01 March 2016

Inquiry-Based Learning: Teacher Homework

Participating in the Pinnacle Leaders program in my district means I have an excuse to meet with brilliant people near me at least once a month and talk educational turkey. It also means I have a set or two of iPads lying around for me and my students to play with.

Sometimes, it also means I have homework.

As you probably know, though, PBL is my jam. So when we have to read about inquiry-based learning and PBL strategies, I am on it.

As you may imagine, too, it's a little hard to impress me when it comes to PBL. Still, my Pinnacle amigos picked out some articles for our own little flipped lesson that actually offered even hard-to-please me some worthwhile insights.

Check 'em out!

What Does a 21st Century Classroom Look Like: Inquiry

I'm going to go ahead and say this is not what 21st century classrooms are going to look like until something is done about testing and Common Core math. In fact, I'm gonna hop on the impossibility bus, not for me, but for my colleagues with too many standards to fit in with proper reteaching, much less time for students to arrive at their own answers. Also the push for advanced STEM for everyone means exploring mathematical concepts it's impossible to build inquiry around without multiple field trips to NASA. The kids are having abstract concepts forced down their throats without a chance of contextualization. And we're all paying the price: " retention and use of the knowledge gained through this method can be severely wanting." I don't see my struggling kids really getting INTO a debate about the number of hamburgers needed to cross the Atlantic--Lannister references or no.

I will say, though, that this lesson is an important one--one I found out the hard way:
It is important to set some boundaries on students’ exploration. This should not serve to curb their excitement, but to enhance it. Students who know the limits and requirements feel freer to explore without worrying about doing the “wrong” thing.

A Collection of Project Based Learning End Products

I like the idea of students--and even teachers who are trying to get the hang of PBL--critiquing samples, but I've been burned before by overzealous grammarian Spanish teachers who went in and commented cruel things all over my Spanish I students' blogs. It made me a little hesitant to share, and I can totally understand why other teachers would be too. Also, I have a tendency to CONSTANTLY reinvent, so finding an example of the exact project we're doing is generally a no-go (except for the language festival!)

Audience being one of the elements the author looks for, I have to say that one is especially tricky, especially finding one that can actually show up even virtually (and, you know, speak Spanish).

Also, I question the authenticity of questions like
  • "What is theatre?"
  • "What it would it be like to be friends with a historical figure?"
  • "How can we teach others what we learned in English 7?" 
  • "Books to films"
They seem like the same old "dessert" projects in sheep's clothing and thus anti-PBL.

Inquiry in the Classroom: 7 Simple Tools To Get You Started

These are all things I desperately want to achieve in my class:
  • Teaching students to ask difficult questions
  • Fostering desire and techniques to get knowledge
  • Allowing students to take ownership of learning
  • Encouraging students to draw connections between academic lessons and their personal lives.
I'm not exactly sure how to approach the "difficult questions" thing in the target language, though, but I'm all about pinning and infograph searching in Spanish. And I'm all for tapping into their egotism as Leni Bronstein reminded me at #SCOLT16: we must use their egotism rather than try to wish it away.

I also like these steps
  • Build from what is already known about the topic--which we have to do for students to be able to understand anything they read, hear, say, or write!
  • Determine what questions to ask to start the investigation--especially key for the world language set, where anticipation is the name of the game.
  • Gather new information through research--#PinterestFTW #infografias
  • Organize and finish research, attending to differences.
  • Share what was learned through presentations--I really like Adobe Voice for capturing speaking (stay tuned for a Sra. Spanglish Tech Tips post on it!)
  • Reflect and make new inquiries (I need to work on this).
  • Take action in new steps, or in applying the newfound learning elsewhere (and this).

Geo-Literacy Projects Build Students' Understanding of Our Complex World

If interdisciplinary project-based learning is a goal for you and your students this school year, you might want to start with questions that put a premium on place.
As a Spanish teacher, I'm thinking: "OF COURSE!" And "Exactly what was wrong with me that I didn't think of this before?" 

The article gives some great examples from bicycle accidents in your own community to New Orleans neighborhoods after Katrina to finding the best location for offshore wind farms.

And how many of us language teachers have lamented our students' inability to locate even one target language country on the world map? (And how many of us can admit the didn't know how to find any countries in Central or South America until they had already started teaching Spanish? Just me? OK...)

I do have to caution, though, that while these driving questions are beyond intriguing to you and me (or, ok, just me again), it's important to know thy audience. My particular kids this year aren't all that big on bikes or renewable energy. There have been some tragic school bus accidents in our state that might get them going, though, and some knew a girl their age who was an organ donor after a tragic accident with a horse. And my licensed juniors could be hooked with a gas price debate.

I'd LOVE to pull in surveyors, scientists, and public works experts too, but that ain't gonna happen with my curriculum, most likely (community outreach on housing efforts maybe?) Story Maps, however, could be an exciting way to share information.

Voice and Choice: It’s More Than Just "What"

WHAT - Voice and Choice is NOT just about trifolds versus Google Slides presentations.

WHO -  I'm inclined to agree that students need a chance to choose their groups. Sure we're "forced" into teams sometimes as professionals, but really? We get to choose who we want in on our own projects most of the time. As far as choosing an audience, though, we in world languages are a little limited. Also, without careful coaching as to who the best audience could be, that choice can make your projects fall flat.

WHY - I would like to do more with they "why"--especially on Genius Hour/passion projects.

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