A Culture of GId

Teresa Lansford, Lincoln Elementary, Norman OK

Before I had even had a chance to do much with my staff in regards to Guided Inquiry, our principal planning experiences to introduce them to the process. Norman Public Schools does an excellent job in helping teachers get the professional development they need to be great practitioners. Our principal, Olivia Dean, goes above and beyond to not only provide quality professional development, but model her expectations as well.

A few years ago, she came to me with her ideas on how to introduce GId to the staff, and we collaborated in introducing the stages of the process. While I helped with some of the nuts and bolts, the ideas were all her own. Her strategy was to introduce Guided Inquiry to the staff as they developed their own growth plans. She created experiences for Open and Immerse that allowed them to start questioning their practices and what information they would need to grow. I pulled resources from our professional development collection for them to Explore.  They then identified a focus area for their growth plans, gathered information, and created a presentation for the end of the year to share what they had learned and how they had grown with the staff, taking questions for self evaluation.

Along the way she would introduce the phases and with my help debrief on what that would look like for students. This gave us a shared vocabulary for inquiry even before our teachers were officially trained. When it came time to collaborate on lessons with me, I didn’t have to sell them on the process. They hit the plan time running, immediately asking things like “What should we do for Open?” I have never in my career had such an easy time implementing new strategies. Inquiry Circles, letting students develop their own questions, and evaluate their own sources did not require a sell because the teaching staff had experienced the benefit first hand.

Additionally, by serving as a resource through the process of developing growth plans in the Guided Inquiry model I was able to heighten my profile as a teacher leader in my building. I feel like I have always been valued in my building but for those librarians who struggle to prove their worth, partnering with your principal to provide PD is a great way to raise awareness of your value as well as being able to share your philosophy and agenda for student learning with an entire staff. There are only wins when you team up with a willing administrator. Wins for you, your library, your staff, and your students.

Our administrator had established a solid foundation that strongly supported my program and student learning. In my next post, I will share the impact this culture of Guided Inquiry had on our students.

Concepts and Questioning

Yesterday, I explained how I spent last semester introducing the Guided Inquiry Design model to a cohort of teachers at my high school. Today is all about showing student work related the Open, Immerse, Explore, and Identify phases of GID inquiry-based learning. I’m going to extend my discussion about using questioning as part of implementing GID by showcasing a unit my library service learners completed. I’m also going to show how one English teacher in particular worked to implement concept-based research assignments as well as questioning into her curriculum.

I am fortunate that my school offers media center service learning as an elective unit of credit. Students fill out an application and we take teacher recommendations. The students who participate learn about running a library, fielding reference questions, researching the future of libraries, you name it! My fellow librarian Karen Hill and I have developed a unit focused on learning about social injustice. For the Open phase in this unit, our students watched 2 shorter documentaries posted on the New York Times website (Check out the website, you’ll get lost in the possibilities!). We kept a shared Google Doc of questions in order to provide scaffolding at the beginning of the unit. For the Immerse phase, we created a gallery walk with 13 stations featuring various examples of social injustice in the world today. Students read from print books, articles, infographics, watched clips from documentaries, political cartoons, statistics, all sorts of fun stuff! They had to create their own lists of questions about each topic as they rotated through each station.

And there are so many opportunities here for embedding information literacy skills. Have students practice citing sources as they create questions, and have them question the sources themselves. Introduce them to authoritative resources they won’t know about, such as the ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States! Once students have experience with the gallery walk approach, start having them select the sources instead of the media specialist!

I cannot emphasize enough how effective we have found the stations activity to be in my experience with implementing GID. Students can move through the stations at their own paces, ideally, or you can use a timer if more structure is needed. Students respond honestly and find topics they are genuinely interested in. The great part about this particular group was that once we entered the Identify phase, only 2 students out of 10 chose a topic that was included in the 13 stations! They branched out and found other topics, which was inspiring to watch.

We had one particularly great success story this past year with a reluctant learner. She didn’t like to read at all, and it was hard each day to keep her from texting the entire class period. She truly blossomed during this project. She chose to research teen suicide because, as she told us, she didn’t know anything about it. She was engaged in her research and in her proposal wrote that maybe our high school should establish a help hotline.

