Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reflecting on Inquiry

1. What are the ways that inquiry has had a positive impact on your teaching and / or student learning?

Incorporating inquiry into our units has proven to have a positive impact on my teaching and more importantly on students learning. Some of the positives that highlight our experiences with inquiry this year:

0         Naturally lent itself to differentiation among the diverse academic needs in my classroom.
0         Increased engagement of all learners.
0         Offered students more choices and more responsibility to take ownership of their learning.
0         Fostered the active use and application of knowledge.
0         Helped students work collaboratively in pairs, teams, and with adults.
0         Gave students opportunities to practice skills they will face as adults (interviewing, writing emails, making phone calls, and engaging with adults and organizations in their community).

2. What are the drawbacks? What are the ways that inquiry still feels uncomfortable? What are you still unsure about?

With the demands of curriculum and the restraints of testing, time and content-specific skills are always in the back of mind as drawbacks to inquiry. I find value in weaving inquiry into the curriculum when it serves as the best avenue towards student learning, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea of making it the focus of all lessons. Even when considering the positive impact on student learning, I think it’s important to incorporate a variety of teaching strategies into our practice. I admit however that this belief may come from the understanding that I'm not sure how to make all content fit into the inquiry model.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Open Inquiry in Math?

In reflecting about this year of inquiry, I have been all over the map!  I initially felt that focusing on math inquiry would be an interesting way to steer my thinking.  There are so many topics that naturally lend themselves to literacy, I am always adapting them to math.  Then, I thought an easier route would be social studies and science inquiry, which really lend themselves to a more open inquiry approach... not easy at all!  Now I am to the conclusion that I perhaps have been a little too reflective!  Sometimes I dig myself into a hole of thought and have trouble executing a plan for fear of failing. So, I am going to continue with plans for integrating inquiry into math through the end of the year and focus on successes and challenges there.

Our last inquiry work with Michelle was around open inquiry, which is by far the most demanding in some ways because it requires me to be so flexible with plans.  It all depends on where kids are at in the process of learning.  Jamie and I are taking this approach to our current unit on Colorado History.  I don't think this is an approach that can be used in math.  An open inquiry approach in math would do little to lay the foundation that kids need in order to execute sound math thinking.  Am I wrong?  My current approach in math is curricular inquiry, where students participate in inquiry around a specific foundational topic.  Right now, that topic is perimeter and area.

Chalk Talk

As I shared in my last post, students have been thinking about math thinking and created chalk-talk posters for each of the Standards for Mathematical Thinking indicating what each standard meant to them and/or an example of how they have demonstrated that standard.  We then used sticky notes to indicate which of the cognitive thinking strategies we need in order to successfully demonstrate each standard.  The posters are now hanging in the classroom under the thinking strategies.  My next step is to physically connect each standard to its corresponding thinking strategy using yarn.  I am going to use the topic of perimeter and area to challenge students to think about how they think to solve problems.

Hallway Polygons
I am planning this week using the most logical approach.... searching 'perimeter area' on Pinterest.  I found some great inquiry activities, but do these activities lend themselves to true curricular inquiry?  Will students be discovering the meaning of each by engaging in activities that really push their thinking.  Here is what I have so far:
  • Students will make 'hallway polygons' using the 1 x 1ft. tiles on the floor and painter's tape.  This is Tony's favorite!  In the past I have made these polygons and had students use red, 1 ft. strips of paper to measure the perimeter and green 1ft. square sheets to measure area.  I am thinking that I will make one and have student make 6 or 7 more for the rest of the class to measure.  I found that this is a great way for kids to 'walk' the perimeter and get very kinesthetic with the concept.
  • Using Google Maps and the ruler tool to find perimeter and area.  Students find the perimeter of our school, the US, the Pentagon, the state of Colorado, Lake Superior.  This will be a great way to really problem solve the perimeter and area of irregular shapes and integrate tech. 
  • Find the area of your footprint using graph paper.  Straight out of Everyday Math, this is another great one for looking a irregular shapes and solving problems.
  • Measuring Penny, a read aloud about measurement that also has an activity where students have to design a dog house and a dog run to maximize area for the dog to have space to run around.
  • Students will make a visual representation of the meaning of perimeter and area to hang on the wall.  The visual can be anything (tool, example, non-example, picture) to cement the meaning of each in the reader's mind.
My inquiry questions for my students:
  • How does what we measure influence how we measure?
  • How do we find areas of rectangles?
  • How do we find perimeters of rectangles?
  • How can we find rectangles’ lengths if we know their areas and widths?
  • How is area connected to multiplication?
  • Why does area matter?  Why does perimeter matter?
  • Who uses perimeter and area in their lives besides fourth grade math students and their teacher?
How does this relate the Standards for Mathematical Practice?  I am going to ask students to identify which of the standards they are using when the compute area and perimeter.  According to my scope and sequence, they should focus on:

1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
4. Model with mathematics.
5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
6. Attend to precision.

