Tag Archives: inquiry-based learning

Spring Brings A Worm Inquiry

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Spring Brings a Worm Inquiry

April 2015 revealed the budding beginnings of a new inquiry. From all our talk on caring for the Earth, the benefits of compost and producing nutrient-rich soil, we have begun to wonder about worms and other mini-beasts. I asked the children if they would like to study worms close up by having worms in the classroom and it was a resounding, “YES!!!”. Madison and I decided we could have our very own earth worm tank to enhance our learning. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I did this last year and the children not only loved it but also learned so much from it! Even those who, at first, were timid about touching the worms ended up learning the values of bravery and trying new things.

This post will showcase our journey throughout our Worm Inquiry and reveal how it transformed into a broader study of insects. As always, our scientific investigations were used as a means to also tap into math, language and the arts, allowing us to cover many curriculum expectations. The big idea that I wanted the children to understand was that although worms are small, they are indeed very important to the soil, the plants, animals and to us! I can definitely say that this goal was well reached.

Enjoy!

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From Melting Ice Caps to a Global Warming Inquiry

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Here, M wears a hat she made with a word bubble that says, “Stop Polluting!” – all her idea! She, along with many of her peers, have become passionate environmentalists over the past month. Read more to find out why!

From Melting Ice Caps to a Global Warming Inquiry

In my last post, Polar Learning Flourishes!, I shared our learning experiences throughout our Polar Inquiry, which had taken place during the winter months. One finding that intrigued the children, was that the ice caps were melting. We talked about what the possibility of melted ice caps would mean for the animals, people and the land in these regions and concluded that polar animals would need to either adapt to the new conditions or they could die off. We were sad to think that the Inuit and other people living in the Arctic would be affected negatively in various ways as well (e.g., the animals they used to hunt could be extinct, their traditions would be changed, etc.). I could tell by the children’s keen interest in this topic that I had to plan some interactive lessons and learning experiences to help the children better understand the situation. And so began our month-long investigation on Global Warming…
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The Creation of our Rocket Ship

The Importance of Thinking Imaginatively

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Einstein said it beautifully – an imagination can lead to an endless supply of possibilities. While it’s important that young children learn the basics and acquire skills in numeracy and literacy, I believe that the ability to think creatively and imaginatively, is the key to success in the technology-rich, ever-changing 21st Century world. For an interesting article on the Kindergarten approach to learning (the spiraling process of imagine, create, play, share, reflect) and how it’s so crucial that it needs to extend to learners of higher grades as well to continue the process, check out: “All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) In Kindergarten” by Mitchell Resnick (2007). For now, read about how our imaginations worked together to create our very own classroom rocket ship.

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The Start of a New Inquiry

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“How do you start an inquiry project?” 

I get a lot of questions about how an inquiry project starts. To address these questions, I will explain my own understanding of inquiry-based learning  while utilizing one of the best pieces on this approach to teaching and learning that I have ever come across from the Ontario Ministry of Education (find the whole article here).

I think many educators are intimidated or at least, not totally ‘sold’ on the idea of inquiry-based learning because they have the misconception that inquiries always start and are fully led by the students, themselves. “How do students know what’s best for them to learn and know? How can they learn the basics in an unstructured environment” they ask. While the students do have a lot of involvement in the planning and executing of an inquiry, it is the job of the educator to teach and model for them, the tools they need to successfully move through an inquiry project. These tools include: how to contribute and extend others’ ideas, how to formulate good questions and in essence, how to take those ideas and questions and move into the investigative stage. The educator, then, is not taking – by any means – a passive role and the environment is not unstructured, just differently structured. The educator plays an active role, creating a classroom culture where ideas and questions triumph as “central currency” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). As the educator acknowledges and praises students for presenting deep questions and in turn, creates an environment where students come to love learning, she simultaneously assists students in moving from a position of wondering to a position of understanding and further questioning, sending the message that learning is a lifelong pursuit. It should be stressed that inquiry-based learning does not mean the absence of longstanding teaching approaches like explicit instruction of skills and knowledge not naturally acquired through student-guided explorations. It just means that there is a combination of these approaches along with small group and guided learning in order to best support students in moving forward in their inquiry ventures.

