Designing an Inquiry - By Sonja Wilson
A year ago I was provided with the opportunity to coordinate an AISI project for our school. I was told that it involved working with a professional development organization called Galileo. My curiosity, stemming from the science teacher in me, was immediately peaked. I was quick to recognize who Galileo the scientist was, but was not so quick to recognize what the Galileo Educational Network entailed.
It was apparent the work that Galileo did in creating teaching and learning
had depth. Out of my thirst for cognizance, I began to dig. The well I
began digging reached far into the aquifer when understanding began to
flow. It was at this point that I struck water, and I truly understood
what it meant to create a learning experience for my students. The Blue
Planet project was authentic learning for my students, and it profoundly
changed the way I viewed teaching and learning. It was not an easy well
to dig, with rock formations to be conquered, time consumed and frustrations
plentiful. The resulting degree of appreciation for water as an undervalued
resource was extensive.
It had been my teaching experience to be well adept at knowing what pages of the textbook had to be covered by what date, as well as when the quizzes and test would fall in order to cover the textbook by the first week of June. This would allow the next two weeks to review for the big test of knowledge: the final exam. I knew that a bowl of porridge would stick with them longer than 10 months of learning in this manner. How to achieve an enduring understanding of the concepts while obtaining life skills, became my quest. This journey began with the grade 8 science unit - Salt and Fresh water systems.
I spent two days diving into the curriculum and repeatedly asking myself,
If my students forget all but one thing about water, what would
I want that one thing to be? Humans impact water and water impacts
humans formed the enduring understanding. I wanted my students, as adults,
to be able to meet me on the street and tell me they have made positive
choices regarding water. Understanding what I want students to know allowed
well-developed tasks to form. It was clear to me that teaching and learning
in this manner would result in uncovering the curriculum rather than simply
covering the textbook.
Designing an authentic and intriguing task for students was essential to ensure achievement of the fundamental understanding. It was essential that the students feel that their work matters for more than a mark on a report card. In a conversation with a parent, the father remarked that the nature of their supper conversation centers on water and what they, as feedlot operators, were doing to affect it. This social value mixed with personal relevance created an atmosphere for learning. Students were able to investigate a variety of viewpoints and select what was personally relevant for their inquiry.
The ultimate task of creating a group presentation for a public water conference allowed the students to communicate their learning with a variety of people. The attendees included parents, staff members, grand parents, former teachers, community members, local water experts, and a member of Alberta Environment responsible for public education, pollution prevention and the development of the provincial water strategy. It was clear that society cares: adults also seek to understand this issue and what the students have to say matters.
Following the conference I asked the students if they felt the water
conference was worthwhile. Some of the responses included:
In achieving understanding of fundamental concepts, my role as a teacher changed. The delivery of facts was replaced by carefully formulated questions. Student requirements were not what tradition dictated.
Students became teachers.
Working with a relevant semi structured problem, the student rose to the challenge. Self, parent and peer assessments, combined with personal management checks and rubrics, clarified the expectations. One parent assessment of her childs research paper stated,
I enjoyed this paper and the subsequent discussion that followed with the family. I found it thought provoking, educational and responsibility for our oceans was shown to be ours. Thank you!
Another parent wrote,
thank you for asking me to edit your project. I felt very honored and proud. Great work!
Students knew what was expected of them and the requirements for achieving the mark that they desired. The students demonstrated problem solving, communication, decision making and project management skills expected of high school students, who are four years older than these students.
Technology became the tool to conduct the research, share the information,
solve problems, create meaning and communicate knowledge. Technology made
it possible. The students made it happen.
The students were skeptical of their ability to present at a water conference.
After the conference, I asked the students if initially they felt they
would be a successful at presenting at the conference. There were many
no answers and pleasantly surprised students.
An overwhelming yes was the response given by students when
asked if the project was a worthwhile learning experience.
Two months after the water conference, a group of my students were asked to present their learning experience with inquiry-based projects and integration of technology to Alberta Learning, and later for the administrators of the school division.
It was during their presentations that I realized my dream of wanting my students, as adults, to be able to meet me on the street and tell me they have made positive choices regarding water would truly happen. The students were able to talk freely and knowledgeably about human impact on water and water impact on humans.
Diving into the Blue Planet water project provided a fluid understanding of what is required to ensure that students will have an enduring understanding of the concepts while obtaining essential skills.
Inquiring minds want to know!
When I create an authentic task the possibilities are endless. Through teaching students to be responsible citizens, I have learned what is required to be a responsible educator.