The Passion Project: choice and flipped learning using Guided Inquiry Design

Some student work from the Passion Project that was shared in the library

Some student work from the Passion Project that was shared in the library

I don’t like to play favourites with my projects, but the Passion Project was definitely one of the highlights of my Guided Inquiry journey this year. The project was the idea of two Religious Education (RE) teachers who wanted to bring a greater level of choice to their students’ learning, thereby providing a more meaningful and deeper experience in the classroom. They came to me after one of the teachers had collaborated with me using Guided Inquiry in a science project and she thought that the principles could be applied in RE.  Religious education in Australia is not tied to the curriculum constraints of other subjects, but is considered a very important part of our school curriculum. Therefore, we had a lot of freedom in our project design…and that made it so much more fun.

The Passion Project asked the students to choose what they would like to focus their study on for Term 3 in relation to Christianity and faith. It asked, “what are you passionate about?” and provided the students with the freedom to ask the big questions related to faith, religion and spirituality. We emphasised that there will not be one answer to your question which was something that some students found challenging and others found exciting.

We opened the project with a number of games which were designed to get the students brainstorming the kinds of things they were passionate about, whether it was Game of Thrones, Justin Bieber or animal cruelty. We used chatterboxes to get conversations started and students worked in partners and small groups to support each other in the creation of a mind map which would form the basis of their Explore phase.

This page of resources held sources for students to explore as well as videos which were allocated to each stage of the Guided Inquiry process

This page of resources held sources for students to use in the EXPLORE phase. Each of the four tiles (e.g. Using the inquiry log, etc) had Youtube videos that I personally created to model information literacy skills.

As we only had one lesson to spend with the students per week, I decided to implement a flipped classroom approach. Students used the learning management software to access videos and instructions on various stages of Guided Inquiry. They also accessed their Inquiry Log and Inquiry Journal for the EXPLORE and GATHER phases. This enabled teachers to spend less time at the front of the classroom teaching skills, and more time for student inquiry and teacher interventions as required. We implemented EVALUATION throughout the process and the classroom teachers used reflections using Google Forms at the beginning of each lesson to gather important information to inform whether the student needed additional support. This also provided valuable feedback which informed whether the students needed more or less time at each stage of the inquiry process.

This is me recording the flipped classroom videos in our very own soundproof recording booth at school! It took many, many takes. Note to self...write a script!

This is me recording the flipped classroom videos in our very own soundproof recording booth at school! It took many, many takes. Note to self…write a script!

I cannot emphasise enough how important the reflection component was to this task. I have found that the inclusion of reflection is something that requires a bit of persuasion on the part of the teacher librarian or Guided Inquiry practitioner for a number of reasons: there is little time, does it add value, I’m not sure how to do it, etc. Reflection is something I strongly believe in as a teaching tool because it encourages reflective practice both in students and teachers. It encourages us to question how we go about our teaching and learning and provides valuable insight into our students and how they are feeling/thinking/behaving at each stage of the project. It also provides valuable evidence of the impact of teacher librarians – something that we do not always have access to if we are not assessing, reporting and providing formal feedback. In this case, the RE teachers were big fans of reflection and were quite happy to use it to ensure the students were properly supported throughout the project.

I had many interesting discussions with students in the beginning stages of the project. The ISP emphasises the fact that students will go through periods of doubt and uncertainty, and this was true for our students. A couple of students begged me to “just give me a question to answer!”, which only confirmed that the process of making choices is essential for improving information literacy and skills that will help them become lifelong learners throughout their life.

It took the girls 6 weeks to get to the stage where they could begin to plan their creations. This was also a valuable lesson to those who like to jump right in and create before they have a deep understanding of the subject (often this leads to a lot of copying and pasting in my experience). Like the choice of subject area, they were able to choose their method of sharing their findings. We gave the students physical and digital platforms for sharing and this led to many amazing creations. Examples included:

  • Youtube cooking videos exploring food and religion;
  • Infographics which visually compared characters in religious inspired films compare to the Bible or discussing Harry Potter and Religion;
  • Google Slides on Christianity in Sport;
  • Artwork and collages on various topics;
  • Poetry and short stories;
  • Instagram posts;
  • Vlog posts; etc

In all, the Passion Project was valued both by teachers and students. Using the Guided Inquiry Design model provided the structure and scaffolding needed to properly ensure that the knowledge that the students gained would be personally meaningful. It also personally allowed me to get creative with my own pedagogy and play around with technology to improve the learning experience. I particularly enjoyed recording the flipped classroom videos. Although this was time consuming in the planning phase, it was worthwhile in the learning phase. All in all, the project was a huge success and will be repeated next year.

Erin Patel

Differentiation, Student Choice, and Reflection–Oh My!

Differentiation, Student Choice, and Reflection:  these three educational buzz words are at the forefront of conversations in schools today.  As we know, the research shows the following:

Children have different ways and modes of learning.

Children learn by building on what they already know.

Children learn by being actively engaged in and reflecting on an experience.

This research is directly integrated into  GID; and in fact, the aforemtioned statements are three of the six principles highlighted in Guided Inquiry Learning in the 21st Century (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, Caspari).  The awesome news is through GID, a teacher can incorporate all three principles and a lot more!  And that is why I’m passion about the GI process; my students are truly working within a holistic, invigorating process that will benefit their learning in a multitude of ways.

Differentiation

As mentioned in my previous blog, I teach a senior English seminar called Psychology in Literature.  It is heterogeonous grouping:  I have students who take Advanced Placement classes and I have students who have significant learning and/or behavioral challenges.  I have students who are English Language Learners.  Bottomline:  the range of my students’ abilities differs greatly.  So how do I design an assignment that can meet the needs of all the students in my classroom?  Through GID.  GID naturally differentiates through its stages, skill development, and content.

