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.

Learning Within These Four Walls

The question that I asked myself the other day is how I can better use all of the amazing technology available to me without using it just because it’s something cool.

Regina recently had a severe winter storm that kept half of my class home on the Monday following, five students out on Tuesday and busses are not expected to run Wednesday or Thursday. What a perfect opportunity to prove that the learning that takes place in our room doesn’t have to take place within the four walls that contain us!

The Website files have mostly been recovered and we seem to be back in business that way. Step one of project innovation is already under way: blog more. Students are able to check in from home and see what they’re missing. I was thrilled to see a student who had been away for a week had already copied down the new spelling words. In addition, students who had attended classes within our four walls on Monday ended up with extra time on their hands on Tues while waiting for some of those who were out to catch up, so they podcasted two of today’s articles, which some students have taken the time to comment on on the site!

What can I say? I’m already thrilled! This is a classroom in which students are often absent due to various commitments and travel plans. There is no reason why those students can’t stay in touch, participate in classroom discussions, and be our eyes and ears on the ground around the world.

I look forward to further exploring some ideas and seeing just how far we can take this. Of course, there are always some hurdles to jump due to technology failures (our two classroom computers have a broken Internet connection), but I think the project will be well worth the effort.