Archives For Student Inquiry

Where is inquiry in the Ontario curriculum?

Inquiry_and Ontario Curriculum

It is amazing how having a different idea in your head, or lens if you will, can totally change how you interpret and experience a text.  I had this experience today when I re-read the front matter of the Ontario Language Arts Curriculum.  Think about inquiry, and read the following quotes from the language document: 

“this curriculum promotes the integration of the study of language with the study of other subjects”

“language curriculum is also based on the understanding that students learn best when they can identify themselves in their own experience in the material they read and study at school”

“It is also important to give students opportunities to choose what they read and what they write about, in order to encourage the development of their own interests and pursuits.”

“Students develop their literacy skills when they seek out recreational reading materials and multimedia works that relate to their personal interests and to other subject areas, and when they engage in conversations with parents, peers, and teachers about what they are reading, writing, viewing, representing and thinking in their daily lives.”

“Students should be given the kinds of assignments that provide opportunities to produce writing that is interesting and original and that reflects their capacity for independent and critical thought.”

“Students need well-developed language skills to succeed in all subject areas. The development of skills and knowledge in language is often enhanced by learning in other subject areas.”

And, best of all:

“Inquiry is at the heart of learning in all subject areas.”

inquiry is at the heart

Inquiry is at the heart of learning in the Ontario curriculum, everywhere except Native Languages, where the inquiry is nowhere to be found, which I think is puzzling since it is found in the Language and FSL documents.

What is inquiry-based learning?

Perhaps you read my previous post on inquiry after the BIT14 Conference? What is inquiry? I decided that an Ontario teacher could and perhaps should turn to Ontario resources to answer this question. There are two Ministry of Education monographs on the topic of student inquiry Inquiry-Based Learning and Getting Started with Student Inquiry in which inquiry is defined as follows:

Inquiry-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning that places students’ questions, ideas and observations at the centre of the learning experience.”

For students, the process often involves open-ended investigations into a question or a problem, requiring them to engage in evidence-based reasoning and creative problem-solving, as well as “problem finding.””

For Educators, the process is about being responsible to the students’ learning needs, and most importantly, knowing when and how to introduce students to ideas that will move them forward in their inquiry.”

Inquiry Based Learning and Problem Based Learning

These are two approaches that get me very excited. I am striving to provide experiences for my students that I think are nested under these headings.  I think the essential piece here is that we are making the sometimes smooth and easy (read boring) intellectual terrain of the classroom more rugged, bumpy and interesting by problematizing the curriculum.  Whether we do this by listening, watching, interpreting, reflecting or responding to students or whether we take a more teacher centred approach of setting the problem and inviting students in, the outcome is a richer and deeper learning experience.

Why do I feel it is especially important to think about IBL/PBL in the primary grades now?

I suspect, that our youngest learners at school are going to have different expectations of primary teachers. Our FDK learners will enter grades 1, 2 and 3 having had experiences with play-based learning where their questions were heard and honoured. These students are accustomed to many opportunities for student directed inquiry.

Below is a table from The Full-Day Early Learning – Kindergarten Program (Draft Version 2010-2011)

The Inquiry Process in Early Learning–Kindergarten Classrooms

 

What is a good model for inquiry-based learning?

Do a quick google search of inquiry models and you will see that inquiry comes in all shapes and sizes and with varying number of steps. What they all have in common is that they are usually circular in nature. Even the FDK model above is recursive. When the teacher listens to the children this is feeding forward to a potentially new investigation or going deeper.  Harvey and Daniels (2009) outline these steps for inquiry: Immerse, Investigate, Coalesce, and Go Public.

Inquiry-Cycle_Harvey and Daniels

Source: http://schools.spsd.sk.ca/curriculum/techyteacher/category/inquiry/

Immerse – building curiosity and background knowledge
Investigate – students research the subject matter; they ask questions, look for and find answers
Coalesce – more succinct searching occurs, summarizing, and building new knowledge
Go Public – students share what they have learned with other students

It’s about students posing questions, finding answers and taking action.  Teachers and students are co-authors of the learning in the classroom where we balance student and teacher agendas. Students plan, teachers monitor, and we all reflect.  Students have opportunities to ask questions and share their own theories on the world and how things work. These ideas are tested, fact-checked and then new theories and ideas emerge.  Students become very active and engaged learners with freedom, power and agency over their own learning.

