Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My last post looked closely at Tuning In, the first stage in an Inquiry Cycle. So the next few blog posts will continue to look at subsequent stages of the inquiry cycle as we progress through a Unit of Inquiry in my classroom.  Looking at my blog chronologically it will look like I teach backwards, which essentially is good planning practice right? I think it is important to mention here that the inquiry cycle is not a framework for planning, it is more about the progression or flow of learning experiences to guide student inquiry, and that the students help to make the decision, although not always explicitly, to move back and forth as they are ready. Noticing when the students are ready to proceed, or need to hop back is the responsibility of the teacher. Inquiry can sometimes get disjointed and it helps the students to have a framework to organize this a bit. For more reading check out these misconceptions on the inquiry cycle from Kath Murdoch.

Finding and Sorting out can naturally flow right out of Tuning in, usually without a clear distinction between the two. The same language is being used but the learning experiences start to look different as students develop autonomy in their personal inquiries. At the same time, new vocabulary is being introduced to extend understanding of related concepts as the teaching of skills shifts focus from asking questions to looking for and organizing information. So how does this look in a class of third or fourth graders? This is a great time for students to extend personal inquiries, develop research skills, and evaluate information. 

Students finding out about rocks to think about change.

Building on

I previously mentioned the visible thinking routines that I use to elicit student questions, particularly, Connect/Extend/Challenge. This is an integral part of shifting from one stage of the cycle to the next seamlessly. We usually review these topics and areas of interest from this activity and group them together as a class and when the students are ready we can move on. From here I can assist the students in their personal inquiries by designing learning experiences that help guide them to inquire into the topics of interest. Some examples of this in the past few units are:

Each of these has been in a different unit, and I think it is important to note here that the learning experiences aren’t just what they are interested in, but also connected to the Central Idea, Key Concepts, and Lines of Inquiry. The experiences provide opportunities for the students to practice skills that they will need in Going further and Making connections (the next two stages in the cycle). For example, as the students looked at composting and the 5 Rs they had to create a Padlet together to share their learning with the class, and from this create a mind map to consolidate their thinking. This helped us learn about using Padlet, basic online research, and organizing notes to build their individual understanding. All of the skills that are being practiced in Finding and Sorting Out will be help the students to succeed in their personal inquiry and in many cases, integrate with writing units. From adding links to a slideshow or Padlet to taking notes using an organizer all little mini-lessons help the students to build on to prior understandings and develop independence in their learning. These vary from an individual or whole-class check-ins.

Students using Padlet to build knowledge together about the 5Rs

ISTE Standards.

Finding out is a great time to embed some of the ISTE standards in your research lessons, particularly the ones in Knowledge Constructor when they are busy navigating and evaluating online sources and thinking about how it helps them as a researcher. In the current unit that I am teaching, the class builds knowledge by exploring real-world issues. There are a lot of opportunities here to co-teach with a librarian or tech-coach and EAL teacher to help students find relevant and helpful information. Currently, our librarian is co-teaching with us on finding information on school databases such as Brainpop and Encyclopedia Britannica and our Tech-coach is coming in to help students take it APART.

Experts, trips, and online.

Bringing in a local expert to talk about waste in the neighbourhood.

I can’t stress enough the importance of using the community, both local and global, to help students in all stages of the inquiry cycle. It could be something as simple as asking the canteen questions, bringing in an expert, to going on another field trip, to connecting to a class online. Last year we brought in a couple of geologists as students were looking at how rocks change and used a field trip to our neighbourhood to discover how migration changes people and places. Quite often these connections can happen through student agency as students interested in food waste brought in some of the staff from the canteen.

Being a part of a transient international teaching community also has a lot of benefits as it allows you to connect with past colleagues who are around the world (Twitter and PLNs are also great!). Students love asking and answering questions to find out information about what other classes across the planet are doing. Thanks, Ryan for hooking me up this unit, I will be writing a full post on online connections and collaboration in a few weeks. Connections to the curriculum are always around you. 

Jumping back and forth

Photo by Will Suddreth on Unsplash

A lot of times you have to move back and forth during a Unit of Inquiry, sometimes we get a lot of information quickly and have to jump ahead to Sorting Out, then jump back again to find more. Just today, as students continued their individual research projects we started finding lots of sources and information really fast so we had to think quickly about organizing it. I have experimented with mind maps before in class and have watched a few videos. The class thought that it was a good way to organize their information. We had also started finding lots of Brainpop videos, Encyclopedia Britannica articles and other websites so we needed a way to curate these before moving on.

Students curating resources on their personal inquiries.

We sorted our sources using a Padlet again as the class is now familiar with the platform. Students are continuing to add links when they find articles that they think are relevant to each topic and they enjoy this ownership of technology and resources. They will have to dive back into their sources to continue answering their questions and then go forward to sorting out information that they feel is relevant. Have any of you had any experience with hand-drawn mind maps by Tony Buzon, my Grade 3s really like them and they are a good tool for organizing information. They also want to explore digital versions so I may be installing Popplet soon.

Student research notes on global warming.


Sometimes I really wish that we were not restricted to six units in the PYP. I feel that it takes away a lot of opportunities for deeper learning through extending units for longer than the amount of time we have. I could easily spend an extra couple of weeks on this unit and go well over the recommended six weeks. Depending on student interest and engagement, it is hard to cut the time short, or not explore another avenue together because we have to move on to the next unit. We are currently trying to teach units that overlap and extend units for longer but a lot of questions have been raised about how this affects assessment, reporting. We also have to consider the effectiveness of teaching multiple units at the same time for students, and if this is the best for them. Until that happens, I will have to drop a few other lessons I had planned to plow through these last two stages of the inquiry cycle so that I can move on to Making Connections and Going Further before Spring Break!