Skip navigation
All Places > Explore > Teacher Blogs > Blog > 2015 > December

Our project focused on environmental inquiry-based learning in Full-Day Kindergarten and Grade One.  As educators, we know that children learn by asking questions, exploring and investigating.  Our project built on the natural curiosity and sense of wonder that children possess about the world around them.


Our goal was to develop and extend the inquiry skills of our youngest learners.  We aimed to provide students with a rich, stimulating classroom environment and varied opportunities to plan, observe and gather information about topics that interest them.  We worked at deepening our knowledge and ability to effectively interact with students in order to clarify, extend and help articulate children's thinking as well as to encourage students to share findings through oral, visual and written representations.  In essence, our goal was to make student thinking visible through the inquiry process.

The Capacity Building Series publication "Getting Started with Student Inquiry" states:  "There is growing consensus, both provincially and internationally, that greater student engagement leads to greater student achievement."

Our GOALS:                                                                                                                                                     

  • increased student engagement
  • increased understanding of a problem, topic or issue
  • development of a community of co-learners (students and educators learning together)
  • development of inquiry skills (exploration, investigation, communication)
  • development of self-directed learners

Where We BeganOur journey began when we visited the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School in Toronto.  We chose to visit this lab school because of its inquiry approach to learning – children learn by doing. front of Eric bldg.jpgeric photos.jpgSK eric.jpg

Front entrance of Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School

Highlights of our learning:

  • Focus on teaching children, not on teaching the curriculum.
  • Children have theories.  They are naturally curious and natural researchers.  As educators, start with their theories.
  • Don’t undermine what children are capable of and don’t make acquiring information simple for them.
  • Design experiences where children feel safe to ask questions, state ideas and take risks.
  • Create an environment where children learn for themselves and the community of learners in the classroom.  Work on building collective understanding.


The school’s publication Natural Curiosity: A Resource for Teachers – Building Children’s Understanding of the World through Environmental Inquiry was our guide and inspiration throughout our project.





Science Big Idea - Kindergarten:

Children are curious and connect prior knowledge to new contexts in order to understand the world around them.


Science Overall Expectation - Grade One:

Students assess the impact on people and the environment of objects and structures and the materials used in them.


Key Concept: Growth and Change in Trees and Our Relationship with Trees

Subject and Skill Areas:  Science, Visual Arts, Math, Language, Oral Language Development, Personal and Social Development

Focus of Inquiry: Trees

The Early Years:
Shannon’s Story


After reading the document“Natural Curiosity” and visiting the Eric Jackman Institute in Toronto, we knew that we wanted the focus of our inquiry to be on the environment, but more specifically, the study of trees.  We chose the topic of trees, as we felt that every child could relate to trees because of their experiences with them, particularly because of our geographical location –IMG_6392.JPG
Northwestern Ontario, where forestry is a big industry.  We began by creating a planning web – we, as the educator team, put on paper our ideas for how we thought this inquiry could unfold.  Our ideas came in handy when we needed a new hook – a way to get students thinking about trees in a different way.


Early in the year, the children began noticing the changes that were occurring with the onset of fall.  They were particularly interested in a tree on our playground that was losing its leaves after the leaves changed colour.  We did the standard ‘leaf activities’ – collecting, observing, sorting and visual arts activities.  But we needed to make the learning deeper,
with a focus on trees.  We started by assessing the students’ prior knowledge by asking them: IMG_6390.JPG“What do you know about trees?”  We compiled the students’ knowledge by facilitating a Knowledge Building Circle about trees.  We also invited them to draw a picture of a tree.




Fall was now turning to

winter and we were contemplating which student ideas to explore further, when it happened by chance.  While playing outside, a student asked “Why do some trees have no leaves and other trees are green in the winter?”  Rather than attempting to answer the student’s question, we brought the question to the students.  Their responses were interesting:


“Some leaves blow off.”

“Too cold for leaves to stay on.”

“Maybe the snow is too blowy.”

“Some trees don’t have leaves and some trees do.”

“Some trees are called evergreen and they stay green forever.”