Throughout these inquiry projects, the educator, with her expertise of the curriculum, is able to locate and pull out curriculum expectations from the children’s investigations. So – in response to those original questions often asked by educators – the students are able to explore topics and problems that mean something to them while the educator ensures aspects of the curriculum are being covered (bonus: students’ wonders often exceed curriculum expectations!). This is not as difficult as it sounds, especially when the educator focuses on the “big ideas” found within the curriculum and picks up on students’ interests or questions that, if explored further, would likely lead to the achievement of overall curriculum goals (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013).

It’s important to understand that inquiry-based learning is not letting go of the class and allowing complete self-direction by the students. After all, “Students’ thinking can be limited when confined to their own experiences. Educators have the privilege of introducing students to ideas that do not emerge spontaneously and from discovery alone, and similarly, they must assume the role of helping children notice things that would not otherwise be seen” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). Therefore, sometimes this means that the educator may also be involved in the initial ‘sparking’ of an inquiry project by presenting the students with topics, questions or materials that could potentially grab the interests of the students and give them some direction for their next set of wonders and investigations. Educators “play the role of “provocateur,” finding creative ways to introduce students to ideas and to subject matter that is of interest to them and offers “inquiry potential” or promise in terms of opportunities for students to engage in sustained inquiry of their own” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). The idea is to keep things as open-ended as possible and to allow the students to interact with new stimuli in their own unique ways. The educator may assume that by presenting particular “sparks” the inquiry will unfold in a certain way. However, most often it never quite evolves as the educator imagines and the children end up swaying the inquiry in unexpected directions according to their interests, backgrounds or strengths in abilities.

The Birth of our Winter & Polar Inquiry

Encouraging Thinking About Winter

After coming back from Winter Vacation, we found that the students just needed some time to relax and get back into their routines at school. There wasn’t a whole lot of burning questions or major wondering going on at first. Instead of waiting, we offered some new learning centers and invitations to play that we suspected would get them back into their “investigative” frame of thinking. We knew that “Whether inquiry begins with the student, teacher or a shared classroom experience, what matters most is that the initial query sparks student interest and provides the opportunity and resources for in-depth student investigations” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). Since we had quite a bit of snow now (as opposed to before Christmas), we decided to work with the topic of “snow” and see where it took us.

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One of my most favourite quotes related to the power of the Arts.

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Blasting Off Into Inquiry!

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I may have gone a little overboard there but you get the idea: Our Space & Gravity Inquiry has not only taken off but has become a richly engaging learning opportunity with limitless possibilities for our SKs. I must say, this inquiry has been one of my favourites to facilitate. I can shamelessly admit with a sense of pride and honour that I have been learning alongside my students every step of the way and it has been utterly rewarding.

As a child I did not have much exposure to this topic area and I’m not sure scientific concepts were ever explained to me in ways that captured my interest and motivated me to explore more. As an adult I’ve come to understand how much of that was partially a result of the kind of education I received. Back in the early 90s when I began my schooling, inquiry-based learning was definitely not “on trend” nor understood by Ontario’s education system. I learned primarily from textbooks or chalkboard lessons and rarely participated in interactive activities. The topics covered were the same ones that were covered the last 10-20 years and were delivered in mostly the same way. To me – and probably many of my classmates – school was where you went to listen to and then remember information being presented by your teacher. I was marked on how well I retained that information and was expected to demonstrate it and “prove” my understanding at the end of each unit in some form of a test or big assignment.

Now, coming from a family of artists, I loved art. I loved drawing, colouring, painting, crafting, experimenting with line and texture and form. My teachers often took notice of my talent and that began to define me, as a person and as a student. As much as I loved art, when I reflect back on my childhood, I question whether or not my abilities outside of art were ever noticed and nurtured to their fullest potentials. In fact, I would argue that they simply were not. I was that kid who made the eye-catching art displayed in the hallways. As I grew older and entered University, I started to feel that my art was not all I wanted to be and began exploring what else I was capable of by pursuing a degree in Sociology – completely shocking my friends and family who assumed I would’ve went into the Arts. I learned so much about myself in those years but what was most life-changing was my realization that: I was, and could do, more than one thing; I could use my mind in other wonderful ways. I found out that I got so much personal fulfillment from learning about the world, researching, reading, analyzing, teaching and creating through my writing as opposed to exclusively through my art.

