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.