Remember that in GID you do not begin a unit with an assignment; you begin a unit with an open invitation to learn! We didn’t introduce the assignment until the Identify phase. Don’t let students get stuck on the mechanics of the assignment; you’d rather their energy be spent on the content!

Now, back to the awesome English teachers I work with! In our cohort, we focused on designing concept-based research opportunities driven by student-led questioning beginning with the Open, Immerse, and Explore phases. One classroom English teacher, Sarah Plant, re-envisioned her traditional Great Gatsby research paper (by the way, Sarah recently had to move away. We’ll be sad about that for a long time). While students might traditionally research aspects of the 1920s, she realized that assignment might fall under the “bird unit” categorization. While it is, of course, still necessary and worthwhile to know and to understand 1920s culture for successful reading of that novel, we realized that there might be more effective opportunities for authentic learning and research by moving to a more concept-based assignment. Plus, students are too tempted to simply copy and paste information with “bird unit” assignments!

For the Open phase, Sarah had the students watch some short videos and they wrote down questions while watching, then sharing as a class. Sarah next came up with 3 concepts related to The Great Gatsby: effects of social media, effects of poverty (and the American Dream), and effects of money on happiness. (While choosing the concepts ahead of time provided scaffolding, students were allowed to research their own concepts discovered throughout this process.) Karen and I then searched through our databases for information related to the concepts. We printed relevant articles, infographics, found print books, encyclopedias, etc. (For example, try “How to Buy Happiness” from the Atlantic, April 2017). We then designed a gallery walk activity for the Immerse phase. Students were given time to visit each station as a group. The groups designed questions based on each station’s focus.

Most of the groups wrote down superficial questions, which gave us an opportunity to model asking effective questions. We also monitored the students while they worked in groups, giving guidance and suggestions as needed.

Sarah shared that moving toward researching concepts required more advanced researching from the students. This move required more synthesis skills from the students, and they genuinely learned something because they chose their topics. She saw improved essay structures and stronger thesis statements because they weren’t just trying to summarize historical information about the 1920s.

Sarah also had the students include questions about their topics and learning goals on the grading rubric:

This part of her project touches on the last stage of GID, Evaluate. I spent a good deal of time in our cohort meetings emphasizing the importance of self-reflection throughout the entire inquiry process. I shared some strategies I used in my own classroom to help students evaluate not only their skills but also their behaviors. Creating specific goals for each assignment keeps students from feeling overwhelmed, particularly the reluctant learners.

In my next post, I’ll share how I worked with Jena Smith to embed some more in-depth information literacy skills during the Gather phase of her research project, which gave me an opportunity to use an amazing article by Leslie Maniotes and Anita Cellucci! Stay tuned, again! (I’m sorry y’all, I have too much to share about GID and I just can’t help myself. Anyone who read this far, I love you.)

-Jamie Gregory, @gregorjm jamie.gregory@spart5.net

Sarah Plant, sarahel2@gmail.com

It All Starts With A Question…?

Greetings from South Carolina! My name is Jamie Gregory, and I am a public high school media specialist in the Upstate of SC at James F. Byrnes High School. I taught high school English for 8 years (including 1 year of French) and just finished my 4th year as a media specialist. I completed my MLIS degree in 2012 from the University of South Carolina, and I was introduced to the GID model during my time there as a graduate student. While I also learned other inquiry models, I found the GID model particularly effective and applicable because it is research-based. Also, Kuhlthau’s ISP model is life-changing. Reading the research on the emotions and behaviors underlying the research and learning processes really changed how I approached the research process while I was still a classroom English teacher.

South Carolina recently adopted new ELA standards, specifically dedicating a strand to inquiry-based learning. Let me tell you, we are doing some great things in SC! Major props to the standards committee for recognizing the proven effectiveness of inquiry-based learning. The state standards document even goes so far as to explicitly state that inquiry-based learning should be incorporated by all classroom teachers, not just ELA:

Can I get an AMEN?! (or whatever you’d like to shout enthusiastically!)

So, given all this change, my district decided to offer a professional development cohort called Inquiry in the Classroom. When the head of professional development asked for volunteers to lead it, I knew I wanted to jump in so I could also promote the role of the media specialist in inquiry-based learning.

