Adopting and Adapting

My last post was about carrying out a Guided Inquiry unit in its entirety, from Open through to Evaluate. Even though it’s a very structured framework, one of the best aspects of Guided Inquiry is that it’s not dogmatic. It is flexible enough that many of its components, especially the first three phases, can be applied  to projects that are not Guided Inquiry projects per se.

Earlier on the blog, Leslie discussed her visit to St. George’s in the spring, when she visited our Grade 7 reimagined science fair, the Wonder Expo. Even though the Expo follows a very teacher-directed plan, we adopted the Immerse and Explore phases of GID to help our students determine a topic. In years past, the students were simply told to “pick a topic” and given very little, if any, guidance . The result was that those boys who struggled to find a good topic were instantly behind their peers in terms of carrying out their experiment, analysing the results, and putting everything together into a report and poster board.

And – Shock! Horror! – the boys would also frequently do their “background research” (a bibliography with three sources was required as part of their report) the day before the science fair! When I, affronted librarian, questioned one boy why his background research was the very last thing he was doing, and maybe he should have done it before he even began his experiment, he burst into tears! The science fair caused a lot of stress.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve begun immersing the boys in science in the fall, well before the March due date, to build background knowledge and curiosity. This year, we hosted “Wonder Wednesdays” where we invited in scientists and watched videos on interesting topics to get their scientific juices flowing. We also made an annotated bibliography an early deadline. I created a LibGuide and instructed the boys in how to use the databases, so they were able to explore sources and ideas well before deciding on their final topic. The result? No crying in the library! Adopting some of the stages of guided inquiry into current projects can really help boost student curiosity, motivation and confidence.

The Explore phase is a really great idea to inject into traditional projects, even if teachers don’t have the time or inclination to do a whole GID unit. Late in the spring, the Grade 2 teachers approached me to pull some books on animals for a mini project the students were carrying out on animals. It’s a pretty standard animal project: pick an animal you like (CHEETAHS!), find information in a book, and write about your animal.

Instead of just checking out our animal books to the teachers, I invited the classes into the library.  I made a simple sheet with four boxes and space to write the name of an animal, draw a picture, and write down the book title. I selected the more “thematic” animal books rather than books about single species. Titles like “Biggest and Smallest Animals,” “Unusual Creatures” and “The Little Book of Slime”. The boys rotated around the tables, browsing through books and noting down the name of any animals that seemed interesting to them, along with a quick sketch and the name of the book so they could find it later. Massive success! The boys didn’t feel pressure to pick a random animal, they learned about all sorts of interesting creatures and were able to determine which books had “just-right” information, and which ones might be too difficult or too scant on information. Plus, they got a taste of keeping simple citations. Having an Explore session in the early part of this project really made it successful for both the students and the teachers.

I can proudly announce that I’m a Guided Inquiry evangelist now! Guided Inquiry Design has had a profound effect on my teaching, my relationships with my colleagues and, most importantly, my students.

Elizabeth Walker


Turning a Science Fair into a WONDER-FUL experience!

I mentioned in my first post this week that I’ve been traveling a little and seeing GID in action.  One place that I had the pleasure to visit was Saint George’s School in Vancouver British Columbia.  You’ve heard about this school already from a member of our GID family, Marc Crompton.  I went up there to visit, this March, to work with teams refining GID units and developing and designing new ones. As always, I learned so much from these conversations with teams. We talked about what kinds of questions kids should ask, and how to coach students to ask better questions. We thought together about problems of student motivation and connections to the unit design. We had great conversations about the role of student reflection across the process, when there was enough reflection and when there might be too much. As well as how to find that sweet spot in the Inquiry Journal prompt. One prompt that was super successful for them was in the Evaluate phase where students wrote a reflection giving advice to the students of the next year.  The kids couldn’t wait for the teachers to read these entries. There are so many elements and moving parts to Guided Inquiry learning where we can all learn and sharpen our practice.  For me it’s a great joy to be with smart educators and think through these issues.

