I have often tried to assuage any anxiety my student’s have during the initial stages of their inquiry by frontloading the fact that – this is the messy part of learning. The beginning of an inquiry is confusing and can be overwhelming because there are so many interesting options!
But we are not doctoral candidates, we are middle schoolers so it’s time for a reality check. While we could spend the rest of our lives studying Ancient Rome (and some of them actually might!), once you have picked your ancient civilization, think about what happened there that was a gamechanger? It could be a person, invention, battle, structure, law, event – whatever you find interesting. How did it change the lives of the people back then? Does it still affect our lives now? Use Bloom’s Taxonomy (which we already learned about earlier) to ask deeper guiding questions and focus the initial research.
And so they begin their inquiry – with permission to be critical thinkers and the expectation that they will use their own problem-solving skills to refine their topic. Is it a smooth process?? OMG NO! Are they learning every step of the way? Absolutely. Is their learning only about ancient civilizations? No because they are also learning about their own process and how they learn. Are the topics they pick the most interesting ones? Not necessarily to me, but my deepest hope is that the topic is engaging for them.
The learning is in the inquiry journey – making choices, asking questions, refining and deciding what is important, and reflecting on their questions – are they thick or thin? are they high or low on Bloom’s? Again and again, we discuss relevance and importance. Along the way, the critical thinking skills that will carry them forward with this project will hopefully show them ways to harness curiousity and continue learning forever. They are most excited about the endpoint – the project – but I’m most excited to see their progress in the messy stage and see their independent navigation skills develop.
We are all in the middle.
When we were developing the 12 Mini Courses last summer, we had long conversations about having the end in mind – a.k.a. What tools did we want to make sure our students had BEFORE we set them up for their first inquiry?
The first set of Mini Courses had them learn about themselves as learners and more importantly, what qualities they brought to their group during projects. The second set was about working together and taking other perspectives into account – how to resolve conflict, how to develop leadership and how to work more collaboratively together. We put a lot of time and effort into frontloading these skills since they do not always come naturally. It is handy to revisit the same concepts in terms that everyone in the class understands when issues arise later on.
It is important to remember that even as adults, we struggle with group efforts – “it’s just easier to do it myself” is not an effective collaborative strategy! So asking a group of middle schoolers to be adept at group projects is a bit naive. I think there is room to learn and various teachable moments will arise – especially if you have team captains or project managers who are up for the extra challenge. The Grade 7s often want to be in charge but I have many Gr 6 students who have shown highly developed collaboration skills.
Peer assessment and checkpoints along the way are good tools to catch groups before they go off the rails. Teachers can model strategies and I often ask, “What do you (or your group) need in order to get past this and onto the next step?” Sometimes it is simple like a delegation of tasks and other times it is more complex if there are hurt feelings and more restoration is needed within the group.
I am so blessed to work with teachers who are open-minded and willing to discuss current educational reforms. I read this blog post and thought – we are already past this stage:)
It has been a while since I heard the statement, “I have always done projects, this isn’t new” or similar lines. We have had many collegial conversations – especially at our EdCamp style ProD in January (was it really way back in January??) that allowed open space for questions and a dialogue to be generated. We are a big school and any opportunity for teachers across pods and grades to sit down and share experiences is a golden opportunity.
Mama and seal pup off of Rocky Point
Whoever said that teachers don’t work over the summer… wasn’t a teacher!
Three members of the team met a couple of days ago and after the regular catching up chitchat, we mapped out our unit plans for the majority of the year. It will be quite the adventure as we move with the students through the process of learning through projects–> problems–> inquiry based learning.
I am now cementing my plans for my super-course on Getting to Know Your Brain OR Your Brain 101 (title is still in draft form). I was excited to see this posting on ASCD:
There have been a few posts about the need to learn more about neuroplasticity (how we actually change our brains as we learn) and mindful learning (making sure we are in the right mindset for learning). I’m planning to use this article to guide my lessons on the brain to kickoff the year. I’m seeing connections between the MindUp book and Reading Powers already.
Let me know if this link doesn’t work…I’m still developing my skills at blogging.
Westcoast tribute to Tom Thomson
My goal for this blog is to share resources and to create a learning community so that more ideas can be shared. I like the idea of building a group of ‘critical friends’ to hash out ideas and share integrated units based on inquiry (big or small) and perhaps culminating in the creation of a project or other real-world application.
This is just one voice to add to the chorus. I’m no expert, but here’s what I’m looking at and asking questions about…