I led Inquiry in the Classroom, a professional development cohort of 18 English, Social Studies, Science, and special education teachers grades 9-12, from January to May of 2017. We met once per month, and I knew I wanted to share the GID model with these teachers. I also knew that I wanted to have teachers begin to implement aspects of inquiry-based learning throughout the semester so that we could have brainstorming sessions at our meetings to share successes and opportunities for improvement.

My posts this week are going to feature my collaborations with 3 English teachers at my school: Sarah Plant, Jena Smith, and Michael Jett. They are truly awesome educators and I can’t thank them enough for working with me this past year.

I spent a lot of time during the cohort sharing resources about the importance of questioning. (I also highly recommend the book Cultivating Curiosity by Wendy Ostroff!) Meeting students in the Third Space so they can choose topics and ideas that interest them and affect them personally is so important, and educators can help them discover new topics that students didn’t even know they wanted to learn more about! By the time we get our students in grade 10, some students have already “gotten by” with being passive learners. So when they are asked to be curious, ask questions, and engage in real-world issues, they truly aren’t sure what that looks like.

But don’t worry, we always have a few tricks up our sleeves!

Idea #1!  One activity for creating questions comes from a very effective professional book, Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: maximizing your impact by Judi Moreillon. Chapters are organized by 7 strategies, and I focused on the chapter titled Questioning. Visit the ALA.org website to see the online extras available for this book! (Trust me, there is so much good stuff here you will feel overwhelmed by what to try first!) http://www.alaeditions.org/web-extra-coteaching-reading-comprehension-strategies-secondary-school-libraries


In our March cohort meeting, I had the teachers watch a brief video about coal mining today.

I chose this particular video as an example to use with students in a science classroom because information literacy skills can be embedded along with science content knowledge (have students question the source of this video! Challenge them to find a video from an opposite bias!).  In order to model how you might use the above handout in the classroom during the Open and Immerse stages, as a cohort we brainstormed some questions we thought we had about coal mining today before watching the video. Then while we watched the video, each person wrote down questions. After the video, we wrote even more questions after sharing! This activity works really well to show students the recursive nature of questioning and learning. Then the bottom of this handout addresses metacognitive skills as well as information literacy skills! So wonderful!

Idea #2! For middle and high schoolers, there are a number of wonderful nonfiction series to help students research argumentative topics. We particularly like At Issue, Critical World Issues, Current Controversies, Opposing Viewpoints, and Thinking Critically. Some of these series provide questions as chapter titles, which we used with some classes. Some databases like SIRS Issues Researcher also provide questions related to various topics which can be used for scaffolding. Partner up with your media specialist to learn what resources you already have in your school library! These resources can effectively be used during the Open and Immerse stages, particularly if you have your media specialist set up a gallery walk with stations.

In this screenshot, SIRS Issues Researcher (a ProQuest product) suggests various subtopics related to Military Ethics and represents those subtopics by questions!

In this screenshot, you can see how SIRS Issues Researcher provides a few critical thinking questions when students click on a topic. Don’t miss the essential question in the background!

I will feature ideas and student work from Sarah Plant and my library service learners in tomorrow’s post to continue the discussion about questioning, and I will include how we focused on developing concept-based research assignments. Stay tuned!

-Jamie Gregory @gregorjm jamie.gregory@spart5.net

Jazz, Will Rogers, and Saving the Earth – Elementary students Questions in GID

As you might imagine as we move down the spectrum of levels in this “vertical” look at inquiry questions will include more simplistic questions at the elementary level.

In today’s post we have a few student questions from Kelsey Barker from three of her GID units in her Elementary School from last year.

Kelsey is an active GIDer and has written for this blog multiple times. To read her other posts click here.

Photo credit https://www.emaze.com/@AFQCROTQ/THE-JAZZ-AGE

Photo credit https://www.emaze.com/@AFQCROTQ/THE-JAZZ-AGE

Last school year, Kelsey worked with the music teacher on a Guided Inquiry unit on music appreciation. In that unit, the fifth graders asked specific questions about the Jazz Age.

  • What was life like in the Jazz Age?
  • What was the impact of Ella Fitzgerald on Jazz music?