Friday, April 24, 2015

April post

Now that the 8th grade science CMAS testing is almost over, 8th graders can take a deep breath and start their inquiry projects on building water bottle rockets.  This is great opportunity for open inquiry as ample time can be given for students to research, design, test, redesign, retest, and reflect on their rockets. While doing this, students develop an understanding for Newton’s laws of motion as well as the different forces acting upon their rocket.

Inquiry has a positive impact as students develop their own understandings at their own pace.  Students are engaged, they collaborate, they make mistakes and learn from them, misbehaviors all but seem to vanish. Students hopefully not only develop more long-term understandings of the content, but also know how physical science can apply to their lives.

The drawback to open inquiry is time.  With the demands of the CMAS test covering random material from grades 6-8, there is no time for open inquiry until this time of year.  I still struggle with student accountability with inquiry projects.  I often feel the need to still guide them to learning that still needs to take place. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

April Post

It is hard to believe that April is almost over!!!!  A year with an inquiry focus!!!  It has been hard and rewarding all at once!!  
This year inquiry has really had such a positive impact in my classroom.  Inquiry has made my students accountable and excited about their learning.  Instead of learning what "I want them to learn."  They have learned what they want to learn.  On top of learning what they are interested in, they have to be invested in their learning.  Through the inquiry process they won't learn unless they want to learn (that means they have to look for their answers).  They also become teachers.  They teach their classmates what they have learned.  I just sit back with my feet up and learn too!  :)  (I wish!)  
What I really have struggled with this year is that it is hard and feels out of control a lot of the time.  It is really hard work having the students guide their own learning.  Most kindergarten students are unable to access their own information so I have to do a lot of the work up front.  So to them it feels like they are finding the answers to their questions.  But really I have found books and videos that answer everyone's questions.  Some students need one on one guidance during this process.  Others just need a modeled lesson.  It also feels out of control most of the time.  I know the standards I want the students to accomplish by the end of the inquiry process but the day to day lessons and path of each student is different.  
I look forward to seeing what inquiry looks like in my room next year.  I plan to continue having inquiry studies in my room.  I tend to change and tweak thing the more I reflect.  I look forward to next year once I have a summer of reflection!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April Post

This is it, end of the year!!!  We can do it!!!

We are still making our documentaries.  They continue to be excited about finding experts to interview and continue to take pride in their inter-personal skills. Most have finished their KWL and their research and are starting to film and edit.  I am excited to see the end products!  If you're dieing to know, the following are the expectations for the documentary:


Documentary Expectations

The Format
A documentary could be described as a type of "non-fiction story."  Your documentary will be between 5-7 minutes.
Refer to the C-SPAN wesbsite for examples of student created documentaries.  
Refer to the following cite for C-SPAN downloadable clips on your issue.

Team Work -  100 pts
Before you get started, if you are working in a team, you should consider how the team is going to divide up the responsibilities. Typical roles may include: writer, editor, director, and videographer. Of course, one person can play more than one role

Research  -  200 pts
Research facts and opinions on your topic.  You must have a complete exploration of your issue.  You must have various opinions about your issue.  Cite all sources.

Interview an expert -   An attempt – 50 pts       An actual interview-  200 pts
Contact and interview an expert on your topic.  It can be an interview in person, via e-mail, or via phone.
Given out time constraint, I want to see you at least make an effort in finding and contacting and expert.

 Outline the Content  - 100 pts
Before production, you will  create a script outline, including storyboards illustrating specific shots. It should include: locations to explore, people to be interviewed, events to capture, situations to show, documents or still photos to include, artwork, quotations

Shooting Video – 200 pts
There are some basic rules to follow when shooting your video footage. You should consider lighting, framing, positioning, camera steadiness, speed of camera movement, sound, how many seconds you hold a shot, etc. A note about interviewing--think carefully about the questions and answers, the preparation, position, location and appearance of the interviewee. Careful planning can lead to better video footage for your final product.

Editing  - 100 pts
Editing is a critical phase of creating your video. Think of the editing process as similar to the writing process, and your video footage as the words you will use to tell your story. In what order will you arrange the story? What pieces work well together? What piece should be left out? How will it end? You may also realize you are missing some pieces and need to shoot more video. Determine your strategy of transitioning between scenes and which segments need voice-over narration.
You may use your phone, bring in your own tablet, the Chromebooks or the cameras at the school.  Search for video-editng software that will be compatible for your equipment.