“What kind of tree is the Advent wreath?  Why are the leaves not falling off?”                                                 

We proved and disproved their theories by studying coniferous and deciduous trees – perfect timing since many homes had a shining example of an evergreen in their living room.

IMG_3337.JPGDuring this brief (because of approaching Christmas holidays) but important study, the children learned that they can gain information from library books, the internet or by asking others.  More importantly, students realized that their original thinking was based on their background knowledge and therefore, was accurate.  In the New Year, to refocus students on the topic of trees and to establish a personal connection with trees and each other, we sent home an assignment for students to complete with their parents:



Each student shared their work with the class and it was interesting to see the variety of tree types (including some invented ones) that are ‘special’ to the children.  There were no right or wrong answers and the questions were designed to be open-ended.


Science Centre – We sent home a second homework piece on trees.  Students brought their

branches to school and they were housed in our Science centre, along with paper, pencils and magnifying glasses, to encourage close observation.  We told the children that scientists, or
people that study nature, write down their observations, and make drawings to help them remember or to show the information to others.  Student drawings were posted in this centre. IMG_6924.JPGOne student brought in a branch with needles on it.  As the time went on, the needles were falling off.  A Knowledge Building Circle about why the needles are falling off, resulted.  Most students thought that a tree needs water and that a cut-off branch can’t get water. The question “How does a tree get water?” was then asked.  The question lead to a study of tree roots using plants that the students grew.
Students were finding seeds (i.e., in an apple, a sunflower seed on the ground) that they wanted to plant.  They asked questions such as, “Will an apple tree grow?”  The following chart was helpful in questioning students during the experimental process.

Before the Experiment

During the Experiment

During and After the Experiment

“What do you think is going to happen?”

“Why do you think that is going to happen?”

“What do you see happening?”

“Look closely. Has anything changed?”

“Is everything the same?”

“Why do you think that happened?”

“Did you expect that to happen?”

“How is what you saw different from what you thought would happen?”

“What does this mean about ______?”

We had several clear cup containers in our classroom, each with a different seed type.  As some started growing, students were still interested in the root systems.  We had already established that trees have roots, so we decided to examine how trees and plants are the same and different.


Student Responses

“They both grow on the ground in soil.”

“Plants have leaves and trees have leaves.”

“Plants and trees both need water.”

“Plants and trees grow flowers and fruit.”

“They both need sunshine to grow.”

“Plants and trees both grow by seeds and they take a long time to grow.”                                      


“Trees have sticks (wood).”

“Trees can grow bigger than plants.”

“Trees can give you shade and plants can’t.”

“Trees change, like the leaves fall off.”

“Trees change their colour of leaves when it’s a different season and flowers just die.”

The students always heard us (the educators) remark that our playground had very little shade on a sunny day.  This discussion on lack of shade came up many times throughout the year.  The students decided that they would like to plant a tree on our playground.  During a Knowledge Building Circle, the students were asked about why it is a good idea to plant a tree:  

“So we know how to plant stuff.”

“Give us oxygen.”

“Grow vegetables and fruits.”

“Give us shade when we are hot.”

“Beavers eat the trees and build dams.”                                                                            

“Squirrels make homes.”

“Spiders make webs.”

“Birds make nests.”

“Animals eat off trees like giraffes.”

“A bear can live in it.”

“Owls peck in the tree and make a home.”

“Acorns for chipmunks.”

“Deer eat leaves.”

“Monkeys get their bananas from trees.”

We went on a field trip to our local garden centre to browse their selection of trees and determine which type will be suitable for our playground.

IMG_5765.JPG   IMG_5766.JPG    IMG_5771.JPG    IMG_5778.JPG

The students were asked:

How can we raise money to purchase a tree?  Student ideas were plentiful and included having a yard sale, reading books for money, making lunch and selling it and giving money from their IMG_6796.JPGpiggy banks.  In the end, the children voted to have a family BBQ (complete IMG_6932.JPGwith a lemonade stand) and set up a donation jar at the event.
  Parents sent in food items and cooked at the event. The children were involved in all aspects of preparing for the BBQ, such as menu planning, writing invitations and signs, making cupcakes and setting up a lemonade stand.


