Question Everything

“The answers you have are only as good as the questions you’ve asked.” –Rebecca Trotter

    Throughout all of my experience with Guided Inquiry, I have faced one recurring problem. Questions. How do I teach my students to craft quality questions? How do I teach my students think for themselves? How do I help my students appreciate controlling their own learning?

    I have a feeling that if I were to discover the answer to this question, I would be able to retire on my private island. Really it’s more than one question, but like lions and tigers and bears, they seem to be inseparable. In order to teach my students to craft quality questions, I need to teach them to think for themselves, but in order to think for themselves, they need to control their own learning…. Yikes.  

    This isn’t a problem that I face alone. When Dana and I returned from CiSSL, we trained several other teachers in the full Guided Inquiry Design process. We continue to work with new teachers and, frankly, anyone who will listen about the importance of inquiry. Even when we cannot take a teaching unit through the full GID process, we keep inquiry at the heart of our teaching. We are working to create students who question rather than absorb information.

    The magic happens when we create that third space where the students realize the importance of the learning in their own lives. When the classroom and life cross over and become one. That’s when our students truly begin to question. In order to get there, we have to move our students beyond looking to us to give them topics and ideas to pursue. They must come to those ideas on their own because they are the ideas that matter to the students.

    Some of our students go there immediately. They come with ideas that need tweaked into questions. Others ask, “What should I do?” Not only do they not have a question, they aren’t sure where to start. Sometimes it takes longer to change the philosophy of our students than it does to change the philosophy of our teachers.

    Eventually, our students will see that, in the words of Thomas Berger, “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” Crafting quality questions can improve not only education but life. Guided Inquiry isn’t just for the classroom; it is for all of us. In fact, my new philosophy is Question Everything.

 

Jennifer Danner

@MrsDanner_JA

English Department Chair

Jonathan Alder High School

Plain City, Ohio

Starting Small

This year has been a learning year for me in regards to Guided Inquiry Design. Throughout this year, I have been trying out the beginning phases, Open, Immerse, and Explore. I am certainly not doing them perfectly, but I felt that this year it was important to begin to try. I used to get very stressed out that my primary students were not completing whole projects. In the last year or so (thank you CCSS), I have stepped back and instead, tried to include lots of smaller opportunities for using different parts of the research/inquiry process. I am going to share some of these throughout this post.

In October, as part of their study of mammals, my first graders and I read a fiction story about a bear and students began to wonder about whether bears would actually do the things written about in the story. I’m not sure if this is OPEN or IMMERSE, but either way, it got us thinking. We took time to think about what they already knew about bears. First graders think they know a lot. Bears eat people, hibernate, eat fish, eat berries, have brown fur, that sort of thing. It was amazing that once we got some of the basics out of the way, they were ready to learn more.

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Next we spent a lot of time looking at lots and lots of print books and digital resources such as PebbleGo and WorldBook Online to learn more (EXPLORE). After each library time, we added new questions to a class list. Take a look at some of the types of questions that these 6 year olds had now! I believe that taking the time to let students do this kind of learning led to much deeper thinking and questioning.

During another 1st grade lesson, I was interested in the students’ ability to generate questions about a topic. I showed a quick Youtube clip of Bugs Bunny and the Tasmanian Devil. This added a little humor to the lesson! I then asked the kids what did they wonder about Tasmanian Devils? I collected their responses via a Google form (I did the typing). Questions had a wide range (What do they eat? and What color are they really? to Do they really look that angry in real life? and Why are they so weird?) I was only using this as a quick assessment, so we did not take it any further, but I can imagine that the questions would get better and more in-depth if we had spent time in the EXPLORE phase.

A favorite book I like to read with Kindergarteners around this time of year is Possum and the Peeper by Anne Hunter which is about a spring peeper frog who is making a LOT of noise. They are astounded to find out at the end that it is such a tiny little animal which is making a gigantic noise! This is a perfect way to IMMERSE students as they begin to think about the new season of spring and the changes that happen in the world around them and to the animals living in those habitats. Once we read the book, I begin to use a variety of resources to build more background knowledge. Nationalgeographic.com has a terrific section on spring peepers, complete with the sound it makes! It also has photographs of the peeper next to a paperclip. I feel that connecting these 5 year olds with things they can relate to is so important. A goal I have this year is to try and use inquiry circles by having the students choose an animal from the spring peeper book to find out more about.

While not a phase of GID, another activity that I have done this year with the Ks is based on an idea from Daniels and Harvey’s Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action. Students work in small groups and myself to browse through books or digital media about a topic. We used the topic of rainforests since they were learning about evergreens in their classrooms and I wanted to connect the different types of trees and animals they might see in each type of forest. As they were reading and looking at pictures, if they found something they were wondering about, they would circle the words “I wonder” on their paper. If they learned something new, they circled “I learned.” Beneath this, they would draw a picture and I scripted their words. I want even my littlest learners to understand that both pictures and words can help you to ask questions and learn new things.

