If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare for something that is student led. Although using an inquiry approach removes you, the teacher, from the absolute power position you, still have plenty to do to prepare yourself to get ready for inquiry. I wanted to share a few of the steps that I take to plan my inquiry units.
Planning for inquiry is different. There is more to do ahead of time. You have to be purposeful and knowledgable. However, once this is planned the day to day planning is so much less as you work with students day to day to direct the learning together.
Here are a few of my steps for planning inquiry.
Look at Your Standards / Curriculum
What are you expected to teach? Get familiar with the contents of the learning expectations. Where does the expected learning start and stop?
Pull it apart
Start to take the expectations apart. Put them in your own language. In the Ontario curriculum, it is often structured in a similar fashion. Big idea expectations are first, skills are second and basic knowledge is third. Knowing this will help you to decode the and order the curriculum in an easier way. It is also important to differentiate between knowing the difference between the expectation and the examples. The examples are just that, examples they are not the learning outcomes. This will help you to know that following different lines and topics within the larger theme will be okay to do so. I will often re-word the expectations at this point into meaningful language so that it is easier to understand.
Put it in order
Once I have pulled the curriculum expectations apart I then begin to put them into order. In a split grade classroom, this is especially important because you will need to order the learning in a way that makes sense. But remember that you are going to approach this with an inquiry perspective so you are looking at the knowledge that students will need to have first, second and third, in order to meet the expectations of the big ideas for inquiry. Doing this will help you to guide students where they need to go.
For example, in the matter and materials unit, students will need to know what matter is and the vocabulary. The best part is that students will naturally ask these questions when presented with the answers. Show them a vocab card with the word sublimation and they will naturally ask what does that mean and try to guess by using their background knowledge.
If you know where they need to go you can plant the clues to get them there. But by doing it this way you spark curiosity and interest as people naturally try to solve problems and look for answers. This is why putting the learning in order is important. You are not necessarily planning the lessons but planning the trajectory and logical progression of the learning.
Find common ground
If you are like me you might be teaching a combined class. At the very least you will have students in your classroom that require accommodations and modifications beyond the grade level you have been assigned. So this is where you need to find common ground and activities where there is common ground.
Sometimes the content is so different that you can’t and you need to look for similar tasks with different subjects like experiments or research opportunities to align together so that the instructions are the same but the learning is different. To differentiate the learning for different abilities you need to plan some tasks that have multiple entry points so that the output of students can be adjusted to meet individualized learning needs.
Begin to Research
I cannot stress this enough, if the teacher doesn’t understand the content then the students
won’t either. If you are conducting inquiry you need to know your stuff. You can’t always rely on textbooks.
Hop on google, ask your own questions and know the content. I often have to do this when creating my units. Learning the content at a more in depth level than your students is important.
Do you understand how a catalyst is used to speed up the polymerization process to make plastic? This was one of the many topics I explored when creating my unit on matter.
Planting the Evidence
Starting your learning off with a provocation and beginning to build your WonderWall is animportant step to begin your inquiry. This is where your selection of materials will help you to set the stage for your inquiry and to help you to guide the students to focus on the questions that relate to what they MUST learn. If you put at word card with the word Sublimation then usually at least one student will ask the question “What is sublimation?” By setting up your WonderWall discussion with activities and questions such as
Look at the artifacts and cards, one at a time share what you notice about something you see
How could you sort these artifacts
What questions do you have or what do you wonder about what you see?
In my human body unit choosing a picture of a microscopic image of the air sacs in the lungs inevitably leads to the questions “why do we have grapes in our body?” or “What are the grapes used for?” This opens the door to a lesson or activity about the parts of the lungs.
You Don’t Need All of the Answers
Yes you need to be prepared and yes you need the knowledge of you subject content but there will come a time where you simply just don’t know the answers to your student’s questions. Sooo… it’s okay, you don’t have to know and you can admit it. Simply say “wow that is such an amazing question we really should look into that further. Let’s look it up!” In inquiry, you are the guide not the giver and constructor of knowledge. Allow your students to see and watch what you do when you don’t know the answer. Being a model will show them what to do when they encounter a question or problem.
But this is inquiry, sometimes the learning happens in finding the answer themselves and their ability to retain this information is dependent on their ability to find their own answers.
In fact, one of the most amazing lessons I learned through my inquiry journey was to stop answering their questions (even when I did know the answers).
