Here is a recap of the sessions I attended at iPadpalooza 2015.

ipad

Share it’s so Human –  Felix Jacomino

Share. Tweet. Blog. Crowdsource. Connect. Rinse and repeat daily for best results. Felix Jacomino shared his thoughts and interviews with edtech influencers through his session.  A perfect follow-up to Adam’s keynote, the message to share was becoming the anthem of the conference before noon on the first day.

I think you have probably read or heard about Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work both by Austin Kleon.  We love this, don’t we?  Always worth a visit to these ideas, don’t you think?

Did you know that Command + F1 on your Apple computer will toggle between presentation mode in keynote and mirroring your desktop.  I didn’t!  Thank you Felix!

Tools, Sites and Apps Mentioned in Felix Jacominio’s session:

Conferences to attend that promise to be as fun asiPadpalooza

Crowdsourcing & Crowdsharing

Tools to help make sharing easier (if you use Google Blogger):

Mixing Paint and Pixels In The Creative iPad Classroom ~ Cathy Hunt

Cathy Hunt‘s general art resources can be found here and iBooks to download are here.  In the session, Cathy emphasized the importance of capturing the process as well as sharing out the product.  She encourages students to do time-lapse photography of their art making using iMotionHD and an iPad stand. She suggests getting iPad stands like the one pictured below or like this or like these.

ipad standShe taught us that an inexpensive stand like this is essential for taking pictures of the process and it’s also important that students grapple with setting up their work stations.  For presentation and sharing the student’s product, she uses Book Creator.

A Book Creator tip that I think you’ll love is to have students crop photos in a square shape and then add to the portrait or landscape books in book creator. This will make for a very consistent look throughout the book allowing for consistent white space for writing descriptions. Primary teachers, don’t you think this would be great for classroom books too?

When we opened an app for the first time she would tell us to “touch the heck out of the screen.”  Touch Everything may be the simplest instructions for figuring out any app that I have every heard in my life.  Brilliant. Stop teaching apps, just open then up and say “Touch Everything” – it’s the Bibbiti Bobbiti Boo of iTeaching!

Using the headphones to trigger photos was another great tip.  Plus, she keeps things simple and easy and goes around taking pictures of student’s art work on their iPads as an easy workflow solution for assessment.

Making kaleidoscope's with MegaPhoto and Craft supplies.

Making kaleidoscope’s with MegaPhoto and Craft supplies.

Art Apps Mentioned in Cathy Hunt’s session:

 

iGoogle ~ Jennie Mageira

Jennie Mageira knows that many iOS users want and need to be Googly too. This session was about blending the tools together. Her session resources are here.

Jennie points out that Google classroom is great, but there is still a place for Shared Google folders through Google Drive.  She demonstrated that Shared folders is the best option when you want students to be able to see each other’s work.  Good point, Jennie, good point!

She breaks down the apps into those for creating, consuming and connecting.  All the apps she recommends can be seen here.

As a presenter, Jennie Mageira has excellent plan-b-ability. When she was not able to mirror her iPad on the Apple TV, she was quick to turn on Photo Booth and use that to show her iPad.  I think this smooth and nimble use of technology is exactly what we want to strive for and want our students to strive for. There are always glitches and it’s key to problem solve and move forward. Mageira is a pro.

Individualizing Staff Instruction with the ITP ~ Amy Mayer

Amy Mayer is a YouTuber for teachers.  Her channel, FriEd Technology has a vast collection of how-to tutorials to support others. Again, the theme of sharing persisted in this session too as Amy talked about supporting staff.

Her top tools and tips for coaches and learning coordinators that are getting buried by email:

Boomerang

Using canned responses in gmail

Follow Michael Jaber on twitter if you need another guardian angel like Amy to help you out!

I went to the session to hear Amy speak, but you may be interested in seeing her Individual Technology Plan form if you do support teachers who are trying to integrate technology in your board or district.

 

Explain Everything & #QFAT – Reshan Richards

Reshan Richards, creator of Explain Everything, introduced the notion of #QFAT ~ Qualitative Formative Assessment Tool ~ and makes it so clear how to use iPad. He says there are four ways to capture content on iPad:

    • Photos
    • Screenshot
    • Video
    • Screencasting

He engaged his audience to use a combination of these and the game Disruptus to get depth of thinking and use the tools effectively.

