Problem Finders

B.C.’s new curriculum, as I discussed in my last post, has meant some radical changes to subject content in every grade, but perhaps none so much as in Grade 6 Social Studies. Socials used to be: Japan and Peru. I remember studying Japan and Peru when I was in Grade 6… and I’m no spring chicken!

The new curriculum for Grade 6 Social Studies has a focus on global issues, social justice, media studies, and governance systems… which sounds awesome, until you actually start looking at the content “suggestions”. Here is just a small sample of the recommended topics:

International cooperation and responses to global issues

    • environmental issues
    • human trafficking
    • child labour
    • epidemic/pandemic response
    • fisheries management
    • resource use and misuse
    • drug trafficking
    • food distribution and famine

Regional and international conflict

  • Sample topics:

    • war

    • genocide

    • child soldiers

    • boundary disputes

    • religious and ethnic violence

    • Terrorism

That is only from two subtopics! I didn’t even get into media, migration of people, or systems of government! Altogether there must be about 50 individual suggested topics just in Social Studies alone. That’s a lot for 12 year-olds to handle.

Lucky for us, our Grade 6 Social Studies teacher was excited to dig into the new material. James Weber, who used to be my office-mate and the school’s inquiry teacher before he went to teach in Dubai for two years, returned to Vancouver and joined the team at the last minute due to a sudden vacancy. Even the redoubtable James, however, was daunted by the number of learning outcomes and the lack of direction in how to teach them provided by the Ministry of Education.

Luckily, after learning about Guided Inquiry from me, we realized that following the eight phases would lead to a rich learning experience for the boys. With such a vast array of material to “cover,” GID seemed like a natural approach: expose the boys to many different ideas in the Open, Immerse and Explore phases, and then let them identify a question of interest to investigate on their own. Thus the Problem Finders Project was born.

The Open phase was a simple gallery walk in the classroom: James posted about 20 photos around the room, each one related to at least one topic in the curriculum. Without prompting or frontloading the boys observed each photo and jotted down ideas or questions it inspired.

As the instructional team was planning the project, however, we realized that the Immerse phase might be a challenge to execute. With so many possible topics, how could we possibly provide an Immerse experience that could touch on all these ideas at once? Since James and I used to work together in the library, we had a brainwave. What about a giant Human Library session where we invited as many possible guests in who had some experience with any of these topics, and boys could rotate around and ask questions?

And that’s exactly what happened. The Grade 6 team put out feelers to parents, friends and community members, and many people happily volunteered. We had dozens of Human Library guests, with expertise in health, politics, environment, indigenous rights and many of the other topics suggested by the Ministry. A list was provided on the boards so boys could select topics of interest, and they rotated around for 10 minutes of discussion with the guests. This provided the students with an opportunity to put out feelers on these disparate topics, and start to formulate ideas of their own.

Following the Human Library Immerse session, the boys went on to Explore using our library databases, as well as meeting in inquiry circles with faculty members to continue to talk through all the ideas they had encountered, and to begin to identify a question to research further.

The Problem Finders Project thus continued through the phases of Guided Inquiry, and when it came time to decide how to Share their learning, we planned another Human Library event – but this time, the students were the experts!

Each boy wrote his inquiry question on a sign that he hung around his neck and held a portfolio of his work throughout the project – this included a magazine article, a slam poem, a letter to a stakeholder, as well as his notes from various stages of the project. The rooms of the Grade 6 neighborhood were dedicated to the different curricular topics, and the guests – parents, teachers, and other students – selected topics to rotate around and discuss with the Grade 6 experts.

A list of all the Grade 6 boys and their topics was provided for guests.

Rooms for Human Library appointments were arranged thematically.

To say the day was a success is an understatement. The level of knowledge the boys displayed was incredible – and they were able to delve into difficult topics with admirable maturity and insight. Parents and teachers were astounded at how well the boys were able to discuss their topics. Even the P.E. teacher, who sort of reluctantly wandered up at one point, told me he had never seen boys so engaged in an activity like that! Designing the Share session as a Human Library event made it very low-key for everyone. The boys did not feel like they had to spend extra time preparing – since they knew their topics inside-out – and there was no pressure to perform for the visitors.

This student is explaining his research on human trafficking to Senior School boys!

