Deep Learning in Inquiry (Part 2)

In reading part one of my inquiry blog, one might think, “That’s all lots of fun, but building a bee house isn’t exactly something that I can write on the report card.”  You would be absolutely right.  The learning is imbedded in the exciting things.  It is intentional and it is authentic.  Connecting with a local expert, using technology for research and having hands on activities with students engaged scratches the surface of inquiry.  Our deep learning with this unit began with the types of questions that we were asking.  I noticed that when the students began asking questions on Padlet that Siri could have easily answered many of their questions with one or two word answers.  This lead to a series of lessons on “THICK” vs. “Thin” questions.  We added better questioning to our goals.


The students also noticed that I had included a lot of infographics on the Padlet.  Infographics are seen everywhere in social media to communicate information efficiently and visually.  However, students need to know how to use this information, how to synthesize it, how to put it into their own words and how to source it.  We spent a significant amount of our language periods on reading and interpreting infographics.


Our learning goals and success criteria went way beyond making houses for bees and honey tasting.  Students wanted to DO something to help bees.  We created our learning goals and criteria together:

 D9EDA370-1138-49B8-965E-051FCD44D0A4     8AB3D3E8-C7F1-4B2B-8E49-BD8E4FE8068F     CD26AF15-F831-470F-9522-D17D415D0A33

Early on in the inquiry we watched an informative YouTube video called, We Can Save the Bees Together.  Sarah Red-Laird, bee enthusiast and scientist, gave us a number of ideas of actions that we could take.  The students decided that one of the things that they wanted to do was to call for stronger legislation about mono cropping and pesticide use in farming.  They wanted to write letters to politicians and change makers.  In addition, when Susan Chan, local bee researcher visited, she “planted the seed” about creating a non-stinging bee friendly garden in our school yard.  This prompted students to write letters to local school officials to solicit assistance and guidance.  One of our students from Curve Lake First Nation decided to write the Chief and Band Council to ask them to consider building a bee friendly garden in their community. The desire for letter writing lead to a series of lessons on how to write a professional letter, how to proofread and how to edit in a meaningful and authentic learning context for students.  The students also felt that educating others about conservation of  bees was important so they are now working on developing presentations that they can take to other classes as well as media advertising to share their learning and call others to action.

In math, we had been focusing on data management.  It fit in perfectly to what we were doing with our inquiry!  There is an incredible amount of data about bees on the Statistics Canada website.  We read real graphs with information that the students cared about, we labelled the important parts of the graphs and we will be creating our own surveys and graphing the information from different areas of our inquiry.


Statistics Canada

Honestly, the best part of inquiry is when the students start to direct their own learning.  I guide them.  I provide thought provoking questions and “what if” scenarios.  They make choices and feel good about doing something that is affecting real change.  Inquiry is empowerment for students.  This students aren’t done with this inquiry yet-they have many more plans ahead!  Stay tuned.

Learning lyrics the fun way

Learning lyrics to a song can be a time-consuming task. It can also be a task that is really challenging for some students. The repetitive nature of it can make it boring with a capital B. I know that my very heavy population of English Language Learning students find lyrics to songs difficult to remember. In the past, I have taken an approach where we repetitively sang the song over many music classes until everyone in the class had grasped the lyrics. This approach was effective at helping students to learn the songs, but I am not sure it made the experience fun for everyone involved. This year, I made a commitment to make the experience more enjoyable. Ultimately, when you are stuck on lyrics, it can be difficult to focus on all the other aspects of singing such as breath control, enunciation, and good singing technique.

The first song of this school year that we have worked on learning has been our school song. There has always been one line of the song that the students have messed up and I have tried repeatedly to get them to perfect the fourth line. However, it wasn’t until I added a bit of fun to the experience that they really had it. I brainstormed fun ways to learn the song before school started and lo and behold, the idea of two pool noodles and focusing on words from the song seemed to really make things work.

I started by singing the whole song for the students followed by echo singing parts of the song with the lyrics posted in the classroom. I then took the lyrics away and had the students complete the missing words in the song while I sang. For example, I sang Red, Red Willow we are so _______ and the students all chimed in “cool!” when I stopped singing. After I felt that they had a solid grasp of the song, we sang the whole thing from beginning to end as well as we could. Next came the part with the pool noodles. I had volunteers come up to the front where I had words from the song scattered over each side of the blackboard. I sang the song and they had to listen closely because when I stopped singing they had to hit the next word of the song on the blackboard with the pool noodle. Students all took a turn, some individually and some as a team effort.

school song

school song 2

The greatest part of this activity was that the students were really into thinking about the lyrics. We all learned the lyrics quickly and could really work on our technique in subsequent classes. One unexpected positive that came out of this game was that the students wanted to take over the teacher role. This meant that in all my classes, multiple students sang solos in the first two weeks of school. Talk about risk taking early in the school year! Making it more fun made the whole experience more enjoyable for all.