I had one moment of ‘out of body’ (not really…but for some reason I was super reflective that day) where I realized that the students were simply just looking to me to answer everything for them. Learning and struggling to stop myself from answering their questions was hard, but watching them learn to solve their own problems and find answers to their own questions was very rewarding.
Inquiry is different from traditional teaching. This is not traditional unit planning or the backwards design model. You do not plan the activity that students will complete at the end. If you are looking for an activity that everyone will do you are in the wrong place.
Inquiry means the students help to guide their learning. There are still teacher directed lessons, there are still key concepts they NEED to learn and be assessed on.
However, you can guide and lead the student there in authentic ways.
Save a few steps…
Need a break and want to skip a few steps? Since I have done this already why reinvent the wheel. I may not be able to help you teach it day to day, but you might as well benefit from the time I have already put into planning for inquiry lessons. Check out some of the grade 4 and 5 inquiry science and social study lessons in my TPT store.
This summer I am getting ready to get back into the swing of things and have dedicated more time to sharing my products and tips and tricks with other teachers that like me want to use an inquiry approach in their classroom in both social studies, science and even language. I have had a great response to my WonderWall video that I posted last summer on how I get started with inquiry and am looking to put out more videos this summer on my inquiry journey and how you to can teach with better inquiry approach to teaching and learning in your classrooms.
It is my hope to get a new video out to you each week which will be cross-posted to both facebook, here on my blog and on my youtube channel for people to watch and learn from.
But before I got started I needed to move my office space out of my spare room upstairs and into my basement to make room for my son who will be born in November. So I couldn’t just use my old tired stuff. No I decided that I needed a whole new work space so using some of what I had already and a quick trip to the local IKEA I was able to put together my new office space. Check it out I am so excited to get to work here each day this summer as I share with all of you.
For a sneak peak on what is happening at Madly Learning over the summer check out my sneak peak video below.
Stay tuned and I hope to see you later this summer for my free inquiry in the classroom series.
Creating a wonder wall is a great tool to use in inquiry to build a space where students can
get students thinking
share their learning throughout their inquiry
keep ideas concepts and questions visible
interact with others
share standards, learning goals, and assessment criteria
share evidence of learning
This post is part 1 in my inquiry series. To learn more about inquiry click through to see my many other posts about inquiry.
Also why not connect and stay up to date on all things inquiry by joining my teaching with inquiry facebook group.
What’s a Wonder Wall?
Wonder wall boards are built at the beginning of a unit and are kept alive throughout student learning. These are living examples of student learning throughout the unit.
Wonder wall boards are built at the beginning of a unit and are kept alive throughout student learning. These are living examples of student learning throughout the unit.
Building this board starts when you begin to provoke students thinking about the topic you are beginning to study. Students will look at artifacts and ask questions about what they are seeing. They activate prior knowledge and share this with others in a knowledge building circle.
Type of Display Board
This is an example of the board that I use for my wonder wall. It is a trifold board. One side is for my fourth graders and the other side for my fifth graders.
Sometimes I use these trifold boards and other times I just use my bulletin boards but this is great if you are lacking wall space and it also works to move around the classroom for students to use when you are working with them.
Here are some of the wonder wall boards from my classroom
I use artifacts to help provoke conversations and interests in a topic at the beginning of a unit. Artifacts can be many things
Most of the time I use pictures that I print out in colour. Especially if I don’t have access to real life objects.
If I have easily accessible artifacts like my rock collection or some small appliances from home I might use those as well.
The Role of Questions
To use a wonder wall at the beginning of an inquiry means that you provoke students thinking about a topic. Providing them with artifacts that gets them thinking.
Having them ask questions is the next step.
Students will take sticky notes and ask questions about what they see. Use these doodle notes in my resource library to help your students keep track of what they are thinking.
As students share thier background knowledge and their questions the board is built. These questions are the driving force behind your learning.
Group their questions into themes, use them to develp learning goals and success criteria and to find gaps in their knowledge that may require a teacher directed lesson to fill.
Put student questions beside the artifact or picture on the wonder wall and throughout the learning strive to answer these questions and keep track of unanswered questions.
It is through student questions that learning is constructed.
Another thing I learned while implementing my wonder wall is that when students ask questions I really really want to answer them. I want to share my knowledge and have them soak it all in and teach them something. I am a teacher!! this is what I do!! I know stuff and teach about it!! STOP STOP STOP. I had to get myself to stop!
