Make time for… inquiry

I love inquiry – obviously – I mention it in nearly every post. I’m also a co-founder of Inquire Within, a blog dedicated to the awesomeness of inquiry.

I’m not going to lie to you, though; Inquiry takes TIME.

You must hold inquiry as a core value; it can’t just be one of the topics of your course. You can’t pay lip service to inquiry with a flaccid unit about the “scientific method”

<rant>

First, a confession: I used to do this!

A unit on the “scientific method” is code for:

this is the time of the year when I have my students do really lame ‘experiments’ that have nothing to do with science while forcing them to memorize a rigid and phony set of steps that goes something like observation -> question -> hypothesis -> experiment -> conclusion.

PLEASE DON’T DO THIS! IT DOESN’T WORK!

the owl of inquiry will each your eyes if you do this...

beware - the owl of inquiry will eat your eyes if you bore your students with a "scientific method" unit

Make time for inquiry throughout the year in repeated iterations.

</rant>

Take a deep breath, Mr. Rice…

I’ll be okay. Now, where was I? Right, TIME.

You must commit yourself to allowing time for student questions to drive the curriculum. Allow them to generate questions and design experiments to answer their questions. Then, if you’re really serious, let the new questions that they derive from one experiment drive the next!

Crazy talk, you say?

Rebuttal: That is science! That is how students people actually start to see the process of science as organic and creative.

When they dive in headfirst into the inquiry vortex and let it spin them around a few times before emerging intact, you will be shocked at how much important science they learn. You will have rich conversations about content. You will have discussions – in context – about data analysis, about accuracy and precision, about calibration and controls, about reliability and repeatabilty, and all of those other things that we scientists hold so dear, my dear!

Your students will never see science the same.

Owl of inquiry image came from here

Make time for… conversation

small talk

small talk - from the brilliant xkcd.com

Who does the speaking in your classroom?

When students speak, to whom are they speaking?

When students are talking to each other, what are they talking about?

These are absolutely critical questions. The answers to these questions speak volumes about the level of student engagement in a class.

Who does the speaking in your classroom?

Is it you, or is it the students? If the teacher is the star of the show in their classroom, students are not actively engaging with the content. If students aren’t actively engaging with the content they aren’t learning – at least not with any depth; they aren’t building capacity for transfer. Transfer is the ability to apply learning to new situations, which truly demonstrates ownership of knowledge and depth of understanding.

When students speak, to whom are they speaking?

Are students talking to the teacher or to each other? If student conversation always passes through the teacher-gatekeeper, true discourse is not taking place. Students must be given the opportunity to ask and answer peer questions. The teacher should serve as a passive facilitator (0r even an outside observer) whenever possible.  One great way to get true student-student discourse rolling is with a socratic seminar; another is whiteboarding.

When students are talking to each other, what are they talking about?

When students are talking to each other, are they talking about class content or the latest mind-rotting episode of Jersey Shore? If class content is not engaging or students aren’t afforded time for their curiosity, conversations in your class will quickly veer off task. This is why many teachers hesitate to allow students time for conversation. It is also a great measure of student engagement. Give students a few minutes to talk about your current class topic. Do they talk about it? If not, do they need a more structured conversation protocol, or do you need to revamp your content?

How do you make time for conversation in your classroom?

comic used under cc license from xkcd.com

Make time for… curiosity

This posts is the second in a series about making time in your classroom, even when you don’t feel like you have any!
Here is the first: Make time for… relationships

I wonder what would happen if I put my head in here...What’ll happen if I put my head in here?

Sure it may have killed a mythical cat.

But is that old saw really any reason to extract revenge on curiosity one student at a time?

Yet that is what happens in classroom after classroom, day after day.

Why?

Sometimes it’s the teacher’s need to have all the answers and not be stumped by a student.

Sometimes it’s a obsessive desire to have a plan and tightly choreograph the course of each class period, each day, each week.

Often it’s pressure to “cover” content.

This pressure can be self-imposed or externally mandated. Either way, it damages learning.

The thing is, curiosity takes guts. It takes courage for a student to step forward and ask a question that they really want answered.

When we ask questions, we lay bare our understanding or lack thereof. When students ask genuine questions, they take a risk. They risk exposing their interest in a topic that their peers might not find interesting. The great paradox is that a great question from a peer might be all it takes to engage a bored student.

This is when we must make a choice: honor curiosity, or silence it – possibly forever. It doesn’t take long for a student to realize that their curiosity is not welcome in a given classroom.

There are many ways to honor student curiosity. Projects and inquiry activities that spring from student questions epitomize a curiosity-based curriculum.

There are smaller ways too: I like to gather student question in a place we call the “Wonder Wall” (as in I wonder…). I ask students to find an answer and report back to the class. No matter what, I make a point to let my students know how important their questions are to our learning.

How do you honor student curiosity in your classroom?

Cat picture used under c.c. license from the photostream of beverlyislike

Make time for… relationships

This is the first in a series of posts about things to make time for in your classroom, even when you don’t feel like you have time!

clock

Over-stuffed curriculum.

Testing schedules.

Pacing calendars.

Bells.

55 minute periods.

Early release.

Assembly schedules.

All of these things can leave teachers feeling harried.  I constantly feel like there isn’t enough time to get to everything I want my students to experience.  The crux of it all is that there simply aren’t sufficient hours in the day to do it all.

Something has got to give.

Just make sure what you give up is something you and your students can afford to lose.

One thing I know is that you must make time for relationships.  Teaching is an interpersonal experience. It is a transaction in which the buyer (the student) has to decide if he wants to give up something of value (time) in return for what you are offering (knowledge).

Furthermore, students must be able to interact productively with their peers.  This also requires a positive, respectful, working relationship.  It is our job as a more experienced “relationship manager” to help them navigate these treacherous seas in a functional manner.  They don’t need to become Facebook friends and sit together at lunch but they DO need to be able to collaborate to create quality products that display depth of learning.

Regardless of other demands, always make time for relationships.

Clock image from lettereleven‘s flickr photostream