I was so happy to come to St George at a time when they were having the SHARE for one of their big units of inquiry in Grade 7.  In the Grade 7 Neighborhood they were holding the great annual WONDER EXPO!  It was the conclusion of their wonder time which was a long term work leading up to a science fair.  Many of these traditional contests like science fair can be so much improved if GID is used to consider the instructional design that wraps around these experiences. (You can imagine that in order to arrive at the science fair topic, the students could greatly benefit from the first three phases of OPEN IMMERSE and EXPLORE to IDENTIFY that question.) This team has recognized this powerful connection and they continue to shape this experience using the principles and phases of Guided Inquiry Design as a guide.

During the Wonder EXPO, I had the great opportunity to connect with students and hear their depth of learning and third space connections.Cc9xfrLUkAAXNOt

This young gentleman on the left had found a way to use light to detect oil and gas in the water.  He believes that if everyone was required to have such a light on their boat engine they would be able to detect spills and avoid them much more regularly.  This student is a huge advocate for Guided Inquiry, and confessed that although he loved the experience, not all students enjoyed it.  F
r the Wonder time, the learning was balanced between open time and some structure around the process.  Some students were able to benefit well from the open time, and others weren’t able to use the time as well as others. This is a common problem we face with prolonged open work time.  Some students need more structure while others are ready to go.  It’s always a challenge to find that perfect balance between guiding and freedom to meet every student’s learning needs

Cc9g4YkVIAAeOJcThe boys on the right had this interesting experiment and research on how taste buds change over time. They claimed that young children tastebuds generally favor sweet flavors and bitter tastebuds develop later in life.  Their tri-fold had clear concise writing for each phase of the science inquiry and they were each able to speak using academic language to describe the research that they did, explain their results, as well as possible implications.

My question to the boys as I walked around was, “And so, what do you think are the implications for this research that you did?”  It was interesting to hear how the students each could extend beyond the project and theorize about possible impacts.  In every conversation, I could hear the third space connections as students explained why they chose this topic.  If you’re interested in more of what they did, you can see many more photos on their twitter page.CV08rJ_UsAA65H8 They did have a vote and prizes as well as a big celebration!

As I mentioned before, at Saint George they are really working on student reflections across the process with the focus on “learning how to learn” through inquiry.  The Grade 7 Neighborhood even tweeted out this picture (Right) of the reflection they had for the Wonder Expo. Using a four corners exercise, the students reflected on different modes of thinking and which mode was the students preferred method.

The next day, I had a chance to speak with the team who designed and implemented this unit.  This fabulous team was truly interdisciplinary and includes the literature teachers, drama, science, social studies and their wonderful librarian. And like so many with Guided Inquiry, they still felt as though there were changes that could be made. Even with an extremely successful unit and SHARE event, great Learning Teams know there’s always more learning or something to be tweaked!  It was so fun to be with them and celebrate all the successes, and then reflect on Wonder EXPO for next year.

To sum up our conversation there after talking through it all the Science teacher recognized that although the traditional science fair has it’s drawbacks, they still want students who are interested to be successful enough to enter the local competitions. This meant that they would continue with the same format because to enter the competitions they had certain requirements to fulfill (Tri-board with specific elements present, research, experiment, data, results, etc). But when nudged to think about what makes every science fair above and beyond, the science teacher recognized the important element that the project helps humanity. And so it was, that next year’s focus for WONDER would not only include all the elements of a really well guided science fair project using Guided Inquiry Design process, but in addition, it would have the theme around “How does/can science help humanity?” Using this as the big idea for the unit has promise to impact all students projects to think beyond the experiment and into the world.  I’m really excited to hear how they progress and how that supports student engagement as results.

Thanks to all the excellent educators at St George for working with me and allowing me to continue to coach you on your design processes across the grades.

This wraps up my week of reflection- I’ll see you all again in a few months. Until then, keep on enjoying all these amazing reflections on practice!  I know I am!

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Author of
Guided Inquiry Design
Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century
Guided Inquiry Design in Action: Middle School