Explain Everything and Disruptus

Crafting Creativity with Canva ~ Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson did a standing-room-only session on Canva which is a tool for making beautiful content!  What I liked most was learning about her process for making her Canva pieces.  She keeps a Pinterest board called Delectable Designer Designs where she collects samples of visual messages and content that she likes the looks of. Then, she uses these to guide her own creations. Circle back to Felix’s session, we were evoking Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist!  It’s useful to know where to start, right?

She also has two more boards to check out for lesson plans and ideas:

Canva Lesson Plans – Pinterest

Ways to Use Canva – Pinterest

For finding more eye candy for creative content creation, Lisa also recommended Creative Market. She also uses images from Noun Project in her Canva creations. Smart!  She also pairs her Canva creations with Thinglink such as this Outlander themed SAMR model interactive poster:

Dean Shareski

Dean Shareski says “Creativity is like a muscle you have to exercise it daily.” He spoke to leaders about being a creative leader like Chris Kennedy who writes a blog titled The Culture of Yes. Every April 1st he writes a gag blog. Dean suggests that it’s important for leaders to work creativity muscles in this way. He reminded the leaders in the room to engage in “cheap failure” (Clay Shirky’s words) and take risks by playing games such as Pecha Flicker Improv.

He also did a session titled “The Airing of the Grievances.”  I didn’t get to go because I was presenting, but I love the title.  You and I can creep his slides here.

It’s all about the sharing and the people!

People I was thrilled to see

….and you may want to follow so all the names will take you to their twitter accounts:

Tracy ClarkCarl HookerLisa JohnsonJennifer FloodDon Goble, Jessica Young,  Debbie SmithMeghan ZigmondSue Gorman, Jennie MageiraCathy YencaReshan Richards, Dean ShareskiJames RichardsonCraig RobleBrian FouttyRafranz DavisCathy HuntRichard WellsCarolyn FooteKyle PearceFelix JacominoAmy Mayer, Todd Nesloney, Rabbi Michael Cohen, Chris Parker

 

With thanks to….

Massive T-Rex size thank you to Carl for inviting me and for Tracy for letting me stay with you.

iPadpalooza

Ontario has a renewed vision for education with four main goals.  But, People for Education is kicking it up a notch!

Ontario has goals and targets.  These goals will be measured and yes, EQAO data is part of the picture.  I am cheerful to see from the Achieving Excellence document that there will be a broader focus on gathering data beyond reading, writing and math (through EQAO).  There is a breeze of change and freshness as I see that the government will be looking at broader indicators of success.

Then, there is an even bigger gust of wind from People For Education.

People For Education, and their tireless, no-nonsense and brilliant Executive Director Annie Kidder, are looking at even broader goals and other measures of success that are “publicly understandable, educationally useful, and that reflect the range of skills that students will need to live happy, healthy, economically secure, civically engaged lives.”  On many occasions, Kidder has made the point that EQAO tends to narrow down the purpose of education.  If we only measure reading, writing and math, then that becomes the focus for improvement.

The initiative to achieve this is called Measuring What Matters Most: A New Way of Thinking about Skills and is best described as:

“a multi-year initiative to support the development of educational goals and measures of success which reflect the broad and essential range of skills that graduates—and our society—really need.”

and also,

”The initiative will establish a set of broader goals and measures of success in education that are publicly understandable, educationally useful, and that reflect the range of skills that students will need to live happy, healthy, economically secure, civically engaged lives.”

I think this complements and extends the mission statement from the Achieving Excellence document:

“Ontario is committed to the success and well-being of every student and child. Learners in the province’s education system will develop the knowledge, skills and characteristics that will lead them to become personally successful, economically productive and actively engaged citizens.”

I also think it goes much further than Achieving Excellence.  While the renewed vision mentions innovation, creativity and critical thinking, Measuring What Matters: A New Way of Thinking about Skills explicitly describes what these important skills actually look like and mean.

