Friday, May 16, 2014
Inquiry-Based Learning: Flying Things
The inquiry process is in action at all times in the Full Day Kindergarten Program. Research shows us that the self-motivation, work ethic, responsibility, investigation, and communication skills we want our children and students to demonstrate come naturally to them when they play a role in choosing what they will learn about.
Here is an example of a recent inquiry that is taking place in our classroom:
A child comes to school with a paper airplane in his/her backpack. I observe the other children asking questions about it, asking for turns to try it out, using vocabulary about how it flies, making statements related to math concepts (high, low, fast, slow). This is the beginning!
At this point, I don't do a lot of direct teaching. I may leave paper out on the art table with a casual invitation that some students might be interested in trying to make a paper airplane. The children ask for help and I give it, while listening closely to what they say. This isn't about me telling the children how things fly. It's about digging a little deeper to find out what they know about flight. During circle time, I might say something like, "Some of you are interested in paper airplanes. I wonder why they fly?" This sparks a discussion between the children during which I record their ideas, and gather information about what the children already know.
I notice another child has created a kite at the art centre; she has taken a sheet of paper and taped a string to one corner, as a tail. The next day she mentions that it doesn't really fly like a kite. Once again, I do not tell her why it won't fly, but say, "I wonder how you can add to your design to make it more like a real kite". She goes back to the art table and later I see her adding popsicle sticks to her kite. Later, I bring in a real kite from home and she tells me that the popsicle sticks were "like these", indicating the framework of the real kite.
The investigation stage takes many forms depending on the child and his/her interest. For some it might involved creating flight suits for an action figure. For others, it might be looking at pictures of flying insects. Videos of hummingbirds flying in slow motion, DVDs about the different shapes of birds' wings, and videos like this further their understanding. As we learn and investigate, we continue adding to our lists of things we know and things we wonder about, and communicate our learning through conversation, photographs, videos, drawings, and writing. My role as your child's teacher is not to deliver information about flying things, but to act as a facilitator of learning. I provide relevant learning resources (books, movies, videos, etc.) as questions arise, and ask thought-provoking questions to encourage the children to answer their own questions. Another important aspect of inquiry-led learning is that the teachers must not think of it as a theme! The line of inquiry twists and turns which requires the teacher to think on her feet.
This is not the "end" of the inquiry process, as often when the children communicate with one another about their discoveries, it sparks whole new lines of questioning and thinking, which of course begins the inquiry process all over again! When something really cool happens or I hear a really interesting coversation, I might record it and later ask the children to share it with their classmates This in turn inspires more questions. Communication takes place every day in big and small ways. The inquiry is never really over but shifts towards different directions.
There may be lots of inquiries taking place at the same time. Some of the children are still very interested in our garden and plants, while others still play with blocks every single day. Some inquiries last for ten or fifteen minutes, and some carry over for weeks. Others fade away only to pop up again months later, and the children then build on some of the knowledge and expertise they gathered long ago.
This approach to learning and teaching is challenging, fascinating, and exciting for both children and educators. Mostly, it has a far-reaching impact on the children when they are made the masters of their educational pathways, with an educated professional guiding their way!
In the comments, please feel free to share any questions you might have about how the inquiry process is changing the way Kindergarten students learn!