An Open-Inquiry

We started a new unit today on natural resources, and I invited the kids to answer a question: “How can we support a sustainable planet?”  They have three weeks to create a project that answers that question.

Whoa – I thought their heads would explode.  But, I had anticipated that, and came up with a sub-question to help them understand the big idea: “When is a natural resource a renewable or nonrenewable resource?”  Again, heads exploding in front of me. To relieve the pressure, I suggested to the Magical Minds they write down their wonderings.  The kids flocked to a basket of sticky notes.  Mostly they wanted to know, “What does renewable mean?”

After looking over their notes, I asked, “Do you want me to tell you what it means, or do you want to figure it out on your own?”

“No!” They holler at me.  So, I step back.  I pull out my clipboard and start taking notes.  N and S head over to the computer and Google “renewable.”  J knows right away she wants to write a haiku poem about natural resources and begins counting syllables.  A begins a story about a bear who lives on a planet with no sun.  K and V get on my laptop to translate renewable into Swedish and Finnish.  As K and V begin to understand what the word means, I ring the musical triangle and call for a “pause for learning.”  I ask the girls to share what they understand.

Within the next twenty minutes these initial inquiries give rise to a comic book, two keynote presentations, an illustration and the potential for a stop motion video.

This is new to me, this unstructured inquiry.  I am taking a risk, trusting my kids and even though I am a bit terrified, I think we are all having a pretty good time.

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4 responses to “An Open-Inquiry

  1. You should read Debbie Dean’s post today. It touches directly to what you are doing, & she would love to read about what you’re doing, I think. This is what my school is all about, only mostly individually, different topics. Just be clear of your end goal of learning (what you want them to accomplish-including skills & content) & get out of the way. Sometimes a scaffold is needed, sometimes a directed lesson, but mostly they really do ask complex questions, & then find the answers. Good luck!

  2. Sounds just like a classroom I would love to belong to. Actually when I went to prep school this is how the school was. We generated much of our own learning. I loved HS and to this day many degrees later, I will tell you that is where I got my best education! Congrats for the courage you are showing.

  3. My kids get the most out of inquiries that allow them to lead the way. And look at those faces – they are into it!!! Hooray for all of you, let us know how it goes.

  4. Your writing described their enthusiasm but seemed to contain your enthusiasm as well. What a motivated classroom!
    Posts like these make me realize how I’ve succombed to the state testing frenzy. I need to get back to some real teaching!

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