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Understanding Inquiry

December 14, 2011

I think that today I really learned what “inquiry” means. I know that this seems strange to say, as I’m a believer in giving students control over their learning, but usually I still have quite a few parameters in place.

Today I tried something new. For a special literacy/science activity, my Grade 1 and 2 students each went to three different centres. At one of the centres, they wrote and created words based on pictures of seasons (for Grade 1) and liquids and solids (for Grade 2). At the second centre, students read and listened to information about seasons (for Grade 1) and liquids and solids (for Grade 2), and then they shared what they learned using the iPod Touch, iPad, Nintendo DS, or Livescribe Pen in any way that they wanted. At the third centre, the students tweeted out and replied to tweets about seasons (for Grade 1) and liquids and solids (for Grade 2).
While the Grade 1’s have already learned some information about the seasons, this was my introductory lesson on liquids and solids for Grade 2. I gave the students nothing today. I provided them with resources, I encouraged them to talk and learn from each other, and I got them to try and use the information that they already knew along with the new information from today to try and better their understanding of these science topics.

I was so pleased with the results. Students naturally asked questions. They helped each other out. They talked … a lot. They used this talking to inform their writing. Best of all, students chose to write. They could have used any tool to share what they learned, but almost all of them chose a writing tool. Students were on task, engaged, and excited to learn throughout the hour that we spent on these centres.
The interesting part is that when I asked them what centre they enjoyed the most and why, almost all of them said the, “tweeting centre.” Students talked about how exciting it was to write to others online and have others reply to their tweets as well. They see the value in this “audience,” and this “audience” encouraged them to keep on writing. Thank you so much for that!

Today I started teaching a new unit, but today, I didn’t “teach” anything at all. I supported the students as they learned by themselves, and now I can use what the students know to inform my future lessons. I think that this is what “inquiry” is all about. I will definitely be doing more of this.
How would you define inquiry? How do you use inquiry in your classroom? I would love to hear about your experiences too!

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