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THE CURRENT PROJECT

At this point in the school year, I often want to do inquiry or research with my students. They have used their library, class and tech time to learn about all kinds of resources, become better readers and thinkers, and good questioners. I also look for opportunities for my students’ learning to be shared not just among themselves or our school community, but to the wider world as well. I am taking advantage of a collaborative effort between librarian Shannon Miller and Cantata Learning called Celebrations Around the World. It is a global project in which students learn about and share in whatever way they choose, about celebrations of their choice. This works well for me since I teach at two schools, whose curricular focuses are slightly different.

I also wanted to have students investigating something besides animals or states, but that would still be really interesting to them. 1st grade classes have a One World focus in their classrooms and will be selecting a type of celebration such as Valentine’s Day and investigating how it is celebrated in other parts of the world. The 1st/2nd graders have been studying Brazil with their classroom teachers and we will be exploring similar celebrations in other South American countries. The 3rd/4th grade classes will be researching National Parks which are celebrating their centennial birthday this year.

OPEN – All grades began by listening to and singing along with the Happy Birthday interactive book from Cantata Learning. The words were sung in English, Spanish and also shown in sign language. Because it is a song that everyone knows, the kids just joined right in. Including the different languages was a great hook, because it got them thinking about other cultures and celebrations other than just our traditional U.S. holidays.

 

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IMMERSE – Each grade level is reading a picture book that starts getting them thinking about their topic. This week the 1st & 2nd graders read the book I Lost My Tooth in Africa, which is a true story about a girl who loses her tooth while visiting family in Mali. Instead of what my students are used to (money), the girl in the story receives CHICKENS! This really intrigues my students and even more so after reading the author’s note explaining how the story came to be. My classes of 3rd/4th graders will be reading The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barbara Rosenstock. This is a fictionalized story of the camping trip that President Roosevelt and John Muir took in Yosemite in 1903, which eventually led to the establishment of our National Park system. I expect to have some terrific conversations about why this happened and it’s impact.

With the 3rd and 4th grade mixed classes, I will be using a form of inquiry journal to begin to have students record thoughts and ideas.

EXPLORE – For all groups, the next step will be to browse through many different resources as they begin to develop their inquiry questions.

When this inquiry project is finished, we will be adding the student shares to the Celebrations Around the World Google Slides. Not only will we be learning a lot, but we will be able to share with participants from around the world. I am really excited to see where the students go with this!

Reading this post over, I can see that I have been learning a lot over the course of this year and still have a lot to learn. It is a process for sure, but it is a great challenge too!

Looking Forward in Connecticut!

There are a lot of things I am looking forward to as March begins here in central Connecticut. My daughter’s 9th birthday comes tomorrow. College basketball’s March Madness. SPRING – can we really get through this winter with only 2 snow days? But one of the things I most look forward to is having a nice chunk of time to do some focused learning in the library with my students.

My name is Jenny Lussier and I am an elementary school library media specialist in Durham and Middlefield, CT. I work in two schools, a PreK through grade 2 school (next year it will be up to grade 3) with about 200 students and a Kindergarten through grade 4 school with about 240 students. My library classes are on a fixed schedule, with each class coming once a week for 45 minutes. Before becoming a librarian, I was a classroom teacher in grades 5 and 6 for 11 years.

I have always been a reader (you will always find me sharing book ideas with anyone who will listen). Technology has also been a major interest for me, beginning way back with the first Apple computers and continuing today as I love exploring new things, like robots! Growing up, my family culture was always about learning and discovering new things. But as a teacher and librarian, I found research to be the most challenging area with which to help students.

Since I started in the library 8 years ago, I was convinced that elementary students, especially our K-2s, could do research, especially through the inquiry process where they were asking their own questions. Isn’t that what young children do? I remember the “Why? Why? Why?” phase of my own kids. So why was it that when they arrived at school that we stopped letting them?

Fast forward to the Common Core being introduced. Imagine my excitement to see the expectation of research included in the standards, including the importance of “short and sustained research projects”. But I was still looking for the best methods to use with my students. While attending American Association of School Librarians (AASL) national conference in nearby Hartford, CT in 2013, I began to hear about Guided Inquiry Design and how effective it was. The November/December 2014 issue of AASL’s publication Knowledge Quest featured the topic of Inquiry, including a number of articles featuring Guided Inquiry Design. I began to informally add Guided Inquiry into the research my students were doing in library class and sharing with teachers. The resource I used and still love is Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Harvey Daniels and Steph Harvey, which has some terrific ideas. I also worked with a middle school colleague Laura D’Elia on a presentation for AASL 2015 called Get a GRIP!: Guided Research Inquiry Process, sharing our experiences with Guided Inquiry Design.