Did you know?

27 to 1 teacher to student questionsFor every question a child asks in class, a teacher as 27 questions? (Source: Cecil & Pfeifer 2011).  These teacher questions are related to classroom management and are often low level questioning. To be fair, this comes from very, very old research. But, it made me reflect on the teacher question to student question ratio in my class as well as the depth of the questions posed.

Teachers and Students Learning to Ask Better Questions

Recently, Tony Vincent made an excellent post titled Crafting Questions that Drive Projects with great ideas.

Harvey and Daniels (2009) identify three types of questions for content-area reading that I think would be helpful in the inquiry process:

The Definition Questions:

  • What is it?
  • What is happening?
  • What is going on?

The Consequence Questions:

  • Why does it matter?
  • What difference does it make?
  • Why should I care?

The Action Questions:

  • How can we get involved?
  • How can we help?
  • What can we do about it?

There is, of course, Bloom’s Taxonomy too. But, what I didn’t know is that Bloom produced three taxonomies: cognitive, affective and psychomotor.

Source: http://gramconsulting.com/2009/02/fun-with-learning-taxonomies/

Source: http://gramconsulting.com/2009/02/fun-with-learning-taxonomies/

 

I know about thinking of questions from the Cognitive taxonomy and this works well for science and “efferent” reading which is the reading we do to learn. But when we are reading to be transported we are reading aesthetically (Harvey and Daniels, 2009, p.91).   In this case, would an affective structure for asking questions be more appropriate?

I do know that more thinking on questioning is in my future.

Resources and Further Reading:

Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension & collaboration: Inquiry circles in action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cecil, N., & Pfeifer, J. (2011). The art of inquiry: Questioning strategies for K-6 classrooms (Second ed.).

 

I am starting to feel more confident with teaching through inquiry based learning and problem based learning. One challenge can be getting started and deciding what to focus on for inquiry.  Though models of inquiry hint at starting points, I have 6 ideas in this post that came about through reading these sources.

Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension & collaboration: Inquiry circles in action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Barell, J., & Barell, J. (2007). Problem-based learning: An inquiry approach (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Stacey, S. (2011). The unscripted classroom: Emergent curriculum in action. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Capacity Building Series (2011) Getting Started with Student Inquiry

1. Use a factoid to invite and provoke student questions

In Problem-based learning: An inquiry approach (2nd ed.) the authors suggest starting with provoking factoids and then asking students to observe, think and question.  Use the factoid to get kids asking related questions.

For example, what questions come to mind when you read this factoid?

Tornadoes are nearly invisible whirling winds until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms inside the funnel.

Questions come to mind about vocabulary, but also about the shape and colour of tornadoes. Including a picture also helps students access prior knowledge and start wondering.

2. Quality Responding

Instead of thinking about what good questions a teacher should ask, think about asking students questions in response to their ideas. Ask students to expand and elaborate.

Teachers could try pushing student thinking forward by asking:

  • What do you wonder about now?
  • Does this suggest any new approaches, ideas to you worth investigating?
  • What kinds of connections can you make?
  • Where do we go from here?

3. Slow down

Both Susan Stacey, author of The Unscripted Classroom: Emergent Curriculum in Action and this Ontario monograph titled “Getting Started with Student Inquiry” suggest teachers slow down.  Observation is essential. Slow down and watch what children are doing. Reflect and interpret what you see. Then try to provoke a next step.  Slowing down and taking time to reflect and interpret is the fulcrum on which we can balance student’s authentic questions and theories with teacher’s agenda and the curriculum. We do not need to pit student interest and freedom in a fist fight with the curriculum.  If we as teachers know our curriculum and take time to reflect and interpret what our students are interested in, there is a way to honour their interests and curiosities. This is a chance for teachers to get creative and innovative.

balancing T and S agendas with time

4. Be on the look out for student’s questions, theories and persistent interests

Student driven inquiry does not need to start with a question. It can start when a teacher notices a student has a theory about something. This can be challenging since students are often bringing a lot of ideas, questions, and interests forward. Which ones do we focus on as educators?  When we notice that a student or a group of students are consistently interested in a topic, we should head in that direction. It’s best to focus on ideas that have some persistence according to Stacey (2011). Or, if you aren’t sure the idea merits moving forward with inquiry, test it out by provoking students with materials and resources and see if they take the bait.  The teacher can not and should not respond to every question and whim in the classroom. Or else, he or she will be like the golden retriever in this video, chasing after every little flash of student interest.