Possible video editing software to use:     (scroll to the bottom of page for full list)

When I was explaining this inquiry when we first started, I really wanted to discuss WHY we were doing this.  Sometimes when I start a lesson/inquiry I go over the "WHY" too quickly.  So not only did/do I explain it, daily, but I keep it up on the board.  When I first started thinking about the "WHY," I was amazed at how much it covers.  Just to name a few; we use our higher level thinking; we are creative and innovative; we use our communication and collaborations skills; we gather research and synthesize and process information;  we use our critical thinking, problem solving and decision making skills;  we use multi-media; we use our interviewing and inter-personal skills. Now that's a mouthful.

I have really enjoyed this year of inquiry!  It has forced me to allow the students to take ownership of their own teaching and learning.  They were up for the challenge and have carried it through to the end (almost to the end).  I am so very proud of them, and hopefully they will look back at their inquiry experiences and say that not only did they learn, but they had fun doing it!!!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

April Post

Inquiry has had a positive impact on my teaching and student learning. I have found that I am more comfortable presenting most subjects with at least a mini inquiry approach. We started Geometry and I had no problem letting the students start by sharing their thinking, exploring and connecting, and finally bringing their thinking back. I have found that my lessons are easier and shorter when the kids have shared the learning they have discovered. I only need to direct their thinking or point out vocabulary they may need. I really love how that feels as a teacher and the kids love how it feels to learn it themselves.

I am still a bit uncomfortable with the long inquiry projects (our ants for example). While I still am guiding them on the main points, I am uncertain as to how long it will really take to complete this with all their own questions at hand. We have a deadline and a goal for presenting our learning, but I am anxious as to if we will make it. 

What is hard. . . all of it. In first grade you have a true variety of readers and writers. Making sure the material is appropriate and all the different scaffolds are in place takes lots of time on my end. The six and seven year olds have not yet learned how to self monitor. I continue to refocus them even while they are looking for one topic, I can only imagine (and yes I fear) what will happen when they are searching out their own question. In what I have seen from second grade and in my teammate's rooms, I know it is very messy in lower grades. It does not look like students on computers or quietly note taking from books. I struggle with how this learning looks to others.

Ultimately, I cannot wait to see the end product for these kids.

March - Blog Post (Really Late- sorry)

At the point of Spring Break, we had just received our ants. Our inquiry was really just taking shape. We created our chart of what we think we know to compare to our end learning. I provided my students with books and as I mentioned in my previous post a guided goal to all explore/inquire about.

We then watched our ants and began forming wonderings.
Then we jumped in by looking at what ants look like. (notice my drawing has legs on the abdomen - they should all be on the thorax on the what I think I know poster. The students looked for information about what an ant looks like, parts of and even that it is classified as an insect.

I cannot say we have a literature circle format; I guess for first graders it looks a lot different. The kids were each searching through non-fiction text in pairs or individually and marking pages for me to read (or reread) about our focus for that week. We then discussed and wrote items that fit on our web. Our discussions around the literature were on what to take from my read outs that met our inquiry focus.

I used to think this would not really fit inquiry, but I now see that even with a top as specific as what ants look like, the kids really got into searching out their own piece. Some wanted to know if ants were different colors or could be blue, others wondered if they were the same size and some questions grew out of it as to if the ants could regrow legs.

While all of our questions that evolved were not answered yet, students are on the right path to understanding the inquiry process (or start).

I am so glad I am taking it slow and a bit more structured than perhaps I could. I feel more confident as their teacher in allowing them to understand the expectations and process of inquiry. My goal is to allow them at the end of our inquiry to pick one wondering they have and allow them to go deeper and bring it back to our puzzle.


Friday, April 17, 2015

March Blog (A little late)

As we began out new unit of study in science I tried to approach my intended learnings for the students through the concept of inquiry.  The third and final unit for 5th grade is the Human Body.  On the introduction day of the unit I told the students that we would be starting a unit on our bodies and all of the systems that work together to keep us alive.  I was confronted with lots and lots of groans.  Apparently when you mention the human body to 5th graders they automatically think there is only one system and it's called the reproductive system.  After moving past the initial grumblings, the students were able to open their minds and prepare themselves to learn about the other systems.

I used to think the in order for the students to learn the science curriculum I would have to follow the tracks units.  However, after allowing the students to explore the musculoskeletal system and circulatory system through other avenues I have found the students much more engaged and accountable for their own learning.
I now think that students can really get passionate about their own learning if you get them the tools to use at their discretion but not as many guidelines.  Each day more and more kids will come in a tell me various facts about things they have researched at home.  I feel like for some of the kids they have been sparked to continue to explore how amazing our bodies are and how important it is for us to keep each system healthy.

At this point, we are wrapping up the heart and circulatory system.  Because the students have been so interested in the heart and keeping it healthy. I plan to give them some common heart problems to research so they perhaps take an active part now, while they are young, in working towards a healthy heart!