After the BBQ, the children shared that it was “good” because their families came, the food was yummy and we made “a lot” of money to buy trees.  We actually raised enough money to buy 4 trees for our playground.



Integrated Learning


We studied the book The Giving Tree


Learning Goals:  We developed our critical thinking skills about a text.  We learned to think about the author’s intent or message.  We learned to respond to teacher prompts by talking, writing and/or drawing.


The students acted as literate learners when they analyzed the author’s message by answering the following question:  “If you were the tree, would you be happy?”

Some of their responses were:

“No.  I don’t like it for someone to cut down my trunk.”

“If they take my branches, yes.  I want people to be happy.”

“Yes, if someone picked off all of my apples because they could give them away so poor
people could have food.”


We also studied Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid.  As a way for students to make meaning by accessing prior knowledge before reading the book, students were shown the following image and asked “What do you see?
What do you think?  What do you wonder?”

One saw a grave and another saw a shed.  One said it makes her think of an elephant doing a hand stand.  Another said it reminds him of when he goes ice fishing with his family because one of the branches looks like an ice auger.  One student wondered why the ‘trees’ are tangled up.



Two seedlings were given to our class and we used them to develop the concept of measurement.  We worked on measuring using non-standard units.  The focus questions posed to the students were:  How can I find out the length of the seedling?  Is there a part of your body that you can use to measure?  We extended this concept by making comparisons between the seedlings and the mature tree on our playground.                       

          “We can use our legs and arms to measure.  The cedar goes up to my elbow.”

“Use a shoe to measure.  The tree is as long as Jake’s shoe but on Nyssa’s shoe, it’s two of Nyssa’s shoes long.”

“I can use my head.  It goes from my neck to the top of my head.”

“It fits all the way around my neck!”

“It’s 5 inches long.” (Student demonstrated an inch measure using her fingers and then used that measure to check the length of the branch.)

“I used my wrist.  My wrist is bigger than Payton’s wrist.”

Students also explored and counted the money raised from the BBQ.  They started by putting it into groups (e.g., all the quarters in one group, all the dimes in another, etc.).  Three or four students were assigned to a ‘money group’.  Within their groups, they had to count the number of coins or bills and report back to the whole group with their findings.  From there, we (the educators) figured out the final total.  IMG_5813.JPGOne student decided to make her own 'money' to buy a tree. She cut out circles from paper and wrote numerals and drew people on them.

Surveys – When questions came up, we encouraged students to try to find an answer by conducting a survey (as they already learned that asking others is a way to gain information).  Student survey questions:  Are there vegetableIMG_6913.JPG trees?  Do bears use trees to live in?  Do chipmunks live in trees or in the ground? The students asked the adults in the school as well as the grade 7/8 class.




Visual Arts

We went on a nature walk and each student was given the opportunity to take a close-up picture of some part of a tree on our school ground.  Back in the classroom, we looked at the pictures using the SMARTboard and talked about the question “What do you see?”  The intent was for students to look closely at the photographs and notice the details.  Students were given the task of choosing a photograph and drawing it using any of the following mediums: pastel, crayon or pencil.












To consolidate learning, students were asked:

“Why are trees important?”



Parent Survey:



Once we purchased the trees and positioned them on our playground, we realized that we didn't have room for four trees.  We brought the dilemma to the children.IMG_6943.JPGThe class unanimously agreed to give the tree away.  Ultimately, it ended up being planted on the grade 1-4 playground for other students to enjoy.



