Inquiry-Based Learning

Summer 2009, I stumbled across this video of Sir Ken Robinson and was inspired to pick up his book “The Element; How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything”, which has enormously influenced my thinking on education and being an educator. I feel so lucky to be working at an innovative school, where we have the freedom and support to explore new ways of thinking and teaching.

Heritage Fair was a shining example of Inquiry-Based learning and educating students for the future. As Sir Ken Robinson said, “we are educating students who will not retire until 2065, and nobody has a clue what the world will look like in 5-years time; and yet, we’re meant to be educating them for it.”

Heritage Fair still feels like it was a huge undertaking and the feeling of being completely overwhelmed by it half way through is still strong in my mind. I wanted to throw in the towel because the feeling of everything happening at the same time and threatening to drown me was so strong. Managing 25 projects felt like it was getting too big as we approached our deadline and, for a few days, I felt like I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t do the job of managing the project and couldn’t do the job of “teacher” if it meant having to do everything in this new way. Being mid-project, however, and committed to going ahead, I did. “The show must go on,” as the saying goes.

I remember photocopying the information booklet for students at the beginning of the project and it felt like dropping a phone book on each desk. The panic in students was palpable as they fingered through the document, full of things they had no idea how to do and with numerous deadlines already looming!

I am so glad we hung on, though! The final product was well worth the effort and far exceeded my expectations. Students each created their own projects, including an essay (complete with title page and bibliography, citing at least three sources), an oral presentation, a speech, and a backboard (complete with images, written information, and artifacts, all sources cited). What excited me was seeing students take ownership of their work and readily discussing it with the adults and students in the room; not only were they able to discuss the facts they learned, but they were also able to use Bloom’s higher-order thinking skills and apply their research to Canadian heritage and to their own lives.

Further, students integrated the new information and were able to apply it to new learning in the classroom. This week, we had a presenter from the RCMP outreach program come to talk about treaties, a complicated topic all on its own, and many of my students had relevant information at their finger tips!

Keys to success:

1. Laying out the entire project from the beginning, complete with due dates, templates and examples, and providing it to students. This was providing them with a road map rather than asking them to trust that I knew where we were going and that the path would be revealed as we traveled.

2. Collaboration. This key cannot be overstated. Without the support of Mme Cornelisse, who managed the organizational component and offered classroom support, and the collegiality of the other two teachers involved, who often served as my sounding board, this project could not have been as successful as it was.

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