As mentioned in our last post, our journey into guided inquiry began this year with a unit on Mesopotamia. Social studies was a new subject for Cara, one of our seventh grade teachers. Cara was especially interested in trying a new approach to teaching- specifically one that was more project-based and student-centered. Enter the perfect solution: guided inquiry.
Using Harvey Daniels’ framework outlined in Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action, our Mesopotamia unit was structured as follows:
- Immerse students into the topic
- Investigate to narrow the focus of the research
- Intensify research and synthesize information
- Go public and demonstrate learning
During the immersion process, students were presented with the essential question, “How did the developments of Mesopotamia influence modern-day civilizations?” Besides flooding students with various resources during this stage, the focus was on modeling. The inquiry approach was not only new to us, but it was also new to the students. Students needed extensive practice and guidance with learning how to read and interpret different mediums including texts, videos, and websites. Various reading strategies were modeled by Peggy and Cara, and students used the “I see, I think, I wonder” template as they completed guided practice during this stage.
We also introduced a number of web tools such as Padlet and Read and Write– tools that not only encouraged collaboration, but they also allowed for differentiation. We created anchor charts by Factstorming , which were displayed on classroom walls throughout the unit. New information was categorized and added as discoveries were made. Students did a Gallery Walk towards the end of the unit as a means of sharing new learning. It was exciting to watch students come to those ah ha! moments and make connections all on their own as they uncovered more about this ancient civilization. Check out our video below to explore the fun students had during their gallery walks.
After a week of intense immersion, students were grouped into “inquiry circles,” and they had to decide on one specific research topic. Within their groups, they broke their topics into subtopics with each student responsible for only a small portion of the research. I spent time in the classroom talking to students about proper research techniques; this included narrowing a topic, using library databases, citing sources, and evaluating websites. Using Lucid Chart, each group created a collaborative concept map to identify and narrow their topics into specific parts. Since we are a Google Apps for Education School, it was easy for students to share notes and graphic organizers with other group members.
In the next phase, intensifying research and synthesizing information, students worked individually to find information on their specific subtopics. In some cases this is where the roadblocks occurred. Despite the fact that our students have access to a wide variety of subscription databases, ebooks, print books, and other web resources, a number of students struggled to find substantial information on their chosen topics. For example, one student was interested in learning more about the invention of the wheel, but as we looked in various databases, books, and other reliable web sources, we found very little information. Not only did we learn more about the topics that did not lead to enough information, but this experience also led us to teach lessons on the importance of choosing narrow topics that were not too narrow. In this instance, we guided students on how to choose slightly broader topics that led to enough relevant research. We also introduced the students to Instagrok, an interactive concept map, which some students experimented with as a research tool. The research process itself definitely took more time than we had originally planned, but we stayed strong and figured out creative ways to work around the problems.
Finally, we were excited for the final stage: going public and demonstrating learning. As they worked to create their projects, I talked to students about the importance of digital safety and copyright as it pertains to adding music and images in multimedia presentations. I showed students some of my favorite copyright-free image sources and explained the importance of using others’ material legally especially when publishing something online. During the planning process, students came together in their groups and shared the information that they uncovered about their chosen subtopics and addressed the original essential question. As a large group they needed to decide how they would collaboratively present their information. Students had the choice to create an ABC book using Lucid Press, present a live talk show, or produce a Powtoon. What was most interesting was seeing how students worked through the creative process with very little structure or direction from us. They decided what information needed to be shared, and they decided how best to share it. Students were empowered to not only have complete ownership over what they researched, but they also had control over what they shared with the world at the end.
Click here to view an example of one group’s ABC book.
As you can imagine, we all learned A LOT from this process. Since this was the first time doing a true guided inquiry project for each of us, there were times when lesson plans were adjusted, more time than planned was given, and many changes were made along the way. Ultimately this project turned out to be a success as so many different 21st century skills were embedded: creative thinking, problem solving, authentic research, using various technologies, close reading of multimodal texts, collaboration, and evaluating different research resources, to name just a few. Our excitement caught the attention of the administration who continued to support the move to add guided inquiry into an eighth grade science unit on fracking and a seventh grade science unit on the human body systems.
In our next post we will share more about what we learned and what we modified in our future units. While it is important to celebrate our successes, it is also equally important to acknowledge our mistakes and how we have grown as a result.
Library Media Specialist
De Pere Middle School