Sunday, October 23, 2011

Not-as-scary-as-you-think inquiry

For the past several weeks, I've been working with Grade 4 to assist them in running their first all-out attempt at an integrated unit of inquiry: How the World Works - Energy.  This is a fantastic group of open-minded teachers, so it has been a real pleasure to collaborate with them, come into their classrooms, and watch their students start to develop some really interesting questions.

Integrating language seems to have been a fairly easy task for this unit, since between the library materials and the grade level resources, the teachers have lots of non-fiction resources on energy to allow the students to explore and further their learning.  Math is still being supported by some stand-alone lessons, but measurement and graphing, for example, have fit in very nicely.

Many of our teachers have not had the chance to work with their students on a fully-integrated unit of inquiry, myself included.  Luckily, one of the teachers new to the school this year, Selai, has had lots of experience with them, so we have relied heavily on her knowledge and level of comfort with guided inquiry.

Hilary, the Grade Level Coordinator, and I talked for a long time about what it might look like to run a unit like this, and eventually agreed to give Selai and I the chance to map it all out.  We presented our plan to the other G4 teachers, and they readily agreed.

It turned out that very little of the unit planner from last year needed to be changed.  Many of the learning engagements and resources were still of use.  It was mostly a matter of tweaking things so that student inquiry took priority.  It was almost like giving permission to these great teachers to do what they always felt was right: focus on the interests of their students.

I have to admit, that as the teacher-librarian, it is a little frustrating that all I can do is get things started and step in when I can.  I can't be there in all the classes to see how everything goes.  I check in when we have our collaborative meetings, and it seems all is going smoothly without me.  Letting go may be an issue for me!

My greatest involvement in this unit has been in developing the overall plan with Selai, and in assisting some classes with developing initial questions during a tuning-in activity.  I don't know why, but I am always surprised by the number of questions students have.  Working with two of our G4 classes was no different.  After viewing a number of photos of different types of energy and their impact on the environment, they kept me busy recording questions. Some didn't have a lot of depth, but that will come with time and guidance.  Below is the result of about 20 minutes of question brainstorming.  I did this on my iPad using Idea Sketch. The kids were suitably impressed!