How might we… use a variety of strategies to engage all learners and to build creative confidence?

For now, we see through a glass, darkly… – from an old letter

While trying to address my “How might we…” question, I have been puzzling over how to capture the magic of Reggio-inspired inquiry with my Grades 6, 7, and 8 science classes and my Grade 8 Social Studies classes. I have been catching glimpses, but the way ahead has seemed dimly lit. Certain things obscure the view – my own conventionality, the learning needs of the students, the reality of team teaching (which is awesome!) and trying to plan this out amidst the hectic life of (insert any school name here), and the hammer on the anvil call of the curriculum. What to do? Our head of Teaching Learning gave some good advice – start small with one project. Good advice – that is but one of the many, many reasons she has a chair that spins and a room with a view! As well, Cohort21 colleagues suggest that we ask our “clients” what they think. Another good idea, so that is what I did.

I never cared much for moonlit skies
I never wink back at fireflies
But now that the stars are in your eyes
I’m beginning to see the light… – from old song

Here is what I learned from the survey (Due to the nature of my questions, my graphs were Jackson Pollock-Like squirrelly, so I did the math in my typical analog way – proving yet again that dinosaurs are not really extinct, at least one of them is alive and well and wearing glasses and a lab coat at Montcrest School)…

  • Nearly two-thirds of our students like to dive in, explore a topic by watching a video or messing around with gear BEFORE reading about it and discussing it – they like to have some “that’s interesting..” and “Why?” time before getting too far down the road.
  • It is about a 50/50 split between those who like to choose their own adventure within a topic and those who like to “order from the menu”, whether the topic list is created by the teacher or generated by the class.
  • It is about a 50/50 split between those who like to learn new skills while doing scaffolding tasks and those who like to acquire new skills when they need them.
  • Two-thirds of our students liked to have a choice about how to share their learning, though quarter of the Grade 8s survey would rather work from a teacher generated template. Interestingly, none of the Grade 6 students wanted to use a standard template. My hunch-y analysis of this is related to the fact that the Grade 6 students have participated in inquiry-based learning in grades 4 and 5 while the Grade 8 students missed out on that style of learning opportunity while doing very interesting but more scripted tasks.
  • Three-quarters of our students said they were excited, encouraged, motivated or some combination of the three to create their own learning adventure. Of the remaining students, many opted for one or more of the aforementioned feelings while acknowledging that they may still be nervous about the prospect. This feeling mirror that of their teacher…

So where are we now? Well, I think the students are ready and just waiting for the adults to catch up. Therefore, I have worked with my colleagues to open the door a crack and take ACTION! Here is the plan that is going to help me:

Done and done:

  • Consultation with Head of Curriculum
  • Student Survey
  • Reading tea leaves of Student Survey
  • Reading!

In progress:

  • Consult with teaching colleagues about inquiry-based learning and planning
  • Having science students mess around with various gear and techniques in different lab activities
  • Viewing and discussing God Grew Tired of Us, the story of Sudanese refugees, with Grade 8 Social Studies students and learning about causes of human migration
  • Grade 6 Science – Maker task requiring students to create a useful device using littleBits, Makey Makey, Sphere, various and sundry electrical gear
  • Grade 7 Science – Maker task requiring to make a structure that will be tested using reasonable force
  • Grade 8 Science – Using what they have learned about the properties of fluids, design and conduct an experiment about a topic of interest using standard and non-Newtonian fluids
  • Grade 8 Social Studies – Students research and report on a family story about migration to Canada or one of the many stories of people who have come to Canada as refugees, from Poles in the 1830s to Syrians in 2016
  • Looking for and reading related articles

Still to come:

  • Trying to join the Hangout on February 28th
  • Taking observational notes about projects, student reactions, ideas for next time
  • Working on Action Plan – the beginning of the beginning
  • Completing slideshow on work and learning to date prior to F2F 4, April 21
  • Attending F2F 4 at Havergal

Ideas? Re-directs? Please and thank you!