This was not what inquiry was about. Sure, I am a teacher, but I am not as powerful or as knowledgable as Google. I mentally needed to stop myself and concentrate on not answering their questions but to ask them to add their questions to the Wonder Wall and allow them to figure out the answers for themselves.
I knew that I was going to lead them through my lessons to these answers but I needed to stop just giving them the information. They would now have to start working for this information because I was not going to give them an easy way out.
Sure later on in the unit, we would have a discussion on certain topics and I would explain different concepts to them. BUT we did this together. I was not teaching them I was facilitating their learning.
Giving them the tools to let them find the answers to their questions on their own.
And you know what…a funny thing happened.
They started learning faster than I had expected.
They took those questions home and found out the answers to them. They would read books during independent time and find the answers to our questions. They were discussing these things with their parents at home.
It was amazing to see how excited they were about learning these concepts which in turn also allowed our discussion at school to become more vibrant and engaging.
Sure there were times when a teacher directed lesson was necessary especially in the technical aspects of the units. But overall it was great to see them apply their learning in new and interesting ways.
If you would like to see how I made my Wonder Wall for these units check out my Video below
I now include wonder wall cards in most of my units to help teachers get started with artifacts for students and teachers to use to use as a provocation to get started with the units that they are teaching. If you are interested in the cards that were used for the wonder wall on the video you can get them in the two units below.
Learn more about inquiry. Next up in my inquiry series
In my classroom right now my grade 4s are learning about Rocks and Minerals. I have tried to focus more this year on using experiments and inquiry in my units. I have taught the rock cycle before but it has always fallen flat. This component of the Rocks and Minerals unit needs to be taught in a more engaging way. So in doing research for my TPT unit I cam across an activity that uses crayons melted over hot water.
On Monday I knew that I wanted to do this with my class but as usual I wanted to try it out first at home just to make sure that it worked well. Students are rarely good when an experiment doesn’t work out the way you need it too. So to prepare I stole some crayons from the little ones craft cupboard, ruined a cheese grater, and began to prepare the materials for my at home practice experiment.
But then I had an idea…..
A few days before a student showed me a video he had made of him drawing a picture with his iPod touch. He had used the time lapse feature in the photos app to film himself. It was great! So sitting in my kitchen I thought that filming this experiment of the Rock Cycle would be a great opportunity to try filming with Time Lapse Video. However of course I could just simply film the experiment I was inspired so I decided to write a story about the rock cycle to go with the experiment so that I could use it to help reinforce the concept of the Rock Cycle in a memorable way. So my Video was born. Check it out below, then keep reading and I will tell how I made it.
Writing The Story Once I was inspired to add a story to the video I needed to plan it out and think it through. So I wrote it out a rough draft of the story. Once this was done I made sure that my draft was off to the side when I was writing live on the video so that I reduced the amount of mistakes that I made when writing. Writing out the story as I video taped was nerve wracking but very easy. The time lapse feature makes is look very cool on playback.
Steps in the Experiment Each step of the experiment was a different video clip. I filmed these one at time. This was imperative that did this correctly because I didn’t have additional crayons so I needed to make sure that although I could rewrite the script I couldn’t redo the experiment portion. I rehearsed it then filmed it. I put my phone in the kitchen cupboard above my counter and turned on the under cabinet lights to reduce the shadows.
Putting it All Together This was actually the easiest part. I used iMovie and this app is so user friendly to create a stunning video. I simply selected each video in order, zoomed and flipped the original videos so they were how I wanted them to look. I cut and clipped each video to make them fit together and transition nicely. To zoom in to certain parts and focus on the writing I duplicated the same video and then zoomed into the bowl so that you could see the crayons melting into an igneous rock.
Finally I switched to KeyNote and made my opening and closing slides then opened the slides to see them full screen and screen captured them. I added the new photos to my video and recorded my voice over the final image so that it would direct people back to by blog here or to my TPT product.
In the Classroom…
My students loved the video and it helped to consolidate their learning and review the steps that I had just demonstrated to them in class. They were also very inspired to go out and try to create their own videos about things. I am sure that I will have a lot of time lapse videos in my future.
If you would like to check out my Rocks and Minerals TPT Unit see it here.