These questions are not the run of the mill fact based questions we typically require in research units for fifth graders. These are interesting questions! Teachers would usually have the content laid out and require that all students find out when the Jazz Age was? Where did the Jazz Age take place? and Who were the main people connected with this? These are not only easy to find the answers, (just Google it) but they are low level factual questions that require no critical thinking to answer. The right questions for inquiry, at any level, are the ones where students need to investigate multiple sources to address them. The questions above can be labeled as great student questions from an inquiry.

Photo Credit http://flyokc.com

Photo Credit http://flyokc.com

The Biography unit! Many states have in their standards a list of famous people that the students in third grade have to know. If they don’t have that list, then students typically have a biography unit at some point in upper elementary. That unit traditionally turns into that Bird Report that David Loertscher warned us about long ago, where teachers have students pick one person from a list and they get the required information about that person, date of birth, young life, challenges and successes and so forth.

In Norman, through working with many teams on how to make the traditional biography unit an interesting inquiry based unit, we have flipped that famous people unit on it’s head. Instead of a list we start with thinking about the concept of a legacy, or what makes people great or famous.  This becomes a natural way into reading many biographies. Through this GID unit students can learn about not one but maybe even more famous people in order to understand the concept of what makes people famous. One student’s real question from that work was:

  • Why is so much stuff in Oklahoma named after Will Rogers?

There you have it! The student actually asked the question that we want them to know! But this time, they have a real desire to find the answers to that question and their learning, as a result, will be much richer than if we had them pick from a list and find stock information about Will Rogers. Don’t you agree?

A small innovation to a traditional unit can make a BIG difference in how students respond and what they learn as a result.  That’s the power of GID.

Photo credit http://www.safetysign.com/products/p7440/recycle-symbol-sign

Photo credit http://www.safetysign.com/products/p7440/recycle-symbol-sign

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! What a great thing to teach our next generation!  Through a first grade unit on Recycling using Guided Inquiry Kelsey and her team’s students came up with their own questions like :

  • How does recycling help the earth?
  • Why do we recycle?
  • What happens when we don’t save water?

These are basic but real questions that the students had.  In the early years of using Guided Inquiry students learn that their questions matter and that they can actively find out the answers to their real questions through research. This forms the foundation on which learning how to learn through inquiry begins and develops over the years.

So ends my week of posts on student questioning!  Many of you will be starting school with students this week… to you, good luck and best wishes on a year full of student questioning and research to you all!

Leslie Maniotes

Author Guided Inquiry Series

Beginning with the end in mind – Student Questions from High School

This week we are talking about student questions, what questions students come up with within the context of a GID unit, and how they relate to and address the content of the curriculum.  With these posts, we hope to inspire you to let go and structure your learning using the GID process so that students are doing the asking.

Let’s start with the end in mind.  I’ll begin with high school so that you can get a feel for the level of questioning that occurs in academic content area courses in high school.  Then I’ll work down through middle school onto elementary to show you how those questions look as well.

So, we begin at Westborough High School in Westborough, Massachusetts.  Anita Cellucci and Kathleen Stoker are a GID learning team extrodinare.  Anita, just this week, was named as a finalist for the librarian of the year award by SLJ and Scholastic! Congratulations to one of our best! And her teammate, Kathleen teaches a course on Psychology and Literature that she described on our blog in April. Their work together is what every collaboration aspires to do, their collaborative work raises above and beyond what either of these two could do on their own.

In their course that was expertly designed using the GID process, students had questions that were personally relevant, interesting, and were centered within the content of the course.  The process of Guided Inquiry support your learning team to get students there.  As you read these questions- see if you can

  1. determine what learning goal Kathleen had for her course
  2. see how students are interested in what they will study
  3. think about what might have been something the students had been exposed to or asked to consider before identifying their question

Here they are:

“How are veterans affected by PTSD and what are some ways they are treated?”

“What is stress? What physical and emotional impacts are there due to stress and what are ways to cope with it?”

“How does music therapy affect an individual mentally and physically, and how can using music therapy benefit the patient over other types of therapies?”

“How are students affected by sleep deprivation and what can schools to do to help students?”

“How does art therapy help in ways that other therapies do not?”

“In what ways can technology be addictive and how can this problem be addressed?”

