Take a look at this video (produced by OESSTA) to hear about Pete's approach to getting started with inquiry. We've also shared a blog post about the 'Day in the Life of an Inquiry-Based Classroom' here.

How can I start to Plan for Inquiry?

The following clip is part of an 8 video series that can be found on the OESSTA website that includes suggested discussion questions about the content. These videos are intended for groups of educators who wish to learn more about inquiry based teaching.


Setting up your classroom space

The following video looks at a classroom that is set up for inquiry-based learning. While we continue to evolve in thinking about our classroom set up, the basic structures such as small group and whole group areas remain constant.
You can find the video series on the OESSTA website.

The Inquiry Approach

The following video was produced by "Ontario Elementary Social Studies Teachers Association" (OESSTA) in association with "Ontario Association of Junior Educators" (OAJE). Please check out the OESSTA website to watch the rest of the video series.

This video looks at the steps involved to set up an inquiry-based classroom.
     I know, I know, you're way too busy as it is.  Especially in September.  Don't talk to me about September, you say, I'm way too busy to teach touch typing!  Well, you may want to re-think that strategy.  Planning for the long term in inquiry based teaching is enhanced by devising ways to get the students to be as independent as possible.  One sure way to generate great content in your room is to have a class of learners who are not 'throttled back' by the frustration of not having their thoughts and ideas efficiently presented.  This is where touch typing comes in.

     I can honestly say, one of the most important classes I ever took was typing (in modern times, keyboarding, I suppose).  I use this skill every day and have used it for the last 35 years.  How cool is that?  I am not restricted or frustrated by the process of getting my ideas down.  Nor should your students.  I take the time to in September to introduce and teach keyboarding skills because I know that by Christmas, they will all be fairly proficient typists and able to produce amazing amounts of work in short order. 
   You don't need a lot of equipment.  Even if you could scrounge together a few old computers and put one of the many free typing programs on them, you can teach typing.  It can be one of your regular stations for the day, or you can choose to dedicate the class time and have it as a whole-class activity, if you have enough machines.  I encourage my kids to practice at home, we have races and contests, and we enjoy the quiet, concentration of the period.  Best of all, absolutely everyone starts off on the same footing, so it can be a nice egalitarian way to begin the school year.

     By June, you should have a whole class of rockets.  Many of my students are typing at over 40 words per minute because they get a chance to practice so often for their inquiry work.  They love it, much like we all loved that feeling of accomplishment when we mastered handwriting.  It's a true skill and progress is almost guaranteed.  Very satisfying!  Start small and simple.  Teach the home row, posture, training the eye to look at the screen, not the keyboard.  I don't bother with much more than the alphabet and basic punctuation marks.  Getting into memorizing the number keys and special symbols is not really necessary for everyday communication.  Also, I ask the kids to find the most fun games they can to practice at home and the students exchange their discoveries and work outside of the school day. 

In my previous blog post,  I wrote about our daily schedule and explained the day in the life of our inquiry-based classroom.

This post outlines how we get started with an inquiry and how we organize the workstation blocks.
First, we spend up to two days building background knowledge, interest and curiosity around the content area that we will be exploring. During this time, the class builds a bank of questions and a list of vocabulary words that are connected to the topic.
Next, teachers create activity cards that are built around the questions and interests that the students showed during the background knowledge building.  These activity cards are designed to be open-ended and to allow for creativity.  The students are provided with a large block of time to complete the activity with the goal to present at the end of the day. 
The following chart is an example of how the groups (4 to 5 students per group) rotate through the stations. For this unit, we let the students pick their team members, then they picked a name connected to our topic.
You can find the activity cards for the First Nation Unit, along with lessons here.

This is a cross-post with our blog www.inquiry-based.blogspot.com
     Okay, that was way too much alliteration in the title, but I'm in a punchy mood, what with the non-stop Olympics watching and all.  There is a lot to be said for allowing extra time for the students to finish up explorations in high interest projects.  I no longer can be locked into a rigid timetable because my students' interests are the most important determining factor in the quality of work they produce.  High interest almost invariably leads to high quality.
     Although a two week rotation of major explorations has been ideal and does allow me to feel in control of the curriculum requirements, we are regularly shortening or extending our timetable to accomodate groups that really want to polish up their presentations.  Also, the fun factor comes into play on a regular basis.  If a particular activity really hits a homerun, we may drop a less intriguing inquiry exploration and allow groups to double-up and spend twice the time on the more interesting pursuit.  
     This flexibility is important because it emphasizes the notion that the students come first.

Daily Schedule

8:40-9:10- Computer lab - keyboarding skills, researching and writing. 

9:10 – Mini-lesson – may include any of the following: a read-aloud/think aloud, teacher models reading/writing strategies, shared/interactive reading and writing. The lessons are connected to the theme or topic (curriculum content) we are exploring. We introduce new concepts and/or focus on certain skills that we notice the majority of students may need. (Most skill-based lessons & conferencing is done with small groups or with individuals, during workstation time.)
9:20- Workstations – All students work in groups to accomplish their station for the day. 
Students are: Collaborating, reading, writing, researching, questioning, creating, and preparing to share their learning. They are moving around, talking, engaged and motivated.
It should be noted here that this routine takes time to establish. In order for the workstations to run smoothly, we need our students to be independent. Setting rules and expectations about how to collaborate is the most challenging. This can take time and you need to be patient. It’s worth seeing a classroom work together like clockwork. To begin with, the focus of the teacher is to build a positive relationship, create a safe classroom environment and establish rules, routines and expectations for learning. This ensures that students become independent problem-solvers which then gives the teacher time to work with small groups or individual students without interruptions.

