As I began this school year with the grade 6 teachers, we wondered, how can we nurture our children to develop a sense of wonder? How can we increase student engagement and provide access points for our diverse learners?
With this question in
mind, we decided to play with Inquiry based learning in a cross curricular unit
with Socials and English. I had recently
attended BCTELA conference entitled Inquiry, Identity and Inclusions:
Inspiring Learners into Action and I was excited to share my new learning
about inquiry. As teachers, we met for a half day and planned a sequence of
lessons for our unit. The essential
question the students would inquire about was “How are children being exploited
in the 21st century and what can we do about it?” Scholastics Issues 21 series was a great resource
for this topic, and also provided us with our essential question. We used this resource along with other texts
that our librarian purchased for us.
To guide us on our
journey, we used ideas from Trevor MacKenzie and Rebecca Bathhust-Hunt’s book Inquiry
Mindset as well as Jeffery Wilhelm’s book Inquiring Minds: Learn to Read
What is inquiry based learning?
Trevor MacKenzie defines inquiry-based learning as
“a process where students are involved in their learning, create essential
questions, investigate widely, and then build new understandings, meanings and
knowledge. That knowledge is new to the student and may be used to answer their
essential question, to develop a solution or to support a position or point of
view. The knowledge is usually presented to others in some sort of public
manner and may result in some sort of action.” – Alberta Focus on Inquiry, 2004
There are a few different
types of student inquiry, and we referred to Trevor’s pool graphic to decide on
what was the best fit for us and our students.
We decided that a
controlled inquiry was the best fit for us and our students.
We then planned our unit
using backward design and decided on the sequence of activities that would
provide students with the background they needed to investigate this
topic. We also decided on which big
ideas, curricular competencies and content our unit would align with and
discussed the final project, which Trevor refers to as the Public Display of
Great ideas start with great questions!
Coming up with a great
overarching question for students to investigate is of utmost importance. When we were looking at topics for the
students to investigate, we considered what the students would be most
interested in, what was coming up in the news, what we were passionate about
teaching and having the students learn more about, and then we looked at how
these topics connected to our curriculum.
We decided that looking at Children’s Rights would be engaging and
important for the students, while aligning with the big ideas in the renewed
curriculum. We chose the essential
question “How are children being exploited in the 21st century and
what can we do about it?” from the
Scholastics Issues 21 series as it allowed for students to choose different
areas to investigate. According to
Jeffery Wilhelm, an essential question will be successful if it is phrased in a
way that is interesting and compelling to students and if it gets at enduring
understandings from the discipline(s) being studied and this question met this
Using backward design, we
thought about where we wanted the students to end up and then we planned our
sequences of lessons that would allow them to create a project that was
Sequence of activities:
“Frontloading is the most important thing you can do
to insure student success. Research
suggests that well over half of student comprehension problems can be
eliminated if teachers activate background knowledge students already possess
prior to reading.” – Jeff Wilhelm
engagement, activates background knowledge and builds background knowledge that
will be needed for the inquiry. Pre-reading,
pre-writing, anticipatory sets, and provocations are all examples of
We started the unit off
with the Walk the Line activity. One end
of the line is “strongly disagree and the other end is “strongly agree”. The teacher poses a statement and students place
themselves on the line, depending on what they think. Students can partner share why they think
that, what evidence do they have, what background knowledge are they bringing
into their understanding, pair up with someone on the opposite side and share
their thinking (what is the same, different).
Our statements were connected to the unit on Children’s Rights. This
could also be done as a four corners activity where students walk to corner –
“strongly agree, agree, strongly disagree, disagree.”
Next, we used the Smart
Learning tool GOSSIP. This tool is great
for activating background knowledge and understanding. We gave the students the
concept of Human Rights and they went out and selectively searched for
important points using the principles behind real gossip. Students first generate their own ideas, and
then start gathering ideas from partners to come up with their own definition
of Human Rights, using the collaborations from peers.
Provocation Tables – See,
To get the students
thinking about global issues, we put out thought provoking photos, books,
quotes and materials to build a deeper understanding of children’s issues
around the world. Students were in
groups that rotated around the stations and used “graffiti” to respond to the
prompts what do you see, think and wonder.
After, students generated
their own questions about the topics they explored, trying to come up with as
many questions as they could. They
sorted the questions into quick questions (one right answer or answered with a
yes/no) and deep thinking questions
(open-ended with many
possible answers). Students then chose
the topic they wanted to go deeper with and explore over the next month and
refined their questions and choose their top 3-5 questions to investigate.
Students decided on using a web to record their
ideas and notes:
To support the diversity
in our classrooms, a variety of appropriate and accessible materials were made
available for students to use for research.
Technology was also used for students to explore topics and represent
learning. Our computers teacher helped us teach the students windows photo
story as an option for students that wanted to use story and technology to
demonstrate their learning. Other
students chose to draw and paint and some built models or create museum
displays to demonstrate their understanding.
Public Display of Understanding:
Trevor McKenzie’s final
step in the inquiry process is the public display of understanding. We gave students the choice to draw, paint,
sculpt, build or use technology to share their learning with their peers. Here
are what some of the students created.
What did you learn about
asking questions for an inquiry?
I learned that by asking more and more questions to
a bigger question and when I put it all together it would make the final
Asking questions taught me that you can ask questions
to help you research, to find answers to bigger questions and to use smaller
questions and turn them into bigger and more powerful questions. MM
What did you learn about how
I learned by
gathering information from different sources I could make more than one big
question and I could add more smaller questions and add on to my big question.
How did you come up with your idea for your presentation?
I was thinking about how much of the display will show
what I know, so that is why I chose a museum display.
What inspired me was Ms. A from my old
school, who went to a Residential School and shared what had happened to her
and her siblings. – MM
How has your thinking changed
about the way chidlren are being exploited in the 21st century?
I did not know that kids were in war so almost all my
thinking changed. Something that really changed my thinking was reading about
someone who was actually in war when he was a kid and he escaped and made it
home. I also learned about residential
schools. When they went to school they
would be put to work. My thinking
changed because of the presentaion I heard from B. about resedential schools
and what happened. AS
I learned lots of things. Some people boil water on fire powered by
steam to have safe drinking water. I
also learned, still to this day child soldiers are being used and the weight of
residential schools are still on individuals.
My thinking changed when I heard about the
way people treated Indigenous people and how we saw them as savages. My thinking also changed when I read about
The Royal Comission of Aboriginal Peoples because it made me wonder what made
the government’s thinking change to form the Royal Commission. I also found out
that people helped to stop Residential Schools by speaking out. I did not know people treated the kids so
As teachers, we learned a
lot about using inquiry learning in our classroom. We noticed the importance of building student
curiosity and spending time building background knowledge. We were reminded of the importance of
responsive teaching and working together as a team to meet the needs of ALL our
students. We also appreciated the
support of our teacher librarian and computers teachers.
Submitted by Janice Moase, KVR Middle School