Above and beyond

Are we open to letting our students interpret the learning experiences differently? Or are we locked into giving our students the same task with the same expectations and expecting the same responses? This cartoon challenges us to see our students for who they are as learners and actively tune in to them so that they can go above and beyond. Enjoy



Kindergarten Inquiry

I have included a blog post from Tasha Cowdy, who was a Kindergarten teacher at YIS last year. In her post she documents the process she and the children went through in their unit of inquiry ~ How We Express Ourselves. Our Early Years team has been inspired by the philosophy and practice of Reggio Emilia for many years years and endeavor to incorporate it into their classrooms as much as possible. I think Tasha’s documentation of the process is a great example of inquiry learning.


Credit to Tasha Cowdy

ISM Preschool: A Peek into the Art Room


Inquiry based learning in preschool is one of my truest passions as I believe it is the platform to learning. Some have misconceptions about preschool play and view it as a mindless activity. Preschoolers are natural inquirers. Their curiosity drives their interests and their play. This innate desire to discover does not eliminate the need for careful planning and facilitation. The following is an example of how I used our preschool artists’ interests, curiosities and enthusiasm to plan a lesson that created the environment they needed to go deeper with their thinking.

The investigation shown in the video came about after a previous lesson experimenting with color mixing and watercolors. In the previous lesson, artists began adding a splash of one color to another, and they quickly realized with great curiosity that new colors were produced. Their interest, thrill and excitement was tangible and I listened. I heard children question the magic of color mixing but I also observed that the diverse selection of colors and the watery medium was limiting their ability to process the colors as they mixed.

In the following lesson, students were presented with tempera paint, a more solid paint, that allowed for students to slowly explore and further investigate their questions. This lesson afforded our preschoolers opportunities to practice so many of their developing inquiry skills – they observed (using senses and simple tools); they described (verbally or through pictorial representations); they compared (noting similarities and differences); they predicted (noting expected outcomes); they reflected (integrating new info into one’s knowledge base); and they cooperated (working together and sharing findings).

The children took the learning in their own direction. They chose to mix the paint and circle the table! The uninhibited nature of this play led our inquirers down a path to discover:
What does paint stick to?
Why do things stick?
How do we clean it?
Is it permanent? Not permanent?

The process of inquiring begins in the early years; information gathered through our senses. The transformation of learning experiences and practical knowledge sets the foundation for true, enduring understandings.

Enjoy the play!

Children ‘talking out’ their theories

Over the years I have had the pleasure of observing some remarkable teachers setting the conditions for authentic learner-centred inquiry. Most of these teachers made this somewhat challenging task look quite easy. A common element in their approach was the use of ‘talk’ in their lessons and, more importantly, the way they facilitated this. These teachers often used particular structures or frameworks to support the facilitation of these conversations. For example, adopting an inquiry stance (Kimberly Lasher-Mitchell), Philosophy for Children, Science Talks (Karen Gallas) and democratic class meetings. What all of these approaches had in common was the teacher honoured the learner’s theories, they facilitated rather than owned the conversation and they joined the inquiry to co-construct meaning with their students.

Recently, Sara and Kate (both participating in CfG) did a fantastic job of modelling these behaviours during their workshops on our ISE Day. This reminded me of a teacher I worked with in a previous school, Anna, who masterfully applied the theory developed by Karen Gallas around ‘Science Talks’. Below is short section of Gallas’ book on the importance of talk in science. Below this article is a rare glimpse of children’s thinking at the start of a unit on sound. It is worth pointing out that this thinking was in a Grade 2 class during the first provocation for the unit. In the first document you will observe the students’ initial theories around how sound travels. These theories were collected as the students completed some simple experiments. The second document is a transcript of the incredible Science Talk which followed.

To Be or Not To Be- Should we start or end our unit with the Central Idea?

One of my Year 2 team mates directed me to an interesting discussion on the blog posted below, where the author challenges the idea of always posting or starting up a unit with a central idea. Instead, perhaps lines of inquiry could lead students to formulate their own. Does a central idea act as a diving board or a finish line we can already see?