Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Putting Inquiry in the School of Inquiry

Originally Published August 6, 2012

One of the main drivers behind the name for our school, The School of Inquiry, came from an article  that I read in the summer of 2010 as my daughters were heading back to school.  The article was targeted towards parents and not educators and focused on Nobel Prize Winner Isidor I. Rabi.  In the article Rabi offers the following quote as to what made him become a scientist:

''My mother made me a scientist.  Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child 
after school: 'So? Did you learn anything today?' Not my mother. She always asked me a 
different question. 'Izzy,' she would say, 'did you ask a good question today?' That difference 
made me a scientist.”

This quotation started me thinking not only about my daughters' education, but also that of the many students I previously had taught.  This was the essence of what I wanted for them, to be active participants in their education, to ask questions rather than merely want to find the correct answer.  As we began to prepare to open a New Tech Network school it became obvious to me that if we are going to truly educate students for the 21st Century, we needed to instill in them the ability to be life long learners.  That meant they would need to learn to be the leaders of their education, which meant they would need to learn to ask questions about what they are learning.

With this in mind, we created the School of Inquiry.  This year as we begin our work with students we will be using Project Based Learning as taught by the New Tech Network and hope to instill this idea of Inquiry into our students in four ways.

The first comes from one of the foundational protocols of PBL is one in which students, after being given an entry document or witnessing an entry event, are asked What they Know, What they Need to Know, and Next Steps.  This at it's heart is an inquiry based discussion in which students are active participants.  

The second comes from a book that our staff read this summer.  The book is Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana.  I first heard about the book through a Harvard Thinks Big Podcast and it just clicked that teaching students to ask questions is not something we do.  Most teachers spend plenty of time preparing questions to ask students, but not necessarily preparing students to ask the questions.  

To do this the authors having created a protocol they call the Question Formulation Technique.  The process begins with a QFocus, or focus topic that students will be generating questions on, and proceeds through students generating a list of questions, refining those questions to make them better, prioritzing questions based on what they want/need to explore, and then utilize the questions for extended study.  The authors describe several classrooms that have used the technique and provide a simple framework that can help you easily implement the protocol.

The third method will come from incorporating reflection as a daily practice within the school.  When we reflect on what we are reading and learning we make it more our own.  We solidify the ideas and thoughts we have.  With this in mind, reflection will be a large part of what we do at the School of Inquiry.  From student and staff blogs to portfolio projects we hope to incorporate reflection as a daily part of our lives.

The final area of focus is still developing, but it is based on this blog post by David Cox entitled Questions: Trying to Make it Matter.  In this blog post Mr. Cox establishes a way to get students comfortable with asking questions.  As a teacher I often told my students that I was not smarter than them, I just had a lot more experience behind the knowledge I had.  In his post Mr. Cox takes that one step further to provide a protocol to help students understand that asking questions does not mean you are unintelligent, but rather it is one of the keys to understanding what you are learning.  In order to truly create students who are life long learners and active participants in their education, we need to get them over the fear of asking questions.

So my readers, "What Good Questions Have You Asked Today?"

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