Tag Archives: inquiry-based learning

Opportunities for Innovation in Traditional Classes

5/10

Last week on Twitter, there was a conversation about whether innovation was necessary in some traditional subject areas based on this criteria identified by George Couros in The Innovator’s Mindset.

I have been thinking a great deal about this because of my own experiences this week. My daughter is really enjoying her Ancient Civilization course. She really likes her teacher and she finds the ancient world; its history, culture and tradition fascinating. There is nothing new about the content in the class, so arguably, a teacher could, for the most part deliver the same content to students because that content does not change.  Is this a reason not to look for opportunities to innovate?

For her culminating activity, Sydney (grade 11) had to create a 3-panel poster board showcasing her research for her chosen topic. There was a choice of topic, but not of the way students could demonstrate their learning about the topic. On presentation day, each of the poster boards were to be displayed, and students walked around to learn about each other’s projects.

These are some of my questions:

-We had to go out and purchase a 3-panel board ($10) and then go back to print colour copies because we have run out of ink. We are often mindful of inequity when it comes to digital access, but wouldn’t a student in a single-parent or low-income family have difficulty getting out, purchasing, and assembling these items?

-The writing which was included needed to be in paragraph form–Sydney knows that her peers won’t read it when they come around, but that ultimately this writing is a requirement for the teacher. Isn’t there a better way to engage students to read the content? How can there be a more authentic audience?

-My daughter is good at creating things on the computer, but does not necessarily feel confident when it comes to “crafty” things (she comes by that honestly). She painted the board, but when she got to school she saw some students’ boards were magnificent.  Despite the fact that she felt she did a good job with the research, she felt embarrassed that the board didn’t really showcase how hard she had worked and the content she had researched because it didn’t look as beautiful as the others. On the other hand, some students who spent an inordinate amount of time decorating the board, did not have the required content and did not do well.  Wouldn’t providing choice allow students to demonstrate their understanding in a way that complements their strengths?

A few Alternatives

Inquiry-based learning

Inquiry-based learning is a student-centered approach which works well in content-heavy, traditional courses. Students engage in research about a topic, pose their own questions, refine their questions and may choose the manner in which to best present the information. This is done using a constant feedback loop and instruction is given as needed. A starting question might be, “Where do we see the influence of the Ancient (Mayan, Greek, Egyptian, etc…) on modern day_______ (Literature, politics, architecture, culture, etc…)?” In this way, even if two students choose the Mayan civilization, their projects would be completely different from one another and they can see how the ancient world has had an impact on them.

I used Getting Started with Inquiry as a springboard when I facilitated professional learning around inquiry, but there are lots of resources out there that help teachers move to this model. The difference in this approach is that students take ownership of their learning.

Choice board

Even when teachers don’t use an inquiry-based learning model, a choice board is a good alternative which allows students to select the way in which they would like to demonstrate their learning.  Typically, there is a Free Choice in which students can propose an alternative assignment. What is great about this is it provides students with ideas, while allowing flexibility. Below is an example from a Science class shared with me by Ryan Imgrund.

With this framework, the teacher really helps students ensure they are making a choice which will be sufficiently challenging for them, and also helps to support the research. Most importantly, students can then reflect on whether or not they had made the right choice (metacognition), which allows for growth and learning.

Interestingly, my daughter found a Youtube channel by a teacher, Mr. Nicky, who creates parodies for Ancient History songs. She shared it with her class. This could have easily been a choice for students; it would have been hard work, but also a fun and creative way to demonstrate learning.

Breakout EDU & Breakout EDU Digital

I am a huge fan of Breakout EDU and I’ve written about it before. It’s great to see more and more teachers  bringing these into classes for students to play–they LOVE it!   I am currently co-creating a Breakout EDU digital game with Kim Pollishuke, for an upcoming TVO webinar, and it reminded me how very valuable (and rather simple) it would be for students to create a BreakOut game (digital or physical) as a culminating activity.  So much of the critical thinking happens during the creation of the game. Creating a game would show how students are able to apply what they’ve learned in a course and students can play each other’s games to learn about other topics . It would be challenging, but deep learning often is; and the games can be used for exam review, shared widely with other classes, and used in the future for teaching and learning, so there is an inherent authentic audience. Justin Birckbichler and Mari Venturino have a resource page that would help with ideas for how to present the clues, but students would have to have a good knowledge of content in order to create a good game. To me, this is an ideal way for students to move beyond the memorization of facts.

Other ideas

Check out Nicholas Provenzano’s plan to use Snapchat with the classic novel, Huckleberry Finn here.

There are some good suggestions in this post by Alice Keeler, “Easy ways to Upgrade your lesson from 1900 to 2017”. (Math focus)

As you can see from this post, I think there are opportunities for Innovation in ANY classroom in ANY subject.  Searching for new and better ways to deliver traditional content and to have students understand it, are necessary in today’s classroom.  Yes, at its heart it is good pedagogy–that’s how you know it’s not just new and flashy and shallow. Looking for BETTER ways to invoke deep learning is what I think we need to move towards.