All of this to say that – what I want for my own students is something more than what my childhood school experience offered me. I don’t want my students to go through school being pigeon-holed into one area of strength in their abilities – or worse, being labeled based on their weaknesses. I don’t want them sitting and listening to my voice all day long. I don’t want them being forced to learn things that are completely irrelevant or uninteresting to them. I don’t want them to be afraid to ask questions and to question even their own teacher when they’re unsure. I don’t want them being assessed only at the ‘end’ of a unit or inquiry and in only one way.

What I want is for them to be thrilled about going to school to learn new things. I want them to be inspired to share their own ideas, thoughts and opinions and to allow these to evolve. I want them to realize that they have a ton of knowledge, understandings and potential within themselves and to offer the world. I want them to ask questions – lots of them. I want their understandings of curriculum content and larger concepts to be assessed using authentic strategies that recognize the many ways and opportunities people can demonstrate their learning. I want them to learn to think about their own thinking and to push their thinking further. I want this to happen while they are still young enough for it to all make a difference and shape their future. This is what I want.

So now, as we begin to unravel and witness the magic and wonderment that has been made possible by this Gravity & Space Inquiry, I encourage you to consider how all of us – in each of our different roles – can contribute to the educational experience I’ve described above. Educators, administrators, families, community members – we can all teach children to love learning. How can you help to shape a child’s vision of herself as a strong, capable and courageous learner?

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Kinderbucks + Meaningful Play = Inquiry!

Kinderbucks Continues; Understandings Deepen

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Shaw was an Irish playwright and socialist during the 1800s. In his text, Treatise on Parents and Children, Shaw claims that formal education of the time was deadening to the spirits of children and detrimental to their intellectual development. He advocated for an approach that was child-directed and inquiry-based.

Kinderbucks continues to be a popular spot to play, explore and learn. As the children play, I try to simply observe as much as I can. When the moment seems appropriate, we sometimes enter the play and expand their understandings by having them draw on their own experiences at coffee shops to help them better focus their role playing.

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Here you can see how neat and tidy the children have been keeping Kinderbucks. They take pride in keeping it this way because of the sense of ownership they have over it – it was their idea in the first place and much went into it’s planning! You can also see children taking on various roles such as ordering, serving, baking, and making receipts.

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The Evolution of a Project

In my Halloween post, I left off with the image of our class pumpkin and explained how the dripping wet wax made us think of gravity. The children then began asking questions about gravity and the related topic of outer space. In this post, you will see how our newest inquiry has emerged and evolved since that day. Prepare to be inspired…

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Setting the Stage for Investigating & Learning

As I’ve explained in previous posts, Madison and I run a program based on the philosophies of Emergent Curriculum, Project-Based Learning, Inquiry-Based Learning and Reggio Emilia. The melting crayon wax on the pumpkin began a conversation we had no idea would come up prior to the moment. It all started when I posed the problem to the group: How come the wax is dripping down the pumpkin and not dripping sideways or upwards? Many of the children immediately responded that it was due to gravity. I was quite impressed and so to find out more about the children’s conceptions of gravity, I asked them more open-ended questions and invited them to share with me what they knew about the topic. Naturally, some children began to connect the idea of gravity with the subject of space, believing that in space, there is no gravity. I then moved on to remind them about something we had talked about before: Scientists look closely at things but they also ask lots of questions. I welcomed them to ask questions about gravity or space that they would like to know more about. As they asked their questions, I recorded them on chart paper.

The next day when I had Class A, I showed them the pumpkin and posed the same question about the wax. To my delight, they too, were quick to explain the phenomenon of the downward drips with the concept of gravity. A similar discussion arose and we added more questions to the list from the previous day. You can view the collaborative inquiry questions in the photo below.

