Student and a sibling taking action at a local beach.

Thinking back I should have written this post first so that it would be a bit more chronologically organized in the blog feed. But as we always jump back and forth in our unit of inquiry, why not do it as we read too. Also, the end of a unit is the beginning of something else so that works too.

Usually at the end of a Unit of Inquiry students are busy making conclusions about material learned and applying it through action. These final two stages of the Inquiry Cycle that I will be talking about are an important time for students to develop agency, consolidate understanding, connect to the world around them, and celebrate their achievements and possibly jumping off into another unit, bringing the cycle full circle. I want to outline how some of this happens in an upper elementary classroom and provide some examples of how I have navigated these stages. 

A student who decided to make a reusable snack bag to reduce waste.

It is important that we take time during these stages to ensure that students have lots of time to express their understandings, draw conclusions or generalizations about the world around them. This gives them a chance to express their opinions about a concept or topic. I think that when students are given a chance to express their thoughts at the end of a unit it is important that they are given a variety of options. Teach thought has a great list of different ways of expressing understanding. I usually have my students brainstorm the possible ways of communicating their ideas then let them choose from there (although the skits can get pretty wild). Allowing students to choose the format they wish to express themselves in provides a lot of opportunities in the class to get creative, teach different skills, and involve technology through poster making, recording movies, and taking pictures. 

Community

Projects from the previous stages of the inquiry cycle are a great way for students to make conclusions through the lens of a familiar topic to key concepts and also provide an avenue that can lead to action. In my last unit about waste, a student improved her research skills as she learned about ocean plastic. She then decided on a family outing to clean up a beach. This was a fantastic example of student action, something this amazing doesn’t always happen, but when it does it is truly inspiring to others. Making conclusions and taking action also helps develop a variety of transdisciplinary connections through writing reflections, working together on common action plans, and communicating ideas. 

Students preparing a section of the garden while others harvest garlic.

One of my favourite examples of taking action was during a Sharing the Planet Unit in Grade 4. After learning about how organisms rely on each other, partially through gardening, the students decided to work with the canteen to provide fresh produce. Although we didn’t feed an army, the group of students that were involved were very proud to stand by the salad bar to offer up the fruits of their labour. They also decided to use the proceeds from the sales to purchase new toys for our service relationship with an orphanage. 

This action allowed me as a teacher to provoke a lot of new learning in the classroom. In order to sell produce the students had to learn about the pricing of vegetables through research and a shopping trip to the local market, calculating totals, how to promote their products, and how to measure and weigh. Taking action and making conclusions is not always an end, but a beginning of something new. The process of creating an action plan connected to a Central Idea itself is another example of continued learning. Through developing an action plan students learn to create achievable goals, plan effectively, and review their progress. 

Celebrate

Students sharing their ideas and work at a gallery walk with other classes invited.

This is also a time to celebrate the learning in the class. Sharing conclusions and actions with various members of the school community gives students a chance to feel valued, inspire others, and share their learning with parents or administrators. Creating something and coming together to explain their conclusions and/or action brings the learning full circle and a sense of purpose for the students. Although the class may get nervous sharing with those not normally in their class we can always expect them to rise to the occasion. 

Students creating a final video presentation to share their learning.

Assessments

Making conclusions and taking action is also a good time for assessments to help create final feedback on achievements for students, and provide data for a report card. I firmly believe that simple is best here. No need to create a giant test or project here. A simple thinking routine such as “I use to think, now I think” or a 3-2-1 bridge are ones that I like to do with elementary students. They give you a quick snapshot of their key takeaways from the unit without being overly onerous on the students.

Wrapping up.

This brings a conclusion to my series of posts about the Inquiry Cycle. Some of the things I like about it is that it is:

  • Student-centred and driven
  • Action-based
  • Promotes deep learning
  • Community involvement.
  • Multi-disciplinary. 
  • Fun
  • Transitions into new units easily.

I think the last one here is super important. Learning should be fun for the teacher and the students. When everyone is engaged, everyone does better. I think the important part for all the stages is for the students to have a clear understanding of the learning objectives from the start, and constantly check-in with how daily learning is related to the objectives.