Using Inquiry to Drive Thinking, Discussion, and Experimentation

Throughout the year I have worked with both of our science teachers in developing a culture of inquiry within the classroom. I have learned an immense amount about how inquiry can drive student exploration, classroom discussion, as well as instructional design. I appreciate both of our teachers inviting me into their classrooms to experience this firsthand. The OpenSciEd design in which questioning and modeling is at the heart of student learning, I have come to understand how these lessons are constructed and in a larger sense how the same instructional design can be used in other content areas. For this exposure, I am truly grateful.

As I discuss with each of our teachers when I have a cycle with them, I in no way have all the answers. In most cases throughout the cycle, I learn just as much from the teacher as they do by working with me. The amazing part of instructional coaching is that I now will have the chance to take what I have learned throughout the course of working with these amazing teacher and provide similar outlooks and resources to other teachers and content areas in the building. This is something I am actively working on with Mr. Westart, our 7th, and 8th-grade social studies teacher. Can we use the foundation of what is being laid in our science classrooms and establish the same culture building wide? Can Mr. Westart modify what they are doing in science to drive questioning in the behavioral sciences? I think there is a tremendous opportunity here.

I would first like to thank Ms. Ryner for spending so much time with me so that I had the understanding needed to guide other teachers in the building down such a path. To that respect, Mr. Young was interested in designing his lessons in such a student-centered and inquiry-based method. Mr. Young has made tremendous strides throughout this school year in shifting his classroom design from being a primarily direct instruction course to one that fosters individual thinking as well as small and large group discussions. This shift was vital for him to have the foundation that he will need to immerse himself into the OpenSciEd model.

In February and March, we spent a lot of time developing a student-centered unit exploring plate tectonics. In the past, Mr. Young has expressed the need to chunk his units down into small bite size portions for his students. In designing this unit, we were able to explore smaller components that he and his students would need to embrace in order to take the next step in working with the OpenSciEd unit on Chickens.

In a meeting with the science department, while planning the curriculum, we decided that it was a perfect opportunity with the way the vertical alignment played out, that ALL 3-grade levels would have the opportunity to jump into the unit on chickens. Prior to this; however, there were a couple of things that I realized Mr. Young would have to feel comfortable in implementing and knowing Mr. Young I also knew he would feel more comfortable if we focused on one component at a time.

We had already worked on establishing the culture of discussion and respect within his classroom and shifted his instructional design to be student-centered. We worked on several different strategies to make his class not only more efficient but also worked together to ensure that students were actively engaged in discussion. Specifically, we focused on a way to ensure that all students were actively engaged in discussion rather than the small group of outgoing students that we hear from every day.

The next step was to get comfortable using the Driving Question Board (DQB). To start our Plate Tectonic unit. Students developed a driving question board asking questions that they had in regards to earthquakes, volcanos, and Tsunamis. These questions drove further inquiry, discussion, and in-class experiments. The DQB was referred to regularly. Questions that had been answered were reviewed and new questions were added to the list as they progressed. Questions that were “off-target” were pulled off the board and placed to the side for a possible extension of learning activities for the future. This board was enlightening to me and really pushed me to start thinking about ways we could design lessons in other content areas. I think it was a great experience for both of us.

The last step prior to starting the OpenSciEd chicken unit was to focus on modeling. Again, throughout our previous unit, Mr. Young and I had a chance to “dip our toe in the water” with scientific modeling. We created models of each different aspect of Plate Tectonics. Students drew and analyzed models. They revised their models as more and more questions were answered and more and more questions were addressed throughout the unit. We went into great detail in developing such models for Tsunamis.

This week Mr. Young and Ms. Ryner are beginning their chicken unit and I am excited to see how successful it will be. I will be updating this further as this unit progresses.