5. Use previous activities to feed forward

Don’t let the learning come to a full stop. Let investigations and units propel new topics. I need to work on this in a major way. So far this year we have taken a PBL or IBL approach to learning about magnets, friction and extreme weather. When the final assignment was in and graded that was it!  I didn’t go back and reflect. I didn’t go back and ask the students to look at each other’s work and see if there were some new questions to move us forward. I was the driver.  I was leading teacher directed PBL and IBL.  Now I know.

6. Help students make sense of non fiction text

Reading about an interesting topic is a great way to open up new questions. Help students use a coding system to monitor their thinking as they read. With paper books sticky notes work great. If iPads are available, Good Reader is my preferred markup app. This strategy comes from Harvey and Daniels (2008) Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action.

coding as we read

November 5-7 was the Bring IT Together Conference in Niagara Falls.  Here are some of the most discussed key words.  This graph shows how many times these words appeared in presentation write ups.  For what it is worth, innovation came up only 18 times at 7% of key words found in session titles and descriptions.

Key Words at BIT

I attended 6 totally different sessions on Inquiry

I attended six sessions on inquiry and they were all different.  In fact, if you were to get all these people and put them in the same room but ban them from using the word inquiry, I bet they would have no idea that they were interested in the same topic.

What is counter-intuitive, perhaps, is that each of the sessions was excellent and compelling.

But, if each group had a different take on inquiry, then, what is inquiry?

I am unsettled by how differently each presenter perceived inquiry.  What does it mean that each of these sessions was so completely different? Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? What is inquiry in Ontario schooling today?

What is inquiry?

According to a paper in the Journal of Science Teacher Education by Barrow (2006) and another article in ZDM Mathematics Education by Artigue and Blomhøj (2013)  inquiry can be any of the following:

  • a teaching strategy (teacher posing questions for inquiry)
  • a set of student skills
  • knowing about inquiry
  • being inquisitive and taking action
  • engaging students
  • hands on and minds on
  • manipulating materials
  • stimulating questions by students
  • learning to act like professionals in the field

Why is inquiry important?

From the same articles, the purpose of inquiry can be:

  • helping students prepare for a world of work and careers
  • fulfilling a personal need
  • fulfilling a societal need (critical thinkers)
  • helping prepare students academically
  • generating greater awareness
  • experiencing the discipline like real mathematicians, scientists, sociologist etc.

Inquiry as hands on investigations

Louise Robitaille and Peter Douglas presented on their classroom work about inquiry-based learning. They have compiled lots of resources here. Peter described spending a couple of weeks going deep into one theme or building project such as go carts. While he keeps his math separate, he lets the students engage in extended periods of creating, building and hands on learning.  From what was shared at the session, these two take the perspective that inquiry is about hands on to get the minds on.  It seemed like the purpose for inquiry was to engage and fulfill a personal need.  Here learning is a bi-product of a busy, unstructured and bustling with activity classroom.  The advice was to relax, let go and embrace where the students take you once you have provided a guiding question or a bunch of materials to inspire.

Read their session description here.

Fabulous session. Lots of honest talk about Peter’s classroom and the wonderful opportunities he provides.

Inquiry as a teaching strategy and a mindset

Aviva Dunsiger and Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper presented a half day session on inquiry.  What a great opportunity to go deep! They brought tonnes of examples of teacher work and student work.

They curated resources here and invited participants to crowd source even more information in the documents!  Their session was called Inquiry into Action and the description can be found here.

With a focus on the new social studies curriculum in Ontario, Aviva and Jo-Ann took inquiry to be a teaching approach that would leave students into thinking and taking action.  They saw their role to prompt and provoke. Next, they would guide students to ask their own questions and seek to find answers. They were comfortable with letting students ask questions they did not know the answer to and then made it their mission to support the students in finding out. I love that their was an emphasis on taking action and social awareness.  Another impressive session. But, a totally different take on inquiry.

