In the last few weeks, I have been very fortunate to have had two experiences in Science classrooms that have helped deepen my understanding of inquiry based learning. In the first class, I was an observer. In the second class, I was a co-teacher. Both lessons featured mysterious circles.
The first was a Science period in a Grade 5/6 classroom. The teacher provoked curiosity in his students by posting this:
Can you guess what the middle circle word might be?
He then handed out each of the circle subjects to his 7 groups of 4 students. At their tables were two computers. Two group members researched the topic (for example “Ecosystems”) while the two others used the second computer to work on the presentation for the class. They were allowed any format they wanted to share information – a skit, a presentation, a word file, poster etc. They had one hour to prepare a 5 minute presentation. Students were very engaged – debating which program would be best to use for the presentation, determining who would research and where. What I loved about the two computer format was that the students could not simply copy and paste – they had to talk to the other students. We walked around, asking questions and REALLY facilitating as the students constructed knowledge around us. The teacher reminded me on several occasions that he had not in fact taught them anything (yet!).
After recess, the students began their presentations and I marveled at the questioning the teacher engaged each group in. He masterfully helped students make connections between their presentations – how are food chains and food webs similar or different? A discussion on invasive species popped up and eventually … they came up with the word in the middle of the circle. Have you guessed it? It was “biodiversity” and this was the kick off lesson. Wow. Think of all the knowledge those students have about their unit of study and they have only just begun!
My second experience was one where I was doing the teaching in a grade 6/7 Science class. I can’t take credit for this lesson. It is one my very talented learning coordinators shared with me earlier this year during some training. I posted the following picture:
I asked students to write their observations on one colour of post it notes, paying attention to line, shape and colour. On a different colour of post it note, they wrote down an inference. I was pretty strict about this. For instance, I challenged one student who observed “sand”: “What do you see that makes you think that is sand?”. We ended up agreeing that a scientist would say it’s a granular substance and that “sand” was an inference.
Afterwards, we charted our observations and inferences. They were wonderful (I wish I had taken a picture!). Then I gave them some more information by posting a video in which they can see a fish is making this shape in the sand. Now I had their attention. I asked them to come up with “I wonder” questions and they did. Following this, students were given a short informational text to read about puffer-fish – and why they build these strange nests. After reading I asked them to go through the list and see which questions were answered by the text. And guess what?
The text answered every single one of their questions.
Hmm. I felt a bit sweaty actually. And then it came to me.
So what questions do you have now?
And they blew me away. They came up with rich, deep questions that scientists are probably researching somewhere. I had them recognize the difference between their two sets of questions. Gosh … we even got into a whole side bar about what males do to attract females!
So in this lesson, perhaps the knowledge they constructed was less about puffer-fish. Instead, they learned that once presented with more information, you need to revise and refine your questions based on new learning.
And that is really what it’s all about isn’t it?
But I’m not done with the circle idea yet. You may or may not know that I co-moderate a chat for Core French and Immersion French teachers every Sunday night. Before one of the chats on engagement, I went looking for images. I posted this picture during the chat:
It was created by www.studentengagementtrust.org – and it has been my biggest “Retweet” ever. Hundreds of times thanks to it being mentioned on another chat.
And how are my first two sets of circles related to this last set?
Well that’s just one of the “I wonder” questions circling around in my head.