Aldine ISD Online Resources Cultivate Guided Inquiry!

This year I am attempting a new Guided Inquiry project.  I meet with fourth graders in the computer lab two days a week for an hour for inquiry based lessons that are planned with the Guided Inquiry Design model.

The first lesson I have designed and implemented is one stemming from a State of Texas 3/6 grade reading list called the Texas Bluebonnet program.  The Texas Bluebonnet Program publishes a new list of books from a wide range of genres each year.  Students in 3-6 grades read at least five books and then vote on their favorite at the end of January.  The winning author is honored at a luncheon at the state library conference and a group of students are invited to present the author the award.

One of the books on the list this year is Space Case by Stuart Gibbs.  The introduction in the book is a letter to the reader that welcomes them to the first permanent human habitation on the moon.

I used this letter/introduction as the Open to our first GI project.  I then had students spend a few minutes thinking about what it might be like to be sent to live on the moon.  We opened a Google Doc and students jotted down notes, thoughts, ideas, and questions.  Must not forget the questions!

Boy were the questions, thoughts and ideas good ones!  As was the enthusiasm from the students.  At first the students weren’t sure what to write and so, one by one questions started coming out.  I would answer their questions by saying something like “Wow, that is a great question, write it down!”  I also did some of my own wondering on my paper; things like I wonder what it’s like on the moon…do they have a day and night.  I only put a few on my Google Doc and that sparked the ideas, thoughts and questions.  I also was sure to say, “These are my thoughts, I’m sure most of you have different thoughts than mine.”

I then introduced the students to 3 of our district online resources such as Britannica, Scienceflix and PebbleGo.  I had them look at the sites; explore what was on them about the moon.  It was so thrilling to see the students excited about using the online resources rather than “Googling it.”  I fully support Google; don’t get me wrong, but our fourth grade students need a place to go to find legitimate, readable sites on their level.

I can’t tell you how often the students get stuck in Immerse and Explore phases when they use Google, at first.  I watch them Google a phrase, often misspelling it, find thousands of websites and proceed to open then close them without reading the first word.  They move on to open, close, open, close over and over and then get frustrated.  Or, I see students immediately go to images to learn about, say natural resources and spend hours looking at photos without actually learning any specific details.  Therefore, it was exhilarating to see them excited about their searches and the information they were oohing-and-ahhing over.

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The next class period, I introduced three more district and state sponsored online resources and allowed them to continue exploring to see what they could find about the Moon and potential life on the moon.  On the third class meeting, I showed the students a clip from Discovery Education of a modular unit that has plans for use on the moon.   I allowed students then to continue exploring other video clips about life on the moon, life in space, space travel, etc.

We again logged into Goggle Drive to take notes and document questions and thoughts as they were exploring.  Students were motivated to ask if they could go back to a previous website, or if they could try new ones, and were excited over the details they were finding.  I had students ask if they could use specific information databases they knew about that I didn’t introduce, or explore others listed on our district online resources page.  The energy for this project is high, even for students who don’t necessarily gravitate toward space or space travel topics.  Equally exciting, when I gave them 10 minutes of “free exploration time in district sponsored games and resources” for working so hard, more than half of them chose to stay in the online resources tab to either explore other interests, or continued exploring space topics.

When reflecting upon the lesson with the first group of students, I added a step or two here and there with the next group.  I wanted to have students record their thought processes and add a reflection piece as well.  Therefore, we had a mini-lesson about logging into our district Google account, opening a document, brainstorming thoughts, adding a title, etc.  Students used a Google Doc to jot down thoughts, ideas, questions, and reflections before, during and after exploring online resources.  So, see I do support and use Google for education!

We have not finished this unit, our next step will involve a minilesson on academic honesty and citing sources.  We then will begin to actually search for answers to our questions, now that we have a good idea of which databases and online resources will be most helpful.

Tara Rollins on twitter

Experimenting with Guided Inquiry in primary school

In this second post of my week in 52 weeks of Guided Inquiry I want to tell you about some of the observations I did during experimenting Guided Inquiry in Finland. As I wrote to you my background is in school libraries. In Kaarina city I had collaboration with two schools, where I connected with two teachers who were eager to try out new ways of working. One of the schools were Finnish speaking and the other was Swedish speaking. With the latter school we had already done a project for a national reading program in form of a reading diploma with exercises done also with a tablet computer.

