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.

 

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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.  

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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.)

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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