.  I have had students jump into projects only to find out that they don’t have a clue how to go about what they’ve set out to do.  I’ve also had students hell-bent on presenting something in a way that demonstrates their skills in making in a particular way but is completely ineffective in demonstrating their learning of the topic.  What structures can we put in place or how do we otherwise support these students so they don’t get overwhelmed, lost, or simply default to an essay or powerpoint because that’s the only thing they know how to do?

Finally, where does an inquiry unit really end?  The dream is that a student will become so connected with a topic that there are more questions that come from their research or the product that they build is simply version 1 of a long line of constantly improving versions.  Our assignments turn into their life’s work.  But we don’t have time for that.  We need to move to the next chapter in the textbook or next unit in the curriculum.  How do we support the students when they do get it right in a transformative way?  What can we do to build that next unit so there are opportunities to reflect on their work in different ways and continue to follow their passion?  I know that this is highly situationally dependent and one jurisdiction will be more tightly prescribed in how they move through the content of the course than the next, but isn’t this the Holy Grail of teaching?  Isn’t this what it’s all about?  Once the student does make that meaningful connection, how do we continue to support them to follow their interests as far as they can take them?

I’ve enjoyed sharing my thinking here on the 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry blog.  I know that I have clarified my thinking in some areas through the act of writing them down for you, and I truly hope that at least one person has got something out of it.  I’d be curious to know what you thought of any or all of the last three posts and would love to continue the conversation here in the comments, via Twitter (@marc_crompton) or even through email (mcrompton@stgeorges.bc.ca).  And if you’re ever in Vancouver, come by the school and we can show you what we’re up to!

Thanks for reading,

Marc Crompton

The Passion Project: choice and flipped learning using Guided Inquiry Design

Some student work from the Passion Project that was shared in the library

Some student work from the Passion Project that was shared in the library

I don’t like to play favourites with my projects, but the Passion Project was definitely one of the highlights of my Guided Inquiry journey this year. The project was the idea of two Religious Education (RE) teachers who wanted to bring a greater level of choice to their students’ learning, thereby providing a more meaningful and deeper experience in the classroom. They came to me after one of the teachers had collaborated with me using Guided Inquiry in a science project and she thought that the principles could be applied in RE.  Religious education in Australia is not tied to the curriculum constraints of other subjects, but is considered a very important part of our school curriculum. Therefore, we had a lot of freedom in our project design…and that made it so much more fun.

The Passion Project asked the students to choose what they would like to focus their study on for Term 3 in relation to Christianity and faith. It asked, “what are you passionate about?” and provided the students with the freedom to ask the big questions related to faith, religion and spirituality. We emphasised that there will not be one answer to your question which was something that some students found challenging and others found exciting.

We opened the project with a number of games which were designed to get the students brainstorming the kinds of things they were passionate about, whether it was Game of Thrones, Justin Bieber or animal cruelty. We used chatterboxes to get conversations started and students worked in partners and small groups to support each other in the creation of a mind map which would form the basis of their Explore phase.

This page of resources held sources for students to explore as well as videos which were allocated to each stage of the Guided Inquiry process

This page of resources held sources for students to use in the EXPLORE phase. Each of the four tiles (e.g. Using the inquiry log, etc) had Youtube videos that I personally created to model information literacy skills.

As we only had one lesson to spend with the students per week, I decided to implement a flipped classroom approach. Students used the learning management software to access videos and instructions on various stages of Guided Inquiry. They also accessed their Inquiry Log and Inquiry Journal for the EXPLORE and GATHER phases. This enabled teachers to spend less time at the front of the classroom teaching skills, and more time for student inquiry and teacher interventions as required. We implemented EVALUATION throughout the process and the classroom teachers used reflections using Google Forms at the beginning of each lesson to gather important information to inform whether the student needed additional support. This also provided valuable feedback which informed whether the students needed more or less time at each stage of the inquiry process.

This is me recording the flipped classroom videos in our very own soundproof recording booth at school! It took many, many takes. Note to self...write a script!

This is me recording the flipped classroom videos in our very own soundproof recording booth at school! It took many, many takes. Note to self…write a script!

I cannot emphasise enough how important the reflection component was to this task. I have found that the inclusion of reflection is something that requires a bit of persuasion on the part of the teacher librarian or Guided Inquiry practitioner for a number of reasons: there is little time, does it add value, I’m not sure how to do it, etc. Reflection is something I strongly believe in as a teaching tool because it encourages reflective practice both in students and teachers. It encourages us to question how we go about our teaching and learning and provides valuable insight into our students and how they are feeling/thinking/behaving at each stage of the project. It also provides valuable evidence of the impact of teacher librarians – something that we do not always have access to if we are not assessing, reporting and providing formal feedback. In this case, the RE teachers were big fans of reflection and were quite happy to use it to ensure the students were properly supported throughout the project.

I had many interesting discussions with students in the beginning stages of the project. The ISP emphasises the fact that students will go through periods of doubt and uncertainty, and this was true for our students. A couple of students begged me to “just give me a question to answer!”, which only confirmed that the process of making choices is essential for improving information literacy and skills that will help them become lifelong learners throughout their life.

It took the girls 6 weeks to get to the stage where they could begin to plan their creations. This was also a valuable lesson to those who like to jump right in and create before they have a deep understanding of the subject (often this leads to a lot of copying and pasting in my experience). Like the choice of subject area, they were able to choose their method of sharing their findings. We gave the students physical and digital platforms for sharing and this led to many amazing creations. Examples included:

  • Youtube cooking videos exploring food and religion;
  • Infographics which visually compared characters in religious inspired films compare to the Bible or discussing Harry Potter and Religion;
  • Google Slides on Christianity in Sport;
  • Artwork and collages on various topics;
  • Poetry and short stories;
  • Instagram posts;
  • Vlog posts; etc

In all, the Passion Project was valued both by teachers and students. Using the Guided Inquiry Design model provided the structure and scaffolding needed to properly ensure that the knowledge that the students gained would be personally meaningful. It also personally allowed me to get creative with my own pedagogy and play around with technology to improve the learning experience. I particularly enjoyed recording the flipped classroom videos. Although this was time consuming in the planning phase, it was worthwhile in the learning phase. All in all, the project was a huge success and will be repeated next year.

Erin Patel