A colleague and I attended a webinar with Leslie Maniotes in September 2015 and were simply blown away by this model. We were so excited that we brought the library and information technology specialists together along with our curriculum director to create a learning community to learn about various inquiry models, but especially the Guided Inquiry Design framework. We also ordered and read Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. In November, I attended the AASL conference in Columbus and went to every session I could find about Guided Inquiry Design. (I got to meet Leslie too!) I brought many ideas and resources back to our PLC.

So now, I am looking forward to using my library time in collaboration with what classroom teachers are doing this spring. I look forward to learning more about and trying out GID with my students. I am also looking forward to more of this collaboration about GID with some amazing educators!

More to come later this week and Go HUSKIES!
Jenny

Wisconsin Reflections

Collaboration – I took the lead as the main presenter and grader. The Dean and I discussed the assessment process and grades. I shared all PowerPoints in a Google Folder with students, Dean, Social Studies teacher, and Special Education Teacher. The Dean was new this year and appreciated being a partner. The Social Studies teacher added knowledge and credibility, as he was a former National History Day Judge. A current National History Day Judge came to campus and mentored our students on how to narrow their topic. We all learned from her tips. The reference librarians at the public library were invaluable guides for our students when we spent a day there gathering information.  The Dean, social studies teacher and I sat down after the project was completed to reassess time commitments for next year, school calendar, and what need to be tweaked as far as content and process. Next year we want to include a day at the Wisconsin State Historical Library because they have a huge amount of primary sources and they encourage high school students to come there. They will give our students an orientation when they arrive.

Third Space – Every student chose their topic based on a passion they had for a seminal event or person or groups of people that impacted history.  They had much to learn about the importance of primary sources and citing them. Many thought they could just report on their prior knowledge and information they got from secondary sources. They learned how to analyze their sources and how to create meaning from all their notes. They had choices on how they would  share out. The research topics were as varied as the students:

  • The impact of psychedelic drugs in the 1960’s on artists’ creativity;
  • The Saturn Project;
  • The Challenger Disaster;
  • Rosemary Kennedy and her impact on Special Education laws;
  • Ballet;
  • John Deere;
  • Trench Warfare;
  • Animal Testing;
  • The Little Rock Nine;
  • Jamestown Virginia and the tobacco industry;.
  • Homer and Greek Warfare;
  • World War 2 battles with Japan and China;
  • Hawaii and the impact of the Protestant Missionaries and the Pineapple Industry.

Their choices. Their passions.

The projects that competed at Regional National History Day competition in Madison Wisconsin were:

Individual Exhibit, Trench Warfare: A Death Sentence for Thousands

Individual Exhibit, The SLS-51-L That Failed The Tragedy That Haunts Humanity

Individual Exhibit, Apollo Program: Changing the World for Half a Century (This project advanced to state competition)

Group Web Site, Animal Rights: Testing in Experiments (This project advanced to state competition)

Student Questioning – this was the biggest challenge as the students did not have previous experience with creating higher level questions, historical analysis, and building a strong thesis. I used the work from New York State as a guide. Empire State Information Fluency Continuum. http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/1A931D4E-1620-4672-ABEF-460A273D0D5F/0/EmpireStateIFC.pdf

Technology – all students have a Mac Book Pro. This is a 1-1 school. It was a challenge to have them not use Google. I guided them to curated resources that I included on their school’s online catalog. If you want to see these resources click on https://sdj.follettdestiny.com/common/welcome.jsp?context=saas40_4832480&siteid=100&districtMode=0 and then click on Rock University High School . We encouraged them to use Noodle Tools. It  is such an efficient tool for building bibliographies, note taking, and outlining. I need to learn more about the capabilities so I can better inform the students. They were not motivated to view the Noodle Tools tutorials. They wanted to “get er done!” I had the students share their Noodle Tools work and their work they completed in Google Docs with me. I commented within 24 hours.

Parents Comments at Open House and a Regional Competition

We judged the final projects at an Open House for parents. All parents came to the Open House. In many cases, the parents commented that this was the first academic challenge their child had ever participated in. The parents were extremely proud of their teenager’s work. As we judged the projects, based on the National History Day Judging Criteria, we had conversations with the students and their parents. We wanted as many students as possible to consider entering their work at Regionals. It was their choice.

One parent stated, “I could not believe how involved he was. I never once saw him using his computer to just watch You Tube music videos. He wanted to do such a good job.” This student made it to the State competition.

What questions do you have about our project?

What tips do you have that you would like to share?

What projects do you work on with teachers?

What are your challenges?

Thank you for participating in the BLOG postings. Keep up you dedicated work.

Kathy Boguszewski