Mov(i)e Time

It’s the last school week of June. Things are still happening at the speed of learning, of course. Final assessments are in the books and reports are printed. Students are buzzing, bristling, and bursting with energy like they’ve been equipped with new solar panels from TESLA to absorb the energy of sunny days.

By this month’s end my school will have hosted an evening fun fair, a talent show, track and field day(s), a graduation, a TED Ed event, a play day, and a year end celebration. Despite June being the month with the longest days, it still feels there is not enough daylight to get everything done.

In addition to the above, we have curated, collated, crafted, and corrected our report card comments. Many of us are moving classrooms within the building or to new schools. Boxes are packed and rooms are returning to their neutral states, void of anchor charts, memes, inspirational quotes, and student work. The memes are gone too.

What do you meanWith so much happening around a school, it might be easy to let things slide with free time or busy work. Popping in a movie in order buy a little packing time is tempting, but it is also a great time to engage in some real world learning.

So in between assemblies, graduations, and ancillary events, instruction is alive and well. My grade 6s are working, consolidating, collaborating, digging, questioning, sharing, encouraging, playing(baseball for gym), and reflecting. As I type, they’re calculating the cost of living in Markham in Math. #EyeOpener

These lessons are meant to inform students in the area of financial, social, and life literacy as well as teaching them to be reasonable, realistic, and responsible consumers in our society. The lessons spark curiosity, comments, and conversations that lead to deeper understandings about a world of responsibility out there.

I’ve discovered that whenever students engage with activities like these, they are the ones that are remembered most. Most of the lessons will fade into the recesses of the mind, but the skills, the discoveries, and the “A-ha” moments never go away. As this final week hits its stride, my grade 6s are too. Now that is a scene that I can watch over and over again.

In my post Tick…tick…ticked off I rail against media making claims that teachers are holding film festivals during the last weeks of school.

The last weeks in a classroom cannot be taught on auto-pilot because there is still a lot to teach, discover, and share. So contrary to a public broadcaster’s opinion, the kids and teachers have not “checked out”.

Sorry I’m not sorry to burst this bogus bubble folks, but the kids will have to sit on their own couches over the Summer if they want to watch a movie.

Admittedly, I was prepared for another battle as June approached. However, this year, the same broadcaster brought forward a more appreciative stance towards educators, and in doing so took time to honour the hard work and dedication of our profession. Listeners heard stories of impactful educators as well as memorable students. Hearing these simple affirmations have made these last weeks, much more enjoyable. Once again, an encouraging word makes all the difference.

With 450 minutes or less of instructional time left to count down on this year’s clock, I know most teachers are looking forward to every minute. I hope that you do too.




Photo of Alison Board

Reflect, Create, and Celebrate

These are the words that I chant as the end of the school year draws near in June. It is a challenging time, unlike the busy planning and organizing needed to set the pace in September. The days now feel longer and there seems less content to cover, as it was mostly completed in time for reporting. So, this may be a good time to review the concepts that your students struggled with throughout the year, or a time to introduce a topic related to the curriculum or their inquiry work that wasn’t in your long range plans. But filling in the days with worksheets and outdoor play is not the answer, it leads to issues of classroom managements and student discontent.

Here are some suggestions that can be adjusted for your age group or subject area:

  • create math teams that solve math problems from all strands. Then have teams present their answers and compare their strategies. One word problem a day.
  • provide time for student groups to create a summary of their literature circle book. They can present their summaries as a series of tableaux, a movie trailer on iMovie, or as a skit. These are presented to the whole class or another class to promote reading for the summer months.
  • list 3 or 4 issues on the board and have students sign up accordingly. Provide them with a structure to research and present in a debate that you monitor (debates can be informal or formal)
  • show students a youtube video on branding and logos. Then ask each student what their brand is. Have them design a logo (that doesn’t reveal their name). Display all logos with a number when completed and have students complete a numbered list, matching each logo to their classmates. Discuss the most effective logos and why.
  • provide groups of 4 students with a bag of mixed materials to encourage STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) learning. Provide them with an hour each day to design and create a product with the recycled or mixed materials. Display and share  in the last week of school for other classes.
  • Read aloud. Students of all ages love to be read to. Pick a recent and relevant chapter book and read to your students each day. Have them draw character sketches, write 3 predictions, or create alternative cover for the book.
  • Use large paper to ask about 5 reflective questions related to your year. Questions such as, What would you change in the past school year? How has your understanding about Mental Wellness changed? What projects did you find most meaningful to do? Then have students do a gallery walk and fill-in responses on the large paper. Display for the last week and highlight evidence of learning and understanding.

Enjoy the last weeks and keep the students engaged with the meaningful work they will value.