April- Wrap Up

This year I have been able to utilize mini-inquiries in our math workshop.  It has allowed me to find the balance between skill building and discovery.  My most successful lessons are when we work on a question of the day that can have more than one answer or a topic that they have yet had direct instruction on.  Students have time to talk at the carpet and give each other ideas.  They then return to their seats, work independently for a few minutes then return to the carpet to share with a different partner what ideas they worked on and where they are in solving the problem or how many ideas they have come up with.  The students then talk as a class and sometimes we have an anchor text that we read together and question as we go.  I have found that the level of questioning in my class is beyond where I expected.  When we were doing our measurement unit, one of my students asked the questions “Is there measurement in space?”.  At first I really, really wanted to just say ‘Of course!’ but instead I opened it up to the class and the discussion that ensued was amazing. We had an amazingly authentic debate that was respectful and insightful.  They had me thinking about all sorts of things…When are specific measurements important?  When are estimates better?  On this specific day we had so many questions coming up that I decided we should do an exit ticket with one question they still had or something new they learned.  Their questions were so outstanding that I decided to use a few of them for our question of the day-and they LOVED seeing their own questions being used that they started asking more and giving them to me on post-it notes ‘in case I needed more ideas’!! Here are a few examples of their questions:

I’m still unsure how to utilize inquiry on a larger scale.  Although we are using it most days, as I said earlier we are doing the mini-inquiries and they only take 1-2 days.  We have done them each week and I think the level of understanding in our units is far more than what I have seen in previous years.  Students are able to provide feedback to each other, and it’s not just ‘You did great’, it really is useful.  They give each other ideas and aren’t afraid to try things that they are unsure about.  It has been amazing to see the classroom transform!   

March- Investigated and Coalesced

I used to think... 
that inquiry was going to be very time consuming and difficult and that as an educator I wasn’t sure I was ready to take it on.  It seemed like a scary word that brought things like chaos, time consuming and too much planning to mind. 
Now I think...
 that inquiry is what I have been using to teach for a very long time-I just didn’t name it that.  I have come to realize that I use the mini-inquiry model combined with workshop to help my students think deeply about what they are learning.  The biggest change for my classroom this year is the way that my students interact and discuss with EACH OTHER.  As I have learned to fine-tune my teaching methods and really connect with who I am as an educator I find that I first focused on my classroom management, then the way that I questioned students and used the thinking strategies in our math work; and this year I focused on how to facilitate my students having the conversations with each other that allow them to deepen their understanding.  Although this year things really have come together, I feel as though without the work of my previous years it would not have been possible for my students to get where they are now.  It was as though this year all the pieces started fitting together and I had an outline to my puzzle and the picture became clearer as we put more pieces in throughout the year. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Colorado Regions "mini" Inquiry

In March my kids set out on what was supposed to be a "mini" (meaning I thought it would take two weeks tops) inquiry into the three main geographical regions of Colorado- the plains, the mountains and the plateaus. After a bit of informal pre-assessing, I knew they were going to need a lot in the immersion stage. So, We immersed ourselves in textbooks, websites, maps, and videos. Using a modified version of the Think, Explore, Puzzle thinking routine they determined importance as they recorded noticing, thoughts and wonders in their journals.

It was about this time that Michelle added to my schema for literature circles. I'd never really thought about using them outside of the literacy department, but I figured I could try it. Once the kids chose the region they were most interested in, the got in groups of three and read an article pertaining to their region. They already had been reading in lit. circles most of the year with Gretchen, so it was a very smooth connection to what it might look like in my room. 
Using their literature circle conversations as a starting point, each region group had to tackle our guiding inquiry question- How might the physical and man-made features of a region provide challenges and opportunities in that region?

So two weeks into our "mini" inquiry we were finally ready to do some research. This immersion stage was SO important that is took some time to get through. I practiced letting go of a specific timeline, and met them where they were. Their research revolved around determining which features were going to be important to that region, and then inferring challenges and opportunities using what they had learned about the regions so far.

The going public stage was by far the most entertaining part of this inquiry.  With only two days before spring break to put their learnings together in a presentation of sorts I was worried it would be total chaos.  Which it was. But when given the pressure of time, they stepped up.  Quality didn't go down either.  They were so into their learning that they even did work at home and brought it in to continue working on (without me even giving the option!).

So where am I in my own inquiry of how to fit standards into the inquiry process? Well, I struggled with guided their thinking as much as I did with the guiding question, and I'm not sure I would do it the same if I had it to do over. I still ponder how much of the inquiry process needs to be their own curiosities and how much I need to guide them so they are somewhat learned in the ballpark of what the standards are asking for. I know that the standards do have a place in inquiry, but I'm not actually sure that I have figured out how to weave them in yet!