Grade One:

Margaret's Story


The Grade One students were asked to draw a picture of a tree and write about what they knew about trees. The students had a very good understanding about trees and the parts of a tree but were not engaged in further learning. At lunchtime, as students finished eating, some were placing recyclable plastic bottles in the paper recycle bin in our classroom. I had mentioned that we can only put paper in the bin. We had a discussion about what we do with the plastics, tin and paper at home. Some students mentioned that they placed recyclable plastics and tin cans in one container and paper in another. (Our town recycling collection centre collects plastics 1 and 2 and tins together, and paper separately). The class thought everyone could bring the used recyclable containers home to be recycled but then decided it would be easier to have a bin for those items at school.  We set up a separate bin for plastics and tin in our classroom.


gray recycle bin.jpgWe put the bin at the front of the room and students made a conscious decision not to put anything but recyclable plastics labelled 1 and 2, and tins in the bin. We discussed how to identify if an item is recyclable. After a couple of weeks, someone put a pizza crust and a paper plate in the bin. A few students spotted the waste and the class determined that we should create a label for the recycle bin so then everyone would know that the bin was for recycling and not garbage. After researching recycling through the reading of books, we discussed what reduce, reuse, and recycle means.




survey picture.jpgThe students were pleased with how successfully they were recycling the plastics and tin in their classroom. They wondered if other classes recycled plastics and tins so they wanted to conduct a survey in the school. Each student took a clipboard with paper attached and a pencil to record their findings. Students visited classes and tallied the classes that had a recycle bin for plastics and tins. Students discovered that all classes recycle paper but they didn’t have a recycle bin for plastics 1 and 2, and tin.

survey results.jpg

We brainstormed what we could learn about our environment:

brainstorm sheet.jpg Fun with Fall Leaves Boy-color.png

Earth Day.jpg











We picked up garbage in our school yard and participated in a community clean up organized by our school staff. Students wore green and blue clothing on Earth Day to celebrate the special day. The students planted Marigolds to give as gifts for Mother’s Day. Mrs. Richard’s class donated a tree for the grade 1 to 4 playground. The students started using the other side of recycled paper in the recycle bin.


The class felt that other classrooms in the school would be able to recycle plastics and tins in their classroom if they had another recycle container. We asked our custodian if there were containers available for each classroom to use for recycling and if the school had a large recycle bin for the school lobby. Our custodian brought us enough containers out of storage for each classroom and a big blue bin for the school lobby. Using a computer, the students made recycle labels for each container. The students proposed that class helpers in each class could empty the class recycle bin when it is full into the large blue bin in the school lobby.


Below is a picture of a recycle bin that the class delivered to classrooms throughout the school. We noted that it is being used along with the paper recycle bin in the classroom.

recycle bin being used.jpg

lobby recycle bin.jpg





The students throughout the school are using the recycle bins as evidenced by the large blue recycle bin in the school lobby that is being filled on a regular basis.






Maple starting.jpg





In May, an opportunity came to further our learning about trees and their importance to our environment.  Every Spring, a student’s family taps trees in Southern Ontario for several weeks.  The student and his father shared their knowledge of how to make maple syrup with a Power Point presentation to the class.


making syrup.jpg






Our class learned about the tools and equipment needed to take the sap from the trees. The students learned how the sap is processed in the sugar shack. After the presentation, the students loved sampling the syrup.








Our learning about the making of Maple syrup:

class learning of maple syrup.jpg



oct writing.jpgA sample of a student’s writing in October.  In the second writing sample, from May, you can see the student's progress in writing about his thoughts regarding the making of Maple Syrup.

May writing.jpg


















In June, a Park Naturalist from Quetico Provincial Park visited the classroom to present a Power Point presentation to students about frogs and a toad in the surrounding area. The students explored living things in a sample of water from a creek. They found that spotting the tadpoles was easier than the smaller organisms.

We followed up with a nature walk with the Park Naturalist in Quetico Provincial Park to further our learning about our environment. At the park, students also had an opportunity to explore the creek with a small net, locating a toad and organisms.


tadpole in tank.jpg               





thank you.JPG

Written by Shannon Richard (Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten Teacher) and Margaret Cunningham (Grade One Teacher)


Here's the link to the original blog post in TeachOntario:

Ten Week Check-in

                            Posted by Emile Ferlisi in Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP on Dec 6, 2015 11:17:42 PM                                             


After a little over two months of our TLLP, I sent out a Socrative quiz to all team members with the hopes of gauging where we were in terms of implementation of technology and what we might do better as a team. I was also interested in seeing what areas of our board learning plan the team had been addressing through their use of digital tools. For context, the areas of improvement our board is currently focusing on include: knowing our learners through assessment, a focus on mathematics, the ministry mandated 'Pathways to Success' initiative and digital citizenship.