Small groups of parents and other students met with the Human Library experts.

Remember how the Ministry list of recommended topics seemed so vast and daunting? Here is just a sample of some of the questions the boys identified for their research:

How can Canada and B.C. ensure that we are getting more electric cars? What are we doing?

How has human trafficking developed and changed in China?

Why are all the bees dying?

How has the relationship between the Canadian government and the First Nations changed over the years and what will it look like in the future?

What are the emotional effects of human trafficking and child labour?
How and why did the Mexican drug war start?

Why has society become increasingly racist towards aboriginal group?  What have the aboriginals have done about this and how does it relate to African American Racism?

If the Grade 6 team had approached this as a typical unit – with textbooks, quizzes, class discussions – so much of the rich learning would be missed.

The student feedback was overwhelmingly positive:

  • We could chose what to study
  • Having interesting conversations
  • The amount i learned about my topic, being an expert
  • I liked listening to the others
  • I liked how much time you gave use to complete the project and how you kept us relaxed
  • Doing the slam poem
  • That you could choose from lots of topics
  • How it was split into assignments
  • Having lots of little projects inside of one big one was really fun
  • I liked the presentation, we got to share our knowledge and experiences with other people
  • How it is covered in 2 subjects [Socials and Language Arts]
  • Seeing people interested in the topic we researched
  • Meeting new people
  • Seeing different projects
  • I love that we are actually sending letters
  • Answering other people’s questions
  • Fun!

Using the Human Library model in our Guided Inquiry Units this year has been a very successful endeavour, and one I would encourage other schools to try out! Take advantage of the expertise amongst your parents, friends and larger community, and you will be amazed at the connections and learning that will take place.

I’ve had a great time guest blogging here this week! Thank you so much for reading, and do get in touch with any questions or comments.

Elizabeth Walker

St. George’s School

Vancouver Canada

@curiousstgeorge

Step One of Implementing GID

Guided Inquiry is a concept that I was first introduced to last year.  Our amazing librarian Jenny Lussier arranged for first grade teacher Jessica Loffredo and myself, Carole Sibiskie, to attend the GID Institute.  It was an absolute privilege to be able to participate in the CISSL Summer Institute at Rutgers University last summer.   As someone who has engaged in Project Based Learning for over a decade, it was a curious process to see where GID and PBL overlapped and where they differed.  Through the institute, our team worked on a Social Studies unit to implement with a multi-age first and second grade classroom.  

Jessica Loffredo, Leslie Maniotes, Jenny Lussier, Carole Sibiskie, and Carol Kuhlthau at GID Institute Summer 2016

The Family Heritage unit is one that we have covered in the past, but at the institute we were able to “redesign” with a collaborative inquiry focus.   Our team made changes to fit the unit into the design template and to strengthen the framework.  We extended opportunities for the open.  It was clear that one area that needed to be lengthened was the process of immersion for the students in the content.  The largest change came in adding the explore area.  Prior to our introduction to Guided Inquiry Design, this was an area that was missing in the process. Time was added for the children to develop their own areas of personal interest in a much more meaningful and purposeful manner.  The GID Framework encouraged us to also dig deeper into the phases of identify, gather, create, share, and evaluate. There was so much more to consider than in the past.

The reality of implementing the plan hit during the school year with many celebrations and many challenges.  The biggest challenge was to find time to collaborate.  Snippets of time were found during the day, and there was electronic communication, but it is an effort to find extended amounts of common time.  Also, as the classroom teacher, it is very easy to get caught up in the moment and forget to reach out to connect.  We made sure to connect for the important aspects, even though we weren’t always able to be with the kids at the same time.  Additionally, several of the experiences and opportunities moved from open to immerse and vice versa due to time constraints,  connections to other curricular areas, and the lack of large chunks of time to give undivided attention to this work.  It wasn’t exactly the way we laid the plan out on paper, but it worked nonetheless.

The highlights were the moments with the students fully engaged in the process, and they were many!  When we finally found the large block of time to integrate “the open”, a simulated Ellis Island experience in the classroom, the children had already developed a lot of background information related to Ellis Island through read-alouds.  This actually made the experience more relevant to the students as they cheered, “We are at Ellis Island!” upon entering the classroom.  When the first student was marked with chalk, they exclaimed, “Oh, no he is sick.  He might not be let into the country.”  So it seems we had a “soft open”, that enriched the actual open!

