Inquiring Minds

So back here, you may have read about my inquiry project that I did in my grade 8 English class last year. I got a lot of questions and comments about it and have been meaning to write a follow up post… Finally – here it is!

As I mentioned in the first post about this, the project was far from perfect and there were many things I will change when I get the chance to do it again. What I want to give you here is a starting place in case you want to do inquiry with your own class (which I HIGHLY encourage everyone to do!)

inquiry_learningStarting it off:

As a teacher, your first step is to determine your goal – What do you want students to get from the project? There could be many possible answers to this but the ones that spring to mind for me are: increased interest in learning, ability to self-direct their studies, increased knowledge of subject area, increased connection to classroom community, increased interest in global connections, relational accountability (being accountable to ourselves, community, and the earth).

Once you have a goal in mind it will be much easier to choose activities that suit your end goal. The inquiry project to me was ultimately a lot of strategic planning on my part. How can I guide the students from their personal subject to a global idea?


Here are a bunch of the activities that I used. Some worked better than others but in the end they all had their place. These activities were mixed in with a lot of class discussion, individual research time, and personal sharing. The one thing I wish I had done more of was the conversational aspect (between students and also with me).

1. Inquiry Partners: We used a clock partner schedule to have individual meetings with partners (I made my own but here is an example). During these times I would put questions up on the board to help guide student discussions. We talked about generous listening before we started and one time the listening partner was not allowed to speak until the time was up and they would switch. Teaching real listening is such an important skill – especially in middle school!

2. Image Representation: Each student had to create an image that represented their inquiry at the stage it was at. No words were allowed but they could use whatever they liked (computer, art, etc.) to create their image. The idea behind this activity is to access some other ways of knowing and learning.

3. Interview: Each student had to find someone in the community that they could interview – this turned out to be a lot of work for me – totally worth it! They developed a list of 10-15 questions that they were going to ask so we talked about what makes a good question and what kind of answers they were looking for, etc. This ended up being one of the most valuable parts for some students. One of them interviewed a professor at the university who clearly explained some of the complications with distribution of clean water around the world.

4. Self Reflection: Part of the final project was to look back at their inquiry journey so far to see the journey the had made. I asked for some reflection into the activities that really helped move their inquiries along and also got the students to look forward to where their inquiries may take them in the future.

5. Community Comparison: With a partner (either in the class or outside), they had to create a comparison diagram (venn diagram or other form) that showed similarities and differences in their thoughts and opinions. The goal of this activity was to open up the conversation from a one sided “sharing” piece to a more dynamic conversation where different points of view were expressed. For some students there was a LOT of learning that happened with this activity.

6. Global Perspectives: For my class’ inquiries this was the main component of the last two months. We were focusing on making global connections with their interests and creating an understanding of relationality. There were a couple of different parts to this but mostly it involved working in small groups with a map of the world and discussing how each of their topics connected to different parts of the world.

7. Sharing: This is the activity that was both the most powerful and least effective at the same time… And lesson learned for next time! As you may recall, I had never taught in June before and had no idea quite how crazy it would become. We didn’t end up having time for everyone to share and there was some frustration with the crunched timeline. The students who did share though really made an impact on some of their classmates. It was really interesting to watch the students reactions to their peers while listening to them talk about their passions. Many amazing questions came up and I think the full class sharing piece is a really important part of the inquiry project.

So those are the main components of my inquiry project last year and I hope they are helpful to you. Please let me know if you have any other questions and I would absolutely love to hear about how you use inquiry (or similar projects) in your own classrooms.


A Little Inspiration…

As you may know, I am currently a research assistant at our local university. We are working on a project about a type of self-directed inquiry called “Transformative Inquiry.” I joined this project in the summer before my final year of university and it has been an influential part of my teaching ever since. In our final year we take the Transformative Inquiry course and it is one of the first opportunities where we are able to really look at our place in this education system: what we bring in as a teacher, what we want to change, etc. Through this process I have really begun to understand who I am as a teacher and what I am going to bring to my students that I feel this world needs.

My "Path with Heart" from my TI Project

My “Path with Heart” from my TI Project

The freedom of being able to look a topic of interest was a turning point for me when it came to the delivery of curriculum in my own classroom. When I took my contract this year I knew I wanted to incorporate some of this style of learning but I wasn’t sure how.

After Christmas, I ventured into the personal inquiry project with my students and it began to take shape. Each student looked at a topic they were interested in and had to research it, talk to friends/family members about it, conduct an interview with someone, etc. And then we looked at their topics with a global lens to see how connections could be made worldwide. The students then had to do a personal, community, and global connections piece and a presentation for the class.

The project was far from perfect… We needed more time on a few parts that I tried to rush through and much less time on other areas. It ran too late into the end of the year and not everyone had the opportunity to present. Some students were confused about the process and very focused on an end result. Some lessons went off the rails pretty quickly and we had to switch gears… But in the end there was a lot of great connections and learning that came from the project and I am so happy that I ventured into the unknown with this one.

My subject connection was to language arts, although I believe you can connect personal projects to most, if not all, subjects. I think writing and sharing about their interests was some of the most effective learning this year. When the students were talking about something they were passionate about they seemed to get lost in their topic and speak from their heart. Their writing was deep and moving – well written and again, from the heart.

I learned a lot from doing this project but the thing that was most astounding to me was watching the students talk about their topics and share the information with each other. In June, when some of the students were presenting, I saw something come alive in the class. There were students sharing very personal information and the rest of the class appeared to be truly listening to their peers. I saw connection and understanding grow between many students. It was amazing to watch and I felt so inspired.

The beautiful words from a student...

The beautiful words from a student…

I received a note from one of my students on the last day of class that thanked me for the opportunity to present to the class about a topic that she did not feel she had been able to talk about otherwise. In this note she said that I had inspired in her a love for English and expressing herself through writing and then she said that she only wished I had found the same inspiration this year. Well all I can say is that I truly did… I am inspired to continue to have students complete personal projects and I am inspired by the passions and ideas that the students have. I have found more inspiration in watching these students share than I ever could while reading or researching anything on my own.

Do you do any personal projects or inquiry in your classroom?

Would you like to hear more about the specifics of my project?

Also, please share some of your inspiration from your students!