Teaching science to two grades is always a juggling act. Lots of preparation needs to go into how you are going to teach two separate units to two different grades. I always teach a 4/5 and generally have the students for two years. So combining the units and teaching one lesson like I can in math and language does not work well. So it comes down to focusing on what is important, borrowing strategies from other subjects, organization and teaching independence. I teach in 20-30 min time blocks to each grade. Then they will have to learn independently as they do the task. However over time I have learned that sometimes students miss the point of the lesson this way as I am not there to guide them. However I have learned that there are some key strategies to make sure that the time students are working independently that they are learning the stuff I want them to learn.
Focus on What is Important
It all starts with the assessment and the cycle of assessment 1) Learning Goals and Success Criteria
First thing I do is share my learning goals and success criteria. For each lesson for each grade I post it share it, make a big deal about it. Students should always know what they are doing and why they are doing it. I also make sure I post it. I have a science board. All things Science are on this board if students are not so sure then they can look here. They also know that if it is posted on this board they will and can be assessed on it. They must know the topics listed on this board. I start with the daily goals on the board (smartboard or chart cart) Once students have learned this we then transfer it onto the science board.
Today we are learning to identify and describe different types of Energy
– we will read about different types of energy
– we will conduct experiments to see different types of energy in action
– we will use this experiment to help us describe each type of energy
– we will reflect on what we learned to help us figure it all out.
2) Borrow from Math
So the latest instructional strategy in math is to use a three part lesson plan in math to teach different concepts
Working on It
I thought if it works in math why not in science. So I started with this question:”How do I build reflection into science so that I can use it for formative assessment purposes?” My solution…
these are very popular on TPT right now and I thought how do I use these in authentic ways. I don’t just want cut and paste activities that have no meaning. I did struggle with why would I spend the time having students assemble these if they could simple answer a few questions in their notebook. However I like the look of them and feel that students will want to use them and decorate them. I will structure my notebooks in this way. On the left students will put their notes and interactive notebook activities on here. On the Right students will complete their reflection activity. Many of the interactive notebooks are based on the 3R reflection response that I completed in teachers college. The 3R’s represent Retell, Relate, Reflect. The left side represents the Retell portion and the right side represents the reflection section. The relate portion is weaved into both aspects. I find that with student reflection and retell I can gauge what students have learned and where we should focus. I don’t mark these, but I do read them and make note of student needs. They are great formative assessment.
Ok this is a goal and always will be. It is inevitable that as a teacher you must organize and organize well. As a split grade teacher there is no option you must put on your OCD hat and organize like a crazy person. (this is why everything in my classroom has labels, students have numbers, books are colour coded, and why I hate paper. Even your planning needs to be organized. For this purpose I am constantly making tables and charts to organize my lessons and feel like I live with timers dinging and signaling me to change what I am doing. I also feel that whenever possible you should utilize student and parent volunteers. I know I cannot do this on my own but I do have very helpful students (who love to stay inside instead of going out in the snow) or parent volunteers. I use these volunteers to organize my centers, fill buckets, order papers, photocopy or whatever else I need help with. I know I cannot do it all so I ask for help from whom ever is available and willing to help.
I have blogged before about my tips for teaching a split grade here but in science this is a very important skill. For a science class in a split grade students are often not completing a quiet activity. They are engaged in hands on activities or group work. This means that it is imperative that students learn how to work together and work independently as a group without you. You have to be okay with a bit of noise and you need multiple teaching spaces. Independent students does not mean quiet students independent students means engaged students. Check out my guide to Teaching Independence Free on TPT.
I have finally finished my next combined unit for my 4/5 plans. In January I go back to work from my maternity leave. If you follow my 4/5 long range plans you would know that I have planned to teach two science units: Rocks and Minerals and Conservation of Energy.
Its done!!! My 4/5 Long range plans are finally completed. Having such detailed plans this past fall was a life saver. Being very pregnant with a toddler at home I didn’t have lots of time to plan these long range plans were a great tool that sat on my desk as a reference. It helped to stay focused and on task and make sure that I had taught what I needed to before I left for my leave. Even my LTO appreciated knowing what I had already covered and what she needed to still teach. As I watched my colleagues without plans struggle to stay on task I was relieved that I spent the time last summer to have these complete and ready to go.
As you can see from my Term #1 plans I include details about literacy planning, Read Alouds, big ideas, Writing Forms, and Comprehension Strategies. As well as the math units for both grades that can easily be taught together. New I have included more detail for the social studies and science curriculum including Inquiry Questions, Big Ideas, and Culminating Tasks for both of the grades. However I have removed Physical Education as I will no longer be teaching this subject. OPHEA is a great resource and made up the bulk of my physical education program