In these two schools we tried out GI in following groups and subjects:

  • Geography project with a combined class of student in the 4th, 5th, and 6th year students
  • Space project with 5th year students
  • Human biology with 5th year students

We entered Guided Inquiry from information seeking perspective and tried to work on amplifying the information seeking process according to Guided Inquiry Design. We did not use inquiry circles or journals. I am not going to present every project individually, but rather listing some issues that were interesting along the project. The last one, human biology, was the only one I did some information gathering of during and after the project.

Information literacy is used in universities, but the concept has not reached the primary or secondary schools in Finland. Information seeking instruction or information literacy instruction are not a part of teacher studies per se. Surely teacher students are seeking information for their own needs, but it is another business to instruct the students at class. Information seeking instruction is quite often considered to be the job of a librarian. And it is usual, that in the 7th grade a librarian comes to visit the class for 45 minutes during the year to show how the local public library database works. We do understand, that this is not enough. It is usually not combined to some actual learning situation. This is not advancing the information literacy skills of the Generation Z or post-millennials, whose understanding of information environment is totally different than those of the previous generations. We clearly are in need of other kinds of methods.

You have surely been reading about the Finnish schools during the years: Why are Finland’s schools successful?

Finnish education chief: We created a school system based on equality.

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Picture: Jonna Hellsten-Impivaara

And an American on Fullbright scholar in Finland 11 ways Finland’s education system shows us that “less is more”.

I am not going to go into how Guided Inquiry would change the education as such but rather concentrating on how this would change our perspective of information seeking in Finnish schools. I will not refer to any studies in this blog post. Several of my writings in my own blog refer to same sources. There are several studies that are showing that students tend to look for facts and also, teachers tend to make assignments so that one can carry it out by finding facts. We all know that the digital native reference is a myth and thorough deep information seeking is not common in daily classroom situation in Finland. I often like to refer to the ‘Principle of least effort’ by Zipf in 1949 as well. It feels oftent that the result is more important than the journey.

Here are a list of some observations I want to take up:

  • First of all, the students were puzzled about the Open phase. Where are we going with this?
  • They were not used to seeing the librarian in the classroom. (!)
  • As the students relaxed, the Immerse and Explore phases were cozy, they really got interested and talkative!
  • They found it very difficult to come up with research questions, it was nothing they really had done before. They usually get the assignment from the teacher.
  • At a very early stage they just insisted on starting to write the actual presentation, which indicated to copy/paste information behavior.
  • They all had their booklet where they draw the mind map, writing up keywords and search terms and wrote down the sources they wanted to use. Information management in form of managing sources is poor. Inquiry Journals would have been perfect here for them as well!
  • Mapping out the topic of their choosing was very difficult for some of the student. The mind map could be as large as 8 notebook pages.

But, then positive things from the feedback questionnaires.

  • Students liked the new way of doing things!
  • There is still some curiosity left in a fifth grader!
  • On a scale 1-5 they rated themselves in self-evaluation to 3,9
  • Most difficult phase was presentation!
  • They were learning about information seeking right then and there, while working.
  • They did see, that one needs several sources (to find out which animal was sent to space first!)
  • Second and third most difficult phases were coming up with a topic and structuring it.
  • They strongly felt that they learn something new, it was a different way to learn and it was fun!
  • The teachers was happy that she had finally gotten a partner and she learned too!
  • The students learned to see the librarian in some another role than just lending books and the professional role of the librarian was changed.
  • This way of working brought also long term effects as the students started to use these methods even in the following assignment.

These were the major issues I wanted to take up. The overall feelings of trying out Guided Inquiry were very positive and supportive, both from the students and the teachers. Me as the librarian in the project just loved working like this! Being among the students, involved in their work, guiding them and making an intervention when needed. Giving the student the freedom of doing research, they do manage it. In my mind Guided Inquiry is an excellent way of working, already from the primary school all the way to gymnasium. Now even more important than before.

In the third blog post I will tell you about the educational change we are going through in Finland, about the new core curriculum, and how do I see Guided Inquiry fitting in. And it would fit perfectly!

Best greetings,

Anu