6 thoughts on “Sight and Light

  1. Hey Dan! We missed you dearly at the 3rd Face to Face but it sounds like you’re well on your way and asking a lot of the great questions that we need to be asking of our students and are trying to make sense of the findings. It’s great that you’ve identified people in your coalition of the willing – this was something we looked at in the 3rd F2F – do you have specific people in your dept or admin team other than those mentioned? Do you have a student or two who are a part of your coalition?

    I love the use of your student surveys! It’s so great to hear from the people who are at the heart of our work, and I wonder about the discrepancy of those taking intellectual risks at the Grade 6 & 8 level – how are you addressing the differences in these groups?

    Do you co-teach in many of your courses? It’s so nice to hear that you’re sharing your experiences and your thoughts with colleagues and that the vibe you’re getting is that students are ready. I think this shift can sometimes be hard for students who are good at doing what teachers ask of them, and often discombobulates them a little. It’ll be important to have a eye on these students who aren’t used to this shift in teaching & learning.

    Looking forward to seeing you in the Hangout on Tuesday. Will send out the calendar invite this evening. Thanks for your always engaging blog posts and deep thinking about how your students are learning – we’re all better for having read your blogs!

    You should have a look at @edaigle post about multidisciplinary studies . It’s related and could lead to some great reflection and cross-pollination.

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback, Derek! As always, you have given me good things to think about. I appreciate the link to Eric’s post – it was helpful too.

      In response to some of your questions, I have a great group of colleagues to work with. We plan together and teach quite a bit together. We are trying to push inquiry as much as we can and have had good learning – students and teachers alike – thus far. We do not consult students during the planing process – this is a neat idea. I will survey them again after the current projects wrap up. As far as managing the varying levels of tolerance for intellectual risk taking, we have given students lots of options including straight ahead tasks with scaffolding and exemplars. We are really trying to give those who are ready the chance to leap. This seems to be a good fit for the students at our school. work is underway in all areas. We’ll see what we get and how everyone feels about it soon.

  2. Hi Dan,
    I hope this finds you rested and ready to take on the final term at Montcrest! I really enjoyed this post, and your action steps moving forward. In terms of redirects, I’d like to suggest that you look closely at the “why” you are asking your students to do either ‘order from the menu’ or ‘choose your own adventure’. I think that you should let these tasks play out, and then compare that approach with one that is founded upon the tenants of “Understanding by Design” and see how that plays out.

    For example, have the students in Grade 6 Science take part in a Maker task requiring students to create a useful device using littleBits, Makey Makey, Sphere, various and sundry electrical gear. Then, use this learning to build upon a specific curriculum expectation. For example:

    When students address the curriculum “Flight: investigate ways in which flying devices make use of properties of air”, you could have them try to answer the question: “How does different properties of air result in flight?” They could use their learning from the making learning to build, test, iterate and create different explorations of properties of air that might result in flight. You could 3D print different airfoils, and the like. This would answer the expectations:
    2.1 follow established safety procedures for using
    tools and materials and operating flying devices
    (e.g., aim flying devices away from each other
    when launching them; fly kites and airplanes a
    safe distance from overhead hydro wires)
    2.2 use scientific inquiry/experimentation skills
    (see page 12) to investigate the properties of
    air (e.g., air takes up space, has mass, can be

    I think that this could be a rich compliment to your making unit!

    I’m excited to see where you’ll take this!

    1. Thanks so much for your comments and suggestions, Garth! Your ideas about flight are very interesting and are pretty much in line with our plan. Our flight unit is highly experiential and hands on – we are planning to do some 3D printing of their final flight craft design, a design that they will come up with after tons of making, testing, and reflecting. I am going to work in the air foil design and testing – we have a homemade wind tunnel, so all we need is the airfoils!

      Take care,
      Dan B.

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