For example, here are the skills and competencies for creativity:

Skills and Competencies are clearly outlined for:

  • creativity
  • citizenship
  • social-emotional development
  • health

Thereis also a connection made between creativity and critical thinking:

“Creativity and innovation skills allow students to learn more effectively in all academic disciplines and subjects. Critical thinking—a “sister skill” to creativity—involves a process of conceptualizing, seeking accuracy and clarity, resisting impulsive solutions, being responsive to feedback, planning and being aware of one’s own thinking.”

The Measuring What Matters initiative is a multi-year plan with national reach.  I see a lot of discussion and hear a lot of talk of creativity and citizenship in particular, I wonder if the skills and competencies will help administrators and teachers across Ontario and Canada start to bring these ideas down from the conceptual and into the practical application of the classroom.

China Beckons

In about a month, I will be travelling to Beijing and Hanghzou China with Jonathan So  to participate in the 3rd Annual China Elementary Education International Conference.

Jonathan and I were invited by Ann Lieberman through our involvement with the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program. We are very grateful to have been selected and we hope to represent Ontario educators well.

Jonathan and I are guests that represent Ontario Education.  I have been wondering, what makes Ontario’s education system so great? Why do other countries want to know what we are up to?

Education in Ontario is Pretty Great

Did you know that our school system here in Ontario is one of the best in the world?

Did you know that our province has seen a 15% increase in graduation rates and 17% increase in achievement of provincial standards in grade 3 and 6 over the last 10 years? Also, we have closed the achievement gaps between English Language Learners and those students for whom English is their first language.

Not bad.  We still have a lot of work to do, but this is good improvement.

And, we are striving to get even better

For ten years, our education system in Ontario has been improving at a steady rate.  What’s next?

Three words: Inspire, innovate, transform.

In April 2014, the Ministry of Education released Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario.

The overall mission is to see success and well-being for every learner from early child care through to adult. Schools should build “knowledge, skills, characteristics” to help learners become “personally successful, economically productive and actively engaged citizens.”

The province of Ontario has 4 clear goals:

  • achieving excellence
  • ensuring equity
  • promoting well-being
  • enhancing public confidence

There is a big emphasis on technology for actualizing these goals, especially when it comes to the achieving excellence goal. Below you can see the very first point in the action plan for achieving excellence is to invest in technology.

Ontario has a renewed vision for education.  These goals will be measured and yes, EQAO data is part of the picture.  I am cheerful to see from the Achieving Excellence document that there will be a broader focus on gathering data beyond reading, writing and math (through EQAO).  There is a a fresh feeling of change and think I see that the government will be looking at broader indicators of success.

Inspire. Innovate. Transform.  Focus on excellence, equity, wellness and engaging parents and the broader community.

There are some ideas that I just keep coming back to.  Innovation is one of those ideas. I hear it everywhere, and I think people confuse it with improvement.  Andy Hargreaves spoke about the tension between innovation and improvement and asks the question:

What kind of horse are you?

I recommend watching from 29:10-35:02

He presents a similar matrix to the one I have here:

If you are not improving or innovating, you’re a dead horse.

If you are only improving, you are a race horse.

If you are only innovating, you are a unicorn or pegasus. You are a mythical creature that does not exist.

If you are improving and innovating, you are the iron horse. You have horsepower, but are no longer a horse. You are something greater and more impressive than any other horse.

Andy goes on to point fingers at which education systems are which horse:

  • The dead horse:  USA (although things are looking up)
  • The race horse: Ontario
  • The Unicorn and Winged Horse: Superficial use of Technology (that’s us #edtech)
  • The iron horse:  We don’t know yet.  Will it be Ontario?

Do you agree? Where would you put Ontario’s education system on the innovation/improvement horse matrix?

Could the Iron Horse of Education Change be here?

I think educators and leaders in education ought to remember that innovation is a priority, even when things are tough.  Innovation is not dessert, that thing you get to have when you are done improving.  It’s essential to do simultaneously alongside of improvement.

And a note to my #edtech friends –  don’t be the unicorn.  Innovate and improve or else you are a magical creature that doesn’t really exist.

Note: This blog was revised thanks to Dr. Marc Joanisse who gave me some great feedback about the graphic.

How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg

How not to be wrong: The power of mathematical thinking By Jordan Ellenberg is a story of how we can use mathematics to make decisions and better understand the world around us.  Mathematics is “extending our common sense by other means.”

More great quotes from the book:

“Dividing one number by another number is mere computation; figuring out what you should divide by what is mathematics.”  p.84

“Once your laptop can do it, it’s not mathematics anymore.” p. 283

“When you’re working hard on a theorem, you should try to prove it by day and disprove it by night.” p.433

When to celebrate and when not to celebrate

Be careful of the inferences you make from small data sets.  If you are a teacher or principal at a small school and your EQAO scores shoot way up, or way down, this is more likely numbers doing their thing than something wonderful (or terrible) that you did.  Here is the thing that Ellenberg reminds us so well, small sample sizes can have huge variability.  The results of a small group can fire up and down.  Be mindful that small sample sizes do this type of thing.  If it was a huge improvement, quietly say to yourself that it could equally have been a huge downturn. The numbers in these cases are really only valuable by looking at the changes over a longer period of time.  So, if you are a principal or teacher in a small school, don’t let the yearly data fool you, look at the bigger picture.

Similarly, if you are a huge school, there is something you should keep in mind too.  Are you an administrator or teacher in a giant school? Are you finding that your EQAO scores don’t change much year to year? Well, that’s because of regression to the mean!  Again, look at the overall trends.

In both cases, look at the big picture. Don’t let a small or large number send you thinking things that aren’t true.

Counter-intuitive Thinking and Missing Bullet Holes  

Abraham Wald was a mathematician who contributed to the war effort in WW2 from within Columbia University as part of the Statistical research Group (SRG).  He and a group of brilliant mathematicians were working on how to armour planes so that they would not get shot down.  But, the problem was that adding armour added weight, which took more fuel and rendered the planes less maneuverable (arguably cancelling out any benefit of adding armour in the first place).


So, they looked at the data.  Where are planes being hit?  The plan was to add armour to those parts of the plane.  The researchers found that the fuselages of planes had many bullet holes whereas there were far fewer bullet holes on the engines of returning planes.

So, where would you put the extra armour? On the fuselage!  No, this is not the right idea.  Wald said the armour shouldn’t go where the bullet holes are most, but where there are no bullet holes at all, which was on the engines.  Wald was able to see that the planes that did not make it back for inspection where probably the planes that got hit in the engine.  The planes the researchers were inspecting were able to make it back, so bullet holes had not caused fatal damage.

Where are the missing holes? The missing holes are on the planes that were shot down!  Wald was able to ask: What assumptions are you making? And are they justified?

This connects to the quote above about believing your ideas by day, and disbelieving them at night.  The numbers of bullet holes, or any set of data, must be interpreted. That’s where the mathematical thinking is most essential. Here we use math to guide our intuitions down a more structured path so they don’t bring us down.

More is not always Better and Ferris Bueller Explained

More is not always better.  We know this, but time and time again we think that data runs on a straight line going up or down. More often, however, data is “straight locally and curved globally.” When we stand back, the shape of the data starts to look different.

Remember Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?  Bueller? Bueller?  The super boring economics teacher was talking about the Laffer Curve, taxation and voodoo economics. There is actually some great math in this segment!  You see, governments thought that if raising taxes a little raised a little revenue, then raising taxes a lot would raise A LOT of revenue. Turns out that it’s not a straight line, it’s a curve, a Laffer Curve.  There is a point at which you increase taxes so much that your revenue starts to drop because people either hide their money or stop working. If you watch the Ferris Bueller clip, and look at this diagram, this is the diagram the teacher is describing when there is saliva on the desk from the sleeping teen.

Laffer Curve

This also applies to giving advice, writing a blog, making mistakes in the classroom and missing flights!

Yes, missing flights. If you are always on time for your flight and you never miss one, you are probably spending too much time at the airport.  Mind you, this probably only applies to frequent flyers. (Utils are an economists units for the utility something gives you).

“George Stigler, the 1982 Nobelist in economics, used to say, “If you never miss the plane, you’re spending too much time in airports.” p. 232 

So, other lessons of the Laffer Curve:

If you worry too much about giving good advice, you probably don’t give enough advice.

If you spend too much time trying to be productive, you are less productive.

I blame Jonathan So and his blog post as well as Adele Stanfield for this post.  Both of whom tapped me for Aviva Dunsiger‘s thought provoking #MakeSchoolDifferent game.

Here are 5 things I think we should stop pretending.  Now.

My 5 things:

1) That school = the building.  And I don’t mean in that cute 21st century talk about moving beyond the walls to the Internet, I mean outside. The yard, the pond, the forest.  Kids see school as building + yard + community. Teachers see school as the building. I am deeply inspired by my husband Greg Marshall and his almost forest FDK program.  He has opened my eyes to how children see the space. He has helped me see a new way to engage children. Give them SPACE. Elevate them as learners with trust and exploration outside.

2) Take the word “digital” away from anything and everything.  Example: Digital portfolios and digital citizenship. Make portfolios. Teach citizenship.  Find a smoother interface and interplay between bit-space and meat-space. Kids-these-days don’t see such a harsh divide between online and offline. Adults go offline, kids are just AFK (Away From Keyboard). And thank you to Alec Couros for this idea from his recent keynote at #ETFOT4T.

3) Well-being can’t wait. We need to elevate the status of learners, teachers, ECEs, EAs, principals, parents, custodians, admin assistants.  Everyone should just be a bit nicer at school.  I would like to see a deeper respect between individuals throughout the community.

4) Stop Platform wars.  Really? We are still debating Apple vs Google vs Microsoft vs Linux?  Enough.  Get online. Spend money on good wifi and technology that doesn’t suck…anyone’s time.  I thought platform wars were over after Netscape and Nintendo vs Sega.

5) Stop pretending that teachers can’t be leaders unless they become a principal or a learning coordinator. (Now this is getting personal). Teachers can be leaders.  People in a position of power/authority/promotion aren’t always leaders. Teachers can influence change without climbing the ladder. And for those that climb the ladder, great! LEAD! Be a renegade not a robot.  As a teacher, I make my voice heard. I lead. I follow. I join. In the great words of Miley Cirus: I can’t stop. I won’t stop.

So. There.Outside with my class

This blog post is a spot to see some resources and ideas I am speaking about at the Reading For The Love of It Conference in Toronto, Canada.

My session with Lisa Morris is called “Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Inquiry with iPad and GAFE”

Get Harvey and Daniel’s book Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action here.

To See the Keynote Slides from the session (without Video), look here.

Download the Magnet Lab book here.

Download the Friction Lab book here.

Download the Light Lab book here.

Get the Google Apps For Education slides here.

Watch my YouTube video on how to create your own Custom Search here.

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

Make better Movies

Thanks to Jose Martinez, my students and I will make better movies. We might even feel brave enough to call them films! His session (description here) was called “Lights, Cameras, Action!” and you can find all the key information, with examples, on his blog.

Key Learning:

  1. Plan! Story board first. Don’t pick up the camera until you have your shots planned out.
  2. Have kids name camera angles in their work. Great idea for being consciously skilled and assessing media literacy conventions.
  3. To get students to make watchable videos, give them a theme and keep it short. As in 20 seconds!

Thank you also to Ernest Agbuya and Daniella Marchese for their session called Storytelling with the Moving Image. I learned that there are professional development opportunities through TIFF and there is an Kids Film Festival through TIFF too! Imagine!

Passion and Compassion

Colleen Rose might be one of the kindest people I’ve met.  She’s brilliant, smart and incredibly tender and responsive to her students’ needs.  Her session about Personalized Learning through Assessment was a poignant reminder of how we can reach out to kids while working through the curriculum and the school day. All her resources from her session can be found here.

A New Tool

Thanks to Tim Hawes I walked away from Bring IT Together with a great new tool!  His session New Ministry Licensed Web-Based Graphic Organizer focused on a rad new tool Mindomo. Think Mind Mapping software + Popplet + Padlet and more.  Fab!

Scratch and nkwry

Thank you to Brian Aspinall and for the great session on Coding in Math. Learning about algebra and variables? Get kids using Scratch to apply these concepts in a practical setting that is fun too! He’s a clever lad and a programmer in his own right. He has developed a Pinterest type web-based app for helping students curate information, check out nkwry – amazing stuff!

Bringing people together

This is what it’s really about!  My PLN is so amazing. Thank you to all of you, and big thank you to my new pal Brian Smith for making this wonderful picture of friendship and collaboration!

Photo by Brian Smith

Photo by Brian Smith