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Halloweek in SK

Halloween + Week = Halloweek 

Halloweek in Room 209 was busy but also filled with a ton of excitement. Although I try to stay away from themes, it was the first time that all of my students celebrated Halloween. For that reason, I didn’t see the harm in integrating some Halloween festivities into our program. Each activity was still open-ended, play-based and inquiry-focused and thus there was no departure from our regular curriculum. Have a look at what we were up to…

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On Monday, we surprised the children by decorating our door to look like a mummy. Madison led the children in creating blow paint monsters. They used straws to blow air onto wet paint to create the splash effect. After they dried, they added details like eyes, mouths and horns. Each one was unique and was added to our classroom mummy door.

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Welcome to Kindergarten City

And so it has arrived… The unveiling of weeks’ worth of learning, discovering and inquiring about the city.

Behold, Kindergarten City.

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This photo was taken in 3 shots because of the enormous size of our mural and the angle at which I was able to stand in the hallway. The only way to truly take in the full effect and true beauty that this piece has to offer is to come for a visit and admire it in person.

This photo simply does not do it justice. I encourage parents to come in, read the documentation panels that explain how our inquiry emerged and the path it took, find their sons and daughters within the city and take some photos.

How was it made? Over the last couple of weeks, as you know, we have been studying the city – exploring what makes a city a ‘city’, how it compares to the countryside, what types of structures exist within a city and what kinds of places make a city run. Students were then able to brainstorm a long list of places: hospitals, airports, dentist offices, grocery stores, coffee shops, pet shelters, schools – the list goes on. Both classes of SKs then got to choose which place/building they wanted to create for our mural. Some children did some extra tasks such as painting the backdrop. Students used construction paper, Sharpie markers, crayons and markers to create their buildings. We discussed adding texture (e.g., bricks), the use of signage, aesthetic additions (e.g., garden in the front) and other details (e.g., window and door details). To create the ‘residents’, children designed their bodies and we glued photos of their faces on top so they could find themselves in the City.

All of the children far surpassed our expectations and worked for long, concentrated periods of time on creating quality pieces for the mural. Madison and I purposefully did not make any of the colour or style choices for the children nor did we do any of the cutting or printing. We wanted their individual abilities and personalities to shine through and make it something they could be proud of themselves for. We love how each building is so unique and allows us a glimpse into each child’s imagination and collection of knowledge. I think the very fact that it was not handled as a prescribed cookie-cutter craft activity and that the pieces are not perfectly [teacher-cut] shapes is what makes it so magical and full of character and charm.

We have received so many compliments from administration, teachers, students and parents and have been so proud to say that it is a true student-made piece of art. We hope that you like it and will come in to have a peak!

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Learning About ‘The City’, Learning About Life

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend everyone!

Something to Contemplate…

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Carlina Rinaldi is the President of Reggio Children – the International Center for the Defense and Promotion of the Rights and Potentials of All Children – and has worked closely with Loris Malaguzzi, pioneer of the Reggio Emilia Approach to teaching and learning (the approach that inspires my own work). You can learn more about the Center and this approach by visiting www.reggiochildren.it

Essentially, this quote captures nicely, how adults – parents and educators alike – need to slow down and simply listen and observe children. Rather than demand responses from children, we need to give them the time they need to process, ponder and ask questions, themselves. Likewise, rather than immediately provide answers to children’s questions, we need to give them the time and space necessary for them to come up with an array of possible solutions and to consider where and how they can search for answers that make the most sense to them. Giving children these opportunities sets them up for a future of lifelong learning and teaches them how to function in a 21st Century world where so much information is available. By doing so, they learn to consider multiple perspectives and solutions, to sift through those possibilities and to choose which ones speak to them. Like my website’s slogan states, it is our duty as those that watch and guide our future generation, to find ways to ignite the spark for learning within children. This approach empowers children in becoming courageous learners – learners open to taking risks and appreciating the various pathways to seeking answers. You can read more about this within my post, A Little Bit of Courage

Now, keeping all of that in mind, onto this week’s learning…

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