Independent Inquiry: Fashion Design

This was one of the first independent inquiry successes. With minimal guidance, no assistance, materials from school, and time at home, a student created this little model outfit!

I especially like how there are slight changes from the paper to fabric versions! Many teachers are rethinking homework; many teachers are experimenting with ‘genius hour’. I’m trying to combine the two ideas, blurring the boundaries between learning at school and learning at home and harnessing the students’ interests to construct their own learning.

Water Resources Inquiry

To inquire into the effects of access to water around the world, we gained perspective by graphically representing water resources per capita in various countries. The bars at the bottom represent the data.

The lowest bar for Iceland stretched over three meters!

It was supposed to integrate mathematics (division & ratio) into a mainly ‘social studies’ unit, and worked brilliantly except for the fact that the numbers we used were extremely large and not exactly appropriate for early in fourth grade.

Is my classroom mastery-oriented?

Having spent the past year trying to understand and utilize the International Baccalaureate Organization Primary-Years-Program for the first time, I’ve applied a great deal of planning and instructional time to inquiry. I strongly believe in the model and its apparent intention to emphasize much more than academic performance in the education of children. It compliments my previous experiences perfectly and my students and I have enjoyed our journey thus far.

Last week, however, I received my class’ results from the International Schools Assessment. Results in Mathematics were impressive, Reading were acceptable, but the Writing results were disappointing, especially non-fiction.

What happened?

This guy is clearly master-oriented.

I have already identified one problem: When our Language Arts curriculum was correlated with the PYP sample Program-of-Inquiry, the units on persuasive and informational writing were pushed to the end of the school year, after the testing in February, although we did practice essay writing as part of every History unit and the entire class made documented progress in every domain on our own formal summative assessments.

There were also several school events in the same month as the tests, which may have contributed to fatigue or a lack of focus, and certainly interfered with opportunities for explicit test-preparation.

Certainly this will be an area of focus for me in the near future. Perhaps it’s time to pull up on the inquiry reins just enough to allow for more formal writing development and mastery of grammar techniques which seem to be the focus of that assessment, but have not been our focus this year.

Should they have been?

Being mastery-oriented means a great deal more than simply meeting learning objectives. At least that’s my new understanding after beginning to read Carol Dweck’s Self-Theories.

It’s a state-of-mind, intellectual and emotional. The PYP is clearly oriented toward developing mastery-oriented people willing to pursue goals and take risks. While I believe that is much more important than marching through a mastery-oriented curriculum, perhaps my emphasis has been askew.

I would like to explore the possibility of a writing program which not only motivates and inspires children to write, but also ensures that they master the grammar and vocabulary they need to be truly confident and fluent communicators.

Student-created rubrics

I’m fanatical about rubrics. Bridging the divide between specific learning outcomes (standards) and constructionist inquiry would be difficult for me without them.

In the photo, students work in pairs to develop a rubric for assessing an acting performance. They already participated in our school musical in December, so this is a chance for them to develop their understandings of the vocabulary of the theater. We’ve used rubrics for dozens of assessments throughout the year, so this is a chance to authentically apply what they have learned.

After the pairs completed their rubrics, they switched partners a few times to compare and contrast. Finally, we projected the empty chart on the wall and filled it in based on what they created while collaborating.

Mystery class in any time zone?

Skype, Google+ Hangout, and other live connections are an excellent way to motivate and personalize collaboration across town or across oceans. The mystery class game is an awesome way to authentically practice geography inquiry, develop communication and research skills, and cultivate international friendships! However, they are limited by time zone. For example, I would like to connect with schools in the Americas, but when it’s 9am here in Japan, it’s 5pm in California and 8pm in New York!

photo via gfpeck

My solution was to create this Google Document and share it with the other class’ teacher. Feel free to make a copy and use it. We’re just trying it out, but the plan is to add questions and answers each day until both classes solve the mystery. It’s also a good way to introduce collaborative document editing to your class.

There is also the appealing notion of having an all-night, sleepover at school, worldwide Skype-a-thon… just sayin’…