For example in the Psychology in Literature assignment that my library educator Anita Cellucci and I created, we ask students to review and reflect on the literary materials they have accessed over the course of the semester.  These materials include books, poems, short stories, articles, TED Talks, movies, guest speakers, etc.  We ask them to contemplate course terms such as coping mechanisms, addiction, positive psychology.  We ask them to review skills such as information psychological analysis, personal refflection and information literacy.  And based on their own individual curiosity, personal experiences and connections to the material, cognitive development, etc. students are able to move through the Open, Immerse, Explore, and Identify stages at their appropriate learning ability. Another key component of differentiation is the research.  Anita created a libguide (http://whs.westborough.libguides.com/psychinlit) that enables students to access information based on their learning abilities.

Student Choice

Because students are empowered through their teachers and the weath of options presented, they often start at a much higher level of engagement and motivation than if we assigned them topics to research.  I now see students who are visibly excited to gather research, are more willing to use vetted sources (versus using Google and then picking the first site that pops up), and are committed to putting the time in to analyze the information they have acquired.  The range of topics for this particular assignment are fantastic:  the negative effects of  sleep deprivation in teens, the benefits of art therapy, the negative effects of stress on teenagers, the struggles of veterans who suffer from PTSD in assimilating back home, the differences in sociopathy and psychopathy, the benefits of positive psychology, etc.  Just reflecting on the topics myself, I observe just how different my students’ choices are based on their experiences, interests, and connections.

Reflection

One of my favorite parts of GID is the Share stage.  This stage enables students to share their research AND reflect on their research and the process.  I find student reflections so valuable because I can “see” their thinking/feeling process.  This enables me to reflect on my students’ learning and my teaching.

In my next post, I’ll share a couple of the students’ presentations; however, what I want to show you now are a couple of student reflections.  We ask students to remind us of what their inquiry question is, discuss a bit of the research process, ask new questions, and reflect on any further thoughts.  Below are two excerpts from two students’ reflections. You will be able to see certain places where students make mention of their own choice, engagement, and motivation as well.

Student #1:

My question was, “how does positive psychology help humans obstacles and what methods/treatments are available?” I really was confused on the literal meaning of positive psych and all it encompassed. I found myself wanting to know exactly what it is. Naturally I wanted to learn the methods and see how this thought process can apply to myself. I don’t think I need a psychologist but good mental thinking cap can help. Keywords included “happiness” “resilience” “treatments” “learned optimism” and “meditation”. Although I used a lot more, I found these one reoccurring a lot. I used these keywords on all four databases in the libguide…A new question would be are there treatments people are experimenting with? How is this new movement being incorporated into society? And I also noticed the backlash and wondered how can there be any negatives to positive psychology?

When I first started I really was eager to learn about the topic. As I went along I found the articles weren’t boring me and that the topic maintained my interest which led me to some great books and pieces of writing…I definitely see how negative thinking and depression can be linked to the disorders of characters in Girl Interrupted and The Bell Jar

Student #2
My inquiry question is “How are students affected by sleep deprivation and what can schools to do to help students?” I knew from the beginning, I wanted to research about sleep deprivation, because it’s a disease that’s a lot less talked about. Usually, it’s something big like depression, PTSD, and such but sleep deprivation hits home for many people. When I was using the LibGuides, the articles I kept finding were related to high school teens suffering from sleep deprivation. Therefore, I chose to stick with how high school students are affected by school deprivation and how schools can help with the problem. The keywords that I found to be most effective were: “sleep deprivation”, “sleep”, “high school sleep”, “adolescent sleep”, and such. In the LibGuide, I used the Gale Research in Context database within which I searched for my topic using various advanced searches. One difficulty I had issues was with whether, in my presentation, I should be talking about sleep deprivation as a disease in general and at throughout just allude to my topic or is my whole presentation going to the specifics about my inquiry question based on students and schools. I decided to focus only on my inquiry question and only address the schools and students’ perspective to have a clear focus and not jumble up a bunch of information on sleep deprivation and not talk enough about my inquiry question. Some new questions I had were: “If adolescents are the most affected and prone to sleep deprivation, why hasn’t school board legislation done anything sooner?”, “What’s the probability of an adolescent contracting this disease as opposed to an adult?”, “Can sleep deprivation kill you naturally over a prolonged period of time?”, “Assuming school times are, in fact, pushed back, how long will it take for the positive effects to take place?”, “Over all these years, why is it that public convenience always  outweighed millions of students’ health?”, and others. When I first started this project, I was really set out on finding a perfect solution that solves this huge problem and since it readily affects me personally, I was a lot more involved. The process was kind of long and arduous, but when research isn’t long, clearly you haven’t done the best research on your topic and there is much left to be discovered. As I was finishing up and realizing there has been an advocacy for a push of school start times to solve this crisis of sleep deprivation, I was sort of frustrated with public school legislation that no change has been put into effect even with clear medical research. Considering my topic was sleep deprivation and the fact that most high school teens in fact are sleep deprived, I can see the effects of sleep deprivation in students every single day, including myself. Usually, teachers blame the students for staying up late and that’s why we’re so tired in school. But there’s more to the story than just that. Unknowingly to most, many students are battling a serious disease everyday and it’s never really recognized.

In order to set standards and expectations for our students, we as educators need to put the appropriate structures in place for students to excel.  Differentiation, Student Choice, and Reflection are three essential principles of GID that will lead our students to engage enthusiastically in learning.  And perhaps more importantly, GID supports students in  making meaning of their learning and life-long connections from their learning.

 

By:  Kathleen Stoker, English/Journalism Teacher, Westborough High School, Westborough, MA