29 August 2016

Inquiry and Agentes Secretos

My grand experiment this year will be a semester-long personalized PBL passion project. Everything we do will lead up to the interdisciplinary marketing project that has become a keystone of the sophomore experience at our school.

I have also been really excited about attempting to integrate a TPRS novel this year to tie themes and language together more cohesively. However, I was feeling very muddled about trying to keep up the grade level project collaborations, successful assessments, and reflection, while still tapping into students' individual passions, And THEN adding this new element.

Until I found Mira Canion's TPRS mystery Agentes secretos y el mural de Picasso.

After all, what is a mystery if not a guide to the inquiry process?

We started with their passions and how students want to use Spanish moving forward. It's sort of like the beginning of how I like to break down the Genius Hour process:
  • Collect and reflect
  • Ask and task
  • Prepare and share
As it turns out, the protagonists (whose names are basically my son's first and middle names--lanza del destino indeed!) work through a process that is not dissimilar from these steps.

The steps are, of course, recursive, and even moreso if they are going to be extended throughout the semester. We're going to need to focus long and hard on collecting and reflecting to begin with  to make sure what students ask will even be possible to convert into a task, i.e. a product that they'll be able to market to a Latino audience in the end.

My vision is to use the story of Agentes secretos to help break down and model the inquiry process even further, especially collecting and reflecting, along with the initial phase of asking.

I. Collecting

Chapters 1-3

We meet our heroes and our villains and promptly zero in on the eponymous mural. So we'll spend some time getting to know the characters, but in the inquiry process, the protagonists' search can lead us to...
  1. Where to look
  2. What to look for
Rather than a painting and symbols, though, we'll probably be focused on websites and key words. Then they actually collect some resources to start with, just as the protagonists seek the mural!

II. Connecting

Chapters 4-5

In these chapters, the characters tap into their knowledge of history and landmarks to begin to solve their mystery, establishing...
  1. What you already know
  2. What you need to know and 
  3. How to get there
Collect --> reflect! The characters' journey really breaks down how research relies on building on prior knowledge as well as setting goals.

And then, of course, students can collect some more once they figure out what they need and where to go.

III. Observing

Chapter 6

In this chapter, spies do what spies to best--and of course they're taking notes and trying to draw conclusions. So we're cycling through the collect/reflect process some more:
  1. Pick out key words and phrases from texts
  2. Draw conclusions
This would be a good point to tie in my cultural goals for using authentic texts as windows and expand on the purposes and perspectives they are observing.

IV. Questioning

Chapter 7

In this chapter, one protagonist does a good job demonstrating how to form questions to dig deeper. We're in the initial phase of ask and task here. So here's where my little investigators can get into proposing some driving questions.

V. Reflecting

Chapters 8-9

In these chapters, the enemy agents get bolder! Of course it's important to practice anticipation and troubleshooting, so students will need to take those driving questions and...
  1. Reflect on the types of problems and products that might correspond
  2. Brainstorm possible problems they would have solving those problems
Goodness knows they have limited linguistic resources in Spanish I, which must needs limit their creativity.

VI. Analyzing

Chapters 10-12

In these chapters we see some exciting cultural influences, so now is a good time to go a step further and analyze the cultural relevance and perspectives on the possible problems they've come up with, including...

  1. The cultural impact
  2. Cultural differences in perspectives
  3. Cultural circumstances impacting potential solutions
We will ultimately be trying to share our progress with students in Colombia, Peru, or Argentina as well as local "investors" hopefully.

VII. Defining

Chapters 13-14

Of course as our story draws to its conclusion, so must our pursuit of a problem. Students will have collected, reflected, and asked repeatedly, so they should be ready to decide on an ultimate task--as the protagonists must at story's end.

So far, we're well into Step I of our inquiry and the book. My students are LOVING it! Stay tuned for some more activity ideas as we go!


  1. It's every episode of Curious George. (Thank you darling son)

    1. I totally made that connection when Paolo was little. That and Elmo's world. BUT this one has the advantage of being a novel and in Spanish AND has World War II stuff in it--which you KNOW our sophomores are all about!