Ready for Inquiry? Take This Quiz to Find Out!
As summer winds down, our thoughts return to the classroom and we begin to gear up for a new group of eager young minds. I’ve always loved the start of a new school year—the smell of fresh crayons, newly printed name plates on desks, and brightly colored bulletin boards that welcome everyone back.
The new school year is also a great time to refresh our classroom practices. What goal can we set for ourselves this year? What would our “perfect classroom” look like and sound like? How can we make that vision a reality? I’ve worked with many teachers who would like to include more inquiry-based learning into their classroom practices. This is a wonderful goal that, when implemented skillfully, leads to greater student engagement and a deeper understanding of concepts. But how do you know that you’re ready to take the plunge? Moving towards inquiry takes careful planning, much preparation, and some soul-searching about how you believe students learn best.
Take this quiz to see where you fall on the “Ready for Inquiry” scale. Don’t worry. Everyone can move towards inquiry in his/her classroom. You just have to know where to start from so you can choose a goal that will work for you and your students. Remember to be SMART (Specific – Measureable – Attainable – Realistic – Timely) when setting a goal. Simply saying “I’m going to have an inquiry-based classroom” doesn’t fit the bill. Instead, you can use the results below to help you choose a goal that you’re sure to meet with flying colors. Most importantly, have FUN. Inquiry is all about engaging with the content and working towards a personal “EUREKA” moment.
1. Group work makes me feel:
a. Nervous – too much noise!
b. Excited – I love seeing kids work together to solve a problem
c. Bleh – my kids work in groups for everything. Perfect time to check my email!
2. When a student begins to struggle, I am most likely to:
a. Jump in and help immediately. That’s my job, after all!
b. Take a back seat but monitor the situation. “Guide on the side” is my mantra.
c. Let him figure it out. Sink or swim, kiddo.
3. Student projects should look:
a. Uniform. Students must clearly follow my directions and the model I created.
b. Unique. Students should follow the directions but express themselves freely.
c. Unfinished. Who has time to actually complete these things?
4. What ratio of teacher/student talk reflects your current classroom?
a. 90/10. I’m the expert, I do the talking.
b. 40/60. A good mix of direct instruction, scaffolded questions, and “on task” student conversations. I want my kids asking the majority of the questions and using their academic vocabulary!
c. 5/95. I already know this stuff – it’s up to the kids to figure it out.
5. Directions for group work should be:
a. Crystal clear
b. Slightly opaque
c. Clear as mud
7. Hands-On Learning means:
a. Using the material and manipulatives that I put out to solve the problem.
b. Students exploring different materials and manipulatives to solve a problem.
c. The pizza-making activity that culminated my unit on Italy.
8. Real-World Connections are:
a. Conveniently referred to in my teachers’ manual.
b. Discovered by students as they explore the content.
c. Made after letting the kids watch an MTV marathon.
9. Assessments are meant to:
a. Show how much I’ve taught my students.
b. Inform my instructional decisions based on what my kids have learned and what they still need to learn.
c. Torture students and teachers alike.
10. Ethical Citizenship:
a. Means following all rules and regulations set forth by the school district.
b. Provides various opportunities for students to understand their place in a global community and think about the impact their actions have on others and the environment.
c. Was covered in my lesson on Earth Day.
(Read them all for helpful tips and some great online resources!)
Welcome to the wonderful world of inquiry! You are obviously a passionate teacher who wants to see all of your kids succeed. Your careful planning and organization will definitely come into play as you begin the transition to a more inquiry-based classroom. You should start small—think about one way you can add more inquiry into your lessons. Perhaps this is by letting kids grapple with the content a bit before you jump in to help. They just might surprise you—and themselves—with what they can figure out on their own. Or, you may want to “fuzzy up” your directions, just a little bit. Of course you don’t want mass confusion, but letting kids figure some things out as a group or on their own teaches them valuable lessons. Students will need to communicate with each other clearly, practice patience, and try a few approaches before they hit on the right one. This helps build their perseverance in problem solving and can actually bolster their self esteem. Win-Win! Let them explore with materials and manipulatives before you show them the “correct” way to use them. This exploration can lead to pretty amazing discoveries. Just remember: baby steps are the way to go. You have the skills to pull this off and a world of innovation is just around the corner. Check out this website for great ideas to get started on the right foot: http://www.teachinquiry.com/index/Introduction.html.
Congratulations, you’re already on the path to inquiry! You understand the importance of letting the students drive instruction in your classroom. You have stepped off the stage and enjoy getting your hands dirty right alongside your students. You view your students as the next generation of inventors, engineers, and scientists, and treat them as such. Tinkering may be the next step for you. These types of activities may be a bit more free-form than you’re used to, but don’t let that scare you away. The maker’s movement stresses the importance of letting students experience the true messiness of discovery. It may take some time for you, your students, and even parents to get accustomed to some changing classroom expectations. A SMART goal can keep you on track and help you outline the “how” and the “why” to all stakeholders. Before you dive in, check out the Exploratorium’s website at http://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/ for some great ideas on the Tinkering Movement. It’s chock-full of cool ideas and resources for projects to get you and your kids inspired. Exciting discoveries lie ahead for you and your students. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
You definitely understand the need for student active participation. You may just want to rein things in a bit. Inquiry-based learning can still be structured, and you as the teacher must always have the big picture in mind. Starting small is the key for you as well. Think about one change you’d like to make in your classroom for the coming school year. Once you can picture the finish line, backward map that goal to the first day of school. What procedures need to be in place to ensure that your class is on task and making the most of your precious instructional minutes? Taking the time to set up procedures at the beginning of the year will save you countless hours down the road. What enduring understanding are you leading your students towards? Remember, you’re the expert who will guide the learning process. Frame your over-arching question for students so they see the connection between the content and the real world. It’s important for you to engage with the content while the students are working in groups. Get out there and circulate. Ask questions that require kids to dig deeper, and provide the right amount of scaffolding that will help them reach that next level of understanding. Finally, think about how you can strategically incorporate technology. Computer time should be more than a reward for good behavior or a time-filler for your students who are “done” first. As the number of STEM-related fields increases each year, our students will need to be tech-savvy problem solvers. Check out this website for some ways to purposefully include technology into your lessons: http://purposefultechnology.weebly.com/.You already have the mindset to get started. Great things are on the horizon for you and your students!