Through examining these questions, the students connections to their own experiences jump out at you, their interests are clear, and the content is also evident even without knowing the syllabus for Kathleen’s Psychology in Literature class.  It also seems that they had some idea that there were therapies that could help people, and most students were interested in knowing about the problem as well as the solutions that exist for that problem.  Pretty exciting topics and worth sharing with a wider audience, don’t you think!?  To read more about this unit, read Kathleen’s posts from April.  They’ll be doing this unit again this year, so maybe we’ll get a round 2 of blog posts to hear how it went this year! 😉

The next unit offers us a little sneak peek into the book coming out in December as this unit is described in detail there!  The book is Guided Inquiry Design in Action: High School.  In it we have four units of study just like we did in the Middle School book!  The unit Anita and Marci did was described here in Marci and Anita’s posts. They worked together on a Physical Science unit for ninth grade. Through the process they built a large inquiry community with the many sections of this course and they met in the large library 2 sections at a time.  When it came to Identify the students wrote their questions on chart paper that were posted around the library so that all the students could see the variety of interests across all groups in the larger InquiryCommunity.  Here’s a picture of one of the charts.IMG_8371

Some of the students questions

What is the role of gravitational force in our everyday lives? And, in what ways can it be changed into a different form of force?

How do different types of media effect sound waves and how does this relate to communication?

How are Newton’s laws related to earth and in what ways is this information used to explore other planets?

In what ways does the architecture of a building effect it’s stability in the wind?

What is the role of force and friction in field hockey?

How can a figure skater improve by studying physics?

Again, with these questions you can see a direct tie to the content of physical science and physics.  Students have a real desire to know the answer to these questions.  The questions connect to their lives and are bridges to the Third Space.  There is higher order thinking going on as well as interpretation and application of content from the first three phases evidenced in these questions.

I like how a few of them use the beginning frame of  “In what ways… Or what role does…”  Notice, we often say “why questions” are the most open ended, but “what questions” are really useful when students know enough background knowledge to ask a “what question” that will take them deeper into the content, as these do here.

So this sample of REAL questions are examples to you, to calm your fears of students asking off the wall questions that won’t relate to the content of the course.  And to help you trust the process, because when you design units using EVERY phase of GID, students identify wonderful useful questions.

Thanks again to Anita, Marci and Kathleen for sharing their work with me and all of us!

More on middle school questions in the next post!

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Author of the Guided Inquiry Series

Student Questions Drive the Process

Hi 52_GID Readers!

It’s Leslie Maniotes – author of the GID series on the blog this week.

EVERYbody is gearing up for their new year and few have time to take on the blog this week.  So, I am lucky to have a week to share some new thoughts and experiences from working with the professional development side of GID.

One of the best aspects of Guided Inquiry Design, and perhaps the most scary for teachers, is that students learn by asking their own questions. We know that student curiosity and questioning is at the core of all inquiry based learning.

At one of my professional development sessions with our partner Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools last week, a very smart librarian wanted to know exactly what these student questions about the content standards would look like.  At the beginning, teachers must take a leap of faith into the unknown with Guided Inquiry Design in order to let go and allow students to ask their own questions.  That is the real beauty of the design, though, because with GID, smart educators can intentionally design the first three phases so that students arrive at marvelous questions that address the content and are truly interesting to our students! That’s the sweet spot and the real trick of intentional instructional design for inquiry based learning!  😉

The best designed inquiry learning supports all students through the first three phases to help students to arrive at an intellectually stimulating and interesting question on the content standards in the unit of study.

Guided Inquiry Design Process

I knew that high level questioning was happening in the schools, classrooms, and libraries where I have worked with excellent educators to know how to use this model to design their inquiry based learning. So, I asked my GID crew- who are AMAZING!  And, of course, I got responses from each level High School, Middle School, and Elementary level.  REAL questions from REAL kids about the content under study. In the next three posts I’ll share those questions  and some reflections on them in order to help you to ….Keep-calm-and-carry-on

Side note – do you know the history behind this poster?  It’s a fascinating relic from WWII  – an actual poster of British war propaganda.  Find out more here.

