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?


How to Escape Education’s Death Valley

I found this talk, like all of Ken Robinson’s TED talks very inspiring and really got me thinking about how his message connects to inquiry learning.  Click here to view.

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Ken says, “There are three principles on which human life flourishes, and they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers have to labor and most students have to endure. The first is this, that human beings are naturally different and diverse...The second principle that drives human life flourishing is curiosity... And the third principle is this: that human life is inherently creative.

When watching this video I kept reflecting on the importance of student engagement and differentiation.  How well I am empowering students to pursue their innate curiosities?  How well am I honoring the principle that human life is inherently creative?  How can I provide an learning environment for students where students are encouraged and feel safe to take risks and be creative?

Another statement that really spoke to me is this one, “If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners. It’s a real achievement to put that particular ability out, or to stifle it. Curiosity is the engine of achievement.

I just love that – curiosity is the engine of achievement.  It also really emphasizes for me how critical it is that the role of the teacher is one of facilitator.

Finally Ken says, “Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage. You see, in the end, education is about learning. If there’s no learning going on, there’s no education going on.

In my experience an inquiry-driven programme, such as the PYP demands that teachers do just this – mentor, stimulate, provoke and engage.  However, I feel that many teachers struggle to let go of teaching content and lesson plans from textbooks because it involves taking a risk.  How can schools better support and encourage teachers to be inquirers themselves?

Learning to Learn

This is how we start our first couple of weeks at WAB:

Central idea:

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All members of our community are learners.  Understanding how we learn best and the things that influence our learning will help us to become better learners.

 An inquiry into:

  • How we learn
  • How we can establish a positive learning community
  • The factors that affect our learning

One of the learning experiences in G4 is to evaluate a selection of questions and construct a definition of what is a “good” question.  Click here to see what this year’s 4th Graders came up with.

Also, here’s a link for a great article my colleague, Jon from G4 shared with me:

Hotel Information


These Hotels are the Hotels situated on or near Soi 15. Please note that NIST School is located on Sukhuvmit Road, Soi 15, at the end of the Soi.
These are approximate rates –please check directly with the Hotel

1. Four Points by Sheraton ***** (5-star new hotel)
Address: Sukhumvit Road, Soi 15, Bangkok
Tel: +66 (0) 2 309-3000, 309-3112
Fax: +66 (0) 2 309-3010
Room rate: Comfort Room: Baht 3,100/room/night (incl. ABF)

2. Manhattan *** (3-star hotel)
Address: 13 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 15, Bangkok
Tel: +66 (0) 2 255-0166, 255-0188
Fax: +66 (0) 2 255-3481, 651-1433
Room rate: Superior (Double): Baht 2,100 /room/night (incl. ABF)

3. The Royal President **** (4-star hotel)
Address: 43 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 15, Bangkok
Tel: +66 (0)2 253-9451
Fax: +66 (0) 2 253-8959, 651-1500
Room rate: Deluxe Studio: Baht 1,900/room/night (incl. ABF)

4. Kingston Suites **** (4-star new hotel)
Address: 39/3-7 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 15, Bangkok
Tel: +66 (0) 2 120-8288
Fax: +66 (0) 2 120-8299
Room rate: Superior: Baht 2,200/room/night (incl. ABF)

5. Dream Hotel Bangkok ***** (5-star new hotel)
Address: 10 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 15, Bangkok
Tel: +66 (0) 2-254-8500
Fax: +66 (0) 2-254-8534
Room rate: Classic room: Baht 3,000 /room/night (incl. ABF)

6. Westin Grande Sukhumvit ***** (5-star hotel)
Address: 259 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 19, Bangkok
(located on the main Sukhumvit Road, next to Robinson Department Store)
Tel: +66 (0) 2 207-8000
Fax: +66 (0) 2 255-2441
Room rate Baht 5,800++ (not incl. breakfast)

7. Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit ***** (5-star hotel)
Address: 250 Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok
(located on the main road, opposite Westin Grande Sukhumvit Hotel)
Tel: +66 (0) 2 649-8888
Fax: +66 (0) 2 649-8000
Room rate: Deluxe Room: Baht 6,400++ (not incl. breakfast)

inquiry learning

First day of school,  Elementary assembly.

Curious George800 students –  Introduced the attitude of curiosity through “Curious George” and unpacked with the students what it means to be curious.
Students responded – “it’s when you want to find out about something.” or ” It’s when you want to know something.”

The plan was to unpack ‘curiosity’ and then model my own curiosity. I brought up a photo of the Rama VIII Bridge here in Bangkok.

Rama VIII BridgeIt is a cable stayed bridge with a span of 300m. I explained to the students that when I first saw the bridge I thought it was beautiful but that I also felt and even stronger feeling –  that of curiosity. I was curious and felt a desire to know how and why that bridge stays up across the Chao Phraya river without supports?

I showed them photos of 3 other bridges over the same river that all had supports – and posed my questions.

Taksin Bridge Krung Thon Bridge Memorial Bridge

How come these bridges all have supports in the river and the Rama VIII Bridge doesn’t?

How does this bridge span 300m without supports?

Why does this work?

Rama VIII BridgeWhat I wanted to do was to model curiosity – to engage them in something worthy of thought. The students all had theories of their own. They didn’t tell me the type of bridge – the ‘what’ – they gave me the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. Some of their theories were inarticulate, as inquiry can be – but they were indeed theories and they helped me to understand the scientific principles behind this cable stayed bridge.

So I was there to engage them in curiosity and to encourage them to ‘ask how?’ and ‘ask why?’ and they were right there, present, they had theories about how and why the bridge is built the way it is and could even give examples of their understandings.

My curiosity activated their thinking – the students wanted to join in – they wanted to share their thinking.

So what does this mean for our practice?

What role does teacher modelling of inquiry learning play in student learning?

How are we activating the students’ prior knowledge in our learning experiences?

I’m wondering if by encouraging the students to ask ‘how’ and ‘why’ we can help the students to make their thinking visible. If the thinking is visible teachers are better able to determine the next steps for the students and create pathways to further learning and deeper understandings.

It’s not that the ‘what’ is not important, the ‘what’ is the knowledge and the facts and is an important part of inquiry learning. The knowledge is the subject matter and is linked to the inquiry because in employing inquiry pedagogy we are fundamentally seeking the truth and critically evaluating what we know and understand.