Here's each question and a summary of how team members responded:




What digital learning tools have you tried with your class so far?


This question shows the range of tools that team members have implemented. Responses included: Sway, Mathletics, Seesaw, Explain everything, Nearpod, Catholic Bible online, Kahoot, Puffin Academy, Class Messenger, Prezi, Gizmos (found within explorelearning), Prodigy Math, and Epic read aloud.


Since the quiz was sent out, team members have also started to implement Zaption as well as OneNote (class notebooks); our team also has a OneNote space for group collaboration as well as reviewing and sharing of resources.


If you take the time to check the hyperlinks you'll notice that the tools we've used have ranged from presentation apps to improvement on parent-teacher communication. We have used our technology to support instruction in language, mathematics and everything in-between since many of the applications and web-tools listed here can be used in multiple ways for different content areas. We've taken the initiative to learn how to incorporate these tools into our practice and go beyond the "novelty" factor and into the realm of effective implementation; that is definitely what we are trying to accomplish with our project.


Are there any digital tools that you have started learning about but haven't implemented yet? Which ones?


This question showed me that team members are striving to learn more and put some learning "in their back pockets" for further exploration later on; there is only so much you can implement effectively at any given time! Most team members mentioned their desire to become more proficient with tools like OneNote, Sway or other software within our board-provided suite of apps. There were some interesting inclusions, however, including: Comic Life , Powtoon, and Book Creator.  I have personally been exploring a few newer web-based applications that I'd like to help team members run with (hopefully) in the near future: Spiral, and seem to have some pretty incredible creative possibilities, but right now they only serve to prove that there really are more tools out there than anyone can possibly wrap their head around! I do, however, encourage anyone reading this (including team members!) to check out Spiral or Ideaphora to see how you might be able to take advantage of these tools in your classrooms. I've also come across a tool called 'Tanjo' as well as 'Teacher Templates (' - both, again, have their creative possibilities and I do hope to 'unpack them' in the near future!


Which area of focus from our CBLP (board learning plan) have you decided to focus on?


This question served to remind all of us that our use of technology should be deliberate and intentionally focused on improving student achievement. Framing our work with our board learning plan provides structure and allows team members to meet the goals of the project as well as our board and school improvement plans simultaneously. 30% of the team responded that they were using technology to know their learners while 22% said they were using digital tools to address digital citizenship and 22% said they were satisfying 'Pathways to Success' expectations. Only 13% of team members said they were focusing on mathematics, but perhaps this is okay since improving mathematics instruction is part of our larger school plan - it's definitely worth looking at either way and something for us to tackle as we move forward. Of course, with so many choices, it only makes sense that we've chosen to address different sections of our improvement plan.


How can your team or team lead better support you?

This question gave team members the chance to mention their concerns, if any, with how things have progressed so far. Most team members mentioned that they felt comfortable asking for help and supporting each other. The overall feel I got from team responses was that we genuinely have, at least to this point, created a culture of collaboration. Team members are working together and supporting the effective implementation of technology and we're all comfortable seeking support from each other - this is probably the most important element of our work together so it's encouraging to see that we're doing well to this point. One very important concern brought forward was that, perhaps, we don't "meet in person" often enough. My most sincere answer for this concern is that meetings were intentionally replaced by effective sharing through twitter, blogging and, most recently, collaboration on our team OneNote. The project was designed in this way so that there was no "extra layer" of work associated with the time commitment of additional meetings - team members were (and still are) expected to engage in self-directed learning - we most certainly have enough resources to go through! - and then bring that learning back to the team. It's also important to note that this project is intended to go beyond our school-level setting; there are team members who are not on staff at our school. Lastly, our next meeting date will provide in-school team members with a full day for in-person sharing and collaboration prior to launching the second phase of our project.


Our team continues to build momentum as we progress towards the end of the first phase of this project. I honestly feel that we're improving every day and the results of this survey give us reason to continue our optimism moving forward.


Thanks to all team members for their valuable input!




Filter Blog

By date: By tag: