Tag Archives: inquiry based learning

Inquiry Opps: a week of curriculum learning

This week I’ve been taking my ELA accreditation. I came in expecting to be challenged. I also came in uncertain what we’d actually be doing.

I’m moving schools in the fall. This week, Miranda, the senior Math/Science teacher, is taking her accreditation as well. This morning we had an activity to plan an inquiry unit – Yah, I know. The idea is a bit ridiculous since we don’t have learners with which to pull the big idea, ask them what is important to them, wonder about what they might want to discover – that took us an hour. Miranda and I went together deliberately. We aren’t just colleagues, we are friends. We have had every prep together over the past two years and often we’d meet and game-plan how best to meet the needs of our students. What these meetings were was a support session to get us on the same page as the high school team. What these meetings were not was a gossip and pity party session where we said negative things about kids and families.

With my move, Miranda and I are saddened and stressed over how we will do-what-we-do without being able to have our weekly check-ins for kids, for our methodological, our pedigocial and our philisophical needs, and for the climate of care in our spaces.miranda water planning

So today, we chatted with the two other educators in our group during the planned activity as we talked through an interdisciplinary inquiry piece.

And it was fun!

I liked that in forty minutes we had something that each one of us wanted to do, and to learn about. Right then! One member of our group said, “I’m so glad we did this. It’s just simple, and maybe it’s not true inquiry but I finally know where to begin.”

That’s big stuff. Important stuff for kids.

How come we don’t do often do activities like this at division PD meetings?

Afterwards it was lunch. Miranda and I sat in the sun and, just as we had done almost every time we are together, talked about teaching and learning. Though today, we talked about ‘what if?’

And interdisciplinary inquiry based learning.

Miranda and I loathe the winter concert. We are required to have our kids participate. On the positive side, it is a month when we work together, though not really team teaching. We lose almost a month of learning; we lose a month of engagement. Let’s be honest, this is true.

In the end, the product is beautiful but the process is painful.  Arg! This is the exact opposite of everything I believe and hope for learning to be.

Heck, I don’t even care about a product.

I just want to know that the kids are learning and wondering and discovering and thinking of news ways to learn and to wonder and to discover with their learning. Product is an end. Learning isn’t finite.

At some point, Miranda and I asked ourselves why we didn’t try teaching collaboratively last year. We could have chunked inquiry units into three hour blocks – she’s Math and Science in the time table, and I’ve ELA. The kids could have transitioned between us, deciding where they wanted to be. Deciding just as they do most mornings. They do this anyway. This is why Miranda and I check in; some kids work best with me, others with her. It’s just the way.

Then we began to go back to the inquiry unit from the morning. We began to invision our kids living that inquiry process in our school space, in our common classroom spaces. We kept talking about kids. And then I said, “What if we had done this with the 9s & 10s too? What is it about inquiry that really pushes us? Challenges?”

We’d possibly need time for the division mandated initiatives. Between us, we’d need time for assessment. Easy. We could send a message to the other person to arrange a time to keep a specific group(s) of kids in a space for specific work. We could work in teams with sets of kids. If I or the kids need or want whole group read alouds, for example, we can just set that up. Be flexible. We just kept thinking it could not be more planning than what we did last year.

So why didn’t we change our instruction with the high school kids towards using a team interdisciplinary inquiry model?

Miranda admitted she had been worried about the departmental exams, about covering content. Won’t it be nice to be able to discover the content in a meaningful way, in ways that fit the needs of our kids because that horrid unrelated assessment won’t be looming at the end? Is it possible not to teach, in some way, to that kind of assessment? (If you missed my sarcasm that was redundant)

I didn’t approach Miranda because I was busy, ‘in closed-door-mode’ with a mammoth near yearlong inquiry project with the 6, 7 & 8 students. And I was busy with grad classes too.

We both agreed. The reason we didn’t change, we just didn’t think to ask.

#imagine

In many of our undergrad courses, we would take three months to plan units that never saw the light of day in our living learning spaces. Today, sitting in circle, in 40 minutes, the four of us as learners, storied our ways of knowing into a beautiful interdisciplinary discovery unit.

Much has changed.

And we need to be reminded to keep it simple.

We need to remember that we are good educators. We need to remember we are busy educators.

So what now?