One of the most powerful explore areas arose as the students planned a school assembly share.   They decided to represent each of their family heritages through folk music and choreographed invented folk dances.  YouTube was used to select the “just right” songs using democratic practice.  There were many whole class conversations about how music and dance impact a culture and vice versa.  Students studied related flags, texts, and maps as they planned this share.  Students greeted the audience in their “native” languages and danced for each of their countries of origin around the tree they decided to create using photos to represent ancestors on the bottom and generations at the top.  Several of the children had more than ten countries of origin!

Students also worked with resident artist Sally Rogers to write and create a family heritage song and old fashioned cranky to illustrate their song.  The students decided the song would be about immigration.  This process helped them move from the explore to identify phase as they collaborated on this project and found their personal interests in different areas.  Students also had old photos of ancestors which they wrote an invented realistic fiction story which they produced on Seesaw to share with classmates and their families. Their research and information from read aloud texts came through loud and clear in these pieces.

Individual research occurred with much support from families to provide needed background information. The students learned about geography, languages, music, dance, genealogy, history, foods, and numerous other aspects of culture.  Additionally, respect was developed for the diversity and variety of cultures including the 19 countries of origin for these children!

Each student developed an independent project to share their family heritage with the class.  Students used “passports” to reflect upon the learning in the unit.  The students were more driven and clear with their path than prior years. The GID process enabled us to build an inquiry stance where all of our community members developed a more purposeful mindset.  This first attempt at Guided Inquiry Design was far from perfect.  We are building on this experience and are currently rolling out another GID inspired STEAM unit.  Stay tuned…

Carole Sibiskie

John Lyman School

Regional School District 13

Connecticut

Guess who’s back, back again…

Hello again, GIDers!

I’m Kelsey Barker, teacher librarian for Norman Public Schools in Norman, Oklahoma. You may remember me from the last time I blogged with the incredible Buffy Edwards around this time last year. Now I’m back with another year of GID under my belt and lots to share!

This year, I transitioned from my position in an elementary to a middle school in the same district. Middle school has always had my heart, and I’m so happy to back with this strange, delightful, hilarious age at Longfellow. Despite moving up, I’m still a huge advocate for Guided Inquiry in elementary school, and thankfully connecting with librarians across the US on Twitter has allowed me to keep talking about my passion for GID at all ages (shout out to Jen and her team in Wisconsin!).

Working with a new set of students isn’t the only thing that has changed since the last time we talked. I’ve been lucky to have become a Guided Inquiry Coach last summer, and I was thrilled to be among the first ever Guided Inquiry Trainers when our district implemented this program with Leslie Maniotes in February. My GID journey has been incredibly fulfilling and more fun than I could have imagined, and I’m only getting started!

Here are the first NPS secondary trainers: That’s me squinting on the left, followed by Cindy Castell, Amanda Kordeliski, Martha Pangburn, and Leslie Maniotes, Professional Developer for GID.

Additionally, my new school, along with two others in Norman, was chosen to be a part of a half-million-dollar IMLS grant that will study Guided Inquiry and Makerspaces in schools. These last few weeks have been full of ordering Makerspace materials, planning two new Guided Inquiry units, and working with our learning team on what exactly it looks like to teach four full-scale Guided Inquiry units in one year in 7th grade Language Arts.

I have been living the GID life this year, and I wouldn’t change a thing. At Longfellow, we have had 16 teachers participate in 6 Guided Inquiry units this year with plans to expand next year. Every student at Longfellow has experienced at least two GID units this year, and a lucky handful of students have done up to four Between our widespread implementation, coaching and training, and the IMLS grant, I definitely have a lot to say about GID… way too much for a week’s worth of blog posts!

So I’m going to be sharing just one unit, and it’s our most ambitious unit of the year: a whole-school, year-long unit designed around the National History Day program that every single student participated in through their social studies class. With a learning team of seven and not one social studies classroom teacher trained in GID (yet!), it was an exercise in preparation, faith, and flexibility. I can’t wait to share our successes, failures, and lessons learned along the way.

Until next time!

Kelsey Barker

Teacher Librarian

Longfellow Middle School