Teacher is: Conferencing, leading a guided lesson group, pushing thinking and learning, asking questions, teaching a mini-lesson to a group or to individuals. The teacher never sits down at a desk but is in constant motion facilitating the learning of his/her students.  
10:20 to 11:20 – Nutrition break and recess

11:20 to 12:00 – Planning time - we co-plan with the planning time teacher (prep teacher), the students continue working on stations from the morning block. Time is built in to allow students to share their culminating task. (Students realize they will have to present again to the classroom teacher and peers– but that’s OK, they love to share!)

12:00 to 1:00 – Math – Dedicated math time

1:00 to 1:40 – Lunch

1:40 to 2:20 – Gym A day only                        Presentations & Sharing – B day

2:20 – Independent Reading - We use the first 20 days of independent reading by Fountas and Pinnell as a guide for our reading routine.  
3:00 – Agenda & Dismissal
Our schedule is not perfect, but it works for now! We are always looking for ways to improve our practice and often that means change. We feel our success, in this inquiry classroom has been to give our students large blocks of time to go deeper, to explore and to create quality pieces of work. Transitions are few, which helps our students with autism.

Next post – I will share examples of the workstations we’ve used. While content/theme changes, there is always a (guided) reading group and writing group. The rest of the workstation may include, drama, art, religion, math, science, social studies, health…it depends. In other words, all areas of the curriculum are integrated into the workstation block.

We would love to hear about how you organize your day. Please leave a comment and share with us. Thanks

This post can also be found at www.inquiry-based.blogspot.com
Too much imagination can be a killer.  I always over-think when we implement a new piece of technology into our classroom.  What if it doesn't work?  How do we connect it to our exploration?  Did we waste our money?  Is it just sitting on the shelf?  Worries like these are what keep you from trying new things and adopting new tech.  Our experience is that after an initial burst of enthusiasm for the new equipment, there's an awkward stage in which we try to graft it to our program, and finally, it becomes a regular tool for student learning.  It's almost always the same progression, so why worry?  It all works out in the end.

When we first bought a set of iPod touches, the kids went crazy with them.  We were using Tony Vincent's blog on 'Learning in Hand', downloading all kinds of apps, struggling with printers and moving files, and generally sifting through what works and what doesn't.  Then, after all of the processes and procedures had been mostly worked out, they just became a natural tool in the kids' hands.  No longer a flashy, dazzly, shouty new toy, the iPod Touch became a work-a-day communication tool.  Still fun, but more functional.
Next, we did some fundraising and purchased ten iPads.  These went through an almost identical progression from newfangled toy to functional workhorse.  The sizzle dies down, people relax, and the real learning-by-doing begins. I think it's always been the same.  I can remember my first calculator being about the size and weight of a brick and spending hours transfixed by it's magical calculation power.  How many hours of my life did I spend exploring computers when new innovations came along?  Now, the laptop is a household appliance, almost as common as a toaster. 

I'll never forget my first year with a Smartboard.  The kids went crazy with all the buttons, made the most ridiculous flashy projects just for the pure joy of trying all the gee-whiz features, and predictably, settled down and used it for the wonderful tool that it is.  Learning curves are steep when implementing new tech, but the effort is always worth it.  Twenty-first century learners become adept at exploring features and fearlessly pushing buttons.  My students can't wait to try new equipment and surprise me with the innovative ways they find to implement it into their project work.  Boldly go, I say.
It's Christmas season, so many of us are thinking about all of the things we have to get done for the holidays.  This is a pretty intense form of stress.  Me, I'm just happy to work my way through the daily inquiry work and to look forward to the holidays as a time to spend with friends and family.  School work rarely stresses me out anymore. Why is that?

To be completely honest, the days are no less busy teaching in the inquiry based approach, but they are a whole lot less stressful.  Here's why.  In traditional teaching, I always felt a lot of pressure to 'provide and guide'.  I was on the hook for where and how learning was taking place. Being rigidly locked into a set of long-range plans added the pressure of timelines to the mix and the resulting feeling of 'I'm never going to get all this done' was unpleasant at best.  

Once I adopted and somewhat refined an inquiry approach that works for me and my students, my whole teaching life became more manageable and remarkably less stressful.  There's a nice flow and hum to classroom work that is more akin to a functioning workshop.  People are happy.  Work is getting done.  Student presentations are a just reward for time well spent. Looking forward to going in to work every day, rather than sweating about how everything was going to 'get covered' is a refreshing and invigorating change.  Easily achievable, too.

The great seminal researcher and theorist, Hans Selye, talked about 'distress' and 'eustress'. For those of you who don't recall the basics, 'distress' results from feelings of loss of control and can be quite damaging to the human organism.  'Eustress' is more life-enhancing.  It's the culmination of internal forces that propels you to take on challenges and set goals.   Inquiry teaching has tilted me strongly towards "eustress'.  I love going to work, mostly because my days are now rational, I can meaningfully connect with all of my students, and explorations are engaging for everyone in the room.