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

 

It all begins with a team

 

A few weeks ago, my dear friend and partner in crime, Jennifer Danner, beautifully crafted our Guided Inquiry journey. We are a small district about 20 minutes outside Columbus, Ohio. We are experts in being handed lemons and creating lemonade. As Jennifer said, I stumbled across the CISSL institute and we were encouraged to attend. Attending CISSL, changed our focus and impacted our teaching and has helped reshape our culture.

When we returned from CISSL, we sat down with our assistant superintendent and superintendent and eagerly explained all we had absorbed and our mission to share with others and our desire to impact learning. After that meeting, it was full speed ahead. A couple of months later, we began our own Professional Development community comprised of more than ten teachers and administrators.

Over the next school year, we were able to purchase everyone in our learning community a copy of Leslie Maniotes, book “Guided Inquiry Design a Framework for Inquiry in Your School.” Our teaching and learning environment became one of questioning. As Jennifer stated, we encouraged our students to question everything. We encouraged our teachers to incorporate inquiry into every possible lesson.

Jennifer and I had always been a team of two; the team expanded. In fact, our superintendent began to refer to us as a cult! It all begins with a team. I have always stressed collaboration among our staff. Inquiry became the glue that held teachers together. Inquiry was and and is still an essential ingredient of collaboration and multidisciplinary projects. Jennifer and I have been trained as new teacher mentors. Our new teachers are immersed in inquiry and we work together as a well oiled machine. Our library has been transformed into a learning center and is literally bursting at the seams.

Last year, our district hired a technology integration specialist. I jumped at the opportunity to offer her an office in the library. Yes, you guessed it. Nicole Schrock is now part of our cult! Nicole works with us daily to incorporate these strategies into her workshops and presentations. As a team, we are impacting students across disciplines and across grade levels. Just this morning, we discussed workshops Nicole is conducting for our district. The focus is blended learning/project based learning. Nicole has asked me to be on hand to offer a mini workshop on inquiry. After all, one can’t effectively teach project based learning without inquiry. Again, the culture in our building and now district has changed.

Dana Wright, Librarian

Jonathan Adler High School

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.

IMG_3168

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