But, before we begin, in order to prime your thinking about the power of student questioning in learning, Here’s a 6 minute TED Talk video of science teacher Ramsey Musallam describing what he calls the 3 rules to spark imagination and learning. (Thank you to Kathryn Lewis and Lee Nelson of Norman Public Schools for sharing this video with me! It’s so aligned with Guided Inquiry and what we believe about real learning!)

Ramsey Musallam 3 rules

 It took a life-threatening condition to jolt chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam out of ten years of “pseudo-teaching” to understand the true role of the educator: to cultivate curiosity. In a fun and personal talk, Musallam gives 3 rules to spark imagination and learning, and get students excited about how the world works.

Enjoy that video and come back tomorrow for more about students real questions in GID!

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Author + Professional Developer

Guided Inquiry Design

A-HA Moment

A-ha moments

As I close out my fourth year of the GID project, I am thinking about some of the connections that my students make.  First, I believe that science gets a bad rap.  Yes, it IS hard, but not impossible.  Students seem to have roadblocks in their minds about science and what it really means.  Students were asked to connect their inquiry question with any part of a topic in physics.  As soon as I said the word physics, students’ eyes got huge.  They were not confident they understood what physics was.  As we plugged along with the project this spring, I kept reminding students that they needed to relate their research back to physics.  

But, what did that mean?  These kids were really stressing out.  So, one day, we took out the old-fashioned textbook.  I asked students to flip through the book and see if there were any words/phrases/topics, etc. that they have seen within their research.  The goal was to recognize that physics was embedded in their current research – it was implied through the articles that they were already reading.  

For example, one student came after school one day.  She really was panicking stating that there were no physics connections to her topic.  I asked the student just to tell me, in her own words, what she had been reading.  After the student says that ‘nothing about physics,’ she proceeds to describe the aurora borealis.  I let her speak for about a minute.  I stopped her and repeated one of her sentences….the aurora borealis consists of light (physics) with different wavelengths (physics) and speed of light (physics times two)….  I then asked – what are waves, what about the electromagnetic spectrum?  The surprised look on this girl’s face when she realized that she was already reading about physics and it wasn’t a formal chapter that she had to learn about was fabulous.  

I did, in fact, have several of these types of conversations with my students.  It was great to see the relief and awareness that they had already made meaningful connections.  While the textbook was helpful, conversations were also very important.


It’s all about the questions

Our school has implemented two big and a couple of smaller GID units this year.  My dear friend Paige Holden has already blogged about an 8th grade research unit that our school planned and implemented as a result of attending the GID training.  I would like to talk about one component of a larger unit that I will never forget.


Civil Rights Movement:


We did a large unit with 7th grade English teachers.  In the interest of not taking credit for someone else’s work,  I feel obligated to say that the librarian at our school, Kristin Lankford, and 7th grade English teachers did most of the planning of this unit.  My role in this unit was primarily in implementation.  


7th grade students learned about the civil rights movement by asking difficult questions.  During the identify phase of the unit, 7th grade English classes came to the library to read articles about different events that happened during the civil rights movement.  We had between 90-105 students who rotated through 10 stations over the course of 3 days.  Each station was equipped with several copies of an article about a particular civil rights event.  Each station had a large piece of butcher paper and markers. Students read the article with their group and wrote down facts, questions, thoughts, impressions and comments about the articles.  All adults that were there (we had some teacher illness, library meetings, and various other stuff that pulled us in different directions) wandered between groups and entered discussions as needed.


IMG_1511 (1)
The three classes weren’t used to being mixed together, so the kids were pretty excited.  It took longer for them to settle into class than I thought it would.  The first day of the identification wasn’t quite as productive as the other two, but we as educators learned a lot and were able to make some adjustments that helped.  We erased or crossed out all of the illuminati symbols that the kids drew, looked for naughty words, and gave lectures about the appropriate use of markers (they shall not be thrown like darts at your neighbor).   The next two days were quite incredible.  The comments and questions that the students had were so mature and interesting.  My favorite question was “Who came up with racism?  Why not white people rather than colored?”.  I read it over and over and over and over.  I felt like if one kid gets it to this extent, that we had done a great job.  I continued reading and there were many great comments and questions with such depth.  

IMG_1510 (2)


We left the comments and questions out for all three days so all of the classes could read what other students were thinking.  Here is an example of what the papers looked like at the end of the third day. (The back is completely full, too.)


