Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Small Changes for Inquiry

My personal definition of inquiry goes something like this:
Exploring scientific concepts using scientific skills and processes.
In the language of the new BC science curriculum this means students are exploring Content by doing Curricular Competencies in order to understand the Big Ideas.

As I work with other teachers in the district I am finding there is a fair bit of confusion and anxiety about inquiry. How do we create lesson plans that are more inquiry-focused that allow students to do science? It can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately we do not need to throw out our existing lessons and start from scratch. Small changes can often infuse our old lessons with new inquiry life.

I recently spent a morning with grade 4/5 teachers at Adams Road Elementary planning some inquiry-based lessons. The new grade 5 curriculum contains the following Big Idea:

Earth materials change as they move through the rock cycle and can be used as natural resources.

The Adams Road teachers had a fantastic activity about the rock cycle. Students build models of different types of rocks (sedimentary, metamorphic, igneous) using food. A sandwich is a very effective model of sedimentary rock. And it's tasty.

Whenever I am re-designing a task as an inquiry lesson I simply ask "What am I currently doing that the students could be doing instead?" The student recipe sheets for this activity stated which type of rock each recipe was supposed to model. Identifying the rock type is something the teacher is doing that students could be doing. What if we removed the type of rock from the recipe?

This simple change transforms the activity from a fun and engaging follow-the-steps activity into an inquiry activity that requires students to think deeply. They must identify properties of the model and match them to properties of rocks. They must decide which type of rock the model represents. They have to explain their thinking and defend their reasoning. And it's still fun and engaging. And tasty.

We erased 3 words. Small change. Big impact.

Thanks to the Adams Road Elementary grade 4/5 teachers for letting me share this story.


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