Would love your feedback! How are you looking for opportunities to innovate in courses that are traditionally very content-heavy? What resources do you find helpful?

Big Idea at ISTE2015: Student Agency

I was fortunate to be able to attend the ISTE conference in Philadelphia.  There were over 15,000 educators there, so you can imagine the passion, excitement, and learning that happened!  I will share the tools I learned about over the course of the summer, but in this post, I want to reflect on the presentations that had the most significant impact on me.  Perhaps it is because I have been focusing on digital leadership and student voice in my own work,  but the big idea which seemed to be an over-arching theme  at ISTE for me, was the notion of student agency which I heard a few times at ISTE and which is articulated nicely in this post.  The idea being that when students are given autonomy and power over their own learning, they are in control of their own development and therefore more invested in the process of learning. This is not a new idea in Education–it’s been a buzzword for a long time now, but it’s one thing to talk about it, and another to see examples of this in action.  Below are the presentations and the examples which made this idea come to life for me.

Jennifer Scheffer, Panelist for ISTE 1:1 PLN — Challenges and Solutions for Large-Scale PD

Jennifer Scheffer (@jlscheffer), a Technology Integration Specialist/Mobile Learning Coach for Burlington Public Schools, located in Burlington, Massachusetts spoke about a unique course she created in which students run a Help Desk to assist other students and teachers.   This was perhaps one of the most significant examples of the power of student agency.  Students are not only assisting other students with tech applications at their own school, but they are interviewing industry people, and using social media to create a powerful digital footprints.  They are true Digital Leaders!  Check out the link to the Burlington Publish School Help Desk Site for a glimpse into what this looks like.

Here’s Jenn’s ISTE Ignite where she encapsulates the BHS Help Desk program in 5 minutes/20 slides:


What is the impact of this program? This powerful video reflection by one of her students says it all.

I’ve reached out to Jennifer, who has been amazingly helpful, and hope to explore what this could look like in our District.  Surely, there is potential for the Help Desk idea to happen anywhere?

Shannon Miller, ISTE Librarians Network Annual Breakfast Keynote.

A Teacher-Librarian extraordinaire, and Tech Integration Specialist, Shannon Miller (@shannonmmiller) has made connecting students a priority at Van Meter in Iowa.  She engages students in opportunities to connect with experts and other students around the world and advocates that it is important for students to have access to other people in the world.  One of the most powerful testimonials came from a young 6th grade student whose school experience was transformed when she connected with an author on Skype.  Meridan has gone on to create her own blog, Meridan’s Little Voice,  in which she showcases tech tools and inspires other students.  Check it out here.

In her keynote, Miller focuses on the many ways in which connecting students and giving them a voice is not only rewarding, but should be a priority for educators.

(Fast forward to 10:15) The quality isn’t the best, but it the message is worth the effort.

Miller’s blog can be found here. 

 

Chris Lehmann and Diana Laufenberg:  Transforming Schools into Modern Learning Environments

Chris (@chrislehmann) Diana (@dlaufenberg) of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia spoke to the Inquiry process and how it has transformed learning for students at SLA.

I was completely inspired by the way in which inquiry-based learning has created a place for students to take control of their own learning.  One example Lehmann & Laufenberg showcased centered around the inquiry question, “How are local communities shaped by history?” Students were to create a hypertextual narrative telling the story of a building within their zip code.  They selected a building with a name on it and had to research the origin of that name.  The results?  Incredible and meaningful.  Check out their CAPStone Project in which students explore the questions,  “How do we learn?” “What can we create?” and “What does it mean to lead” through a self-selected and designed independent project.

I am excited about exploring the potential of Inquiry-based learning in secondary schools in our District and Diana has offered to lend a hand!

George Couros  The Innovator’s Mindset

George (@gcouros), whose presentations are always so dynamic and engaging (in fact people were pressed up against the back doors to hear his talk), speaks to the Innovator’s Mindset, which is intricately connected to giving students opportunities to not just “do school” but to become participants in what that school could look like.  He advocates that leaders spend time in schools to listen to students and what they have to say.  To me, Couros’ focus on relationships & the innovative leader are the essential ingredients: only by establishing a context of trust by leaders in Districts and schools can innovation flourish as in the examples above. Each of the presenters had Superintendents & Principals that were champions for them so that innovation could happen.  Couros resources can be found here.

Everyone who attended ISTE brought their own context and experience to the sessions they attended. I’m sure that what I got out of these sessions, may be completely different from the learning of others.   Feel free to peruse the #ISTE2015 hashtag for other perspectives and check out for post-ISTE reflections at Tech & Learning.