As you can see, some of the comments were reporting dates, names, events, etc., but for me, I think the beauty lies in the questions.

Terri Curtis

Taking Steps Back So We Can Move Forward

Happy weekend, friends!

This post brings to a close the discussion of our Norman Public Schools Guided Inquiry unit for 5th grade science. Coincidentally, yesterday was our third planning meeting, so we want to tell you a little about our work then.

In our last meeting, we made some great progress fleshing out the student activities and hammering out tasks. Today was a little different: we ran into some philosophical roadblocks. But not only is it necessary to solve these problems now, before the unit goes to the teachers, but it was productive and thought-provoking to discuss with the planning team.

But before we get into that, let’s talk about what we did:

The NPS Dream Team! From left: Kelsey Barker, Buffy Edwards, Lee Nelson, Jeff Patterson, Teresa Lansford, Glen Stanley, Toni Gay

The NPS Dream Team!
From left: Kelsey Barker, Buffy Edwards, Lee Nelson, Jeff Patterson, Teresa Lansford, Glen Stanley, Toni Gay


Immediately, we divided the team into two groups: Jeff and Glen started working on the hands-on investigations for the unit, while the rest of us began to discuss the instructional sequence for each phase. Based on the comments Leslie left on this post regarding the student’s’ ability to generate their own questions, we discussed how to facilitate this in our unit. We both agree that one of the hardest parts of Guided Inquiry is getting young students to ask questions that will lead to the desired learning goals. We ultimately decided to give the teachers (optional) sentence stems to kick off the question-asking in the right direction.

At this point, Jeff had us take a step back and discuss possible interactions between each of the six combinations of speheres. As a group, we listed as many possible in each category… and quickly realized that this is HARD! But we could start to see some patterns emerging, and this exercise made everything else seem a bit more doable.

More giant sticky notes!

More giant sticky notes!


Because the spontaneous brainstorming activity was so useful for us, we decided to make it a part of the EXPLORE phase. As students look through their resources and begin to generate questions, they will add the interactions they come across to a master list. Ah, the power of collective brainstorming!

We also realized through brainstorming that most interactions involve 3 or even 4 of the spheres. It was so fun to interact with the content like the students will be doing! So we changed the objective of CREATE to state “Students will create an infographic showing the interactions between AT LEAST 2 spheres.” This opens up the opportunity for students to develop their infographic with 3 spheres from the start.

With our plan outlined, we took a step back to look at the big picture, and we realize another aspect of our planning process that is different from designing a site-specific plan: we don’t know the dynamics of the teachers who will use it. Fifth grade teachers in NPS may or may not have been trained in Guided Inquiry. They may or may not have done a previous GI unit, and as Jeff pointed out, they may have varying levels of comfort with the science content, technology tools, and standards.  

To add to our challenges, we see our unit potentially  functioning as district-wide marketing for Guided Inquiry. As librarians, as we work to implement the process in our schools, we have to help our staff understand that it is a worthwhile endeavor. A bad experience with this 5th grade unit could put a whole grade level off of Guided Inquiry. No pressure!

The planning team hard at work

The planning team hard at work

These are new challenges for our team, and while it’s good that we are dealing with them now, it feel especially imperative that we get it right the first time. Ultimately, following Jeff’s advice, we settled on providing as much support and as many suggestions and ideas in the teacher guide as possible. Teachers who are (understandably) uncomfortable with the new process will be able to follow the prescribed outline, while others will still have room for flexibility and innovation. Not only will this structure support teachers who may be uncomfortable with the process, but it will also help make the process (and the students) successful, which will hopefully help teachers understand the value of the Guided Inquiry process. When we introduce the unit to teachers, we will also make sure they understand our intentions that every site will be able to tailor the unit to their particular needs. And as Jeff said, what they do after we give them the plans is up to them. 

So that’s where we are at. Every member of our team has some homework so that when we meet in two weeks, we can refine and finalize our plans. We cannot wait to see the final product of this unit!

It’s been so much fun blogging this week, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our Guided Inquiry adventure. Perhaps after  the unit has been implemented we can share how it went and have feedback from teachers and students as well.  Until then — Cheers to success with all your  Guided Inquiry endeavors!
Kelsey & Buffy