Sunday, January 29, 2012

Primary Inquiry

Excitement is building in this primary class around inquiry learning. The students are learning, studying, researching and asking questions about animals. They are working in small groups, building their understanding and learning deeply about their topic of interest. Talking and thinking together is helping them to make new and better meaning. This actually leads me to bullet number 4 from the list Inquiry Approach VS Coverage Approach posted on our website (Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels 2009)...
Strategic Thinking VS Memorization
Students in this classroom are developing their critical thinking skills by working on projects that are authentic and kid-driven.  Ms. Parent fosters curiosity and encourages students to think, talk and collaborate. 
Teacher models, models, models!
She began this process by teaching the students how to talk and turn. She explicitly taught them how to read non-fiction text and gather information with a variety of lessons, read alouds and teaching small group with guided inquiries. One lesson taught students how to track their thinking.

Creating guidelines
Tracking our thinking
This process took time but once Ms. Parent felt they had the skills, strategies and understanding for learning and working in small groups, the inquiry began!
Students picked an animal to research and groups were created. The first step into the inquiry was to work on a question chart –
What I Know/ Questions I have
More to follow…

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Let's Make a Movie!

Yeah! We made an iMovie about our TLLP project and what inquiry-based teaching means to us. Check it out and let us know what you think!

Since we had so much fun creating our movie, we invited students to create their own iMovie for the ‘Space’ project.  The students picked an area of interest and began working in groups of 3 or 4.

Collaborative Work VS Solitary Work

Let’s consider point number three ‘Collaborative Work Versus Solitary Work’ from the list on our website. We have found that one of the most important strategies in inquiry-based learning is to create the culture of collaboration and small group work. Research shows, that in order for our students to be successful in the 21st century, they will need to develop effective collaboration skills.

We teach our students how to build these skills with specific lessons. One lesson we use is called “Home Court Advantage: Showing Friendliness and Support “ developed by Nancy Steinke and shared on page 126 in “Comprehension and Collaboration” by Daniel Harvey and Stephanie Daniels.  At the beginning of the school year, we model and teach many lessons about how proficient collaborators think and act plus we show them what social strategies look and sound like. If you haven't started small group collaboration, you can develop and build these strategies anytime during the school year...'effective groups are made, not born.' 

Our students have lots of experience working in small groups so they were able to create groups quickly and start work on their iMovie projects. We were able to observe them listening actively, sharing and encouraging each other, and showing tolerance and respect. The students picked an area of interest, decided on a question, did their research and started working on their movie. It's amazing how quickly they can create movies and how easy it is for them to work together in small groups.  I can't wait to see their final product. 

How do you encourage group work? What does small group work look like in your classroom?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Where are the Aliens?

Students arrived back to school this week excited to learn about our next inquiry. They were thrilled to find out that we will be investigating ‘Space.’

Let’s continue the conversation and discussion about inquiry-based learning in the classroom. As we look at point number two “Questions and Concepts VS Assigned Topics and Isolated Facts” from the chart Inquiry Approach VS the Coverage Approach* on our website, we get the “space” study started in our classroom.

Questions and Concepts VS Assigned Topics and Isolated Facts

We introduced the concept of ‘space’ to our students and we will encourage them to develop their own questions for inquiry. However, the first step was to gather as many text resources as we could, from the school and community libraries or Internet.  Next, to activate and build their background knowledge we introduced vocabulary and the text/digital resources by allowing them to read independently, watch informational video clips and give them time to share their findings. The question we modeled, that hooked them was “Where are the Aliens?” They absolutely loved it!  This process took about three days and the students will be ready to develop questions for their inquiry. 

When we begin the inquiry process, asking questions is central to inquiry-based learning.  So, in the following weeks we will focus on helping our students develop their own questions about ‘space.’ We can’t wait to begin our journey with them…what will our students learn?

We'd love to know how you began the New Year with your students? How did you encourage your students to question and learn about concepts?   

*Stephanie Harvey, Harvey Daniels, 2009, Comprehension and Collaboration. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Happy 2012

Welcome readers to our blog! We have big plans for expanding the website and writing a blog. To kick off 2012 join us in our discussion of how you have encouraged or plan to encourage inquiry-based learning in the classroom.  Inquiry-Based learning "is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic, or espouses investigation, exploration, research, pursuit, and study."* For more information on what inquiry-based learning is please see our website.

So to begin this discussion let's start with looking at the Inquiry approach versus the Coverage approach. The differences between the two approaches can be found in bullet form on our website, but to break it down lets start by looking at the first point.

Student Voice and Choice VS. Teacher Selection and Direction

This year we encouraged student voice and choice through a class project on the theme of flight. Students were given free rein to look at the specific aspects that interested them.  The ideas of flight was taken as the base for exploration and discovery of all aspects from the science and engineering of air travel, to the history and biographies of various pilots.  The students were further encouraged to work in groups based on their interests.  Those who chose biographical information created podcasts based on their research of the individual and acted out interviews to share the information with larger audiences. Using google earth students were also able to map out the flight path of famous pilots such as Amelia Earheart. Others created model airplanes to explore the science of flights.  

Research was undertaken in groups and individually. Group based research included analyzing photographs as a class and creating discussion.  The library and internet was used for individual research.  Inspired by the National Geographic's article "If Only We Had Wings" and all this research a debate unfolded about the nature of flight and whether or not it is possible for humans to achieve flight on their own. 

The quality and caliber of each students' work was astounding. Active engagement and participation was present in the student's obvious interest in their selected topic.  Learning was sought and internalized through group work but also on an individual level.  The collaboration and group work was very inspiring to us as teachers and a great wrap up to our 2011 year. Can't wait to get back to class!

How did you encourage student voice and choice in 2011? Do you have any plans to encourage Inquiry-based learning in 2012? Join this discussion by sending us your comment below!!

*Guided Inquiry Learning in the 21st Century, Kuhltau, Maniotes, Caspari, Libraries Unlimited, 2001