Engaging Students

It is clear to many, including the thoughtful and nuanced thinker and educator Brandon Grasley, that engaging students can be achieved by inviting and supporting students own questions. His thoughtful blog post on engagement is also, as a side note, another write up on how challenging it is to grapple with these hot words of the day.

Then there was Inquiry Based Learning and E-Portfolios in FDK  (session description here) by passionate teacher-librarian Ray Mercer.  Students dressed up as astronauts and told stories of their learning journeys with the use of technology.

His presentation can be found here.  He has just received technology to augment inquiry learning with FDK students.  I wonder how that might change his approach to inquiry?

Hands on technology to inquire

Learning to act like professionals in the field

Inquiry Science Incorporating Technology was a session by secondary teacher Colin Jagoe.  The session description is here. Among other things, his students used Minecraft to do investigations to measure force of gravity in a Minecraft world by having Steve jump off towers. Here is an example I found online.  Colin presented his student’s work and shared how it was important that he let go and allow students to conduct investigations in contexts that were personally meaningful and interesting, like real scientists!  Did he plan the minecraft thing? Apparently not. But did he support it? Yes!

Amazingly, his students had done the same thing as a legitimate physics researcher. The only difference? The physics researcher has a PhD and published his findings in a peer-reviewed journal, here.

Impressive. Also, another totally different take on inquiry.

Inquiry in Ontario?

How important is inquiry in Ontario? Below is a chart representing the number of times the word appears in each of the most recent curriculum documents.

Inquiry Word Count

 

The mathematics curriculum word count is low. So, I checked problem solving (28 times) and solve problems (83 times). It would seem that problem solving and inquiry are perhaps synonymous.  Are they?

In closing, I am uncertain about what inquiry is and what it should look like in Ontario.

 

 

 

Skating Covent Garden London

Today Shannon Robb and I co-taught to kick off a new unit in Social Studies.  Through the picture above we were hoping to provoke students to think about aspects of daily life including:

  • Recreation
  • Clothing
  • Housing
  • Role of Children
  • Work
  • Religion and Spiritual Practices

 

 

We used a visible thinking strategy: I see, I think, I wonder.  Or, if you’re really fancy: I observe, I infer, I wonder.  The students wonderings are recording on this table below.

Student Number Wondering
20 I wonder if they are skating?
15 I wonder if they person with the white jacket was teaching the other guy.
8 I wonder if there is a restaurant?
19 I wonder if it’s London, Ontario
17 I wonder if it’s in London?
6 I wonder if it is Christmas time?
12 I wonder if the Christmas lights are in downtown London?
23 I wonder why there is snow.
14 I wonder if the snow hasn’t melted yet.
2 I wonder if it’s cold.
18 I wonder why they are skating.
5 I wonder if it’s fun to go skating there.
13 I wonder if it is a mall or something else.
9 I wonder if they are having fun?
10 I wonder if you can learn to skate there.
7 I wonder if I’ll know what’s the tallest building?
11 I wonder what the big A is for (The sign with the big A).
22 I wonder what is inside the buildings.
3 I wonder what the building in the background are for.
21 Absent.

We are going to keep track of the students wonderings and see how we can get our students to think more deeply over time.  Here are the themes that emerged from this first attempt.  Students wondered about:

Skating and Recreation/Fun  (N = 5)

Location (N = 2)

Celebrations, Religious and Spiritual Practices (N = 1)

Housing & Work (Infrastructure/services/buildings) (N=6)

As you can see by the themes that are in bold, some items from our list did come up.

Our next steps are to work with students using a shared inquiry model to focus on Religious and Spiritual practices in our daily lives. Shannon and I are leading with this one because we felt it was the most challenging and potentially would put students in an uncomfortable position of feeling as though they had to be ambassadors for their religions.  We want to facilitate sharing and students being able to see and learn from one another.  We decided to lead this one to ensure many voices are heard, model inclusion, empathy and appreciating different points of view. This will serve us well when students form inquiry circles to study the other aspects of daily life in the present day. We will guide the students to live like researchers and consider many different perspectives and points of view. They will also have to engage in social studies research methods to confirm or disprove what they think they know on various topics. This different forms of thinking and research will include: looking at artifacts, interviewing, studying pictures and other more traditional means of research including web search.