As I watch my three month old son each day it is more and more evident to me that we are born curious right from the start. He is just beginning to play with toys where if you touch a button, it will make a sound. His little face lights up and he tries again. He bangs on it with his little fists and squeals when more noises occur. Then of course he tries to eat it!
This is the beginning of inquiry. My baby is asking questions - If I touch this button what will happen? Will it happen again? What is that sound? How does this taste? - and he is learning about cause and effect. He is trying to make meaning out of the world around him. I have watched his face show signs of being confused, happy, frustrated and surprised all at various times during this process. And I can't wait to see what he will do next.
As a teacher, I have seen this natural level of curiosity dwindle as students move through the primary grades into the junior division. It seems to die down over time. The need to know more and to ask questions starts to disappear as students begin to expect information to be handed to them, and to be shown exactly what to do.
This prompted my teaching partner and myself to look more closely into the process of inquiry. We are both confident with the use of technology in our classrooms, so we wanted to create an environment where students would be excited about following the inquiry process to learn more about the world around them. We wanted our students to eventually have the tools to do this confidently and independently. Thus was born our TLLP - Inspiring Inquiry.
The thought of taking on an inquiry project with your students for the first time can be a daunting task. Where do you begin? And how can you get students interested and engaged in a process that can at first glance appear complicated and time consuming?
The prospect of using inquiry in the classroom was exciting for us, we just didn't know where to start. As we began researching, our ideas about inquiry continually changed shape, and we wanted to share our findings. The inquiry projects we completed with our classes were not only fabulous learning experiences for the students and ourselves, but they were fun! Our classrooms were beehives with activity, but it was purposeful activity. Students helped one another and built positive relationships. We had student-generated anchor charts and sticky notes all over the room - up went a Wonder Wall filled with questions and eventually a
s soon as school started the first question of the day became "When are when are we going to work on our projects??"
It didn't, of course, start off this way. Inquiry is a process, and the teaching of the steps (as outlined in the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum document) is a process as well. The first month of school was spent teaching Digital Citizenship and the responsible use of the internet, as well as what a growth mindset is and how we can foster it in our classrooms.
Next, two months were spent on what we felt was the most difficult step for students - asking questions. Without rich questions,
it's difficult to conduct an inquiry. We created a set of guidelines for asking questions, we taught students about how to sort those questions into three categories. All the while we moved through a process of gradual release so that students could work together as a class, then in groups, in pairs, and finally move to some level of independence.
As part of our TLLP project, we put together a number of resources to help teachers and students with the inquiry process. There are many ways to teach inquiry, and it really depends on your own comfort level. Many educators told us to just dive in with two feet - we were a little more cautious and preferred to plan things out. Our journey is chronicled in our blog -www.inspiringinquiry.weebly.com, which includes three Live Binders filled with websites to help with teaching inquiry and leading research projects in the classroom. Our blog also has student work samples and anchor charts we built with our students. Please have a look and tell us what you think! If you have questions or need more information, please email us. We are eager to help in any way that we can.
It's easy to say don't be afraid to take on inquiry in the classroom. It can appear to be overwhelming and take up a lot of time to plan. But it's worth the effort. The inquiry model allows us to meet the diverse and ever-changing needs of students in the classroom. Attention spans are shorter, and we are living in a increasingly digital world. Whether you choose to take on inquiry in a small way or to make it your new method of teaching, the inquiry process draws out the best in students: it makes them curious, it teaches them that all questions do not have easy answers, and it leads to debate and further exploration of important topics. It drew out the natural curiosity in our students, and helped us to become more effective educators. And in the end, that's what it's all about.