I can’t go back to my former school. And I like my new school. Change is difficult. I need to begin with big ideas. I need to sit down with my new colleagues and say, “I have this idea. I’d like to try to team teach using an inquiry based learning.”

I don’t know where we are going. I don’t know how we’ll assess it. But I trust my staff and my administrators.

I trust the process. I trust it will be messy and take time.

I trust that we’ll figure it out.

~

Miranda looked at me, ‘Do you think the new teacher will want to team teach?”

What a great question!

#smile

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Greg’s How? – A Guest Post

Friday was my last bus trip with the senior basketball team. Greg, the grade 3, 4, & 5 teacher at the school, is the coach; I just kinda tag along because, although we are a ‘senior boys’ team made of two schools and many kids, hence the ‘need’ for both a male and female supervisor.  I’ve miss coaching basketball this year. I usually coach junior boys’ basketball. The first year I was at my current school the junior boys’ basketball team made it to conference finals. This year, we had four students who signed up to play junior ball. This is the nature of sport at a small rural school. So I ride the bus. I play ball at recess, on weekends and in the wee hours on overnight tournaments with the senior kids.  

Many of these students will graduate in June. Last Friday, even more than other times, I needed to make the bus trip. June and graduation are fast approaching. These are the times I value most with kids, when we laugh and tell stories away from formalities. It’s a time for the kids and I to play hide and seek, stay up well into the night sitting in the staff room drinking tea at overnight tournaments, and I especially like the bus rides. These kids are the stories of my life.  

Greg understands my basketball-story and he understands my educator-story.

“A key in negotiating relationships as narrative inquirers is our collective sharing of stories of experience. In the shared vulnerability experienced in this communal process, the space negotiated in the meeting of stories becomes filled with complex understanding of lives, understandings with significant potential for shaping cultural, institution, personal, and social transformation” (M. Young et al, 2009).

Greg attends to my narratives.

Because of this, I like visiting with Greg.

He smiles easily. Friday we lost by 60 points. Our team laughed the entire game, much of that was because of Greg’s lead.

I’ve never heard him raise his voice. Greg reminds me of my Dad’s ways of being with kids: easy going, organized, project based. My Dad always listened to kids, and Greg does too. Because of this, I feel Greg is able to see the whole court, to see the play develop.

I like that he teaches younger kids and shares their success stories all the time. I like that he seeks feedback about the kids he teaches. I like that the senior kids and I have been invited into his room so often I’ve lost count, and that I’ve collaborated with him so often that the senior kids reflected positively on those moments with the younger grades in their term final projects. I like that the stories of his kids and their families are honored.

I learn from Greg every day.

Bus rides are times bouncing, talking about how to make learning fun.

We share project ideas, dream up ways we can collaborate. We talk about what schooling should feel like, look like. We share our families too.

However, we are both deeply reflective, enjoying our silence, our books, our writing.  Friday on the three hour regreg and kidsturn trip, I interrupted his writing and asked him for a favour. See, I am often asked how relational narrative inquiry works in a classroom. For the senior students in the Language Learning courses (ELA) whom I live alongside, stories come rather easily. Greg teaches an eclectic and active group of young learners’ with grades 3 to 5 in the same room. Usually, by the end of the bus tip, we’ve each jotted down a few educational ideas.

Friday I wrote about the professional role he sees for me, and the similarities between Pre-K and senior ELA courses.

However, Friday I also asked him to share the notes I had watched him make over the six hour bus trip.

His class is the kind of learning space that attends to students’ passions (relational narrative inquiry) and is where I’d like to hang out. I think you’ll understand why once you come to know the ‘How’ of Greg’s relational learning space.

Bus trips with Cori are always inspiring to me. She loves education and that is contagious.

We believe in so many of the same things regarding the well-being of our students and at the same time she challenges me with her perspectives. I think we have the same passion but different experiences brought us to the same bus.

On the long trip home I began to write about my dream 2013-14 school year teaching my grade 3, 4, 5 class. My dream seems realistically within arms length.

I received a Christmas gift from my wife Lia, The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom which I read passages from often. Today I read: …I consider hatred to be the ultimate enemy. By ‘enemy’ I mean the person or factor which directly or indirectly destroys our interest. Our interest is that which ultimately creates happiness. This passage struck me because I had to think about what His Holiness meant. Then I got it. This is the entire crux of what I try to do with my students. In education speak we replace the word interest with engagement. So being engaged in what you are learning about equals happy, eager learners.

From my experience this is one hundred percent accurate. I went from a Kinesiology D student to an honours grad in International Studies. I was the same person, with the same brain, same attitudes about education, same values, but I found interest and value in International Studies and not in Kinesiology.

What are you interested in? I’m interested in having a happy day…aren’t you? What makes my days at work happy are smiling faces, chatter, playfulness, and above all the questions I get when my kids ask, “when are we going to work on __________?” The blank is anything, but more often then not it is a project we are working in. This is interest, and engagement.

These are some of the notes about my next year I wrote on the bus ride last night:

Inquiry projects.
New project every 10 days.
Each would have written and presentation component and would be tied to either ss, science, or health.
There would be a big idea presented by me, then they would come up with the questions which would drive their learning.

Maybe the first couple days of each project we could focus on the ELA aspects of the project, the conventions of the different products we are going to be doing.

A key resource I should try to utilize would be families of the students. At beginning of each project I could send a homework note home informing parents of what the class is learning about and the. Have the students go through the KWLH chart with their parents to see if they have anything to bring to the table (expertise, resources to share, know of someone who could come and speak on the topic, insight into the topic other finding info).

There would be self, peer, and teacher evaluation for each and sometimes we could have an outside audience evaluate as well

We would not have time slotted for ELA and the other subjects we would have inquiry project time.

I need to remember to keep things simple. Simplicity and challenge is the key to engagement at this age.

Flow of ELA products I would like. What would be the best progression?  Skit. Formal essay. Narrative. Poetry. Slide presentation. Comic. Graphic novel. Online story.  Paragraph. Model/diagram. Song or rap.  Podcast or radio show. Poster.  Formal letter, resume of famous Canadian scientist/FNIM/other

Math could also be driven this way as I’m trying to do with the 5s right now.

Now I also need to figure out how to do this for 2 different groups at the same time.
Might not be too hard if they by into it and they could all collaborate on each others subjects/big ideas/driving questions.

Engagement piece at the beginning. You are going to be in charge of your education, in charge of what you learn, in charge of what this year is going to look like for you.

At the end of each project we will check in on how things went and do shout outs and suggestions to motivate for the next one and keep improving for the future.

Questions about inquiry project structure.
How to know if you’re going deep enough into the content area. You present a big idea and let the students take it where they want. But how do you get them the info to want to ask the tough questions. Like if the topic is light science, students think of light and they have never thought about it before, light is just there we use it, big deal.
How do we get them to ask the probing questions?  What is the hook? It has to be connected to an interest area, something they have prior experience with so they have a jumping off point.
And what about those things that students should at least be familiar with, like the names of the provinces and territories, does it really matter or is that one of those things that some kids will pick on and some won’t no matter how Canadian geography is taught?

What about the reading aspects of my ELA program? How do I integrate that with the resources I have at school? My current resource is reading A to Z which has some connections but not a lot. How do I make this happen, I’m fine with working with my librarian but she is not a teacher librarian.

Outdoor education, I would like to do this stuff outside. Have a place outside where we can sit, share ideas, learn, write. Maybe around the ball diamond. Could we make seats like the one I have that you lean back on?

So planning before the year: project big ideas. Diving in points or ‘hooks’ to get the unit going. Reproducible (calendar, rubrics to start with, templates for notes- 4 squares, sequence of ELA products.)

Day 1. Big idea
ELA project
Expectations
Rubric for ELA part and maybe for other subject area too
Write note to parents as class
KWLH and have parents do their own on the subject!
Day 2. Review homework thoughts and build on them to come up with driving questions and project ideas.
Focus on ELA stuff again today
Think up supplies needed

Day 3. Dive into project
Still spend time on learning the ins and outs of the ELA components.

Greg Kotschorek

~

Greg is Dad to Bodhi, and partner to Lia. Greg teaches and learns alongside students in grades 3, 4 & 5 at Mortlach School, Canada. Greg coaches senior basketball and many other sports. If you get the chance, chat with Greg, play ball with Greg. You’ll have fun. Find him here.

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