Friday, February 27, 2015

February Post

During our inquiry meeting this month our group focused on what thinking strategies come easily and naturally to us.  We shared our examples in order to give each other new ideas because we each have different strategies that we do naturally/easily during different parts of our day (lit, writing, math, science, social studies).  The thinking strategies that I think come up easily for me in kindergarten are schema, creating sensory images and sometimes asking questions.   We have decided our next steps will be to focus on some ideas our teammates have and try them in our classroom.  Our next steps will be to think about the thinking strategies that were not talked about during our group time and ones we find most difficult and try to think of times during the day we can implement them.  The thinking strategies that feel unnatural to me and I really have to work hard on are determining importance, synthesizing and sometimes making inferences.  We will share our ideas at our next meeting.

I used to think that incorporating the thinking strategies into everyday lessons and "talk" was going to be so difficult for kindergarten and for myself.  I really did not think I would be able to do it. in my classroom gracefully.  I now think it is totally possible and becoming easier for me everyday.  The more I familiarize myself with the language and just do it (even when it feels uncomfortable and unnatural) the easier it becomes.  Some of the thinking strategy language is coming out of my mouth easily and naturally now............and even my kids are using it in their vocabulary......not always correct but they are attempting and that is really all that matter in Kindergarten.  The more you attempt vocabulary the more it will become party of your dialogue.

I think the pictures I posted last time are still relevant to this post.  I have my "Your Busy Brain" posters hanging in the classroom and these are visual cues for the kids to remind them what thinking strategies we have really delved into and remind them what they mean if they forget.  I don't point them out every time the vocabulary comes up any more which I think is okay because some of it just comes up naturally and easily and doesn't need a reminder (schema, creating sensory images).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

February Post: Mini-Inquiries

(Pictures on their way...)

After diving in head first into my last inquiry unit and barely keeping my head above water, I thought it would be wise to take a step back and approach inquiry at a slower process. I have recently been inspired and reenergized by mini-inquires. They are concise, focused, and seem to arise authentically throughout a larger unit of study.

In class, we are reading the novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. The author beautifully juxtaposes two characters, Nya and Salva. Their two stories bring to light the plight of refugees during the Sudanese civil war and water inequities in developing countries. Since students have little to no background knowledge on the latter, many questions began arising during our reading. Many were answered as we read ahead, but some continued to linger. Specifically, the author describes in detail Salva’s journey through the desert as a Lost Boy, but she glazes over the hardships he faced in the refugee camps. The main character lived in the refugee camps for nearly 11 years before resettling in the United States, but the she only dedicated two chapters to this part of the character’s life. Naturally, my students felt frustrated and needed more information about life in refugee camps.

The following week, we engaged in a mini-inquiry about refugee camps through the eyes of Syria. Scope, a Scholastic magazine for middle schoolers, recently published a paired text about the Syrian civil war and the refugees that fled to Lebanon and Jordan. We spent a week reading, digesting, and adding to our understanding of the humanitarian crisis. Each day we watched a video or read an article from the magazine. Students worked in pairs to determine challenges the refugees faced and efforts that are being made to support them. At the end of each lesson, we regrouped to chart collected vocabulary related to our topic and to chart new wonderings. After analyzing 3 sources, there was still a long list of unanswered questions, so partners chose one question to further explore and found a fourth source to answer their question.

Since I found the first three sources, the final source was a good opportunity to do a mini-lesson on one research skill. From our previous inquiry unit, I noticed my students had a hard time narrowing their searches. So we spent some time talking about key words and tricks to narrow our searches. It was a singular mini-lesson, but it was effective with all students successfully finding a fourth source to answer their question. Students then went public by sharing their additional understanding with the class.

This lesson was an important moment for me in my understanding about inquiry, because I used to think that inquiry had to be a long, full unit. Initially, this felt overwhelming for me, and I was bogged down by all the mini-lessons that I didn’t foresee or that were unrelated to skills my students needed to understand. Now I’m understanding that less may be more…at least for now. During our mini-inquiry, we were able to explore a topic the students were naturally curious about while practicing our reading of informational texts and refining one research skill. I’m feeling confident that a series of mini-inquiries can build upon their research skills without feeling too overwhelming for them or for me.

When thinking about next steps, I would like to continue exploring and refining mini-inquiries. Our next one may be related to water issues. Although, the students are not as curious about this topic. Looking even further ahead, I’m wondering what I year of learning might look like if I started out with many mini-inquiries and then ended the year with a bigger inquiry unit after they fully understood the process and had plenty of time to develop the necessary skills to navigate their curiosities. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Math Inquiry

In my group, the Weavers, I have committed to trying inquiry in Math.  In the last month, I have been very close to giving up that goal.  I was really not sure how I could possibly integrate inquiry into math.  There are too many foundational skills that have to be mastered before students can move forward.  This work is far too important for me to give up as much control as inquiry requires me to.  Then I had a conversation with a math teacher in the district who is finding success with presenting her students with one cognitively challenging task and allowing them time to explore the problem with an understanding that students will not necessarily complete the task with success.  Her focus is on the process that they go through as they collaborate in an attempt to find a solution to the task.
Talking to her made me realize that I don't have to approach inquiry in math as I might in science.  Math inquiry can be truly 'mini,' focusing on a very small objective that I want the students to master.  I decided to give it a shot.

My students have been learning about fractions.  They have been composing and decomposing fractions, learning about equivalence, and learning about the reasons why we add and subtract them the way we do.  I decided to try allowing my students the opportunity to "discover" how to multiply a fraction and a whole number.

We started by activating our schema around how we multiply.  Collectively, we found four strategies for multiplying: by writing out our understanding that multiplication is x, counted y times (skip counting), creating equal groups, using arrays and by adding repeatedly.  Once we made that list, I shared the objective with students: They will learn how to multiply a whole number and a fraction and apply a rule to these kinds of problems.  We brainstormed three of these types of problems.  Then I set them off to work together using any tools in the room to help them (pattern blocks, base 10 blocks, rulers, number lines, paper pencil.)  They worked for about 15 minutes individually and in small groups of their choosing.  At the end of the 15 minutes, some were still struggling with the concept of applying what they already knew to fraction multiplication while others had grasped that and had successfully created a rule.  We debriefed the process and recorded our findings. 

I was very encouraged by this process. I think it gave me hope that inquiry can be an essential element in students better understanding math.  Overall, my students were more engaged in this process than if I had done a mini lesson on the rule then given them time to practice.  I had a student, who generally struggles in math, ask me that if we use repeated addition to multiply, wouldn't we be able to use repeated subtraction to divide?  I had another student think that she had found the rule, but could only apply it to two of our three problems.  After much discussion, where I had to force myself to sit back and NOT say anything, she realized that, in fact, the rule did work, it just resulted in an improper fraction rather than the equivalent mixed number she came up with.  She came upon this by asking questions of herself and her partner, not by having it delivered to her by her teacher (not that I didn't want to.)

I used to think that inquiry had to consist of complex, backward designed lessons.  Now I know that I can approach inquiry as an innovative way to tweak my math workshop where I put the ownness of learning squarely on the shoulders of my students... AND they are totally capable of rising to that challenge.  I also used to think that inquiry didn't have a place in math.  Now I know that it fits into my beliefs about the way students best learn math.

My next step is to have students discover the process of multiplying two fractions in the same way.  I want to see if I can replicate the success I had with this lesson. Another next step, or a missed step, is to assess this process to see how well my students understand how to multiply a fraction and a whole number.